On January 23d, in the face of bitter cold and
stubborn snow, PS1 in Queens had a major opening of
not one, not two, but at least six large, rather
impressive shows. I'm going to focus on two of
the shows: a set of works by New York artist
Laurel Nakadate, and
a huge video game, by
of Beijing, and try to get to the others another time.
Laurel Nakadate: 'Only The Lonely'
Nakadate, who was born in 1975 and survived an
MFA from Yale University in 2001, lives and works
in New York City and has hitherto been best known
for film and video works, some of which are on
Nakadate's most imposing work in the present show is
a series of photographs, presented as rather large,
dark, glossy prints, which show her weeping; there
is one for every day in the year (the year being
January 1 through December 21 of 2010). The prints
are of high quality and given their luscious, smooth
darknesses and their large number could not have
been anything but laborious to print, inspect,
consider, reprint, and so forth, high technology
or not. They were massed on the walls one can only
say thickly; I didn't count them, but I assume the
whole set of 365 were present. My feelings about
this part of the show were strongly ambivalent.
On the one hand, there is always reason to weep —
there are tears in everything, as Virgil says. On the
other hand, doesn't so much weeping, so repetitiously
illustrated, trivialize it? Or perhaps render it
meaningless, like a word repeated over and over?
But maybe that's the message — 'Tears cried for no
one, a love that should have lasted years.'
I also viewed another of Nakadate's pieces, a video
wherein she went to a 'love hotel' in Japan (I
probably don't need to explain the term) and rented a
room for a few hours, but instead of going there with
a partner she went with a camera and made a video of
herself as if carrying on sexually with an invisible
(because non-existent) person. Of course, it would
be very difficult to do this in a convincing manner
with no other body there, so the movements were,
perhaps deliberately, unconvincing, an act that is
supposed to be very obviously an act. Some of the
movements and gestures seemed to have been derived
from pornographic clichés, but for all I know these
may now be common practice in real life as well as
in the movies. I suppose this was a case in in which
Hell, instead of being other people, is oneself. I
should add that the videos are in no way actually
pornographic, at least not to my sensibilities.
The artist also showed videos made in the homes of men
she has picked up more or less by chance at previous
performances, in which she imitates the act of one
famous song'n'dance girl or another, perhaps Britney
Spears, 'for' the chance acquaintance, although really
for the camera, while the man looks on or perhaps
participates, in a manner of speaking; usually he
appears to be at a loss, probably embarrassed. I take it
none of the scenes were much scripted or rehearsed and
I believe the point is precisely the alienation and
ungainly social disjunctions they display.
These are not the only things on display, but they
The show was well-titled — 'Only The Lonely' --
but I don't know if Chairman Frank would approve of
it. Well, maybe he would.
Feng Mengbo: 'Long March: Restart (2008)'
The 'video game', by Feng Mengbo, an artist based
in Beijing, was 'acquired' by MoMA, whatever that
means in the age of digital technology, but perhaps
was deemed a bit too fizzy for the staid Modernism
of 53d Street and sent to the provinces. In any
case, it takes up a lot of space, and real estate is
always a problem in the big city. It is
a huge, immersive, interactive video
game of the old-school 2D scrolling type, such as
Super Mario Brothers, but in this one the imagery
was largely based or themed on Chinese Communist revolutionary
symbols. Since the game screen covers the two long
walls of a rather large room, 'immersive' is the
right word: the game screens, indeed, often the beings
on the screen, are larger than the people in the
audience. Playing it, one must move oneself physically
to stay with the avatar one is playing. The game
has a wireless controller so
that players can direct their avatar,
always a Chinese revolutionary soldier, to fight various
demons, robots, metallic octopuses, tanks, foreign
troops, monsters, gigantic insects, burly babes with
baseball bats, zombies, industrial presses, flying saucers,
scorpions, sumo wrestlers,
and so forth — even a video gamer is stuck in one
dark corner. Members of the audience, including
your reviewer, were invited to use the controller,
and many did. However, the visuals and not the
game play were point of the work.
One should not overlook the fact that a chief weapon
in the hands of the protagonist is a can which looks
suspiciously like Coca-Cola.
In engineering terms, the work uses a number of
overlapping video projectors mounted on the ceiling.
(These can compensate for the angle at which the
projection strikes the walls, so the scenes displayed
do not appear
skewed.) Presumably the whole is driven by a computer
or computers using gaming software, although the
split screens may suggest extensive additional work had
to be done in that area. And somebody did a huge amount of
art work and scripting just to set up the game's
scenery, probably Feng Mengbo, since he is said
to have a long history with electronic art.
Aesthetically, culturally, we find outselves in a
curious world halfway between the old imagery of
the Chinese Revolution, Chairman Mao and the Little
Red Book, and the new world of high technology,
giant computers, glistening spires, big money, world
leadership, and so forth — a long march indeed, and
apparently a very exuberant one, although not at all
without conflict. (I am cognizant that there may be
ironies within it which the average Westerner like
myself may easily miss.) The immersive quality of
the game recalls science fiction stories about
such things in which, usually, the game gets after
the protagonist to his great disadvantage, but I
The work — it's hard to know what to call it
genre-wise — is truly well done, with respect to
the artwork at least, and it does suggest that the
aesthetic dimension of video games can be treated
as art-for-its-own-sake beyond the realms of gamer
nostalgia in which most of it currently reposes.
I wonder if any of the video games have broken out of
the comic book mold when it comes to art? Probably,
if I've thought of it. Back in the old days they
were of necessity very abstract — remember Pong?
Like the web comic 'Diesel Sweeties', indeed like most
comics in history, 2D scrolling games are halfway
between a high degree of abstraction and 'realistic'
depiction, and what were once considered unfortunate
artifacts of insufficiently advanced technology, like
pixelization, are now a kind of texture one can play
with to aesthetic and possibly sentimental advantage.
The inside becomes like the outside.
Laurel Nakadate (Wikipedia)
Feng Mengbo (Wikipedia)