Sun, May 04, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Deconstructing Maoism

A propaganda-fed generation of Chinese youth comes of age with Feng Mengbo, who frags his own clones to a soundtrack of revolutionary anthems

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER

Combining the heroes of Maoist propaganda with the latest in ultra violent computer games is more than just amusing. In China, where the Cultural Revolution and cyberspace were less than 30 years apart, it may have been unavoidable.

A new single artist show at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Taipei, Past Virtualized ? Future Cloned: Feng Mengbo 1994 to 2003 (虛擬過去複製未來:馮夢波), looks at an artist whose 37 years of life have taken place within China's recent time warp.

It is an ass-kicker of an exhibition. The viewer is a PC gamer, a first person shooter, training a chain gun on enemies of the Communist Party, real PC game (ro)bots and even the artist himself. It's frag or be fragged, and Communist Party fables are as real as video game mythologies, and also just as unreal.

First person shooter (FPS) is a video game genre introduced in 1993 with an ID Software production called Doom. In it, the screen represents a player's line of sight in a 3D dungeon, and as a referent to the player's position behind the screen, he or she (and it's usually a he) sees his virtual hands on screen in front of him and holding a weapon -- anything from a chainsaw to a rocket launcher.

The goal is to kill everything in sight while making one's way through steadily more difficult dungeons until finally the mega-monster is killed or the last bunker is destroyed.

The end of these mid-1990 versions was always an anticlimax, so FPS games evolved and crystallized into pure stalking and blasting through network games that let multiple players kill each other ad infinitum.

About half of Feng's show consists of FPS-based works, and you can even play some of them in the galleries. Taking Mount Doom by Strategy satirically brings together Doom with the Mao Zedong-approved "revolutionary model opera" (革命樣板京據) Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy (智取威虎山).

It lets you play (in primitive 1997 graphics) the characters of a number of revolutionary heroes, including the Sino-Japanese war hero, Yang Zirong (楊子榮), an icon of Feng's youth.

The latest, a DVD loop called Ah_Q (2003), is more like the mother of all Armageddons. Scenes are pulled from a simple one-room dungeon that Feng constructed using downloadable software, and each of the 32 gladiators crammed onto this killing floor is in Feng's own image: a slightly pudgy, shirtless, glasses-wearing kid carrying a DV cam in one hand and a huge gun in the other.

As fast as bullets can fly, Feng clones are sawed into clouds of blood and random limbs, just as in the latest real FPS games.

A companion piece, Ah_Q (Mirror of Death, the Dancing Pad Version) uses the foot-activated interface of the popular 2001 arcade game, Dance Dance Revolution, as the most bizarre FPS controller ever conceived. (As a video game, it's pointless, but maybe that is the point.)

These pieces all work through novel juxtapositions of People's Liberation Army soldiers as computer game elements, dance steps that fire rockets and in doing so flirt satirically with notions of morality and popular culture.

For example, how can we see these images of cruelty, be they video games, Maoist propaganda or Looney Tunes, and not be affected?

The piece that probes video games ethics most deeply and by doing so lets you know that Feng is not content with just saying, "Hey, look! Cool!" is a 1999 film called Q3 (The title abbreviates a Doom sequel, Quake III).

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