July 25, 2009, Beijing — UCCA presents Feng Mengbo’s solo exhibition Restart, which opens to the public on July 26. With the exhibition, the artist has come full circle, returning to the beginning of his practice in order to transform his 1994 series of paintings, Game Over: Long March into an immersive, interactive installation. Restart initiates a new journey for Feng Mengbo and will be on view until August 30, 2009.
The idea of Restart was first embodied in Long March: Game Over, a series of 42 oil paintings, by which Feng Mengbo launched himself onto the international art scene as a pioneering new media artist with a professional printmaking background from Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts. As the title of the series suggests, the paintings brought together a surprising marriage of symbols and styles, linking recent Chinese history (the Long March names the famous military campaign, from 1934 to 1936, during which Mao Zedong led Red Army troops from Jiangxi to Shaanxi) with signs of the new economy and popular entertainment – namely, video games. The paintings resemble screen shots from an early home gaming system, depicting a tiny, digitized Red Army solider who hurls cans of Coca-Cola at his enemies, with a cast of characters that range from Street Fighters to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “An unlikely, fascinating combination of the digital and the hand-made, the historic and the contemporary, Game Over: Long March was a very important beginning—embodying central themes that the artist has continued to explore throughout his career,” says David Spalding, UCCA curator of this exhibition.
Feng Mengbo’s immersion in video games has shaped his artistic practice and led to his choosing interactive installations and games as the perfect platform for his art practice. It was not long before Feng Mengbo began creating video games of his own. The interactive CD-ROM Taking Mt. Doom by Strategy (1997), for example, combines elements of the wildly popular home video game Doom with clips from the revolutionary-era opera and film Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. This was followed by a steady stream of projects, as Feng Mengbo—who does the programming and composes the digital soundscapes in his work—continued to develop new media works that were increasingly sophisticated and challenging.
For the artist, Restart is not only another challenging project: “Since the day I finished the series of paintings Game Over: Long March,” Feng Mengbo remarks, “I stated it was a draft of my future video game software.” The project finally became feasible in 2008 when the artist successfully found new software necessary to realize the work. “My dream, which has lasted for 14 years, has finally come true” says the artist, describing the personal meaning Restart holds for him.
During the exhibition, UCCA’s visitors use a wireless game pad to advance through the game’s levels, moving between eight large-scale projections within UCCA’s darkened Nave. Coca-Cola cans are still the weapons of choice for the pixilated Red Army soldier that players guide through screens that range from the grasslands of Xue Shan to a snowy Soviet-era Red Square, from New York City to the cratered surface of a distant planet. Making reference to the popular 8-bit video games of the 80s and 90s, such as Nintendo’s Mario Brothers franchise, Long March: Restart casts a backward glance at video gaming in order to re-engage, however indirectly, with China’s cultural history. For Feng Mengbo, the game was never over, culminating instead in this exciting new work that situates us, as viewers and players, squarely in the future.