New Games - Reviewed by Brian Chidester, Aug, 2015
Despite the ubiquity of General Tso’s Chicken in America and the fact that 99% of U.S. store-bought goods are manufactured in China, there remain vast differences between the two cultures.
Chinese-born artist Yefeng Wang (aka “Frank”) has been in America (NYC to be exact) for several years now and his art often employs images that work through these cultural boundaries. Take for instance his latest work, titled New Games. It is a 3D animated video that uses Lego people to demonstrate a series of physically-impossible, not to mention absurd, games.
These include leap-frogging over tall buildings, peeing into the clouds, and bumper cars using 747 airplanes. (That last one may be possible, though not advised.) It all seems innocent and quite silly on the surface, though what Wang is really after is not laughs but a sense of what lies beyond convention.
Nothing is real here: from Wang’s use of Legos, to the action being filmed against green screen, to the absurdity of what the artist makes them perform. We find ourselves trying to comprehend the games as though they have some relationship to reality, even if, like animation or science fiction, that reality requires a suspension of disbelief. Wang’s characters, however, are not relatable because of the emotion they convey on-screen. They are ciphers for something more ingrained: competition.
As icons, the Legos/”athletes” are indelibly Chinese, for the regiment and desperation Wang puts them through stresses the notion that winning is inextricably linked to national pride. Yet there is also something American happening too.
Legos are manufactured in China, though nearly every child in America owns a set or has played with one at some point in their youth. They’ve become a symbol of wholesomeness in a country that prides itself on notions of freedom and equality—ideological forms also embodied in competitive athletics. The irony is that China’s great competitor for Olympic gold medals every two years is the United States.
Systems, however, have a way of marginalizing uniqueness regardless their ideological persuasion. American life, as we well know in the 21st century, is fraught with its own inconsistencies. On some level, Wang’s Legos look less like celebrated athletes that span two divergent governments and more like pawns in their game. (Brian Chidester)