Thursday, November 09, 2006

“Mantis City” at Doland Museum

The current exhibit (October 27, 2006 – November 25, 2006) at the Doland Museum of Modern Art in China features the works of Swedish performance artist Tobias Bernstrap, highlighting his current work, “Mantis City”. “Mantis City” is his new exhibit, which becomes available to the viewer upon their immediate entrance into the “museum”, or in the Doland’s case, is really more of a gallery space. The first floor is generally dark, although you can make your way over to a seating area to watch Bernstrap’s “Mantis City”, produced in 2006, projected on a 16:9 screen from a HDV DVD, running on a 12 minutes and 50 seconds loop. “Mantis City” itself focuses the city of Shanghai itself, in which Bernstrap presents the audience with a replica of the Pudong skyline at 1:1000th scale. Two preying mantises climb the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Jin Mao Tower, and eventually slowly descend, have a fight, and the winner climbs to the top of the Oriental Pearl once again. The video itself often features only shadows of the mantises, and often blurs out the background. According to the Doland’s statement, “The dramatic lighting recalls the atmosphere of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” (1949)”.
The nearly 13 minutes of watching “Mantis City” pass by easily enough, and one is free to head up to the second floor of the Doland. Surprisingly, it is even darker here, and reading plates for works can be quite difficult. Moreover, a large main room is supplied with projections on two of the walls, with a large space in between. On the first wall that comes into view upon arrival on the second floor is Bernstrap’s work, “Freidrich Passage”, made in 2001, running on a 6 minutes and 30 seconds loop. This work entails going through a tunnel, to the mood of gothic music. The work is rather reminiscent of a horror videogame, which is what seems to be the inspiration.
On the opposite side is a projection of “Walking Ego”; a soundless, continually looping girl that walks that was finished in 2003. Passing by, one ventures into a side room featuring another work, “Killing Spree”, a video completed in 2006. In the video, a man, perhaps the artist, is dressed as a character from a modern video game, while performing rock music in front of gothic fans. This video is the longest running of the group at 14 minutes and 36 seconds. One can easily decide to move into the last room, entitled “XSeed 4000”, completed in 2004 as a modification of a computer game. Although it is the most interactive of the exhibits, you are still limited in your explorations to a green space inside of what is presumably the inside of a modern building. Most intriguing is the ability to control the character with a mouse, and listen to random comments that reflect upon a totalitarian society. Yet the inside of the building is apparently gorgeous, with green grass and a fountain surrounded by water.
In all of his works, Bernstrap is presenting a contrast between virtual space and real space, the physical representation of body and architecture in fiction and reality, and the blurred borders between fiction and reality that result as a consequence. Or perhaps a quote by the artist himself, "Today I see a lot of paradoxes in our concepts of reality, such as when looking at architecture in computer games and in real life. The software developers keep pushing limits to achieve more and more realism in the games; at the same time, architecture and design moves towards fiction, i.e. the skyline of Shanghai's Pudong district looks like a scene from an early Sci-Fi movie... There's no clear border or difference anymore - fiction or reality, virtual space or real space, it's all blurred."
The current exhibit “Mantis City” is not to be missed. Bernstrap presents a unique blend of gothic and special effects, producing work that is very much his own. The space is also well suited for the works, with the darkness allowing full visibility of all five. Although not many pieces are on display, it does make it much easier to sit back and fully take in all the pieces – and play around with “XSeed 4000”.
No. 27, Duolun Road, Shanghai, China

No comments: