Currently on view at New York’s MoMA PS1—the branch of The Museum of Modern Art devoted to exhibiting contemporary work—is Beijing-based artist Feng Mengbo‘s video game installation Long March: Restart. Taking form as a long, narrow room with screens running the length of each wall, this interactive piece takes its inspiration from classic side-scrolling video games. The aesthetic is lifted straight from the 16-bit Super Nintendo and is full of icons, background scenes, sounds and characters that will be familiar to any gamer. You’ll recognize sprites from Contra III: The Alien Wars, Street Fighter II, and Super Mario World, along with symbols of Americana like Coca-Cola and the Statue of Liberty. The single player game is completely playable using a wireless controller, giving you control of a Red Army soldier taking on the alien hordes.
We usually associate Chinese Communist art with kitsch propaganda: cult pictures of Chairman Mao, the healthy-looking proletariat in dungarees, chubby smiling babies, and other images familiar to the Cultural Revolution—not video games, which is what makes this work so refreshing. It takes imagery a modern tech-savvy audience is well-acquainted with and subverts it, giving it a Communist twist while imbuing it with nostalgia from a different time and place. In marrying the iconography of Communism and Capitalism, Mengbo is jabbing at both ideologies and their tendency to use the “hero” as a means of promoting their propagandist agendas. Highlighting their similarities, he unites them in the anything-goes world of gaming. Whatever the political commentary behind Long March, the installation is just plain fun for audiences young and old, and tackles it’s theoretical foundation with humor and a sensory explosion that delights as much as it overwhelms. Not to mention, it also helps dispel the myth that video games are not art.
On view now through April 4, 2011.
Feng Mengbo demonstrates the game at transmediale 2010