By Du Yijie
Nostalgia lights up Hong Kong’s glittering harbour in the form of a new work by acclaimed artist Cao Fei on the city’s tallest building that is bound to evoke a whole generation’s memory on video games.
The installation is a light and music show. Titled Same Old, Brand New, the piece is a contemporary adaptation of classic video game icons from the 1980s. Symbols, logos and moving images from video games such as Pac-Man, Tetris, and Super Mario Bros. play out on the 490-metre facade of the International Commerce Centre in five minute sessions, ending on Tuesday. The video installation is fully interactive: the ICC Light & Music Show mobile app is available to download. The audience can play synchronised up-tempo music by artist Dickson Dee inspired by 1980s computer games while watching the upbeat light performance.
Its highlight lies not in a figurative narrative or a dazzling visual shock in the element of light, but rather in its iconic metaphor that arouses the public sentiment for pop culture, bridging the old and new with technology. Three decades have passed, but the 8-bit Pac-Man buzz is still captured in the collective memories of those born in 1960s and 1970s—who now constitute the cornerstone of the metropolis. This is the emotional connection the artist attempted to pull off after she was commissioned by Art Basel last year for the ICC project.
Tailored for the narrow strip of three facades around the building—out of proportion with traditional canvas— the artwork employs the facades as game tracks in a bold and creative way. Rules have been re-written. Pac-Man eats the enemies he once feared. Super Mario Bros. is transformed into a blown-up fist to punch a smiling face. The underlying metaphor is the self-mocking humour characteristic of the local culture, where tensions run high in the densely populated conditions.
Reflected on the city’s landmark skyline, the work depicts a once landmark phenomenon that was a step along the way to today’s technology obsession. “Hong Kong people look up to do business and look down to play games,” said Cao in a salon talk at the Art Basel in town. Visible from around the city, the public can shoot the show and circulate it via social media, thus creating another buzz in the online community. From Sheung Wan, Wan Chai, Central, The Peak, to the mountain root and the shore, the audience maps the reality from various angles and together creates a panorama of the city view.
While this is the artist’s debut public-space project, it echoes the urban themes Cao has explored through her previous surrealist multi-media projects: RMB City, Haze and Fog, La Town, which explore the dreams and aspirations of a younger Chinese generation and their strategies for overcoming and escaping reality amid the rapid and chaotic social changes.
Symbols sparkle and memories flash back. When yesterday is shared once more in the online community, it reflects that the current generation is living a life between the virtual and the real, and makes a comment on society as a whole. That is the ultimate goal Cao attempts to achieve: to transform the collective memory into a public discussion, wrapped in modern technology and popular aesthetics.