A grand logo is displayed on the monitor; armchairs, indoor plants and an office carpet all in a setting to create a seemingly calm, peaceful, everyday scene. However, the goal of this installation is to stimulate spectators’ critical reflection on our hyperreal society and its power, which is continuously executed on micro levels. The intention of the artist is to create an ambience here tainted with death, a world resembling “the smile of a corpse in a funeral home, ” to quote from Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil : Essays on Extreme Phenomena.
Artist Moke Li’s installation HANA Island Super Agency is a mixed-media work simulating the reception area of a fake agency located in a holiday resort. Some elements in this piece were extracted from a real Chinese tourist city named Hainan Island. The island was originally demarcated as one of China’s special economic zones as part of the country’s economic reform policy–a place where people rapidly accumulate capital and power. Since the island has rich tourism resources, the tourism industry unites with mass media in making non-stop propaganda and manufacturing consumer demands in order to encourage people to consume. Yet the island has been ruined by rapid and extreme development; many unfinished buildings have been left on the island after the housing bubble burst in the 1990s. “For me, the interesting point is how a dilapidated island has been figured as paradise by propaganda. It’s a case in which the boundaries between reality and spectacle have become extremely contorted,” says Moke Li in her essay on her installation project.
Many elements in this installation have symbolic meaning. The created rebar shelves denote the China state apparatus of control, that different parts share in a homogeneous structure guaranteeing social order by establishing institutions, statutes, ideologies, language and knowledge. The rebar is also a very important symbol of the abandoned buildings in the real-life Hainan Island.
The irrational or non-rational elements in this installation, such as the fiberglass insulation on display shelves, weird souvenirs including monkey-head-shaped glass pots filled with energy drinks, postcards, and sculptural souvenirs shaped as red hands and bowling balls–gifts made from molds and mass-produced–are all meant to provide an entry-point to refuse the reality with which we’re confronted.
By incorporating these objects in his installation, Moke Li comments on ancient craft, long associated with quality and much manual labor, but within the logic of commodity production the concerns have shifted to quantities and efficiency rather than quality, destroying many ancient crafts, not just glass blowing.
Rebar, Glass, Fiber Glass, Paper, Plastic, Monitor & Projectors, CG Animation
The extremely flattened and detailed CG animation shows the hyperreal content of wonderful beaches and holiday villages behind sliding doors. As George Ritzer says: “It is a simulation that is more real than real, more beautiful than beautiful, truer than true. In a hyperreal world there is no way of getting at the source–the original reality.” For many people, in their routine lives they are surrounded by simulation and images all the time– all designed and used to manipulate their desires.
Strange scenes flash on the projected videos on two walls of the installation, designed to contrive an illusory scene for viewers in order to allow them to feel those counterintuitive moments, and lead viewers to understand the underlying reality. A scene, which is of an unfinished structure, flashes for less than half a second in both projected videos. It is too quick to see clearly, so spectators are prone to believe it is their own hallucination or that something has gone wrong at that moment.
Stacks of different postcards designed by the artist sit on the shelves in the installation. One of the postcards has an image of airships in sausage shapes covered with advertisements, making a statement on how media exercises its implicit violence and power through the non-stop bombardment of information and the promotion of various symbols. At the same time, mass media produces institutionalized and standardized welcoming smiles and attentive services. People can see advertisements simulating those intimate, personal communications happening between friends or loving couples in plastic-like tender feelings at the service of promoting consumption. Causing consumers to lose their own values as they voluntarily follow media-oriented trends.
Moke Li also associates scuba diving training and certification with the island tourism industry, and designed postcards “promoting” this content. Various training institutions have replaced the traditional confined school environment, and have become deeper-seated control mechanisms by providing special courses and one-on-one counseling. It seems as if there is more freedom. Many youths participate in continuing education voluntarily in order to gain more abilities which are recognized by society. Meanwhile, the training institutions have molded teenagers’ perceptions and preferences to make them believe it is sacred and beneficial that their leisure time be occupied.
Another recurring symbol in this piece is the gesture of the erect palm, which, in the mind of the artist, connotes the forbidden–the raised hand a symbol of oppressive force.
Ironically, in HANA Island Super Agency, the palm also serves as one of those cheap tourist souvenirs. Associated with social reality in China, for its people, the external oppressive power is obvious to feel and understand. Therefore, it is no longer an insidious enemy and it will be defeated and destroyed in the end. But it is hard for people to defeat their inner desires. They adhere to them in order to make correct value judgments when facing the dazzling array of consumer information. Baudrillard describes America as a desert, implying lack of depth and emotion. Yet China has been inevitably importing the American mode of consumption during the decades of implementing reform and opening policy. Such consumption is an insidious and concealed power which could make people consume things beyond their needs–more dangerous than the visible governing power authority.
Moke Li’s website: http://limokeart.com