WANG YEFENG is a new media artist. He was born in 1984, in Shanghai, China. I met Yefeng a few years ago while visiting artist studios in New York. Since then we have become good friends. Last year, we had the opportunity to work together on two curatorial projects I organized: Myth and Mutations, an exhibition featuring his Ambient Occlusion a series of 3D printed sculptures, and The Internet Yami-Ichi in New York, an “internet-ish” flea market, where he sold a product known as Promisecan.
As an artist Yefeng’s work is a dialogue between the grotesque and beautiful. His skill with digital tools, observations of contemporary culture, and knowledge of art historical iconographies presents a mixture of humorous and peculiar worlds.
The Drifting Stages is Yefeng’s latest animation, and is part of an ongoing series of the same name.
The Drifting Stages opens with a drumroll, descriptive text, and a pulsing red and blue background. The title screen, although only shown for a brief moment, prepares you for something shocking. After the introduction rolls, a scene unfolds inside a disjointed and abnormal room.
In his animation Yefeng has created a bizarre interior, a mixture between a butcher shop and bathroom. The contents of the room make it difficult to look away. Womanly figures with gold plated baby skulls hypnotically beat back and forth; in their hands are meat grinders that spew a red-pink viscous. Pigs hang from hooks, while a simple cartoon-man rests in a tub. Disconnected walls and a floor are patterned with idealistic clouds. The flickering red and blue continues in the background of the animation, accompanied with rotating bones. While these strange aspects occur, one notices the room is decorated with modern furniture – a sink, tub, mirrors, wallpaper, potted plants, and shelves.
The composition of the room and the objects in their repetitive motions are reminiscent of an automata or mechanical theater. A scene unfolds over and over. In our conversations Yefeng has explained that the piece stems from his own movement, from different places within the United States. Along the way, the artist has accumulated a mass of objects (both real and digital). Considering this, the virtual space of The Drifting Stages, is a room or storage for experiences and memories. As a viewer, we enter the room and interpret what the objects might mean to the artist and to our self.
The animation speaks to what we collect and accumulate in our lives. When we obtain a new object or move to a new location, we are doing more than simply filling an empty space. The objects we obtain have their own aura that we consume, and in tandem we imbue objects and space with our own spirit, memories, and curiosities.
For Yefeng however, continually moving to new spaces becomes a trap – a deluge of stuff, things, and matter. In this way, Yefeng compares the piece to clockwork. We continually pine for and amass new objects or collections. Time and time again, we hardly acknowledge that we have created our own materialistic prisons. The spaces we decorate or adorn will never be perfect representations of what we imagined. Instead, we will drift through new stuff in a cyclical manner.
In The Drifting Stages, the culture of collecting, specifically furniture, can be linked to Ikea. As a company aims to make people happy through mass production and efficiency. However, as a culture, they compartmentalize and conform space (and thus personalities, identities, and individuality). For someone new to the United States, and frequently moving, this culture of speedily obtaining new things can be woefully apparent and disconcerting. The Drifting Stagesresponds to this by mashing together the surreal with the common or commercial.
In Yefeng’s constructed room the mashing together of objects and memories creates an intentional style clash. Bones and clouds for instance are opposites – one symbolizing density and the other levity. At the same time, beyond the strange pairing of content, there are familiar objects such as a potted plant or mirror. The viewer may even own a similar model to what is in the piece. In this animation, the artist disrupts the concept of Ikea, but in turn the cultural influence of Ikea has infiltrated the animation.
The culture of collecting has also taken over digital space. This can be viewed through the preciousness of an iPhone’s storage capacity or the desire to gain more likes on an Instagram account. In the real world we are constantly moving, renting, and replacing. Now, in the digital realm, we are upgrading, archiving, and deleting. We are in a time where questioning the value of things and what we surround ourselves with is grossly overlooked.
The Drifting Stages also comments on the aesthetics of the 21st century. The pulsing blue and red background of the animation speaks to this. The color compositions that digital artists choose often reflect the contemporary world they come from – one where the real and virtual is mixed. These are not colors of the natural world, but rather from the screens that we spend a majority of our lives looking at or living within. These digitally produced colors can be chosen in an instant, they do not need to be mixed like paint.
These colors can be found in the green screen of Hollywood films, in the pixels of a video game, or in other media. Yefeng’s choice of a flashing blue and red strobe reflects this. As our interview details, the choice in color is inspired by an episode of the Pokémon anime titled Dennō Senshi Porygon / Electric Soldier Porygon. Ironically, the Pokémon series, which is about collecting monsters, features a creature named Porygon a computer generated creature whose name is a pun of the word ‘polygon’.
The bright colors of The Drifting Stages, though startling, are synonymous with a new generation of artists, seeing colors that were only a few years ago unimaginable. Ultimately, in choosing to take inspiration from a 90’s episode of Pokémon, The Drifting Stages not only collects furniture, but also acquires digital media and personal memories.
The Drifting Stages is a place of irony. It is perfectly crafted with luster and shine. However, what it symbolizes is unattainable in real life. It is a metaphor for a culture trapped in a cycle of collecting and discarding in hopes of crafting the perfect identity or place. The room Yefeng has constructed is a daydream, converging disparate forms and experiences together, both of the past and present, the real and virtual.
Yefeng has described The Drifting Stages as a prison or a castle, but at the same time it is a home. Our home (whether a house or computer desktop) could very well be a sanctuary, but if we fill it with clutter it can become a tomb. The blue and red shockwaves of this animation should be considered as a wakeup call to the influence of Ikea culture and digital media over our personal space. Instead, we have become more concerned with whether we simply like the color of our walls, rather than the message the colors forewarn.