During China’s formative and tumultuous Warring States period — a time when various regions fought for territory and political power, from around 475 BCE to 221 BCE — the disillusioned and aging poet Qu Yuan decided to end his life in the Miluo river. In his new exhibition Warring States Cyberpunk, opening Nov. 18 at the Asian Art Museum, visual artist and animator Kongkee creates an alternative futuristic reality wherein Qu Yuan emerges and is granted a second chance.
As the poet readjusts to bright, jarring sounds and sights, museum-goers are invited into a similarly overwhelming space, drenched in flashy neon light. Floating projections, optical illusions and sound installations meld past and future, nostalgia and fantasy.
“I’m trying to find a way to deconstruct your senses, to push you to rediscover yourself a little bit more,” says Kongkee. Now based in London, the artist grew up in Hong Kong, where tradition and modernity intersect, both contradicting and coexisting with one another. In 2013, he began to incorporate futurism and sci-fi into his comic series, Mi Luo Virtual, to explore how history can be reinvented — a journey that would eventually culminate in this exhibition.
In Warring States, the artist uses fluorescent cyberpunk imagery to “rip out” and distort conventional understandings of time and history. In Kongkee's artistic universe, nothing is linear. Here, he intentionally plays with viewers’ expectations to create a multidimensional timeline: one where where everything can exist at once.
“River,” one of many immersive video installations, features a large, moving projection of items drifting in blood-orange water. Kongkee imbues the haunting, dystopian scene with nostalgic objects he grew up seeing in his native Hong Kong: road signs, ferries and a book titled Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time wade through still waters amidst an apocalyptic backdrop.