One of the most memorable museum exhibitions in San Francisco these days is Kongkee: Warring States Cyberpunk at the Asian Art Museum. It remains open until January 23rd, so there’s still time to see it for yourself as we head into the new year — and it’s certainly worth putting on your radar.
The one-of-a-kind exhibition comes to us courtesy of animation director and visual artist Kongkee. Discover large-scale psychedelic projections, smaller animated screens, and ancient artifacts through Kongkee’s vibrant vision of a sci-fi future.
A peek into Kongkee: Warring States Cyberpunk
The exhibition considers the great Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in a river in 278 B.C.E. after the first emperor Qin Shi Huang took over his homeland. Kongkee explores the alternate reality that could occur if Qu Yuan were resurrected as an android version of himself in a contemporary world. Visitors follow the story as the android Qu Yuan rises to stardom, seeks to recover his lost soul, and reconciles with King Huai of Chu. However, a dark figure lurks in the background in the form of Emperor Qin Shi Huang…
“Like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.’” says Kongkee. “I asked myself, what happens when a soul emerges after 2,000 years under water—does it seek out something new? Does it return to places that are familiar?”
What follows is an expert unification of artifacts from China’s Warring States Period (c. 481 – 221 BCE) with interactive, luminous artworks that resemble stepping into a comic book. The first is the large-scale, pink neon sculpture Taotie 饕餮 which flanks the entrance to the exhibition and hides modern-day social media logos within the design. After passing through this gateway, visitors will experience a series of dynamic video artworks, some of which are projected directly onto the walls and some of which are contained in luminous screens.
These projections include You Can Never Step In The Same River Twice, a short looped video that examines the separation of Qu Yuan’s soul and body; and the massive River, a three-channel video with a post-apocalyptic view of Hong Kong’s cityscape swept away in a relentless orange surge of water. Visitors will also encounter a series of bright LED screens depicting brief vignettes with a resonant musical sound installation playing in the background. Be sure to take a seat in the cinema room for Dragon’s Delusion, which consists of several short films detailing what might have happened if Emperor Qin Shi Huang found the elixir of life.
Kongkee’s installation is unique to the Asian Art Museum in that it examines the museum’s own ancient art in the context of this futurist fantasy. This comes in the form of several lenticulars, which depict ancient works transforming into Kongkee’s psychedelic, futuristic interpretations of them depending on where the viewer is standing — think terra cotta warriors turning into skeletal, imposing robots. Visitors can also examine actual ancient artifacts from the museum’s collections displayed on glowing neon podiums.
Kongkee (a.k.a. KONG Khong-chang) is a Malaysian-born Chinese film director and visual artist. He was raised in Hong Kong but is now based in London, creating award-winning films and comics that are enjoyed by international audiences. Kongkee began his comic series Mi Luo Virtual in 2013, which eventually developed into Kongkee: Warring States Cyberpunk.
Abby Chen, the exhibition’s curator and head of contemporary art at the Asian Art Museum, described Kongkee’s works in conjunction with the museum’s collections. “[Kongkee] brilliantly draws these ancient artworks into his own dazzling vision, showing how the past haunts the present, but also offering us moments of connection and reconnection that make space for imagining what a vibrant strain of ‘Asian Futurism’ can look and feel like, one full of energy, music, and color that creatively entwine the enigma of the past with caution toward cutting-edge technologies yet to be discovered.”
About the Asian Art Museum
This stunning museum in San Francisco is home to over 18,000 magnificent works of Asian art, ranging from ancient ceramics to contemporary video installations. The museum began over 50 years ago, and has since evolved several times to keep up with the changing artworks and mediums.
Tickets to Kongkee: Warring States Cyberpunk cost $25 for adults and include general admission to the museum. If you reserve in advance for the museum’s free admission day on Sunday, January 8th, you can see the special exhibition for a reduced price of $10.
Find the Asian Art Museum at 200 Larkin Street in San Francisco.