What will the paintings in your apartment look like in the digital future? Maybe they’ll light up as you near. Maybe they’ll move or even speak to you. Maybe they’ll grow a pair of weathered hands and in a sage voice offer you a choice between a blue pill and a red pill.

Well, I personally have no clue but Liu Dao, also known as island6, an art collective based in the M50 art district on Moganshan Road, seems to have been picking away at this question for the past ten years. Right now they have this free exhibition going on in one of their M50 spaces called Fanatic Automatic.

I’m telling you, it’s not as nerdy as it sounds (not that kind of tech-savvy venue where the attendees are wearing VR googles over their Google Glass connected to their FitBits, and you wonder how long it’ll take before people really begin to look like cyborgs). “Fanatic Automatic” is fun, light-hearted, futuristic and thought-provoking at the same time.

Liu Dao, founded in 2006, brings together artists and technicians to form « an electronic art collective that works in multimedia techniques mainly involving LEDs, interactive components, photography, video, neon, sculpture and post-contemporary painting. » That is, they play around with lights and stuff. They have two galleries in M50 that go by the name of Island6, as well as another one in Phuket, ensuring that Chinese newlyweds on their honeymoon still have a ready access to LED art, I imagine.

Liu Dao’s style is immediately recognizable. They fashion a strange new world where laser lights draw moving figures on the walls, where animated LEDs merge with traditional mediums, like painting and paper-cutting, and where what looks like a stuffed eagle speaks to you when you come near. Their work is accessible, unique, humorous and evokes a sense of nostalgia that somehow reaches into the future as well as the past.

On the walls are mostly small frames that feature an LED animation interacting with a fixed, painted or paper-cut element. It’s surprisingly life-like and pleasant to look at. When you think LED, you probably have in mind, I don’t know, roadside billboards. Here it’s more like hazy but fluid animated videos, or shiny paintings in motion.

You’ll want to get closer to see how that works, what’s inside, what happens if I pull that plug behind (don’t pull the plug). Honestly it might surprise you. Artwork and little bits of technical novelty are definitely a good combination to spark that joyful sense of wonder and excitement inside of you. Nudity also does the trick, they have a little of that too.

And now imagine something like that in your home. Don’t you think that could be the future of interior decoration? Somehow I can see it being the future of kitsch. I mean, maybe because nothing ages as fast as modern, futuristic stuff (Game Boy Color, anyone?) Maybe because the exhibition deliberately incorporates some kitsch elements (what can be more kitsch than a stuffed animal that speaks to you with a recorded voice, really?) In any case Liu Dao’s work gives off a subtle but very definite sense of nostalgia. By blending old and new together, hinting at different temporalities, it makes you feel nostalgic not only of the past, but also of the future. It makes you wonder at the passing of time.


And time passed before I also realized that something was making me itch. I couldn’t help thinking that all those pieces on the walls felt very impersonal to me, even withdrawn. I mean it’s collective art, right? It’s not like you’re peeking through a window right into the soul of a single artist, with his own personal brand of obsessions, fears, ideal of beauty and all that jam you expect to see spilling out over the artwork. It sort of made me question Art itself, actually. Oscar Wilde once wrote that “Art is the most intense mode of individualism the world has known. ” Well, here you won’t be looking at individualism. But that’s not the only way to make art. Think about the cathedrals. Thousands of anonymous artists and stonecutters working together to erect those incredible buildings. In a twisted way that’s how I came to think of Liu Dao: a 10-year-old project to build up a cathedral…an LED cathedral maybe, something you’d see in Vegas, with stuffed pigeons perched on the bell tower.

Upon walking out, besides tacky cathedrals I had different things buzzing in my mind, and I thought this exhibition really achieved something with me: it made me reflect on stuff…and things. And it looked cool. Plus in a decade or so, when someone points at an LED frame in a hotel lobby or a fancy restaurant and says “That’s cool!”, you’ll be able to yawn and say in a blasé voice “I know, seen that ages ago already. ”


Fanatic Automatic is on through September 23, 2016.


2/F, Bldg 6, 50 Moganshan Lu

Author: Enjoy Shanghai

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