Annlee and the Vancouver Art Gallery

Sara and I got a membership to the Vancouver Art Gallery as a wedding present so last Friday we opted to go see an exhibition called “KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art”. The isn’t the first anime/comic themed exhibit at the art gallery. In 2002 there was “The Uncanny: Experiments in Cyborg Culture” which took a lot of Astroboy, Iron Man, and Ghost in the Shell comics and called it cyborg culture. The link between all of the works was a little tenuous. I found this exhibit to be much more interesting.

On display were the last three Krazy Kat drawings ever made, lots of (very good) independent comic artists like Seth and Daniel Clowes, as well as some Manga Artists that aren’t as well known in the west, like Junko Mizuno and Mamoru Nagano. The animation exhibit displayed clips from Macross, Patlabor, and Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. There was also a display on the history of animation, from Gertie the Dinosaur to Toy Story. The video game exhibit was compiled by Will Wright, creator of The Sims and Spore. It traced the progress of video games throughout the years, starting with Pac-man, going through Super Mario and leading up to Grand Theft Auto and Quake. This was followed by a pop art exhibit containing modern art about comics, animation and video games.

Now, I’ve blogged about the art gallery before, and I wasn’t too happy about how free expression had completely overthrown the idea that you need the talent and craft necessary to communicate the ideas. It’s kind of impossible to do anything in animation or video games without some level of craft but I still had this nagging thought that the exhibitors at the art gallery viewed the abandonment of rules as progress. Works that made less and less sense were being touted as the future of their respective media. Even in the video games, the procedural generation of random worlds was held up as being superior to scripted stories and artistic control. As I walked through the pop art exhibit, I came across a series of works called “No Ghost Just A Shell”, and I had realized that I stepped into the dimension of arrogant intellectuals who had completely missed the point.

“No Ghost, Just a Shell” is the work of two “artists” named Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe. They bought the rights to a character they called “Annlee” from a Japanese character development studio. She was kind of a sad girl with elf ears who probably wouldn’t be able to carry on her own series. They decided to create an exhibit around her. Now, this would have been a good thing if she was in the care of people who could communicate like human beings. Instead she was at the mercy of cold, logical modern artists whose penchant for ambiguity is only outpaced by their arrogance. In kinder life Annlee would’ve been given a backstory, a few doujinshi, maybe someone would even cosplay as her. She would be, you know, loved. Here, in a perversion of the Velveteen Rabbit story, she gets dissected and deconstructed by bunch of euro-trash hipsters who put her in looping video installations speaking gibberish and repetitive pop art posters. The so-called triumph of the work was that the artists got a legally binding agreement that all rights to make works based on Annlee revert back to Annlee herself. However, since no one else can draw her now, she is effectively dead because some self-aggrandizing academic wanted to explore the “idea” of copyright.

The whole thing reminded me of Gulliver’s journey to Balnibarbi, where he found scientists who were so obsessed with analyzing the natural order of things that the land had turned barren from all their absurd experiments. These artists are doing the same thing with the realm of ideas. Slavish devotion to the new and the unique has created a culture where art is irrelevant. The modern art movement was started because the world of art was so detached from people’s lives, but the resulting trend ended up making art today more detached than ever. Soon they will have even lost the ability to shock.

Sara and I left the Annlee installation feeling confused and a little sad for the elf-girl that had gotten mixed up in all this. We passed another video installation called “Cosplayers” by someone named Cao Fei. It was a video of young chinese men and women exploring, fighting, and running through the streets of Guangzhou, China in anime costumes. The plaque near the installation said that the youths in the video were fighting against a society that had disdain for the imaginary, and threatened them with stifling homogeneity. It was a little obtuse, but unlike the Annlee it was actually trying to express something. The costumes were well done, and the contrast to the oppressive buildings in the background was quite neat. It reminded me of how seeing cosplayers at conventions kind of took you out of the mindset of the real world. The work was relatable and I could experience it, instead of just staring at it and trying to fashion Emperor’s clothes for it in my head. If there are more artists out there like Cao Fei, perhaps all is not lost.