(Liu Dao) or island6, a Shanghai-based international collective of “multimedia artists, performers, writers, curators and tech-geeks” personify the aspirations of contemporary China by skirting verboten political flashpoints and keeping their content short, sweet, flirtatious, erotic and electronic. Their new show at Tally Beck Contemporary in Manhattan’s Lower East Side uses LED lights against a mostly black background. They invoke French Concession influences endemic throughout old Shanghai. Sin City contains their signature 1930s “Boop-oop-a-Doop” Betty Boop aesthetics, personified by flickering displays of shimmying breasts, wind-blown skirts, strippers, pouty lip kisses, fervently touching toes and electronic scrawled lipstick-on-mirror confessions of tortured romantic entanglements. Shanghai, fondly referred to by the collective as the “Whore of the Orient,” doesn’t seem to promote many male figures except as occasional nefarious influences, a position they are proudly unapologetic about.
“Make My Skin Crawl” (2011) eludes to the plight of aristocratic Russian émigrés vis- á-vis James Ivory’s film “The White Countess,” where Countess Sofia Belinskya works as a taxi dancer in a Shanghai bar. The work shows an enticing blond woman in a green dress carrying a red Chinese umbrella. “Love Lane Affair” (2011) is a sultry depiction of longing, loneliness and lust with a LED girl lying on her stomach kicking her heels and arching her body like a cat in heat. Admitting outright that China is a ”largely patriarchal and chauvinistic” country, the collective brings the nostalgic longings of a spurred mistress into electronic musings on a found antique mirror in “The Sound of Leaves Departing From a Silent Tree” (2011).
The most culturally perplexing piece “Poley Moley” (2011), is based on the lure to pack as many people as possible into a funeral by incorporating a pole dance striptease as part of the condolences. This outrageous staging, which is based on a real trend, believes the more people who show up at a deceased’s necropolis bash, the better their afterlife will be. Since 2000 it has become a very successful business tactic, so yes its true, Shanghai is still a slut.
However, island6 is not resting on their electronic laurels, but are thinking through the inherent nature of their medium. “Blossom Fever on Avenue Joffre” (2011) shifts the focus to the desert Bedouins of Saudi Arabia by using sand with a resin coating as its canvas. Four rose-pink hands unfurl and disappear, and the piece leans towards sculptural installation with LEDs as the accent, not the focus. This approach towards a more muted use of electronica continues with “Smoking Red Shoes” (2011), a rice paper collage with paper cuttings.
Cutting into canvas, no matter what the medium and LED displays are not new here in the West. What is so soigné about island6 is their clever use of Shanghai’s colonial past to titillate, delight and sugar coat a nostalgic view that has seen, like the rejected mistress, better days as it morphs before our very eyes into the shinning pinnacle of the new Cathay.
Sin City at Tally Beck Contemporary (42 Rivington Street, Lower East Side, Mahattan) continue until March 11.