Mojoko and Shang Liang bring their Reactive Wall to Reykjavík
On the wall of a dark room in Reykjavík’s Hafnarhusið art museum, a stream of brightly coloured icons is fizzing out of the ground. Triggered by the tiniest sound, they erupt onto the wall at every footstep or word, tumbling into a huge pile and bobbing around like Pop Art Cheerios. Some are familiar, some are less so–classic cartoon characters wobble around alongside unfamiliar product logos and Chinese lettering.
“This idea originated in Singapore,” says Mojoko, a.k.a. Steve Lawler, who works with programmer Shang Liang on the project. “It was designed for a children’s exhibition at a museum. We were exploring ideas about ways that kids could interact with an artwork that wasn’t so traditional. What we came up with were hundreds of pop culture images, collected from both East and West.”
As we stand looking at the piece, we lapse into a momentary mesmerized silence, and the images drop away, plunging the room into darkness. “When you first enter, the whole room will be black, like this,” Steve says. His voice triggers the display, and once again a dizzying geyser of pop-culture vomit appears out of nowhere. “If it wasn’t moving, it would look like a kind of maximalist montage,” he continues, “but with this programming that Shang has created, it gets a new lease on life.”
It’s no accident that the Reactive Wall features alongside an exhibition of paintings by Erro, Iceland’s most famous Pop artist. “The curator saw this when they were visiting the Singapore Art Museum, and I think she knew this would complement his work—that very Pop, maximalist style,” Steve says. “We’ve had a glimpse next door, and it’s definitely of a similar ilk. I’m excited to see what he thinks of this.”
The work taps into collective memory by presenting familiar images, but even the unfamiliar ones come from a shared lexicon. I spot a little yellow square repeating now and then, and ask what it is. “That one’s from a Chinese medicine for toothaches,” Steve says. “It’s part of the instructions. I supposed it’s just a big eclectic mix of Eastern and Western media—television, films, news, trash culture, cartoon graphics, vintage comics, fast food—all the things these hyper-colour images represent.”
It seems to scream to be translated into an iPad app, and indeed, an early version has already been made. But the two artists like the spectacle of the gallery presentation. “The big thing is always what appeals to us,” says Shang, a somewhat reserved foil for his effervescent collaborator. “Yeah, this is the fun part,” continues Steve. “It’s the environment, the movement, playing between multiple people. I mean, it is fun to play on your iPad, but you do five minutes and then put it away.”
Before we leave to let them finish the installation, a familiar icon shoots out, catching our eye—a ubiquitous pink cartoon pig. “Yeah, we’ve peppered a couple of Icelandic objects in there—the Bónus pig from the supermarket, a puffin and the Kókómjólk cat. It’s going to France next, and we’ll keep collecting stuff from each country, so it’ll keep evolving.”
The two artists hope that plenty of young children will get to see the work. “Part of this is about making art fun and accessible,” Steve says. “Making museums less stuffy places. So instead of being told to ‘shhh,’ we are encouraging crazy behaviour—stamping, jumping and noise.”
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