Wang Du

A cartoon in three-dimensional form, Paris-based Chinese expatriate Wang Du’s recent exhibition at Vancouver Art Gallery took the form of a misshapen array of bellicose and lascivious golems cultivated from Chinese military propaganda, Internet porn, and the Western print media. Titled “Parade,” it was timely and well placed, the port of Vancouver being a gateway to Asia that, like North America as a whole, confronts the rising economic behemoth of China with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety.

Du uses polyester resin and acrylic to flesh out his pop-cultural sources and often introduces radical distortions of scale and perspective in the process. The quartet of identical eight-and-a-half-foot-tall female giants, based on an upskirt shot from a Japanese website, that welcomed visitors to Enter!, 2004, is a typical example of his exaggerated approach. Two walls of the gallery were papered floor-to-ceiling with a digital print of a screenshot of the site, with the image of the model that Du used as his source removed, leaving a white silhouette. In a spectacle more imposing than enticing, the purple-toned figures’ oversized rears, atop trunklike legs, were thrust toward the gallery’s entrances.

Another room contained Défilé (Parade), 2000, a forty-foot-long plinth crowded with a jumble of carefully sculpted yet somehow still-malformed Chinese armaments, military vehicles, and soldiers, fronted by a sculpture of a young male student aiming a slingshot. Scattered like propaganda leaflets across the plinth and floor are photocopies taken from Chinese newspapers and military journals. Containing the source images for the main part of Défilé, these account for the sculpture’s loopy proportions: Du translated the cropping and perspectival distortion of each picture into solid form. Further, the sculptures are much larger than their sources but retain the same scale relative to one another as the original images did. Thus a tiny cannon base sprouting an immense swollen barrel is the same size as the student who, sliced off at the waist and perched on the plinth’s edge, appears to have contracted gigantism in his left hand. The bloated result is vaguely surreal but consistent with a vernacular familiar from the contents of wax museums and Disneyland.

The catwalklike format of Défilé, as a superficial allusion to the media’s parade of information, points to a weakness of all the work: Subtle it ain’t. Neither are Du’s contrived “hallucinatory” effects especially strange or disorienting. Du even appears to acknowledge our level of comfort with skewed scale in his enormous—and incongruously soft and cozy—Tapis volant—Time (Flying Carpet—Time), 2000. This 330-square-foot carpet reproduces in woven wool the February 10, 2003, cover of Time magazine, with its image of an exploding space shuttle and headline “The Columbia Is Lost.”

The sensation of wandering unhindered through boundless virtual or actual space (notwithstanding the warning offered by the Columbia disaster) is the one that Du’s work evokes in an interesting way: Snatches of electronic and printed ephemera, which we experience as the products of a highly diffuse yet pervasive visual culture, are here recast as literal monuments, the flux momentarily stilled. Walking around these hulking avatars, we are afforded an askance view, an unusual perspective on the very particular way in which the camera lens frames and interprets the world. Du’s funhouse socialist realism leaves us in a space between two unrealities, torn between the attraction of phenomenal immediacy and the benefits of contemplative distance.

Trevor Mahovsky