But is it art?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 December, 2008, 12:00am

Truncated marching legs and squirting penis monsters may sound like the stuff of nightmares, but they're all in a day's work for Bu Hua. Beijing-based Bu, 35, has been making short Flash animations and posting them online since 2001. Her wonderfully bizarre parables combine Chinese industrial landscapes a la Giorgio de Chirico, innocent stories of love and loss, and surreally noir elements.

Most of Bu's works can be viewed free on her website and are hosted in the Flash area of Chinese portal Tom.com. But in recent years, they have also been screened at film festivals from Zagreb to Taipei and have appeared in major exhibitions of contemporary art, including this year's Shanghai and Pusan biennials.

If the scope of sites such as Flash8.net and Flashempire.com is anything to go by, the community creating Flash animations on the mainland is enormous. But when you try to fit such work into the real world, things start to get awkward.

There is no market to speak of for short films, especially for avant garde and non-narrative pieces. Art galleries do, however, sell works by a few Chinese Flash artists such as Wu Junyong. Such sales are generally in small editions of fewer than 10 DVDs, at prices of US$5,000 to US$10,000, for which the buyer gets a fancy DVD case and a certificate of authenticity.

Wu, who is 30 and, like Bu, a graduate of the China Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, is also a purveyor of surreal visions. His Opera series presents an absurd theatre of nude yet sexless figures in dunce caps performing for some sadistic master, presumably the state. In one scene, four performers bow in unison as their faces drop off and snap back like yo-yos. The actors are utterly de-individualised, and the master is much the same whether it is capitalist or communist. And if you don't want to shell out for one of his original edition artworks, you can find most of them online.

Yet if such works aren't really films, and their status as art is questionable, then what are they? It's arguable that they're a new kind of folk art.

Bu says: 'What I like about computer language is that it's especially quick. Other forms are slower, and you lose more of your ideas.

'People want to completely transcend the realities of life. For most people, real life is all about the same. You eat, travel, sing songs, play and that's it. What really separates the personal realm is the life outside of your real life. How far you can go and what you can enjoy in that world - that is of great concern to me.'

She adds: 'What is the ultimate thing in life? I think it's enjoyment.'

Whether or not you are, like Bu, a virtual epicurean, it's hard to argue that such animations draw their power from the emotions poured directly into them by their creators. How these works eventually get co-opted into other realms, whether film, art or something else, is also beside the point.

What's worth noting at this moment is the vibrant community of expression that's creating these works and the creative blossoming that has resulted.