Two years ago, Bin Feng walked down Disneyland’s Main Street USA in a gold bodysuit covered in enamel pins.
The performance piece (which lasted 30 minutes during one of Disney’s many parades and caused a major traffic jam before Feng was escorted out by security) was one facet of the artist’s “Pin Man” project–an attempt to “discuss pop culture and the value systems” inherent to America. In preparation for the performance, Feng traveled across the country to buy and trade pins, documenting it all as he went.
As the story goes, after the Pin Man was kicked out of Disney World he packed a suitcase full of the best art on Earth. He then boarded a spaceship in search of the Pin Planet. Pin Man: A Spacetime Odyssey documents that journey through four photographs, a video, a large collage work, and two installation pieces.
Largely known for his photographic body of work The American Dream, a series which examines the strangeness of western culture from the perspective of an outsider, Pin Man is a curious departure for Feng. SAI’s editor Kayla Goggin sat down with him yesterday at Non-Fiction Gallery to find out more about the exhibition ahead of the Friday, August 12 opening reception.
SAI: Can you tell me what made you decide to do this project? It’s really different from your previous work.
Bin Feng: I do video installations, sculptures, and oil paintings, but I don’t want to limit myself to a particular medium because mediums represent possibilities. We are living in a world which is all about materialism. This is our reality. I wanted to show that.
SAI: Is that why you decided to use the pins? As a representation of that?
Feng: Kind of. I’m interested in currency systems. By trading pins with people and friends, I attempt to create a new currency system with no money involved.
SAI: I wanted to ask a bit about your journey to get these pins. You traveled around the country and bought some but you also had people give you pins as well, right?
Feng: Exactly. The whole idea is to share the Pin Man with people and pique their interest, share life experiences and try to see if they have a collection I can borrow or share.
SAI: Does that idea of collecting fascinate you?
Feng: Yes, it’s very addictive.
SAI: Do you find yourself addicted to collecting these pins?
Feng: Yeah, but not only the pins. I also collect beer bottles as evidence of parties. You’ll see those in this exhibition. The show is really all about collecting, but I’m not just collecting pins. I’m also collecting physical pictures and beer bottles and receipts. I have every single receipt since I arrived in the United States. Those will be included in a future exhibition. I have two huge boxes of receipts.
SAI: Who is the Pin Man?
Feng: He’s a character designed by me. I feel like Marvel is really popular here, like hero culture is really popular in the United States. When we did the performance art piece in Disney World, everyone there thought I was a new Disney character. I managed to gain the maximum of amount popularity I could within the 30 minutes before security came. That’s the point of creating a character–to draw attention from people. That’s also the reason why we chose Disney. Everyone has a camera and they’re looking for entertainment.
SAI: Did you feel weird doing that performance at all? It seems so different from your other work. Your photography is very immaculate and cinematic. There’s a lot of effort that goes into that one moment. To relinquish control and do a performance piece seems so out of character for you.
Feng: People keep asking me about the direction I took but I actually started the Pin Man project 3 years ago. I started the American Dream series a year and half ago. So this is actually more about me. But since I’ve been here, I had to find a way to approach the gallery system. It seems like photographs are much easier to sell.
SAI: So this is a less commercial show for you.
Feng: Yeah, I’d say that. Also, the reason there’s only 4 images is because they took so much work and money to create. We managed to work with a film crew and the director was a SCAD student. This was his thesis film. We made an agreement and he paid for the labor and materials and I designed a spacecraft for him. Then we collaborated. He asked his crew to light the spacecraft for me and I took the photos. Two photographs cost us about $50,000 to make because we actually had to build the environment in a warehouse. It’s almost like an independent movie.
SAI: Will the Pin Man make an appearance at the exhibition or is the character being represented some other way?
Feng: He’s represented by this cloth installation piece, four photographs, and via a video. My entire collection of pins will be on display in a piece called The Cloth of Pin Man.
Pin Man: A Spacetime Odyssey opens at Non-Fiction Gallery on Friday, August 12 with a reception from 6 – 9pm.