Zombies Attack in Artist Mak2’s New Art Fair-Themed Video Game

'Art Survivors,' a first-person shooter game designed by the Hong Kong-based artist, offers a critique of the art market.

Installation view of Mak2's exhibition "Art Survivors." Courtesy of de Sarthe.

Imagine that you’re at an art fair. You spot the familiar faces of industry players, art aficionados, and art-world wannabes between the aisles of gallery booths. They roam the fair floor looking for the next buyer, the next deal, and the next market star. All of a sudden, their focus shifts and they start coming at you—as zombies. In order to survive, you must shoot them all.

Such is the plot of Hong Kong artist Mak2’s latest work Art Survivors (2024), a three-minute first-person zombie shooting game set in an imaginary art fair showing just her artworks that serves as a critique of the capitalistic commercial art world system. The game is featured in the artist’s solo exhibition of the same name at de Sarthe gallery in Hong Kong, where visitors are invited to pick up the controllers and play. Players will be ranked on a score board and their performance in the game will decide whether they can become an art guru or remain as interns.

The work marks the artist’s first foray into video game design. “I’ve been talking about the idea of making an art fair zombie game like this for many years,” said Mak2 in a video call from Hong Kong. “But I always treated this as a joke and it became a conversation filler when I ran out of things to say to people.”

Under the encouragement of Allison Cheung, de Sarthe’s director in Hong Kong, Mak2 decided to turn the concept into a reality. Although it may have started as a “joke,” the art-market critique at the heart of the game has gained more depth for the artist, who has seen her own market take off in recent years, with more and more of her work appearing on the fair scene (her large-scale installation, Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy, was recently featured at Art Basel Hong Kong’s Encounters sector).

“When I first thought of this game, I was an outsider of this art market system. It felt legitimate to mock [the art market],” said the 1989-born artist, whose real name is Mak Ying Tung. “But now, I’m right in the middle of this. What does this mean for me to make a work like this?”

Mak2 explained that, at times, she has doubts about her position as a gallery artist who makes money from selling art in order to survive. She also wondered if mocking the art market while being right at the center of it would betray her training in critical intermedia art, which taught her to decontextualize the subject and be critical from an outsider’s perspective.

“But if I don’t [sell art], what else can I do?,” she said. Mak2 felt that she found a constructive outlet in transforming her own career doubts into parody. Although known for her conceptual art, she is also an aspiring comedian and scriptwriter. Less formally, she also makes comic reels on Instagram mocking the art world. Following the launch of Art Survivors, she is now considering folding video game design into her wide-ranging practice.

A colourful triptych painting that sees a human figure in a bath

One of the works from Mak2’s new series, Home From Home (2024). Courtesy of the artist and de Sarthe.

In addition to the game, the exhibition at de Sarthe features video works comprised of footage of the game’s trailer that are projected on the gallery’s perpendicular walls behind the TV set, making it an an immersive installation even if visitors forego playing the game. On the other side of the gallery, two additional video works offer studies of the obscure behavior of the art fair zombies.

In the adjacent room is the debut of a new painting series titled Home From From, an outgrowth of her acclaimed Home Sweet Home series of works that are based on a dream home she built in The Sims 4 and comment on contemporary surveillance culture. The new series features A.I.-generated images, combining visuals derived from the Home Sweet Home series and the zombie game. The images are then divided into different segments and each was painted by a painter ordered from Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao.

The zombies in Art Survivors, which comes in three editions and one artist proof, do not refer to specific people, Mak2 pointed out. “They simply represent people’s state of being during the art fair period,” she said. “There are so many events and happenings and you are getting lost, but no matter what, you have to keep going.”

“Art Survivors” is on view through June 22 at de Sarthe, Hong Kong.

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