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Gas Zappers Opens at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

BERKELEY, CA.- The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) presents Gas Zappers, an exhibition featuring an interactive online art game that tackles global warming. A video version of Gas Zappers, which was created by artist Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, screened at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. The BAM/PFA presentation of Gas Zappers marks the world premiere of the fully realized work. An Internet art work that will be accessible via BAM/PFA’s website, Gas Zappers will also be playable through a computer console in the museum’s lobby. Gas Zappers, which is curated by Digital Media Director and Adjunct Curator Richard Rinehart, and runs through February 8, 2009.

The game’s protagonist is the polar bear—that victimized, yet cuddly symbol of global warming. Players embody the polar bear as it progresses through different climate change scenarios: Venice under water, a forest threatened by bulldozers, and an altercation with vicious oil derricks. Celebrities—political and otherwise—flutter through and interact with our hero; Leonardo DiCaprio introduces the bear to Dr. R.K. Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, while George W. Bush drills for oil in the North Pole and keeps warm by barbecuing the Kyoto protocol. Using solar panels and other renewable energy defenses, the bear narrowly succeeds in fighting off the evil forces that threaten the environment.

Like much of the artist’s work, Gas Zappers is visually frenetic and colorful, referencing numerous popular and political sources. The game incorporates graphical and musical styles from the glory days of video games and repurposes them for satirical effect. The piece fits into the genre of “serious games,” a burgeoning movement in media art that uses the language of video games for political and educational purposes, fostering social debate through a widely accessible medium. In this way, Hung’s game is a descendent of the great political comics and cartoons of previous generations; its presentation at BAM/PFA reinforces Berkeley and the Bay Area’s position at the center of the cultural debate around alternative energy sources and global warming. This is due in no small part to developments like the $500 million joint project between UC Berkeley and British Petroleum to develop alternative biofuels. Gas Zappers furthers this discourse in a way that is simultaneously serious, fantastical, and wry.

Though a blistering critique of the political and corporate forces that have hastened global warming, Gas Zappers offers no easy sociopolitical answers in this season of heightened partisanism. The game lampoons all sides, questions whether real success is lost amid the bells and whistles of the game of politics and media, and presents a dizzying view of contemporary consciousness. Gas Zappers draws on a multitude of artistic influences ranging from Dadaist John Heartfield to satirist Tom Nast, with references to contemporary video game artist Cory Arcangel and electronic remix music artists. Robert Shuster wrote for the Village Voice, “Hung’s lampoons, as biting as they are, flood the screen with candy-colored cheer and childlike, Monty Python humor.”

Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung received a New Media Fellowship, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, to develop Gas Zappers. He was born in Hong Kong and now lives and works in New York. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arts from San Francisco State University. His work has been exhibited at the New Museum, New York; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah; Postmasters Gallery, New York; Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford, United Kingdom; Urbis, Manchester, United Kingdom; Hebbel Am Ufer theatre, Berlin, Germany.

Gas Zappers will be presented in lobby of the Berkeley Art Museum and can be accessed via BAM/PFA’s website at

Support - Gas Zappers is supported by a Renew Media Arts Fellowship and the Tribeca Film Institute. Collaborators Noah Vawter and Benjamin Abrams produced the music and programming, respectively, for Gas Zappers.

Programs at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive are supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Packard Humanities Institute, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Bernard Osher Foundation, The Henry Luce Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Columbia Foundation, The Christensen Fund, and other private foundations, corporations, government agencies, and individuals, including the BAM/PFA membership. Major endowment support has been provided by the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation and by George Gund III.

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