Posts Tagged ‘art’

CinemaTalk: Interview with Professor Eugene Wang on Chinese Art and Film

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

By Michael Chenkin

Professor Eugene Wang

Eugene Yuejin Wang is Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard University. We recently spoke with Professor Wang about his interests in Chinese art and Chinese film, the areas of intersection between these two fields, and his interest in painter Liu Xiaodong, who is the subject of Jia Zhangke’s documentary Dong. Dong will screen Monday 9/26 as the opening film of the 11-film series on Chinese independent film at Doc Films in Chicago. In this conversation Professor Wang reflects at length on the way Liu and other artists work in relation to the idea of nationhood, especially in regards to national disasters such as the 2008 Beichuan earthquake in Sichuan. Wang pays particular attention to Liu’s 2010 work “Getting Out of Beichuan,” which Wang considers “marks a new stage and possibly a new turning point in the contemporary Chinese art scene.”

A native of Jiangsu, China, Wang studied at Fudan University in Shanghai (B.A. 1983; M.A. 1986), and subsequently at Harvard University (A.M. 1990; Ph.D. 1997). He was the Ittleson Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in Visual Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1995-96) before joining the art history faculty at the University of Chicago in 1996. His teaching appointment at Harvard University began in 1997, and he became the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art in 2005.

He has received the Guggenheim Fellowship, Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and postdoctoral and research grants from the Getty Foundation.

His book, Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Visual Culture in Medieval China (2005) has received the Academic Achievement Award in memory of the late Professor Nichijin Sakamoto, Rissho University, Japan. He is the art history associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (New York, 2004).

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dGF: I understand that a lot of your past research focused on Medieval Buddhist art and visual culture. Recently you have been researching Chinese film. Where did these interests arise? In addition, is there any synergy between inquiries into Buddhist art and Chinese film?

Eugene Wang: Before I started researching medieval art, I was deeply engaged in Chinese film. I actually wrote a script and published a few essays. Film has always been one of my side interests. I’m always intrigued by how people screen disparate images together. You have a set of images. They may or may not have a relationship with one another. Somehow you string them together and you have an image flow. In cinematic terms it would be called montage. If these images are on a wall, such as in Buddhist caves and wall paintings, then you have an iconographic program. There is something very interesting about the visual logic underlying this flow of images.
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Artist Yang Weidong’s New Project Asks What Chinese Really Need

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

Yang Weidong interviews a subject for his documentary project "Signal" (Photo: Yang Weidong)

A work in progress by Beijing artist Yang Weidong was recently shown in Hong Kong. Named “Xu Yao” or “Need” in Chinese and “Signal” in English, the documentary comprises of roughly 20 minutes of edited video interviews that Yang conducted with 237 notable Chinese subjects over the past three years. Yang asked each person the same question: “What do Chinese people need most today?” Among the interviewees were director Jia Zhangke and contemporary oil painter Liu Xiaodong, who appears as himself in Jia’s documentary Dong.

The premiere of Yang’s unfinished film project coincided with the publication of the first book in a series, also by him, named Li Ci Cun Zhao: 500 Wei Zhong Guo Ren De Xin Ling Ji Lu (Di Yi Juan) [For the Record: 500 Chinese People's Inner Thoughts (Volume I)]. On July 22, 2011, he was invited to hold a press release for the book at the Hong Kong Book Fair, which was also the venue for the first public screening of “Need.” This event has been recorded in full by the Social Record Association (aka SocREC) of Hong Kong.

The concept for Yang’s project can be traced in the Chinese documentary tradition. Back in 2000, independent filmmaker Ju Anqi made There’s a Strong Wind in Beijing, in which he and his crew famously confronted people in both public and private space in Beijing with the same question of whether they thought that the wind in Beijing was strong. Though absurd, this question sometimes opened up the conversations, tricking people to divulge what was really on their mind. Compared to Ju’s film, which is certainly more spontaneous and experimental in nature, Yang’s “Need” is more serious and urgent in tone, and the reason must be traced to Yang’s initial motivation for the project.

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History in Progress, with Gaps: The National Museum of China, Part Two

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer

Visitors seem dazzled by the might of painterly propaganda in the "90th anniversary of the CCP" painting exhibit.

A major function of the National Museum of China is its definition and display of Chinese history under the Party. This section, somewhat romantically entitled “The Road of Rejuvenation” takes up a major part of NMC’s northern section. I walked through it all, from the Opium War to “China in Space.”

Inside the Grand Hall. If it looks like an elegant version of a terminal, it's because the German architects specialize in airports.

First, we enter a sculptural antichamber. This has got to be one of the weirdest immersive sculptural environments I’ve ever seen. An enormous entrance hall has been clotted with what looks like baked clay (I guess it’s depressingly expensive bronze that preserves the original rough slapdash clay “style” of the sculpture). On the left, scenes of feudal China (somewhat more beguiling than depressing, to my eye). On the right, scenes of modern China under the Leadership of the Party (really bleak and ugly, a lot of it is weirdly blank but one can make out a kindergarten model style mini-HK skyline, a high speed train rushing across the Tibetan plateau, and a fast cosmic ball of something, whirring with lumpy clay energy. In the middle, brutally (or, rather, I should say boldly) cleaving past and future in two is a sleek perforated sculpture, designed like a retro jet age style symbolic representation of what must be the progressive force of the Chinese Communist Party (think 1930s deco aggressively angled car hood ornament the size of a small jet). Suitably ideologically seasoned, I entered the Road of Rejuvenation galleries.

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Heavenly Culture, with Product Placement: A Tour of the National Museum of China, Part One

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer

The gallery of Ancient Chinese art in the National Museum of China may be the new highlight of anyone's visit to Beijing.

Beijing’s new National Museum of China opened in March 2011. It’s been steadily expanding inside since, opening more and more galleries to the public. Recently, the galleries of ancient art were finally opened, so I decided it was time to make a thorough visit (I’d been once before in early May just to take a look at the building) and see how the Chinese nation choses to present itself in a grand museum setting.

First of all, the setting. It is very grand. Super gigantic-grand. Reports in Western media describe an amusingly direct series of phone calls by planners of the National Museum of China (NMC) to western museum experts. Sample questions: “What is the floor space of the Louvre?” “What about the British Museum in London?” Clearly, the architects’ brief included making this the Largest Museum In The World (to match Beijing Capital Airport’s Terminal 3, the Largest Building In The World; the Great Wall, and so on). Apparently they succeeded, and out of the shell of two older museums on Tiananmen Square, the Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the National Museum of China is being born, a giant monument to China’s fabled 5000 year history, and as we shall see, to the faithful guardianship of this immense history by the Chinese Communist Party. “Is being born” because the NMC is still a work in progress. Vast swathes of the building are still uninhabited, forthcoming galleries uninstalled. But I would estimate that at least half of the Museum is now open, more than enough for a full day of provocative and sometimes entrancing museum-going.

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Cao Fei and Chinese Youth Culture

Thursday, July 7th, 2011
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Cao Fei (photo credit: The New York Times)

By Ariella Tai

Internationally renowned visual artist Cao Fei has recently put on a new show entitled “Play Time,” pieces of which are currently on view at the Lombard-Freid Projects in Chelsea, New York City. The show takes inspiration from children’s television shows like “Thomas and Friends,” “Teletubbies” and the BBC program “The Night Garden,” as well as other forms of youth entertainment, like puppets and miniature skateboards. The New York Times profile observes, “The show seems to be a transitional one for Ms. Cao, who plans to shut down “RMB City” [her acclaimed online interactive environment] this summer. But it has her trademark sensibility: pop and playful on the surface, complex social portrait underneath.” Her reconstruction of Thomas the Tank Engine travels around Beijing as it picks up construction debris and transports it to a large dump near the Summer Palace, while her skate park for tiny skateboards exhibits architecture reflecting the highly developed landscapes of contemporary Chinese cities.

More after the break.

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CinemaTalk: A Conversation with Ou Ning

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

By Dan Edwards

Ou NIng

In addition to being an artist, curator, writer, and director of the Shao Foundation, China’s cultural renaissance man Ou Ning is also an acclaimed documentary filmmaker. After making the experimental San Yuan Li in 2003 with Cao Fei and other members of the U-theque collective in Guangzhou, Ou Ning relocated to China’s capital, where he made Meishi St (2006) about the demolition of one of Beijing’s oldest areas in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics. Both films are now part of the dGenerate Films catalogue.

In March 2010 I interviewed Ou Ning in Beijing about his filmmaking career for an article I was writing on China’s independent documentary sector for RealTime Arts magazine in Australia. Only a few select quotes appeared in that piece, but the complete interview contains a wealth of fascinating material not only on Ou’s background, but also the rise of China’s “digital” documentary generation.

Thanks to Ou Ning for his time and for speaking so openly about some controversial matters. The interview was conducted mostly in English.


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Zhao Liang’s Beijing Landscape Exhibition, now through December 7

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Poster for Beijing Landscape exhibition (click to englarge)

By Sara Beretta

In depicting the instability of China’s social environment, the work of Zhao Liang is a wake-up call to audiences. Zhao reflects his perspective through a range of visual approaches – photography, video and documentary – offering a valuable space for self-reflection and awareness. His gaze is elegant and artistic, gently detached yet sharply observant in picturing daily contradictions and human tragedies, offering a poetic reflection that shades into social criticism.

All of this makes his solo exhibition Beijing Landscape (Beijing Shanshui) a must-see event. Beijing Landscape, which runs from November 12 to December 7, is hosted at Studio-X, in partnership with Three Shadows Photography Center. Zhao’s 25-minute video Narrative Landscape, along with selected works from his previous Water Series (2004-2008) and Beijing Green Series (2004 – 2007) juxtapose tradition and modernity, both in nature and aesthetics, not transcending the commonplace but offering original and quiet introspection.

Zhao’s solo show also features his documentaries, starting with Crime and Punishment (2007, distributed by dGenerate). Conflicts between individuals, authority, state, society and environment flow throughout Zhao’s narrative. There’s also the masterpiece Petition, a 12-year project that intimately and dramatically shows the lives of petitioners in Beijing. Zhao’s committed approach immerses us in the petitioner’s plight, implying that anyone is potentially a victim of the dysfunctions of the social institutions governing China. As Zhao himself becomes an active participant in his own film, Petition demonstrates Judith Butler’s theory of how social reality is not a given but continually created as an illusion “through language, gesture, and all manner of symbolic social sign.” Zhao points out the oppressive contradictions governing China’s society, while depicting a humanist struggle whose pain is universally recogniziable.

Sara Beretta is an anthropologist and PhD student at Milan University, researching Chinese independent cinema and visual production.

Absurdity, Art, and Life on Tape: Report from the 2010 Reel China Documentary Biennial

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Tape (dir. Li Ning)

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

Published as part of Dong Week at dGenerate Films, a series of articles on Jia Zhangke and the art world in China.

Absurdity loomed large at the Reel China Documentary Biennial this year, held at New York University from October 15-17. The two film directors on hand, Huang Weikai and Du Haibin, repeatedly used “absurd” to describe the message that they wanted their films to convey. In Huang’s Disorder and Du’s 1428, this sense of absurdity is manifested acutely in their apocalyptic visions of urban Guangzhou and rural Sichuan province, respectively. It is as if in exchange for economic acceleration, China has traded its citizens’ sanity. No one can deny that in China progress is real, but it is also mindless. To quote Jean Baudrillard in his book The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena, progress “picks up speed precisely in proportion to its increasing indifference to its original aims.” We can perhaps say that, though the word is derogatory in meaning, “absurdity” is indicative of China’s final arrival at the dawn of post-modernity.

Perhaps no film exemplified this theme more comprehensively than Tape, contemporary avant-garde dancer Li Ning’s five year chronicle of his personal life, alternating between his struggles with two types of “family”: his oft-neglected wife, son and mother; and his enthusiastic but unstable dance troupe comprised of college students. Made amidst a massive urban renovation project performed on his hometown of Jinan, the film is a postmodernist collage of cinéma vérité-style filming of Li’s interactions with his family, direct cinema-style filming of civic incidents, such as three men holding down a woman as her store is shut down, self-reflexive confessions, scripted voice-over narration, computerized special effects, experimental mise-en-scene, dream sequences, dialectical editing, and so on. (more…)

Jia Zhangke and China’s Art World: Announcing Dong Week at dGenerate

Monday, November 8th, 2010

This week the dGenerate blog is spotlighting Jia Zhangke’s rare and underappreciated film Dong, which is one of the newest additions to the dGenerate Films catalog. To commemorate the film’s availability, this week we are posting articles related to Jia as well as on art and artists in China, the central theme of this film.

Additionally, readers are welcome to send in links to their favorite or most relevant articles on both art in China and Jia Zhangke. Please share your links in the comments section.

In Dong, China’s greatest living filmmaker Jia Zhangke (Platform, The World) travels with acclaimed painter Liu Xiaodong from China to Thailand as they meet everyday workers in the throes of social turmoil. Read a full description of the film from our catalog.

Here’s what Shelly Kraicer had to say about Dong in Cinema-scope, while also discussing Dong’s companion piece, Still Life:

As Jia maps it, cinema does not divide neatly into fiction and documentary.Dong creates a subjective world, as much inside the mind of the artist Liu as outside in objective space. Still Life digs deep to reveal an underlying reality, mobilizing sophisticated formal strategies to create images of truth. These same strategies demand – or, rather, construct, during the process of watching – viewers who are ready to watch, absorb, and feel this vision. It is a vision of a man-made hell, of the monumental and limitless destruction left behind by a society rushing to tear up its foundations and gut its history. And it is a vision of embodied resistance – an individual, physical resilience that can spark an impossible, miraculous, but tangible hope in a world that seems to offer none.

Watch the trailer for Dong:

Blurring the Boundaries Between Art and Film in China

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Meishi Street (dir. Ou Ning)

By Sara Beretta

Everyone, in a sense, is an artist, in that we all strive to better express ourselves. As bricoleurs, we all do our best to depict our thought, wishes and fears, making use of the media we were given (voice, gestures and action, broadly speaking) and employing techno media, in the big and blurry cloud of creativity, communication and experimentation. People mix sounds, images and what else occurs in order to be better heard and understood or, on the contrary, to conceive meanings in different and alternative, sometimes obscure and imaginative, ways.

It’s not that surprising, then, that boundaries are blurring in art, as more creatives are exploring liminal areas and practices to narrate themselves and the world they live in. This is true for contemporary Chinese artists and filmmakers, mixing practices and channels to convey their ideas. Renowned examples include artist Ai Weiwei’s work in documentaries, Ou Ning and Cao Fei’s projects in video art and films (including dGenerate’s titles Meishi Street and San Yuan Li, as well as the productions Renminbi City and Vitamin Creative Space), multimedia works by Yang Fudong, and Song Tao’s Birds Heads. In a recent article in Red Box Review, curator Samantha Culp expresses her wishes for the outcome of this mixing, specifically in how it might help sustain China’s independent film scene:

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