Posts Tagged ‘performance’

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…)