Sights and Sounds: China

June 27 - July 31, 2014

Sights and Sounds: China features new work by Chen Shaoxiong, Huang Ran, Li Ran, and Hao Jingban, selected by Carol Yinghua Lu.

Installation view of Sights and Sounds: Global Film and Video in the Goodkind Media Center. Photo by David Heald.

Recent video art from China has expanded the narrative potential of film to create work that is nuanced and subjective while investigating social and political conditions.Video as an artistic medium arrived in China in the late 1980s. A decade of economic reform spurred a rise in consumer culture, and household electronics became accessible and popular. The first work of Chinese video art is often said to be Zhang Peili’s 30x30 (1988), a single-channel video of the artist piecing together a broken mirror over the course of half an hour. However, a number of other artists at that time were also using video to document monotonous actions, such as a wheel spinning (Zhu Jia) or a person sipping a bowl of noodles (Yan Lei). To a large extent, these faithful recordings of banal activities were meant as a gesture of rebellion against social realism, the enforced mode of artistic production in China for several decades, which featured exaggerated, false depictions of everyday life in the service of ideological beliefs and political propaganda.

In recent years Chinese artists have greatly expanded the narrative potential of film and video to create work that is more nuanced and subjective. Cinema has clearly inspired both Li Ran’s humorous Soviet-style film and Huang Ran’s elaborate drama. Hao Jingban captures the routine of ballroom dancers in her understated observational documentary. Chen Shaoxiong personalizes photojournalism through his ink paintings, re-presenting news footage as an animated music video. While an exact sense of time and location are left vague in each of these works, all revisit the past in order to investigate the social and political conditions of the present.

Carol Yinghua Lu

Carol Yinghua Lu (b. Chaozhou, 1977) lives and works in Beijing. She is a contributing editor at Frieze and the first visiting research fellow at Tate Research Centre: Asia-Pacific. Lu served on the jury for the Golden Lion Award at the 2011 Venice Biennale and was co-artistic director of the 2012 Gwangju Biennale.


Chen Shaoxiong, Ink Media, 2011 – 2013, video, sound, 3 min., 45 sec. Artwork © Chen Shaoxiong, provided by Pékin Fine Arts Gallery, Beijing. Ink Media is based on photographs of protests staged around the world. Chen Shaoxiong downloaded the images from the internet and “revived” them in original ink-and-brush paintings, which he then pieced together to form a video montage. “It only takes three minutes to retell a hundred years of history,” the artist writes of his selective documentary. “Everything else fades away with the passing of time as if these events never happened.”

Huang Ran, Blithe Tragedy (excerpt), 2010, video, 14 min., 52 sec. Artwork © Huang Ran, provided by Long March Space, Beijing and Simon Lee Gallery, London. Blithe Tragedy explores the uncertainty and mutuality of love, sex, violence, power, and death. Androgynous men play all roles—slave and captor, lover and beloved, victim and executioner—in this morally ambiguous fantasy. The film is full of arrestingly beautiful images that borrow from a range of theatrical and cinematic traditions, from commedia dell’arte to science fiction. 

Li Ran, From Truck Driver to the Political Commissar of the Mounted Troops, 2012, video, sound, 8 min., 51 sec. Artwork © Li Ran, provided by the artist and Aike-Dellarco Gallery, Shanghai. This video spoofs Soviet-era cinema, particularly the award-winning film Destiny of a Man (1959). Sergei Bondarchuk directed and starred as Andrei Sokolov, a truck driver for the Red Army who endures the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Like Bondarchuk, Li Ran stars in his own nonsensical version of the film. As a fictitious Soviet soldier reminiscing about the past and yearning for the future, he imitates the affected and artificial style of acting prevalent under Communist ideology in the Soviet Union.

Hao Jingban, An Afternoon Ball, 2013, video, sound, 25 min., 20 sec. Artwork © Hao Jingban. The culture of ballroom dancing is deeply embedded in the memories of two generations of Chinese—those who came of age in the 1950s and those who spent their youth in the 1980s. They are separated by the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), when western-style ballroom dancing was suppressed in favor of mass “loyalty dances” in honor of Mao Zedong. Hao Jingban uses her camera to document, closely and subtly, the vestiges of this significant, nearly forgotten social phenomenon.

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