China 1: Lost in the Metropolis

Friday, June 8th | 19:00 h | Metropolis
Sunday, June 10th | 17:30 h | Zeise 2

China 2: Travel in the Past

Friday, June 8th | 21:00 h | Metropolis

China 2: | Saturday, June 9th | 19:45 h | B-Movie

Hardly any other country remains as remote from European short film festivals as China. The channels of distribution are difficult and short film festivals and portals for online viewing are practically non-existent. While Chinese video art has gained international recognition due to conventional world art shows, Chinese short films remain nearly invisible. Only a few hand-picked curators have the opportunity, expertise and experience to travel the country, search for contemporary video art and short films and discover resistive and subcultural currents.

We are all the more proud this year to have an expert at hand in Zhou Fei, who has been involved in the Chinese film art scene for a long time and who is herself working as a video and media artist.

In two programmes, Zhou compiled contemporary Chinese films and video artworks. In form and content, these films embody the complex and polyphonous nature in which film art is engaging with the recent political and cultural transformations. After all, the economic change vaulted millions of people into completely changed living conditions. The controlled and primarily economical opening to the west at the end of the last century allowed American and European influences in the arts and in pop culture to enter the country, inspiring artists to new aesthetic positions and formal examinations. At the same time Chinese society rediscovered its own culture-historical heritage, as can be seen in the adaption of traditional ink drawings in contemporary animated films. The new consumer behaviour, the economical boom’s impact on nature as well as the burden of smog and pollution on the cities are also mirrored in the works. The balancing act between political directives and the desire for private expression underlies the works and tells us of sociocultural schizophrenias.

All in all, the programmes offer a unique chance to encounter a phenomenon which is difficult to access: the Chinese short film. 

Film selection Zhou Fei

Zhou Fei works as a freelance artist in the fields of photography, video art and media installations. Her works were displayed at exhibitions, film- and media festivals in China, the USA, Germany and Togo.

With kind support from NUE Stiftung

Interview – Zhou Fei

China’s economic transformation vaulted millions of people into completely changed living conditions. How do short films and video art reflect this sociological particle accelerator? 

Zhou Fei: The transformed living conditions and the resulting attitudes towards life are the main subjects of contemporary short films and video art. That’s where the engagement with contemporary societal and subjective issues is taking place.

Is there an examination of European culture or a reassessment of national culture, such as Confucianism?

Ever since the political and economic opening at the end of the last century, a strong influence of western culture, mainly European and American, can be felt. On the other side society is rediscovering its own ancient cultural heritage, as in the use of the aesthetics of brush painting and its underlying philosophical schools of tradition.

What kind of restrictions is the Chinese film and art scene facing?

The situations of the film scenes and art scenes are very different, just like the situation differs for feature films from that of independent short films. The short film scene simply lacks public presentation platforms such as festivals. While video art is an established independent art form within the art scene, the short film has almost turned into a by-product, and it’s very difficult for it to become visible and get attention in China.

Was the international attention for artistic megastars like Ai Weiwei more of a boon or a bane for Chinese artists?

Neither the artistic language nor the economic success of a megastar can be copied. These effects hardly benefitted the multitude of Chinese artists at all.

 What were your criteria in selecting the films? What was your curatorial concept?

I’m guided by contemporary subjects from society and the art scene. I intent to mirror national events and their related emotions, ideas and the resulting aesthetic consequences as intimately and truthfully as possibly.

My key subjects are based on two observations: One the one hand I look at the present, by which I mean a period of over 20 years, beginning with the economy and its ever-faster development. As a consequence, the environment, particularly urban landscapes and social living conditions were fundamentally changed. The programme shows this process of change and the resulting transformation in the subjective perception, understanding, will and longing. On the other hand, I look at the historical past and offer a research trip to private and historical moments, to individual destinies and societal blueprints which conversely influence one another.

Are Eurocentric festivals – especially considering funding policies – even capable of properly appreciating foreign traditions of thought like those underlying the films in your programme?

When I and other Chinese vanguard video and film artists participated at European film festivals at the end of the last century, it was quite a revelation for us. I wish that a contemporary and authentic programme from China can similarly entrance and enrich European audiences.

Interview Birgit Glombitza