UPDATE: Okay, I'm back. a teeny outline of each of the films.
Wenhui's Listening to Third Grandmother's Stories emerged out of CCD's Memory Project: poking around for info about her deceased father, she was told that one last family member remained in their ancestral village: a grand-aunt, 90-something years old.
Visiting her, Wenhui discovered that her grand-aunt wasn't interested in talking about the Great Famine. Instead, she kept going back to her own life story: that of a woman in a landowning family whose life was turned upside-down by the land reforms. (This was why she knew so little about her father: he'd kept this privileged ancestry hidden, as it would've damaged the family's prospects.)
Eventually, she decided to create a feature film of her own (her first ever - remember, she's a choreographer by profession), recording her grand-aunt's story. Most of the film is in black-and-white: the grand-aunt peering into the camera, telling us about her journey from her girlhood eating deer antler soup to her unlucky marriage to the persecutions of the party council: all her possessions confiscated, beaten when she couldn't account for her wedding ring, which had been stolen from her; relatives strappado-ed for asking for more blankets; forced to sell noodle soup in the street and abused when her business was a success.
Really moving. (Though I have to admit I nodded off: the sequences are pretty repetitive.) Wenhui also told us her grand-aunt passed away three months ago: it's thus a tribute to her that she can show this here. And when she went back to the village in 2012 to show her the film, she was so excited she started responding to her interview questions all over again. There's a dance performance that's been created, too - the video playing on a screen in the background, Wenhui and a 24 year-old woman dancing amidst the screens, Wenhui's 70 year-old mother in their midst, being asked questions about the Cultural Revolution, all of which she answers with, "I don't know. "I can't remember." Four generations of Chinese women, surviving history.
However, during filming, the narrative morphed into his own story: from excavating his mother’s old identity cards and photos, the old video footage he’d taken of her, he then discovered his old diaries, full of Cultural Revolutionary propaganda, his evolution from brainwashed Red Guard-uniformed kid to artist.
Like Wenhui, he’s interspersed his documentary footage and confessional monologues with performance art: torturing himself by swallowing an endless roll of cloth, projections of faces on the legs of dancers. And then there are reflections on mortality – the horror of the geriatric clinics, where old people are left to die, their medical treatments only symbolic rituals. Who knows if the patients actually want to be wheeled out to the balcony for air and sun?, he asks.
He says the experience had made him more chill about everything – now when he’s getting e-mails from the curator of the Venice Biennale, he isn’t feverishly excited: he’s more like, okay, maybe we can work with this. And last October, when the authorities shut down a performance of the Memory Project at the Shanghai Biennale, he was like, that’s alright. We’ve had three performances. We don’t need one more.
Wenguang: This film is very special for me. I never did this kind of film before. When I started editing, I started filming, and I thought, what kind of material can I add? The whole process was not like making a film. It was like making something with images.
So that’s the experience of making this film. It’s more relaxed, it’s open, it’s not like a work I had before. It’s not hard, thinking too much, serious. Maybe after fighting for years, I have found a way to use art for myself. It’s good for me to separate my own work and social work.
Still, that doesn’t excuse the Alter U participants from calling the films “boring” and “too long” in the Q&As! How rude! Boh tua boh suay, as we say in Singapore. 无大无小。
No respect. Learn to say things diplomatically, or you’ll end up giving your country a very bad name.