Staring Into Amnesia
A Qiu Anxiong’s Solo Exhibition
UniversalStudios-beijing, Beijing (China)
2007.9.1 —— 2007.10.10Opening: 5pm 1st Sep
Tuesdays to Sundays 11:00-18:00
Qiu Anxiong’s latest exhibition ‘Staring into Amnesia’ explores themes of memory production, referencing the past to explore contemporary concerns. Staged within the carriage of a real train transposed to the exhibition space, twenty four projectors positioned outside the carriage transmit an array of images onto the windows of the vehicle. When viewed from within the darkened atmosphere of the carriage these images are presented as a continuous visual scenery. Interlacing images spliced from historic documentaries with contemporary footage filmed during real train journeys, the juxtaposition of the two triggers weird visual relationships in which the historic footage acts as an adjunct to memory while the contemporary shots create sudden visual punctuation marks. This effect is further heightened by the addition of abstract animation sequences, which serve to prompt the viewer into questioning the reality of what they are seeing. Just as subliminal images inserted into film elicit subconscious reactions, the jarring nature of these sequences create visual non-sequiturs which heighten the viewing experience. The subjectivity of memory is thus called into question by the fusion of the unreal (animated) and hyper-real (documentary) images. The resulting effect lends the work added potency and resonance as images collide and interact in unforeseeable ways.
The images are accompanied by twelve different audio loops which combine both traditional folk songs and instrumentals with experimental sound recordings. Invoking a remembered past while simultaneously refuting it, the combined effect produces an audio-visual labyrinth in which the viewer has to untangle and decipher the different strands and multiple layers of meaning. This interaction between the modern and the historical, the imagined and fantastical becomes a greater allegory for the confusion and loss of history engendered by the vortex of contemporary Chinese culture. Qiu forces us to admit that we are indeed ‘staring into amnesia’ where the amnesia is presented as a vacuum resulting from our insatiable desire for new and ever more alluring visual stimuli.
The employment of the train itself is also used to draw allegorical references to the startling pace of change in contemporary China; unlike other modes of transport such as planes which appear to truncate time by allowing the traveller to transverse vast distances in relatively short periods, the contemplative pace of train journeys permits the viewer to witness the gradual progression through the landscape. By presenting the visual footage as if they are actual scenes glimpsed from train windows, the artist forces us to slowly reconsider and re-appraise the transition and evolution through the modern socio-political and cultural landscape. In this way ‘Staring into Amnesia’ can be interpreted on multiple levels and shows how both history and contemporary concerns can be deconstructed and reassembled to generate new forms and meanings.
The exhibition is supplemented by a new video work which is displayed beyond the train on an array of split screens. Depicting three men (one of whom is the artist) climbing an apparently insurmountable ice-capped mountain amidst torrents of snow and wind, it is easy to read the piece as a meditation on the insignificance of man in the face of nature. However, the artist perhaps intends it to draw a wider allusion to the plight of contemporary man within the wider socio-cultural context. In an age when China is characterized by rapid urbanization and startling economic growth, the relationship and interaction between its populace and the natural world is becoming increasingly strained. As a result the landscape becomes something either to be exploited, admired or viewed almost as an inanimate entity rather than directly engaged with. In this way the use of split screens and multiple viewpoints mimics the fractured and disjointed nature of contemporary urban life and highlights the transgression from a natural to a manufactured and artificial state of existence.
Qiu Anxiong’s video and animation work is imbued with both a detached calmness and an almost lyrical subtlety and grace that transverses sociopolitical concerns while playing with the conventions of time and space, fiction and reality. In this way he offers up a detailed and highly engaging panorama which spans the present and the past with equal finesse.
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