Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: review
Thursday, 11 December 2014 17:46

A Touch of Sin Review

 A Touch of Sin is a film by Jia Zhangke (賈樟柯). I've only seen Platform (《站台》) by him before, so am unfamiliar with the majority of his work. The Chinese title of the film differs from the English title, in that the Chinese means literally, "fate appointed by the heavens," whereas the English title has a more Christian ring to it, although I read that it is apparently a nod to the English title of a martial arts film called A Touch of Zen (《俠女》).


Monday, 23 June 2014 00:00

Book Review: Evan Osnos 'Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China'


This is a great, accessible read, that offers a map for those interested in picking their way through the minefield of press reports on China, ranging from the "China threat" myth perpetuated by some of the Western press and the "China is the best thing since sliced bread" line served up by China's state media.

 

On my first read I felt a little uncomfortable with the same old rhetoric trotted out about China at the start of this book, which set out the argument that China is traditionally a "collective" society in contrast to the "individualist" Western society. The logic seemed slightly confused for me, as the timeline jumped around a bit, citing Liang Qichao's invocation of Cromwell to illustrate China's collectivism, and contrasting this to the ideals of Greek society - despite the fact that Cromwell is also "Western". This became a lot clearer, however, when I heard a Sinica podcast on the subject, which makes the division between wheat growing cultures, herding cultures and rice-growing cultures, and explains that this division is not so necessarily East/West, but also divides different places in China. It also clarified what is actually meant by "individualist" and "collectivist" societies, which may sometimes be slightly counter-intuitive:

 

Listen to it here.

 

This also reminded me of an interview that I had subtitled on the differences between Western art and Chinese art that had sparked a long discussion between me and a Taiwanese friend, when she revealed that she thought there was inherent differences between Western and (ethnically or culturally) Chinese people, whereas I've always been in the "people are essentially the same" camp - it's just about relative conservatism. The interview was with Tim Yip, the art director for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, who was talking about differences between Western and Chinese art:

 

 

I thought that it was a little inappropriate to contrast Chinese traditional art or furniture to Andy Warhol and concept art, as if that's representative of Western tradition, but it sparked an interesting conversation with my friend and Yip raises some interesting points on the role of the artist and of religion in traditional Western art and how perceived individualism and collectivism impinges on artistic expression, although I felt his idea of Eastern tradition sounded a lot like Plato's plane of ideal forms, despite my friend's protestations that I just wasn't understanding spacial dimensions of the Chinese word "境界" - which I think I translated as "aura" but could easily have been "paradigm".

 

I've regularly engaged Taiwanese friends on the cultural exceptionalism they often use to define themselves, but am yet to find a difference that is greater than the cultural divide between me and my maternal grandmother, although in China I thought that the culture gap was a lot larger. I thought Osnos made an effort throughout the book to undermine this cultural relativism later in the book, however, by presenting a wide range of interesting and diverse individuals throughout the book, and I even suspected that this was a deliberate attempt by the author to undermine this kind of generalization. He actively debunks many of the prevalent ideas about Chinese cultural differences, particularly with the common stories featured in the news about accidents or attacks in China which include a heartless onlooker trope, like in the story about a woman attacked and killed in a McDonald's across the street from a police station by members of a pseudo-religious organization while other patrons just looked on, or this story about a man in Yunnan who was jeered at and told to get on with it, when he was threatening to jump to his death in Yunnan. This is often attributed to a difference in cultural norms, and I've even heard some ex-pats insist that China has too many people for individual life to be of any value. Osnos does a good job of undercutting this trope, with reference to the case of a young girl who was killed in a hit-and-run killing, and whose body was passed over by several people before a trash collector found her and tried to get her help. By fleshing out the story and letting us see that the "heartless onlookers" in the eye-grabbing headline are more human than we'd like them to be portrayed, when he visits them and asked them why they failed to help her:

 

They were conscripted into a parable, but the morality play did not do justice to the layers of their lives.

 

Indeed, it's in his descriptions of people, that Osnos gives us some of the most well-crafted lines in the book, like, when describing a dating site founder, he says of her:

 

... she was propelled by bursts of exuberance and impatience, as if she were channeling China's industrial id.

 

Osnos is very insightful and sensitive in his portrayal of all the people that he presents to us in his book, and they appear completely unvarnished, giving readers an insight into how high-profile figures in the West, like Ai Weiwei are viewed in China. He knows a lot of key figures in China's art and media scene, which allows him to pepper the book with comments from figures from China's literary and arts scene, like Wang Shuo and Jia Zhangke, while he still gives equal weight to the Chinese everyman and those whose ambitions were never realized.

 

There's an incredible range of facts in the book and lots of interesting detail, which give us the context to decisions announced dryly by the state press, and allow for a more rounded interpretation of the logic and aims of the Communist Party and what dilemmas they face as China continues to develop, along with the ideological impact of the choices they make, like the decision in 2002 to change references to the party from "revolutionary party" to "party in power," for example.

 

I was also fascinated to solve a question that I still remember from my third year course in Chinese at Leeds in the UK, when we translated a text with the term "bobozu" (波波族) and there had been a debate as to where the term came from, with one of my coursemates informing us that it was an acronym for "burnt out but opulent," which didn't seem very relevant to the China we had left the previous year. Osnos reveals that a satirical sociological book by David Brooks had been translated into Chinese a few years earlier called Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There and had become a bestseller, "bourgeious bohemians" being the "bobo" or "bubo" in question, although I still like my classmate's explanation better.

 

Osnos' book is also very funny, with little tidbits of information that will have you chuckling, such as night schools teaching Chinese to spit liquor into their tea to avoid getting drunk when out with their bosses and the state-media accusing a Chinese nationalist blogger of being a fifty-center (paid by government to keep the public internet debate in line amongst other funny tales.

 

There's also a real insight into the power of nationalism in the book, captured by the author in the words of Lu Xun on foreigners:

 

We either look up to them as gods or down on them as animals.

 

The way tools, such as patriotism, xenophobia and nationalism, are deployed in China, by the state, the media and individuals is highlighted by the author throughout the book, as well as how the state censorship machine really functions on the ground.

 

A worthwhile read for anyone with even a passing interest in China who wants to understand what China is really all about, and the people that constitute its citizenry. The book is divided into the three sections that are the three things most discussed in references to China by outsiders - "fortune" referring to is now the cliched "meteoric rise" of China's economy, "truth" dealing with the media in China and censorship, and finally faith, dealing with what people often refer to as the spiritual poverty of China, and how this is rapidly changing as China opens up and people look for something beyond the physical.

 

5/5 Must read

 

This was originally published on Conor's blog, check it out here.


Tuesday, 20 May 2014 00:00

"Generation Z: ReNoise" and a Little Bit More

The CTM festival, a.k.a the Festival for Adventurous Music & Art in Berlin earlier this year placed a lot of emphasis on early electronic music from Eastern Europe, especially music from the USSR. One of the main attractions of CTM festival was "Generation Z: Renoise", an exhibition on "Russian Pioneers of Sound Art and Musical Technology in the Early 20th Century". For a whole month, the exhibition space down the hallway of the Bethanien was filled with a variety of noise instruments made from metal and wood. Guests were turning handles, banging gongs, drilling against large pieces of sheet metal to their heart's content, and the clickety clack, rumble, boom and twang never ceased. It was like a collective improv noise performance. These machines were replicas of the noise machines invented by Vladimir Aleksandrovich Popov (1889-1968) in the 1940s.

For many years, the imagination of Soviet art in the minds of the general public were dominated either by the dreadful description of a mechanically produced novel by George Orwell, or the forced cheerfulness of North Korean patriotic songs on youtube that are so often the subject of ridicule by bored netizens.

"Generation Z" is a reminder of a USSR that wasn't all kitsch. During the early 20's, there was a brief flash of creativity in Russian history, when artists and scientists strove to create a communist utopia where man and machine were one. Noise orchestras, post-human discourse, experiments in graphical sound and musique concrète appeared, way before anything similar appeared in the West. These projects were the brain child of the Russian avant-garde groups, heavily influenced by Russian futurism and further inspired by Lenin's 1920 dictum "Communism equals Soviet power plus the Electrification of the Entire Country". Unfortunately, these progressive ideas were seen as hostile to the authority of the Bolshevik government. They were gradually repressed by Lenin and brutally abolished by Stalin.

Julia-CMT-ThereminThe main star of the exhibit was Leon Theremin (1896-1993), who invented the famous theremin and who also worked for the KGB making machines for espionage. Works of lesser known artists who were nonetheless way ahead of their times also featured in the exhibition. There was Arseny Avraamov (1885-1944), who was already experimenting with the prepared piano, and Dziga Vertov (1896-1954), who was already toying with pre-recorded music and musique concrète.

However, the most interesting part of the exhibition for me was its introduction of the various organizations, or to use the curator's own words, the various "network cultures", which are "based on numerous cross-connected "creative units" comprised of artists and scholars" that sprouted in attempt to contribute their own version of Soviet utopia. For instance, Proletkult, founded by Alexander Bogdanov (1873-1928), was a organization that aimed to re-examine traditional art, literature and science through cybernetics in order to create a new proletarian culture. It opened studios in worker's unions all over the country, using nonhierarchical methods to encourage workers to express their own voice.

"Generation Z" focused on the noise orchestras that sprouted accompanying the experimental theaters that performed under Proletkult. The display of instruments used in these orchestras were imbued with a heavy punk DIY spirit, as they were commonly made with household objects such as chairs, pig bladders, or abacuses. This was in accordance with the Constructivist slogan "art into life", which, according to scholar Konstantin Dudakov-Kashuro, made "no distinction between everyday life and art, production and culture, work and leisure, musical instruments and working tools." Of course, there was a more pragmatic reason underlying these high claims: Russia was facing a lack of materials to create traditional instruments due to the ongoing civil war.

Julia-CMT-Portrait-of-Alexei-Gastev-by-Z.-TolkachevWhile organizations like Proletkult were busy cultivating their utopia from a class-based approach, others did so through the attempt of fusing man and machine. A radical institute called The Central Institute of Labour (CIT) was founded in 1920 by Alexey Gastev (1882-1939) and supported by Lenin. Heavily influenced by Fordism and Taylorism, Gastev sought to realize the man/machine metaphor through biomechanics: Instruments for photography and film were found within the institute, monitoring the workers' movements in order to calculate the most efficient working method. The ideal was that by the completion of the training, "full automatism" would be attained and workers' mind would be freed to engage in new stimuli.

Unfortunately, most of these projects came to a nasty end. Bogdanov's insistence on Proletkult's autonomy from the central Communist was viewed as a threat by Lenin. As a consequence, Bogdanov was removed from the leadership role of Proletkult, while Proletkult itself was made into a subsection of the governmental cultural agency. It was closed down by the Communist party in April 1932. in 1938 Alexei Gastev was arrested for "counter-revolutionary terrorist activity" and executed the following year. The CIT was subsequently closed down. By the mid 40's, these projects had been erased from the "official" history of Soviet Russia. New ideas were stifled because under Stalin's regime, anything that was beyond immediate comprehension was branded as "formalism", idle contemplations of the petty bourgeois and should be immediately banned. What was left was Stalinist realism, a cookie cutter style that existed only to glorify Communist rule.

One wonders why Lunaacharsky's proposal to composer Sergei Prokofiev: "You are revolutionary in music as we are revolutionary in life – we should work together" faced such a sour end. Proletkult sought to spread culture among the proletarians, the CIT sought to realize Lenin's electrified communist moto. Clearly they couldn't be seen as immediate threats to the revolution. "Generation Z" blames the authoritarian nature of the Bolshevik government: "By their very nature, authoritarian states are not interested in supporting ideas that incite society to any activity that might undermine their authority." While this may be true, the exhibit's clear-cut distinction between the "artistic and scientific Utopia" of the 1910s and 20s and the "totalitarian, highly centralized anti-Utopia" of the 30s to 50s tantalizes the visitor, beckoning to them to fill in the gaps.

Julia-CMT-noise-machine01Noise Machine invented by Vladimir Popov and reconstructed by Music Laboratory.

Is there no contiguity at all between Utopia and Dystopia? Further studies show that this is not the case. For instance, while the exhibit portrays avant-garde artists striving together towards an electrified communist utopia, some may argue that the idea of the Russian avant-garde and the Communists working arm in arm is a misconception. According to Gassner Hubertus's article "The Constructivists Modernism on the Way to Modernization", many of the Russian Futurists were anarchists before the 1917 October Revolution. They differed from the Bolsheviks in that they distrusted any form of institution and insisted on the autonomy of art from the government. The insurgence of the Bolsheviks however, created a vacuum in the governmental art department, as right-winged conservative artists were mostly sympathizers of the previous social democratic government. The traditional preservationist approach to art on the Bolsheviks' part, on the other hand, was interpreted by the leftist anarchists that artistic freedom could once again fall back to institutional tutelage that haunted the 300 year czarist regime. Some avant-garde leftists thus decided to work with the government and gain at least some political leverage.

julia-CMT-CIT-posterWhile they enjoyed a honey moon period around 1918-19, in which various avant-garde museums and exhibitions were held, institutions became increasingly centralized after the end of the Civil War in the autumn of 1920. Publications ceased to exist and autonomous artistic organizations were dissolved. In a letter criticizing Proletkult, the communist party accused the futurists involved of exerting subversive influences in the organization. Facing this series of defeats, the avant-garde leftists had to rethink their position in society. They came up with constructivism, which attempted to identify the artist with the worker and their artwork as product, thus the slogan "art into life", as mentioned in Dudakov-Kashuro's commentary on Soviet noise orchestras. Though this concept claimed to renovate the relationship between art and everyday life, the price was the disavowal of the artist as subject, as the poet Mayakovski clearly revealed in his statement in 1920: "We declare: to hell with individualism, to hell with words and emotions... so that we can even renounce our own personality... the poet can't be forced but he can force himself"

The artists justified themselves by identifying with the workers in a worker's state, but art risked losing its critical stance to life. Indeed, some critics argued that constructivism wasn't a merging of art into life, but a liquidation of art into life. Marxist scholar Dave Walsh even went so far as to accuse the constructivists for paving the road to Stalin's later oppression of art:

"There is no question that the Futurist-Constructivists, as well as the early Proletkul'tists, provided certain slogans, issues and ideological weapons that were seized upon by the Stalinists and utilized against artistic production itself. The diatribes against inspiration, intuition, "soulfulness," "haziness," etc., were used to regiment and straitjacket the artists of a later period."

Of course, this is in no way to say that the artists got what they deserve, but rather it was an attempt to offer a contiguous transition of the gap left by "Generation Z" in their Utopia/Dystopia dichotomy. It would be insensitive and irresponsible to say that things would be different if those in the avant-garde had done things differently. Art and culture is the most fragile organ of a civilization. In such turbulent times they didn't really stand a chance.


Images Captions:

1. The theremin
2. Noise Machine invented by Vladimir Popov and reconstructed by Music Laboratory  
3. Portrait of Alexei Gastev by Z. Tolkachev
4. CIT poster: “Let’s take the snow-storm of the revolution in the USSR, let’s put the rhythm of american life and perform well-adjusted work like chronometer.”



Wednesday, 26 January 2011 15:53

A review of "Beyond Hatred"

A documentary by Olivier Meyrou, France, 2005
 

This French documentary discussed the murder of a 29 year old gay man by three skinheads in Rheims, France. It was interesting in that it worked in a distinct way from the way events such as this are normally covered by the press or in other films that portray the events as they happen like the melodramatic Matthew Shepard Story or Prayers For Bobby that intentionally pull on heart strings for a big impact. The more introspective style of the documentary started 780 days after the death of Francois Chenu, and focused on the journey of the parents and the siblings of Francois as they reluctantly let go of their anger towards the perpetrators, and faced them in court to hear their testimony and defense. The documentary portrayed brilliantly the very banal nature of the proceedings surrounding the trial, and the way in which the grief played out for each member of the family. It cuts through the performative rhetoric of the victim, that one sees already polished whether in press releases and or in lawyer's prepared statements, by showing us the emotive discussion and preparation, even debate over a single word in the prepared statement. In this way the audience is brought to the realization that the strong face that the family show under the spotlight in the documentary is revealed to be more complex.

 
I thought one scene was particularly interesting, in which the mother tells the camera that some part of her does not want to confront the perpetrators, because she knows when she sees them her anger will be dissipated by hearing of their deprived background, and the anger and rage will be diluted by pity or a desire to comprehend. She felt that, by the very fact of communicating and talking about the case, she was being dragged forward to a more rational place than the pure desire for vengeance. She realises the necessity of moving forward but is reluctant to leave that state of mind.
 

During the trial in the film, the audience observes that the family are torn by their rational democratic and humanistic principles and horror at the loss of someone they love at the hands of imbeciles. The better angels of their nature draw them to sympathize with the destitution of the perpetrators' lives, and the irresponsible actions and indifference of the parents of the accused.

 

Another interesting aspect to the trial was that the youngest perpetrator's legal representative was a Frenchman of "Arabic" descent. Given that the skinhead gang was intensely anti-Arab (one of their friends had pushed an Arab into the Seine where he then drowned), I thought it was extremely interesting to see how much the lawyer was involved with the young man and how much he pushed for leniency towards him. I also thought that his frank discussion with the family and about the remorse (or lack of) felt by the boys was incredibly powerful in that he was able to acknowledge their grief and appealed to their conscience at the same time, which he was able to do in part, because of his ethnic origin. During this discussion we can recognise the family's internal struggle, in that they want to know how to forgive, but are unsure of the remorse of the skinheads.

 
The whole structure of the courtroom and the way the case was handled, gave a lie to the way that these things are represented on television. The grief shouldered by relations of the victims as they go through proceedings makes all the little details and the minutiae of the law heavy with melancholy. There are several shots of office spaces, and corridors, which in their dreariness, replace the dramatics of the murder with the dull realization of the reality of this kind of loss.
 

In contrast to more traditional media outlets, the focus on the film, was on those left behind, and the grief and justice process. Francois never appears in the film, nor do the aggressors, or any photos of the violence committed. In this way, we stand in the place of the parents, who are left imagining the pain that their son went through, but the film ends with an open letter to the perpetrators. It is hard to know how the family's actions are perceived by the killers, and at times the family seems worried that they are laughing at the liberal values of the family that compel them to get involved in the lives of the attackers rather than maintaining distance.

 
Definitely worth watching 4/5
 
Below is the open letter to their son's killers:
 


Friday, 29 October 2010 17:28

From the cradle to the cradle

A review of documentary ‘Cradle of Happiness’, directed by Asel Juraeva, Kyrgyzstan, 2010, Digi-Beta, color, 20’

The movie starts in a hospital: white ceiling, white gloves, the sound of a heartbeat reproduced by the echography machine, a robotic sound that will stop as we see a doctor or a nurse take what seems to be surgical instruments of abortion. Then a fade out opens on to a dusty road, two little boys play at the foreground. A close-up lets us guess that they are twins.

This 20 minute movie is about the simple and happy life of these two little boys who basically spend their time playing in the garden, eating, watching TV and sleeping. The scenes are filmed at their eye-level, thus adopting their point of view and making us enter their world where adults are scarcely present: their mother, pregnant, who bathes and dresses them, their grandparents and their father who appears only once as he comes home.

So the space of representation in the movie just varies between the house and the garden in a continuous coming and going (va-et-vient). But another reality pierces through the opening created by the screen of the TV: the uninterrupted broadcast of images of war and violence contrasts with the serene sequences that depict the games and the activities of the family. As the camera lingers on the eyes of the little boys mesmerized by the TV, one of them suddenly lowers his look as though sadness has invaded him. That scene preludes the only fight scene between the twins (inside the house) which is followed by a long shot of the deserted garden where a toy gun remains.

The movie impresses by its scarcity of information: we only know that it takes place in Kyrgyzstan because of this strange sentence which opens the movie both in Russian and English: “Kyrgyzstan is a country of short films!” But we don’t know which village or town or city; also none of the people are named, there isn’t either any time indication. In fact, the movie is almost mute, only punctuated by the chirping of the boys. And this is what precisely gives to the movie its universal meaning and its interest. What we are told here is not the story of a particular family but the story of humanity through its particularism, with a certain Rousseauistic perspective: the innocent happiness of humans in nature disturbed by the corruption of a violent outside world that will maybe see these boys grow old to be soldiers; the opposition between childhood and adult age, the close tangle of life and death.  But the movie is not pessimistic as it finishes on a note of hope with the birth of the twins’ little sister: the circle closes finally on life.

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Friday, 08 February 2013 18:57

A Sonic Meltdown: A Review on "I Love Nuclear!?"

The Fukushima nuclear tragedy in March 2011 sparked a global discussion on nuclear energy in the 21st century. This question was discussed with particular vigour in Japan's neighbor Taiwan, a seismically unstable island with a voracious appetite for energy. 

Opposition to nuclear power in Taiwan is not new. Former movie star and spiritual author Terry Hu's involvement with campaigns in the early 1990s is but one high profile example and eRenlai has probed the issue here. The Fukushima incident, Taiwan's ageing reactors and the ongoing construction of a fourth nuclear plant have coalesced a range of social responses in recent years. In this context, the underground electronic artists behind I Love Nuclear!? have come taken nuclear power as an "object of criticism as well as a space for introspection". Their music "is foregrounded against nuclear power as well as the craziness and absurdity revolving around it". The result is a bouncy, glitchy electronic nightmare. But a well-meaning nightmare, as the music was contributed free of charge and organisers will donate profits to the Green Citizens' Action Alliance for Anti-Nuclear Purposes.

Unlike the majority of electronic music compilations, I Love Nuclear!? is not structured around a single easily identifiable sonic template. Metal riffs and lurking psytrance grate against bleak industrial beats. Lush ambience leads to the familiar throb of house. The unifying theme is a dark audial portrayal of the confusion and fear that nuclear power generates. The contrasting styles employed by the artists could be seen as the various phases of the nuclear issue - development, progress, protest, decay, meltdown, destruction, apocalypse, mutation. Just as the various styles of music are all 'electronic', so too are the moods evoked all 'nuclear'.

I Love Nuclear!? appears to have been compiled not as an enjoyable listening experience or something to shake your booty to, but as more of an experiment in letting music generate a palpable sense of the unease and imminent danger so inherent in nuclear power. In the interests of fairness I have given each track a 140 character summary. Tweet style, yo. 

ilovenulcear 01
The poster that is enclosed in the CD

1. 只是魚罐 It’s Just Canned Fish by Blackbells

Spooky looped distorted vocals. Gradually building dread. A faux-ambient portent for the warped digital tunes to follow.

2. 機器人的烏托 The Utopia Of Androids by Vice City

Am I in Düsseldorf circa 1991? The tinny bass drum üm-tish üm-tishes into some floating synths. Even if your skin is peeling off from nuclear flash burns you’ll still be able to slo-mo shuffle to this.

3. 美帝的禮 A Gift from the American Empire by Iang

Ethno-ambience morphs in and out of power-chord laden psytrance metal. If you put a mic next to a drum of radioactive waste it sounds like this.

4. 沒有人反 Nobody’s Against Nuclear Power by Yao

Minimalist pops and bleeps and buzzing bass. Tinnitusinal outro. Relatively easy listening. Thanks Yao.

5. 怪獸電力公 Monsters, Inc. by Aul

Like a electroencephalogram attached to Mike Wachowski's brain or a malfunctioning nuclear plant alarm, this track will drive you cRäzY.

6. 那天春天寧靜的 Remember the Silent Sea that Spring by Koala 

Classic psytrance, the most danceable track thus far. Your getaway music for when the reactor overheats and becomes unstable.

7. 台電的移動城 Taipower’s Moving Castle by MAD+N ft. Troy

Epic synths, glitchy paranoia, soothing piano and an uber-gloomy finale. I love it.

8. 我如何學著停止煩惱並愛上炸彈 How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb by Roweing

More retro Euro-beats and arrhythmic percussion. Claustrophic and nauseating. Kubrick would be proud.

9. 黑色狂歡派 Dance to the Scam by Betty Apple

Betty gets funky and then freaks out, scooping out your brain and filling it with digital detritus and toxic gloop.

10. 黃色蛋 Yellow Cake by VARO

I think Varo is some sort of post-nuclear mutant, that's the only way he/she could compose this. Just as it starts feeling comfortable, the music gets weird. Again.

11. 都是為了世界和 It’s All For The Peace Of The World by TJ Zhang

No beats here. Just a surreal conversation between two mutants scavenging the remains of Taiwan’s Longmen reactor 500 years in the future. One chanting a baritone mantra, the other whimpering and quivering like a scared guinea pig. 

12. 讓你瘋狂的要 I Want You to Want Me by 灰雁

The piano is all Summer of Love 1989. I can see the yellow smiley faces and goofily grinning ravers. But the glow sticks they are waving are actually spent nuclear rods. 

13. 核廢永久遠、一噸永流 A Family Heirloom by Alöis

Static and eerie, this is the sound of Geiger counters scouring the ruins and scorched earth, finding nothing but death. The legacy of Sector 7-G.

14. 進化特 Evolution by Tech Yes

Industrial chaos. Your mum will hate it. The most challenging track here ends in a crescendo of static. The discordant ripping of a scratched CD evoking the death thralls of an earthquake-shattered reactor.

I Love Nuclear is a unique aural representation of how the complexities of nuclear power in 21st century Taiwan might be understood. It is not always easy listening. But since when did a nuclear meltdown sound good?

For samples, you can check out http://i-love-nuclear.bandcamp.com/album/i-love-nuclear-preview


Note from the editor:

The album (250 NTD) can be purchased in the following locations...

Taipei - RE caféLuguo caféSpecies RecordsIndimusic RecordsThe GoodsMyHome多麼 Cafe+Vicious Circle

Taichung - 小路映画

Kaohsiung - Booking

Others – Lacking Sound Festival or buy on internet 


Wednesday, 30 January 2013 14:45

Summary of Session III: Images as Waves- Watching, Thinking and Acting

Summary of Session III: Images as Waves- Watching, Thinking and Acting

Session III: Images as Waves - Watching, Thinking and Acting, provided a visual aspect to the conference by focusing on the works of three local documentary filmmakers and their use of visual media to explore various indigenous issues. The three documentary makers provided an introduction to their work as well as showing small excerpts from their documentaries.

The first documentary maker was Lungnan Isak Fangas, an experienced documentary director from the Amis tribe. His documentaries focus on his interest in indigenous identity and belonging. He introduced three of his documentaries; the first of these was filmed in 1999, and is footage of an indigenous speaking competition at his university. It documented enthusiastic young students with either indigenous roots or just with an interest in learning the traditional tongues of Taiwan. Although the film is not very polished, it makes for a good and engaging introduction to the subject. Fangas' second documentary saw him following the journey of an indigenous Taiwanese band called 'Totem' performing in a bar in a city. The footage shows the band arriving in the city by night, then performing in a crowded room to a receptive crowd. Fangas reflects that the song being sung is called 'I was singing over there', and due to its meaning concerning coming home, every human being, indigenous or not, can relate to this feeling. The footage again is simply edited but this works well with the topic, the grassroots journey of the band. Lastly, Fangas ends with footage from his most recent exploration of indigeneity which sees the camera turn on himself and his own journey of identity. The content of this footage, along with that from the previous two documentaries, was simple and easy to follow. It light-heartedly documented his pursuit to become a member of the Amis tribe, showing his amateur attempts to learn the specific cultural practices and dances of the tribe. His desire to connect with the Amis culture despite having apparent but untraceable indigenous Taiwanese roots, stems from what he calls "feeling like a tourist, in terms of identity". Overall, Fangas' documentaries, despite doing nothing more than casually observing an event each time, sensitively present his desire to explore notions of indigenous identity in an easy to understand manner.

The second documentary maker introduced was Si Yabosokanen. She comes from Orchid Island, a small island off the East coast of Taiwan that's traditional culture and way of life has been better preserved than in other areas due to its isolation, yet still strongly and uniquely affected by an influx of contemporary society and culture nonetheless. It is this combination of traditional methods and more contemporary methods that has inspired the focus and issues that Yabosokanen aims to introduce and help tackle through her documentaries. Yabosokanen adds her skills as a nurse to her filmmaking ability in order to address the serious lack of care of elderly people on Orchid Island. Yabosokanen explained in detail the cultural factors for the origin of this problem, including a cultural stigma of sickness, younger generations' having to leave the island to find work and thus being less able to care for their elders, and traditional housing being replaced by a more modern style which affects the place for the elderly within their physical home structure. Her documentary showed nurses addressing the dire needs of some elderly residents who are extremely emaciated and unclean. Seeing these images is striking as it is hard to imagine how these elderly people could be left to survive in this state. Yabosokanen's topic is shocking as much as it is very interesting, as cultural and social undercurrents are at play, affecting the general wellbeing of people. It is no wonder that, when shown in Taipei, her documentary created an emotive response, with members of the public giving donations of money and their time to help her cause. Overall Yabosokanen's documentary endeavors and her story are inspiring, and truly embody the power of the documentary to introduce and help address complex issues such as this on Orchard Island.

The last documentary maker introduced was Cerise Phiv, the managing editor of eRenlai. Ending with her documentary was fitting since her focus was broader and more encompassing, concerning the place of indigenous Taiwanese within the Pacific region. Phiv explained the causes and events for her arrival at this topic of exploration, then provided footage from her documentary: Writings that Weave Waves, which was shown in full later in the conference.
Firstly, through her time at the Ricci institute, with which eRenlai is associated, and by participating in one of their documentaries following a young Amis woman, Phiv was introduced to issues of indigenous Taiwanese culture and the craft of documentary making. Secondly, also through the Ricci institute, Phiv attended a trip to Canada with fourteen young indigenous Taiwanese, filming their trip and interactions with indigenous Canadian culture. Thus,
Writings that Weave Waves, was a culmination of the notion of indigenous identity in its own cultural context, and also within a regional Pacific context. These two contexts considered together are interesting, as they are concerned with the scope of perspective and belonging. Phiv explained that despite being Taiwanese and therefore living on an island surrounded by ocean, certain tribes do not associate themselves with it. Therefore, although in a broad sense, there is the perspective that Taiwan is part of the Pacific, from a more refined perspective, an affinity to ones local tribal environment becomes evident. Alongside this thought, the footage from the documentary itself left the viewer with a desire to see more, as the editing and the ambition to attempt to place Taiwan within the greater Pacific diaspora were both well presented and clearly evident. To conclude her presentation, Phiv herself aptly stated that the images should be best left to talk for themselves.

This section of the conference affirmed the idea that images truly have a unique ability to convey messages and explore complex issues. These three documentary makers have all taken different approaches and styles to their documentary making, yet all achieve their overall goal: to explore issues and enlighten viewers. Without this section, the conference would have lacked a greater sense of perspective of the issue. Furthermore, seeing footage from the documentaries prevented conceptual ideas and notions from stealing away the conference's purpose, as seeing real people, places and issues at hand helped keep the conference grounded and down to earth.

 


Wednesday, 02 January 2013 16:01

Review: Writings that Weave Waves

Living in today's ever-changing globalised world is threatening traditional cultural practices and identity. The history of the Taiwanese indigenous peoples is evidence of this with the island's history marked by previous Chinese and Japanese rule and today, more generally, the rule of modernity. Thus, for the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, although they primarily live in smaller, rural areas, maintaining a strong sense of cultural belonging, identity is a challenge. Cerise Phiv's documentary Writings that Weave Waves: East Formosans and the Pacific World explores this challenge, glimpsing into the lives and perspectives of several indigenous Taiwanese individuals living in a changing world and their relationship with the indigenous way of life of their ancestors.


Friday, 02 September 2011 17:35

Mom, Bye: A Review of Wang Molin's Play


Wang Molin (王墨林)is clad in a Che Guevara t-shirt, the same one angry teenagers and naive politics students across the world are probably wearing at that same moment. His manner is distracted during the Q&A, and, as in the interview we conducted with him previously, he brushes off any difficult questions with a sneer and a "Do I have to explain everything a thousand times?", seemingly a smoke and mirrors technique to evade addressing any of the arguments directed against him. The assumption that anyone who disagrees with him is illiterate or locked into a capitalist ideology that only he and people who agree with him are able to see through makes conversation with him tiring. This was mirrored in the way the play was presented, tiring.

There were a few very basic errors from a practical point of view that, given the director's long career in the "Little Theatre" (小劇埸), were preventable. These were little details, like a semi-transparent cloth hanging mid-stage with a light shining from behind it, that made the subtitles of the Korean dialogue in the play (the play was performed by a Korean theatre troupe) difficult to read, and resulted in people stretching their heads in different directions to try and look past the cloth. This wasn't aided by the reams of dry ice that were pumped out at random intervals throughout the performance, that made the subtitles slightly more difficult to read and triggered the asthma of a guy in the row behind me.

The play was about an iconic protester in 70s' South Korea who fought for the rights of labourers and died at the protest and his mother's reaction to his death. Although the topic was interesting, it was delivered stiffly and the attempt to humanize the hero through the mother/son relationship didn't move me as it must have attempted to. The play read like a union propaganda film, with martyrs of the protest flashing up on the screen with rhythmic drums. It was then unsurprising to learn in the Q&A that the actors were in fact not actors but social activists and that the play had a very one sided political message to preach. This was then reinforced when Taiwanese "labourers" (I put quote marks around this word because in Taiwanese popular usage the word for labour "勞工" includes white collar office workers), who were basically people who had been hired by the government to do the same job as civil servants without the benefits of being a civil servant, bemoaned their plight. At one point one of them stated that their situation was worse than Korea in the 70s and worse than the plight of foreign labourers (外勞) and workers (工人) in Taiwan. Although to be fair I don't understand completely the nature of their situation, even though it has been quite high profile in the media, to be honest this seemed like a massive exaggeration as many of the plethora of documentaries about foreign workers in Taiwan can attest to. The preaching style of the play, did no justice to the issue, and the images and dialogue were cliche, reminiscent of the early works of Taiwanese literature and mainland socialist literature. The cliched dialogue and symbolism reinforced the image of the protagonist as an idealized hero, and had none of the depth of understanding of the disenfranchised classes of society of works like Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman or John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. This suggests the distance of Wang Molin from the working class in Taiwan, as he only seems to conceive of them from a theoretical, iconic ideal as opposed to exploring them as more complex human beings with aspirations and vices.

On my way home from the theatre I saw the director again, grabbing a beer by the roadside with a group of youths that I supposed to be members of the stage crew, still wearing his Che Guevara shirt, and most likely still spouting the half-baked idealism of a 1st year politics university student.

 


Thursday, 07 July 2011 16:47

A review of the play 'Take Care'

Directed by HSU YEN LING
Taipei Blooming production
Length: 1 hour and 30 minutes

‘Take Care’ is the first production of TAIPEI BLOOMING, a theatre group founded by Hsu Yen Ling last year. The show will be performed at Guling Avant Garde Theatre from July 1 to July 10 2011. The main question raised in this new production deals with abandoned and injured animals through the story of a lesbian couple; one is a veterinary surgeon, the other a teacher. Italso raises the question of the complexity of the relationships between human beings, between human beings and animals, and between animals.

Hsu Yen Ling, well known as an extra gifted performer, presents her fifth show as art director: “I tried to find a new way to write a script. Before, I was used to writing it first and then ask my actors to perform it. For this production, we started from improvisation and wrote the script together; talking about the issues we wanted to focus on, and cutting or rewriting some parts.” This collective work is based on the main characters’ lives: the vet, the teacher, the businessmanand the student. She aims to show their relation to their particular jobs and to one another, usingvery ordinary dialogue, classical stage design and everyday life costumes to stick to the reality she wants to portray.

“How can we take care of the other?” This is the underlying question in the story told by Hsu Yen ling. “I wanted to talk about the animal issue too. In the big cities, many abandoned cats and dogs can’t take care of themselves alone. We have to pay attention to them and take care of them.” This issue leads her to think about animal relationships more based on touch. “I also ask the actors to play the animals in order to focus more on the touching; work on the emotion, the movement and gesture. We often pay too much attention to the sight or the talk. But there are other senses we can use to have contact with the other and in Taiwan, few people touch each other; Taiwanese are not used to physical contact.“ For example, when we say "goodbye" in Taiwan, we never kiss the other on the cheek. In this show, the animals talk and could be seen as examples that the main characters could follow in their own life, they even advise their masters when they face difficult situations in everyday life and relationships.

To embody one of the animals, she asks Fa Tsai to join her production: Fa Tsai, a famous talented artist had already played with the most famous art directors in Taiwan and we can assure you that his performance in this show is excellent and very detailed. Hsu Yen ling, in her role as art director, works on every detail with her actors, even with the non-professional ones such as Liu Nien Yun. She used to be Hsu Yen ling’s producer in ‘Sister Trio’ and ‘A date’, two successful shows she presented a few years ago in Taiwan.

“When Yenling asked me to be her actress in ‘Take care’, I could not refuse it: I was reallyinterested in the topic and wanted to support her production. I’ve known her since I was in senior high school, before I began to study women’s working conditions at university: she was the teacher in our theatre club. I also wanted to try to be an actress even though I sometimes feel alittle scared. For me, it is difficult to act a relationship, but I really want to work more on theatre projects, because since I began working for the labor organization* I have not had much time for theatre.” Her role is to be the vet and take care of the injured animals and the people who bringthem to her office.

“When Yen Ling told me the story she wanted to write, I found a connection between my actual job and the character of the veterinary. In my job, I have to take care ofinjured laborers – women who used to work for RCA (Radio Corporation of America), an American electric company sold to Thompson, more than 20 years ago and who later got cancer.They have been fighting for 10 years to get compensation. Many questions come to my mindwhen I am tired: why do I want to be an organizer? My character has the same questioning andfeeling.” One may have seen Liu Nien Yun on TV, the morning the Legislative Yuan passed thebudget for Taiwan’s fourth nuclear power plant; she was one the persons thrown out by thethstpolicemen in front the Legislative Yuan. As an activist, she is involved in the anti-nuclear andlabor movements, yet, all the while she is deeply implicated in her work, listening to the harmedpersons and helping them as best she can.

So, if you want to know what lies behind ‘Take Care’, we recommend you have a look at the show, partly presented as a comedy...an ordinary life comedy we should say.

* Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries, based in Taipei City. www.hurt.org.tw
(Photo courtesy of  D. Vandermolina)


Thursday, 05 May 2011 17:27

Re/turn


My teacher gave me some tickets to see this performance, by the Tainaner Theatre Troupe. I'd been to the theatre in the Xinyi branch of Eslite before to see a play inspired by the songs of Chen Qizhen, a Taiwanese singer (膚色の時光 Once, upon hearing the skin tone). I remembered so clearly having been there before because the stage is slightly unusual, in that it is a round stage that divides the audience into two sections at either side of the stage, which means they enter through two separate doors. The last play I'd seen staged here had been interesting technically but weak in terms of plot. This play was similarly weak plot-wise - think a school production of Back to the Future fused with the cheese factor of popular Taiwanese TV dramas (Meteor GardenThe Devil Beside You). The story dealt with several connected love stories gone wrong. The death of the female protagonist's mother halts her wedding to a closeted gay man, and her mother comes back through time via a magic doorknob acquired in Tibet from an antique seller (who was portrayed with possibly the weakest piece of acting in the whole play). This sets off a series of events which changes the lives of the protagonists (in Sliding Doors fashion), so that they get the chance to "Re/turn" to the scene of their unresolved regrets and "amend" them. The female protagonist is, through this supernatural interference, reunited with her lost love, and the gay man is accepted by his best friend as a teenager (again thanks to the magic doorknob) so gets the confidence to come out early in life and so avoids the pitfalls of soliciting rent boys and using (God help us all) marijuana (there is an amusing scene where there is a major police bust over one joint).

The major problems with the play was not the acting, which was convincing, but rather the whole concept upon which the play was structured, certain elements of which seemed to be lifted right out of Taiwanese popular culture and films. The obsession with making the play "international" without incorporating any international actors was also a problem for the play. It pandered to the Taiwanese obsession with European and Japanese culture, in that a lot of the play was set in London - where the male lead Charles had apparently grown up with an American accent; there was also a Taiwanese actress playing a Japanese dancer, two very Taiwanese sounding Americans as well as a Taiwanese playing a British postman. Only the latter was vaguely funny, with deliberate use of British English terms designed specifically to make the audience laugh, and none of them sounded natural in english. The director and writer Cai Bozhang (蔡柏璋), though a good singer, was a little self-indulgent as he sang in Taiwanese inflected English through most of the play. My companion for the evening, one of my classmates, pointed out something that I think speaks true of my experience of the contemporary Taiwanese Theatre: that because the writers of a lot of the plays produced nowadays also act as director and actors, the scripts that they write are not really the focus of their work, and do not stand alone as literary works. Rather, the event and the production takes first place. The result is the rather paltry, soap-operaesque dialogue seen in this production. It was a pity that the talents of the actors wasn't put to a better use, more worthy of the stage, otherwise the only role of theatre in Taiwan would seem to be to give a live experience of soap operas.

If we are to take the piece seriously as a piece of theatre, the other thing I was not comfortable with was the moralistic pedagogy of the production, and its assertion that there is "right" path in life that we are diverted from, which seems a rather simplistic and egotistical exercise in self-affirmation by the director (people who don't follow my liberal ideology are following the wrong path). Any deeper exploration of the idea of regret and "fixing the past" is absent, sexuality too, receives quite a superficial treatment in the play. There are two major gay stereotypes in action within the play. The director plays the role of the "gay best friend" of the protagonist. She describes him as her "妺妺" (little sister) whom we "might think is a little unusual". There is, however nothing unusual to a Western viewer about this kind of character: the emasculated, non-predatory inocuous gay male referred to by terms usually reserved for females (think of a slightly updated version of Are You Being Served's Mr Humphries, or a character lightly based on Taiwanese celebrity Cai Kangyong (蔡康永). His "one true love", Peter, (pause - wipe off the vomit - continue) is dead, so his sexuality is essentially safely removed from the present for the audience. The closeted gay fiance's reversion to type after coming out also suggests that his previous masculinity was but a ruse, and at the end of the play he is shoe-horned into the "gay best friend" role as evidence of his acceptance of his sexuality. The other two representations of gay men, are also stereotypes, the predatory older man who chases the closeted gay man when he is a high school student, and the rent boy, whose brazen sexuality and drug-use lead him to arrest, which can be seen as divine justice within the play. As opposed to representing sexuality in a more diverse way, the production instead polarises the representation of alternative sexual and gender roles.

To sum up, the play is easy watching, its ending is predictable and safe. This is the territory of liberal morality and its pedagogical unfolding is suitably bland. None of which is what motivates me to go to the theatre, why pay 600NT or more to see a low-budget, albeit live, rehash of a feel-good movie. The night I went the production overran by about 40 minutes, so expect to be impatiently looking at your watch while you watch the happy-ending play out at length to the crooning wails of the directors singing.

Don't expect much and you'll have a long but vaguely entertaining night. 2/5

Performance attended: Friday 15th April 2011, 7.30pm. Poster taken from the play's blog, which can be viewed here.

 


Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

A Whispered Life (2010) Marie-Francine Le Jalu, Gilles Sionnet

This film dealt with superfans of Japanese writer Osamu Dazai (太宰治). At first sight, given that the focus of obsession for these fans is an author and his novels, these fans might seem to transcend our expectations of the vulgarity of worshipping popstars, or cultural icons, it is soon clear, however, that this is not the case. The fans' obsession differs little from the teenage girls who scream hysterically at boybands. Throughout the course of the documentary the fans consistently glorify suicide and death, all the characters in the film were slightly repugnant in this way. Suicide in the film was ironically portrayed as another way to become eternal, similar in a way to the very egotistical act of writing or to the very concept of American Idol. The dramatic pathos of suicide is an attempt to endow their empty lives with meaning; an attempt to supercede the boundaries of life and death. I remember one of my teachers telling us about a Chinese poet who tried to launch his fame by commiting suicide after the completion of his book, in an attempt to mimic the suicide of other literary greats in Chinese literary history, like Qu Yuan (屈原) and Lao She (老舍). His plan failed because his writing was so bad, so he garnered attention by his suicide but his work was quickly forgotten. Each of the characters implied that "they were writing" and are attracted by suicide and mental illness as a way of marking their imaginary genius. This marks their lives with melancholy and depression, which they suppose to be central to the creative project when it in fact is seemingly incidental to creativity. The character in the film who writes her blog believes herself to be writing something of great value, and ties this value to depression and suicide, but what she is writing is the mundane description of common depression. The film echoed Dazai's call for "Love and Revolution", the directors went on to explain that they had interest in Dazai for the French qualities of this very call. This call rang false for me though, as this urge to mark one's life in the taking of it, is in essence a strong statement of one's belief in the world; one has to believe in something to be subsequently disappointed in it. Every one of the fans seemed to me to be no different from those desperately untalented people who attend American Idol auditions with so much self-belief, only to realize that talent is not a state of mind. The message that the documentary communicated to me, was similar to that of shows like American Idol; to embrace the ephemeral nature of life, and renounce attempts to hold onto this world beyond the bounds of death and to live averagely.


Film Rating 4/5


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