Meta-cinema as a historical method — cases study of the exhibition, The Rebellion of Moving Image and the works of Hsu, Chia-Wei (part II)

Author:Hsiang-Yun Huang Translator:Audrey Chen

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許家維,《高砂》,單頻道錄像,9分20秒,2017。許家維工作室提供。 Hsu’s Takasago, Provided by Hsu Chia-Wei‘s Studio.

The meta-cinematic technique can be briefly summarized as a reflection on the image itself. The process often include the alienation from the narrative and the engagement with it at the same time, such as the display by using multi screens. The audience is more likely to feel alienated from the works in a museum than in a movie theatre, since they can walk around. The above-mentioned works also raise the awareness of the fact of the movie is made with the presence of the shooting scene and the frame.

These techniques break the audience unconditional dependence on the narration in front of them provided by the artist. Similarly, the same theory can be applied to the development of a historical narrative that involves the fiction and the fact. The fictional part would induce the audience to reflect on the definition of truth and to doubt the methodology of the justification of historical facts.

More specifically, even the most compact historical fact contains the fictional parts. Hsu has included a play of Noh, which is a fictional artwork, into the historical narrative in I thus asked myself what the meaning is. The historian philosopher Hayden White stated that history is “more in common with ‘literature’ than they have with any science.”[1] because the study of history is a fictionalizations of fact and of past reality.[2] In the process of re-interpreting the historical materials and turning dry documentary description into a story, imagining is an essential step. Thus, history possesses, to a certain degree, the literality. For White, The writing of history by the historians is a process of narrativization. Based on different narrative structure and the individual presumed ideology, different meaning and point of view would be generated. The relationship between those different narratives is similar to those between scientific paradigms according to Thomas Kuhn. That is to say, two paradigms are incommensurable. In brief, there is no way to find a standard to justify which paradigm is more factual.[3]

During an interview hosted by Chen Chia-Jen, former director of Open Contemporary Art Center, Hsu mentioned, “The so-called objective fact does not exist. The only thing we are sure about is that the subjective writing about history. It is full of personal opinions, emotions, memories and subjective perspective. Moreover, it is at an ambiguous state which keeps being reshaped as time goes by.”[4]

The intertwined historical narrative of fact and fiction

Another example of this type of historical narrative that includes the mixture of fictional and factual elements is (2013) by Yael Bartana. During the making of the film, the Temple of Solomon in São Paulo, Brazil was still under construction. However, in the film, the completion and the destruction of the temple is foreseen. The scenes are not organized in a chronological order. The film begins with the joyful carnival, which is the celebration of the completion of the temple, followed by the scenes of the fall of the temple in a fire, just as if in It ends with the scene in which the modernized temple filled with tourists and commercial events. In this film, there is no strict distinction between the fact, the fiction and the actual shooting scene. The audience of this film would feel engaged in the dark theatre. The opening scene is a shot from a birds eye view from above the city, like flying. This scene is easy for the audience to feel immersed in the story. This scene is followed by a realistic portrayal of the carnival. However, the scenes in the temple looks like a theater in another dimension, with mysterious rituals and compositions as well as postures that appear only in classical oil paintings. In the end, the camera movement becomes static and lacks of action. The documentary-like, observant camera guides the audience to go through the modernized space full of tourists. It is at this moment that the audience starts to doubt the order of the sequence of these scenes. However, generally speaking, throughout the movie, the audience still feels that theirs eyes are guided by the camera movements.

The theme of is the third Temple of Solomon, which was still under construction then in Brazil. However, the story jumps directly to the destruction of the temple. Thus, the whole film is a historical imagination. In other words, the story in the film is based on a fact that never exists. The artist calls it a “”historical pre-enactment,[5] a methodology that commingles fact and fiction, prophesy and history.”[6] Thus, this kind of film is immersive but can be regarded as an integration of fiction and fact. The aim of watching this type of film thus is not to differentiate what is true and what is not from an epistemological point of view. The importance is that the structure in the fiction stills brings out the critic and give the audience a viewpoint. It still creates a reality of its own, within which there is a logical structure and a conception of the world.

The importance of fictional elements in a historical narrative

As what Jacques Rancière says in , the importance of a fictional narrative is not about what exactly happened but about how things might possibly happen. In addition, it is because of the fictional narrative that there exists the possibility to change the future.[7] In the description of the work “Moving images are used to overlap fiction with reality, allowing fictitious plots to serve beyond sensationalizing certain incidents, and regaining the right of discourse from the authority. ‘Fictional’ political-ness is applied to negotiate with and seize reality, with the future filled with new creative and developmental possibilities.”[8]

In the camera movement and the structure of the film generate the integration of fiction-reality and thus it forms a diegesis world with its own inner logic. On the other hand, in , and Hsu, Chia Wei consciously blocks the audience from engaging with the film and from immersing themselves in the story. In these films, there are three clear situations, or three parallel universes[9]: The mythology, the shooting scene and the scene of a former KMT secret agent telling his own story to the children in Huai Mo Village. The diegesis world of agent’s story corresponds to that of the mythology. The mixture of the three universes is a juxtaposition of fiction and reality but not fully integrated, like in also is a juxtaposition of fiction and reality, not integration. The Noh actors standing in a modern factory creates a surreal juxtaposition and reminds the audience of that the ancient and modern time is juxtaposed on the same set. This is a narrative skill to mix fiction and reality. It is meta-cinematic from another dimension. In a single frame, the audience sees temporal-spatial multi-layered scenes from different historical moments and becomes aware of this fact. Thus, the audience would realize that the interpreter is viewing the history from a contemporary angle, and thus highlight the preconception of the interpreter.

To sum up, there are two aims of putting fictional and mythological elements in a historical narrative. One is to create a more profound description of history with fictional parts as well as reminding the audience the possibility to change the future. Another is the juxtaposition of different time and space. This let us understand the past and realize the limit of the past.[10]

The fiction/reality integration and the open cause-effect relationship

is the work with the richest layers of historical narrative. The design of the work is almost a reflection of historical methodology. This work is presented with a four-channeled installation. The background is Hsinchu Branch of the Sixth Japanese Naval Fuel Plant. During the World War II. This place is the Industrial Research Institute of the Government-General of Taiwan, specializing in producing the aviation fuel. The building is now a ruin and there are still the traces of bullets in it. The films is a nonlinear narrative. From one side, a drone is used to shoot the old factory form above. There are many frosted bats in the building. “Frosted bats are mostly found in the high latitudes of Japan, Korea, and North China. Yet, for unknown reasons, this northern species of frosted bats resides in the chimney of the military plant from May to July in recent years. The plant is the only place where the frosted bats can be found in Taiwan.”[11] The migration and habitation of the frosted bats is like the migration of people from one colony to another. On the other side, it is a symbol of viewing the history from a point of view other than that of a human being, which has an alienated and poetic interpretation.

Another narrative axis includes the drone lingering in the ruin. Besides presenting the camera to the audience, a technique of meta-cinema, the drone almost becomes another agent of gazing the history. The film also includes America and China’s bombing Taiwan during WWII. These videos are played along with the memoir of the worker of the plant, in Japanese. Another worth mentioned point is that “the video archive manipulated by a computer program are arranged randomly on the playlist to constantly shift the structure of the video.”[12]

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許家維,《飛行器、霜毛蝠、逝者證言》,四頻道錄像,3分40秒 — 8 分40秒,2017。許家維工作室提供。 Hsu’s Drones, Frosted Bats and the Testimony of the Deceased, Provided by Hsu Chia-Wei‘s Studio.

Besides the former mentioned techniques such as inclusion of shooting scene and the fiction/reality integration, the videos are randomly played, calculated by a computer program. Thus, there is a bigger room for diverse interpretations. The audience would not be full limited by a specific narrative and thus form a single point of view of history. In other words, The endless reforms move the cause-and-effect relationship between events. The historical events are open to more possibility instead of being interpreted by an official or any other specific authority. Concluding the past events into a cause-effect relationship is actually a reduction, for the cause and effect between real events is a complicated network, not a one-on-one linear relationship.

Hayden White in stated that the writing of history creates and forms history through the form of narrative. It does not reflect a fact that needs to be rediscovered or justified. It is to say, the historian chooses a certain employment and put it on the history. The process of the employment if full of imagination. Thus, the form and the content are not two mutually exclusive concepts. The form of an art should be part of the content of the work. In this work, this part requires the audience’s imagination. This makes the work more open and diverse. Perhaps this interpretation seems idealistic or utopia, for the lack of consistence in interpretation might make the work become meaningless. This situation is just like post-modernism in certain context, lacking meaning while being to open. However, since the anti-authority narrative can avoid the limit of a single idealism, the narrative still has an invaluable potentially in the political rebellion.

Also, the randomly and continuous reformed history explains the fictionality of history by using videos. Moreover, there might not be the so-called history; there are only piles of archives, blurred memory, truth that cannot be proved. As the narrator recounts: “After the War, most of the documents were incinerated. Quantity, date, people, accidents, sequence, cause and effects, evidence were all lost. Now, only the abstract and unreliable images remain.”[13] However, if we doubt every cause-and-effect relationship in historical narrative, we would fall into an epistemological nihilism and thus regard the history as fake, declare that all memory is unreliable, or that there is not able to either discuss or represent the pass. Here, White again points a way out. He thinks that logical consistency does not work on history. Logical consistency means that at fast, there is a principle, from which are deducted other propositions. About historical writing, it can be explained with the concept of discursive consistency, “in which different levels of representation are related analogically one to the others”[14] From this point of view, becomes even richer. The drones and the bats are metaphors of the Japanese and Taiwanese people in the war. The different narrative axes are like the historical facts from different dimension represented by the different levels of representation. The drones represents the viewpoint of the history of technical history, while the bats the non-human angle.[15] The bomber airplane represents a viewpoint of a certain historical documentary. The three angles forms is the analogy to one another and echoes with one another. The random display forms an open cause-and-effect relationship, which is not as strict as traditional history. However, the point here is not whether it is true or not. It is a problem of aesthetic and ethics. It is a choice of value.


White inspires me. I believed that the story woven by historian based on all kinds of facts are no more truthful than artworks. The two are epistemologically speaking, both fictional. Both the artists’ and historians’ viewpoint of history is a process of narrativize. Due to the narrative structure and the preconception of idealism, this process will produce a history from different angle and with different meaning. Thus, comprehending this type of artwork is not to tell whether it is true. The point is to analyze the narrative structure or to reflect on the interface on which the work is presented. The works analyzed in this article all contains meta-cinematic elements. The artists are consciously thinking about how the narrative of a film and the condition of the making influence the produce historical . In the second part of the article, I analyzed in detail the narrative axis of a video art work that discuss history. I generally divided them into two types. One is the juxtaposition of fiction and reality, the other is the integration of the two. The two narrative will bring the audience different level of involvement but both allows a deep reflection on the limit of our comprehension of the past. Moreover, they triggers the discussion on whether it is possible for us to intervene in the history with the power of videos and creates a brand new imagination of the future.

[1] Rethinking History 4:3 (2000), pp. 391–406 An Old Question Raised Again: Is Historiography Art or Science? (Response to Iggers)Hayden White Stanford University, U.S.A., p.398 “This leads me to conclude that historical knowledge is always second-order knowledge, which is to say, it is based on hypothetical constructions of possible objects of investigation which require a treatment by imaginative processes that have more in common with ‘literature’ than they have with any science.”

[2] Ibid. p.398

[3] Leiden University-Humanities Open Course:Chapter 3.6: Hayden White, the story of history

URL: Access Date: 2018.02.28.

[4] HSU, Chia-Wei.,, p.126 2018: Liang Gallery.

[5] Museum of Contemporary Art: The Rebellion of Moving Image, 2018. URL: Access Date: 2018.03.01.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Rancière, Jacques, 2017. , P. 17

[8] Museum of Contemporary Art: The Rebellion of Moving Image, 2018. URL: Access Date: 2018.03.01.

[9] HSU, Chia-Wei.,, p.126 2018: Liang Gallery.

[10] Moreover, there is the intertextuality. The mythological and contemporary time forms a cross referential relationship and opens up the discussion of the text. Please connsult Hsu’s explanation of the concept of in-between narrative — a narrative that wavers between the diegeis world and the non-digeis world. I think this concept of narrative can help the audience realize our limit in epistemology regarding the fact. See Hsu, Chia Wei, “in-between narratives” : 2, pp.77–112

[11] Museum of Contemporary Art: The Rebellion of Moving Image, 2018. URL: Access Date: 2018.03.01.

[12] Ibid.

[13] HSU, Chia Wei.,

[14] Rethinking History 4:3 (2000), pp. 391–406 An Old Question Raised Again: Is Historiography Art or Science? (Response to Iggers)Hayden White Stanford University, U.S.A., p.392

“Discursive consistency, in which different levels of representation are related analogically one to the others, is quite different from logical consistency, in which one level is treated as being deducible from another.”

[15] See “A non human chronology of history: Lin Yi Xiu on Hsu Chia Wei’s .” ARTFORUM:

Freelance artist and researcher based in Taiwan/ the Netherlands. For work inquiries, please contact at FB:Floating Clouds

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