Meta-cinema as a historical methodology — cases study of the exhibition, The Rebellion of Moving Image and the works of Hsu, Chia-Wei(Part1)

Author:Hsiang-Yun Huang Translator:Audrey Chen

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Provided by Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei

Foreword

The exhibition, The Rebellion of Moving Image was held in 2018 in Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei, curated by HUANG Hsiang-Ning. This exhibition has included many works of video art in which are meta-cinematic techniques and nonlinear narrative are used. The aim of the exhibition is to trigger the discussion of how the narrative structure of the video as well as to demonstrate how the way of displaying shapes an alternative methodology of history studies. The word “alternative” here refers to the rejection of authoritarian the grand and one-way narrative of history.

This article is divided into two parts. The first part is an analysis of how meta-cinematic techniques trigger a conversation with History. The meta-cinematic techniques include presenting the shooting scene or the equipment, as well as creating a multi-linear narrative by displaying the video in multi-channeled screens. I adopted the idea of post-cinematic condition proposed by Rosalind Krauss as the framework of approaching the development of meta-narration in the video art.[1] Instead of passively accepting the message carried by the video, the audience experience an alienation from the story while still feel involved. Thus they would become conscious of the limit of the representation. Moreover, two cases will be discussed here in the first part: Ten Thousand Waves (2010) by Issac Julien and Takasago (2017) by Hsu, Chia-Wei. I will focus on the question of how the form of meta-cinema and multi-linear narration represent history and become the rebellion against the authority and how this form permit a room for multiple interpretations.

The second part is about the intertwining of fiction and fact. In the recent works, Hsu, Chia-Wei often integrated the mythology and traditional theatrical art with the documentary-liked footages or historical archives. However, since the artist did not deal with the history in a definitively realistic way, neither did he aim at represent the fact, what is the meaning of his discourse of history? In addition, I would like to investigate the difference between the history narrated by the artist and that of a historian. Can we tell what exactly happened? How can we tell the factual events from the fictional stories?

In this article, I want to compare the story composed by the historians, based on the facts, and the video art works with mythology and theatrical works intertwined within. I want to analyze the difference between the two from the aspect of narrative structure and from that of epistemology. The theoretical framework here is based on the book Metahistory, written by Hayden White.[2] In this masterpiece, White analyzes the different methodology of historical studies and categorizes various narrative structure adopted in writing history. At the end he makes a statement — which is still shocking to the historiography till now — that from an epistemological perspective, history studies is closer to literature than to science. For White, historian’s perspective of history is a process of narrativize. This process would be affected by different narrative structures and the presumed ideologies and thus lead to interpretations of history with different meaning and from different point of view.[3] Hence, the point of interpretation and approaching this type of artworks is not to tell if it is what have really happened or not. It is more important to analyze the narrative structures and what they refer to. From this point of view, I reinterpret the following works: Inferno by Yael Bartana, Drones, Frosted Bats and the Testimony of the Deceased (2017), Ruins of the Intelligence Bureau (2015), and Huai Mo Village (2012) by Hsu, Chia-Wei. I reconsidered the true definitions of fiction and fact in the historical narratives and researched into the artworks that integrates the two and into how they allow the audience a brand new comprehension of the alternative historical methodology.

In the article “The Rebellion of Moving Image of MOCA: the rebellion in order to return and The Justice or reentering the scene”, Wu, Mu-Ching and Yen, Xiao-Xiao have proposed that what in this exhibition, rebellion here is not one-dimensional because at every different historical moment, under different context, the target of this rebellion changes along. For example, the so-called contemporary video art has been received as “anti-narrative (which means the general lack of perceivable complete narration,) […] has evolved and resulted in an aesthetic strategy which is completely distinct from the mainstream visual culture.”[4] However, quite a lot of scholars have also pointed out the fact that, the current video art has demonstrated a tendency of returning or re-directing to narrative.[5] Thus, it becomes problematic to identify the exact target of this rebellion of the artists and their works.

Ten Thousand Waves by Isaac Julien is played on multi-screens that spread out in the chamber. Thus the experience of the viewers would be different from that of watching a single-linear movie in a black-out theatre. This manner of presentation reminds us of the Expanded Cinema Movement in art history. (For more information about the origin of the movement in 1960, please refer to my other article, “Lexicon Research: Expanded Cinema”) However, there are diverse definitions of Expanded Cinema. A movie being played outside a theater — in a museum, for example — does not necessarily guarantee that it can be regarded as the Expanded Cinema. I think it would be more adequate to explain this exhibition by using the idea proposed by Rosalind Krauss. According to her, Expanded Cinema is a “post-cinematic condition.”[6] Thus, here the notion of expanded cinema can be regarded as a rebellion power, which loosen the traditional way of watching movies — in a movie theater, passively.

The post cinematic presentation of the videos does not only take place in a movie theatre. It can take place in museums or other places. The audience in a museum can move around when watching the movies. They can decide the amount of time they are willing to spend on each video. For example, in the case of Ten Thousand Waves, The videos are played simultaneously on different screens. The audience has the right to choose which screen to watch. The artist also put the same scenes in frames with different sizes. Thus, the audience can also choose with which size of frame they want to watch the particular scene. As the result, comparing to the passive audience in movie theaters, the audience in the museum is more active.[7]

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Ten Thousand Waves of Issac Julien 艾薩克.朱利安(Isaac Julien)的《萬重浪》(Ten Thousand Waves, 2010)。Provided by Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei.

This meta-cinematic presentation of historical events has influenced the anti-authoritarian history from two aspects. Firstly, it is to challenge a one-directional production of the description of history, the author, or the artist represents a certain ideology which would be instilled into the audience and thus it lacks the room of reflection. Secondly, when the audience notices the condition and the place in which they are watching the videos, they are also pushed to think about the logic behind the works and about how they are produced. Ultimately, they would be able to challenge the logic of narrative and thus to initiate the the communication between the artwork, the maker (the artist) and the audience. Such as in Ten Thousand Waves, the scene in which Maggie Cheung Man-yuk played Mazu (the guardian Goddess of sailing ships) in Guilin is juxtaposed with the green screen used on the shooting set. In another part, there is a staff is wiping away the calligraphy work of the Chinese characters of “ten thousand Waves” (wànchóng làng 萬重浪). These two clips invite the audience to reflect on how the movie is made. This causes alienation, which is a common meta-cinematic technique. Thus, it is reasonable to take the Expanded Cinema into account and to consider Ten Thousand Waves as a post-cinematic condition.

The same concept can be applied to the three works of Hsu, Chia-Wei. The equipments and techniques used in the movie production are shown to the audience. In addition, the audience can see how these factors influence on the artist’s interpretation of a certain historical event. In his work, Huai Mo Village (2012), Hsu invited the local habitants to work as staff on the scene. This part is also in the film.

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許家維,《回莫村》,單頻道錄像,8分20秒,2012。許家維工作室提供。 Hsu’s Huai Mo village. Provided by Hsu Chia-Wei‘s Studio.

Besides showing the set and working scenes, in his individual exhibition entitled Industrial Research Institute Affiliated to the Japanese Governor Office, Hsu has presented a multi-layered virtual studio. The first layer is a set of studio with a screen in the exhibition room. In the video played on screen, the same set of studio and screen is shown. Within this second screen, a documentary of the industrial research institute is played. At the beginning, the audience would see the screen frame in which the documentary is played. Then the camera zooms in, at the end, the audience would see the documentary in the size of the real screen. However, the viewers are already aware of the existence of the screen frame. This installation makes the video penetrate through the three different layers: the virtual interface, the set and the presence of the visual experience. Thus the installation enables a further reflection on the importance of an artist’s choice of interface in the discussion of history in a digital era. His new works in 2018, Black and White — Giant Panda and Black and White — Malayan Tapir is available both “on cellphone and on computer.” This work also allow the audience to think from the point of view of animals, as a political satire. [8]

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許家維,《台灣總督府工業研究所》,單頻道錄像,3分鐘,2017。許家維工作室提供。Hsu’s Industrial Research Institute Affiliated to the Japanese Governor Office. Provided by Hsu Chia-Wei‘s Studio.

The same notion of reflecting on the making and the displaying of the video can be used to approach an another work of Hsu’s, Takasago (2017), we would be able to find the different layers of this film, especially the “moving frames” Takasago is how the Japanese called Taiwan under the Japanese rule. Takasago is also the title of one of the work of Zeami Motokiyo, the playwright of Noh theatre in the Muromachi period.[9] The story is about the love and mutual understanding between an old couple who are in fact the incarnations of two pine spirits. The theme of the story is how the physical distance cannot separate their love.[10] This story was also the origin of the name of the company, Takasago International Corporation, when the first factory was set up in the 1920s.[11] The actors in the film is performing this Noh play in a perfume factory of the Takasago International Corporation. The frames slowly slides from the left to the right. The artist thought the movement as a “continuous space in a full shot” and can be considered as an “alternative of one long take.” [12] My first impression on these two classic-looking performers seem to be having a modern long-distance relationship. The moving frames generate the effect of the frame of a video chat. In other words, through these frames, the audience will become aware of the frame of the film.

Sing, Song-Yong also pointed out that the two actors who played the couple “response to the questions from the off-scene priest, Tomonari and to the chorus while chanting the touching story of how the couple of pine trees are separated”[13] and thus there are “a frame within a frame, a painting within a painting, and a play within a play.”[14] In an interview, Hsu mentioned, “The actors of Noh sometimes even jump out of the narrative and criticize the play itself or talk about the meaning of literature […] The main actors of this performance […] Their songs trigger the actions in the plot, but other than that […] the priest and the chorus at the singing the ‘ji-utai.” The priest and the chorus are heard as the voice-over. The priest and chorus at times conversed with the old married couple but at times they were commenting on what happened on stage”[15] In other words, the meta-cinema is this film is established with the voice over and the visual effect of the moving frames. The former mentioned works present the contemplation on the process of making a movie in a more literal way. However this film is a reflection of the narrative of cinema. Based on this context, the second part of the article will be mainly about the relationship between fact and fiction in the narrative of cinema.

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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.

[1] Krauss, Rosalind, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-medium Condition. New York Thames & Hudson, 2000.

[2] White, Hayden, and Michael S. Roth. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

[3] See: Introduction in White, Hayden, and Michael S. Roth. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in

Nineteenth-century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

[4] “The Rebellion of Moving Image of MOCA: the rebellion in order to return and The Justice or reentering the scene”, by Wu, Mu-ching and Yen, Xiao-Xiao, Artco, 2018.05.03. URL: https://artouch.com/view/content-3965.html Access Date: 2018.03.05.

[5] “The Rebellion of Moving Image of MOCA: the rebellion in order to return and The Justice or reentering the scene”, by Wu, Mu-ching and Yen, Xiao-Xiao, Artco, 2018.05.03. URL: https://artouch.com/view/content-3965.html Access Date: 2018.03.05. I think each case is different. I keep a skeptical attitude toward the classifications and movements in the study of art history because the movements and classifications are never static. With the creation of new works, they change along, and never follows the logic of deduction. Moreover, the development of history is dynamic and diverse. Thus, I have no intention to force Ten Thousand Wave into the artistic movement of Expanded Cinema. Rather, I am trying to identify a similar form. In addition, inspired by this movement, I am trying to find an approach of the interpretation of this work.

[6] I think Isaac Julien’s Ten Thousand Wave has a relatively weak connection with Gene

Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema as well as with the Fluxus movment, from the perspective of history. “The Rebellion of Moving Image of MOCA: the rebellion in order to return and The Justice or reentering the scene”, by Wu, Mu-ching and Yen, Xiao-Xiao, Artco, 2018.05.03. URL: https://artouch.com/view/content-3965.html Access Date: 2018.03.05. However, it presents some features of Expanded Cinema with another definition, the post-cinematic condition. See :Youngblood, Gene, Expanded Cinema. New York: Dutton, 1970. Also see :Krauss, Rosalind, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-medium Condition. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000

[7] Please consult related discussions on the dispositif theory.

[8] A more detailed reflection on the interface, digital technology and online society can be found in the Taiwan International Video Art Exhibition, Offline Browser, curated by HSU Chia-Wei and HSU Fong-Ray.

[9] HSU, Chia-Wei., Industrial Research Institute Affiliated to the Japanese Governor Office, p.57 2018: Liang Gallery.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. p.121

[13] Ibid. p.10

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. p.121

[1] Krauss, Rosalind, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-medium Condition. New York Thames & Hudson, 2000.

[2] White, Hayden, and Michael S. Roth. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

[3] See: Introduction in White, Hayden, and Michael S. Roth. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in

Nineteenth-century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

[4] “The Rebellion of Moving Image of MOCA: the rebellion in order to return and The Justice or reentering the scene”, by Wu, Mu-ching and Yen, Xiao-Xiao, Artco, 2018.05.03. URL: https://artouch.com/view/content-3965.html Access Date: 2018.03.05.

[5] “The Rebellion of Moving Image of MOCA: the rebellion in order to return and The Justice or reentering the scene”, by Wu, Mu-ching and Yen, Xiao-Xiao, Artco, 2018.05.03. URL: https://artouch.com/view/content-3965.html Access Date: 2018.03.05. I think each case is different. I keep a skeptical attitude toward the classifications and movements in the study of art history because the movements and classifications are never static. With the creation of new works, they change along, and never follows the logic of deduction. Moreover, the development of history is dynamic and diverse. Thus, I have no intention to force Ten Thousand Wave into the artistic movement of Expanded Cinema. Rather, I am trying to identify a similar form. In addition, inspired by this movement, I am trying to find an approach of the interpretation of this work.

[6] A more detailed reflection on the interface, digital technology and online society can be found in the Taiwan International Video Art Exhibition, Offline Browser, curated by HSU Chia-Wei and HSU Fong-Ray.

The Visual Art Critic Project is sponsored by National Culture and Arts Foundation, Taiwan, Winsing Arts Foundation and Mrs. Su Mei-Chi.

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

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