How Monologue Occupies Space

-- On Fang Lu’s video work 

Huang Chien-hung

 

A girl seated at a control station—in spotlight, in firm grip of the camera, yet seemingly in control of all her technologies—preoccupied with the screen, sometimes with misty-eyed adoration, other times with downright antagonism, at times lost in rumination, or else awaiting a response. Fang Lu’s seven-channel video installation Cinema (2013) creates a peaceful, exquisitely feminine space filled with dialectical tension rising from the constant interplay between control and being controlled, looking and being looked at, vocalization and projection. If Virginia Woolf demanded for a room of one’s own, this young woman, whose identity, character, and position are utterly unknown to us, appears to be asking for a cinema entirely to herself. Observing her own image projected onto a screen in front, her reaction is not to read and write, but to watch and sing—looking at an image of herself while manipulating the surrounding audiovisual environment. The whole installation functions as a vision—in addition to the movie theater, she even conceives an entire audiovisual setup including lighting, camera movement, sound recording and engineering. This intricate network of observation and control is characteristic of the singular narrative space in Fang Lu’s work.

Already a narrative space in itself, the cinema opens up to another layer of theatrical space, where performance and projection attempt to open a fluid realm in relation to the body and the medium of video. In videos like The Secret of Supermoon, Sea of Silence, and Rola, Fang Lu’s camera is almost always pointed at women in intimate settings. Paradoxically, the state of intimacy is also a place for self-expression, which is put on display by the artist for external gaze. Fang Lu is at her most politicized and radical precisely in these narratives of intimacy (whereas No World provides an inversion of such radicality.) In The Secret of Supermoon, the ballroom and rehearsal room serve as film sets or performative spaces, where the camera cuts between medium shots and close ups, enabling each narrator’s description of relationship to render the space into another relational universe—a shared space distinguished by individual speakers, camera positions, and different methods of description and movement. In short, through telling stories about their ex-lovers, a group of otherwise unrelated women delineate two subtly differentiated theatrical spaces, all the while suggesting another layer of shared existence. Like music, soliloquy willfully permeates space, which the woman must make her own—through actions like making and drinking coffee, eating, or dropping plates on the floor. Fang Lu films women and space in a way that transforms prescriptive formulas of fantasy, whose very construction becomes an instrument of performativity. 

The moon becomes supermoon when it comes closest to the Earth—a beginning and end with maximum potency. We recognize the artist’s attempts to understand and represent all kinds of distance in their varying intensities. Already in Sea of Silence, Fang Lu is challenging women’s ability to use narrative to occupy space. If she still retains a safety zone in The Secret of Supermoon that remains closed and ambiguous, where the storyteller’s voice could directly give shape to her own theater, then the installations taking place in the desert in Sea of Silence remind us of the impossibility of erasing the boundary between the space of nature and the space of intimacy. As the dividing line moves along with the narrative monologues, the external universe continues to influence the private sphere, while the latter diffuses into the former, forming a sort of spatial dialectic where natural sceneries function as metaphors for the world. Moreover, the artist departs from intricate descriptions of emotional predicament in Supermoon, focusing instead on reflecting on intimate partnership through the lens of conceptual difference, whereby the universe of Sea of Silence seems to call on women to pursue selfhood and autonomy in love. The former represents women’s self-determination as a form of narrative control, while the latter enables the monologist to describe the process in which her thinking becomes independent. The desert in Sea of Silence not only suggests the necessity of climbing over the dunes, but also reaches the state of silence by way of isolation, with “sea” referring to the internal landscape of the speaker and her narrative.

In Rola, a reclining Rola describes the emotional disturbance caused by gender ambiguity (a kind of overcoming of gender), a hybrid condition that makes it possible to transfer or transform space. However, she seems to have no background and provides no descriptions of environment. Rola is but a decontextualized individual forced to live in the same reality as we do and to escalate the intensity of her inner world. I’mal

 

 

reminded of the uncanny feeling watching No World, where every character is decontextualized, just like Rola, and captured as an abstract visage. Rather than singling out the aspect of gender through monologue, we see degenderized forms of authority and opposition. Most importantly, various actions of the youth in an enclosed interior space—be it acts of resistance, offense, fistfight, vandalism or revelry—are but reenactions of urban scenarios from news videos, where the background is completely wiped clean! Fang Lu’s intention is plain and simple—to represent, in violent scenes behind closed walls, the predicament of democracy and liberalism: despite his or her freedom, autonomy and agency, the individual has been deprived of reality. In other words, these bodies in motion, speaking or silent, are those who have fought but lost the larger universe in which they subsist on struggle. 

We have just examined women’s soliloquy, and creation and demise of fantasy. Fang Lu’s work is less concerned with “soliloquy” as a closed circuit of one-way speech, but a dynamic balance that one’s relationship to environment, internal and external world. Hence there’s no privileged position, such as the woman or the victim; foregrounded are the relationships that become visible in the flow of language and consciousness. It’s not about the specificity of a character, female or male, but a multitude of persons drifting between different boundaries, whose monologues about relationships allow the world to adjust itself anew. The actual taking place of speech engenders a creative process that overcomes structural patterns; Fang Lu positions her work as the catalyst for the process to take off, without framing it in yet another fantasy. Fantasy dissolves in ambiguity—this is perhaps why the editing always drives scenes into a state of ambiguity through moments of crisis, anxiety and intense actions. The point is not to construct the “new woman,” but to reflect on essential questions of human existence through present conditions of women.

In other words, women’s demand for and occupation of space—the space for soliloquy—puts to test new kinds of political relationships, which are manifest in a complex spatial configuration just like the cinema. Addressing de-contextualization and “loss of the world,” the second half of this essay stands in a self-evident dialectical relationship to the first half; emotional tension, affective sensitivity and critical thinking will suffice to generate the energy and possibility of occupying space. To occupy space, in a sense, means occupying reality and preserving the world, resisting forced deprivation and subjugation of one’s own. In Fang Lu’s work, women always have someone else in their lives. Even No World, which isn’t centered on women, relates to the existence of that other (the enemy). Therein lies, perhaps, a road to resistance, a way of seeking more balanced and productive relationships with the world amid the tension of difference. 

Video, with the limits of framing and time imposed by a machine, strikes up an undying conversation with a homogenizing world and its ever-regenerating systems of domination, opening up a field for the renegotiation of gender relations. The goal is to diversify space in politicized confrontations, where gender fluidity flows in narrative, obscuring the shackles of control.

 

Translated by Connie Kang

Text Originally published on True Sense: Fang Lu, Boers-li Gallery, Beijing, 2016

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