Unrecording

Carol Yinghua Lu

While studying graphic design as an undergraduate in the United States, Fang Lu saw her very first contemporary art show at PS1 in New York. She was struck by the display of TVs and sprawling cables in a darkened room, amazed by the way that art was shown more than by its actual content. The visit was inspirational for the young artist, truly expanding her understanding of art that was originally rooted in traditional Chinese art practice as exemplified by her own father, a Chinese ink wash painter. This experience was instrumental in moving Fang to a life as an artist instead of the graphic designer she had initially set out to become. She earned an MFA in new genres (video and performance) at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2007 and returned to Guangzhou subsequently to pursue her artistic career.

Working mainly in video, Fang at times infuses her art with her enthusiasm for the relationship between media and the everyday by reconstructing news stories and quotidian scenarios with subtle humor, as well as conceptual twists, playing on the status of video as a documentary tool accessible to all. Panda Express (2007) was based on American news reports about the Chinese practice of showing pandas videos of their species mating, with an aim to increasing the panda population. Fang dressed two female actors in panda costumes and had them perform scenes of mating, which she filmed and posted on YouTube as a video clip. By adopting the democratic and open system of the Internet to circulate her work, Fang was able to introduce her own version of the story into mass circulation.

The ability to restage the events chronicled in conventional journalistic reports, and thus challenge their accountability, was the strength of a later work. News Reenactment (2008) features restaging of three inconsequential public events as reported in the Chinese society pages: a girl slapping her kneeling boyfriend outside a shopping mall; a driver attacking a security guard on the street; and a group of men wearing motorbike helmets setting off fireworks in a village. Although they appear convincing, the “incidents” were all filmed from two angles and shown on two separate, juxtaposed screens, thus automatically revealing their mimetic nature and undermining the absolute authority of any news footage or reporting as we see on TV.

Yet most of Fang Lu’s video works remain non-narrative and focused. In Skin (2010), Fang Lu dressed and undressed herself in front of a video camera until she exhausted her closet. As always, Fang Lu revealed little through her facial expression. Only a glimpse of her face was shown. The skinny artist was almost wrapped up in her own clothes from head to toe, swiftly putting on layers and layers of clothes, an act sometimes appearing in reverse order through the artist’s editing. The artist, who invented such a mischievous game for herself, performed it with such innocence and accuracy. We are almost convinced that there wouldn’t be another way of acting it and she is the best performer for her own works.

Her earlier video works such as Untitled Beings Series (where the artist performed various states of being in front her the video camera), Density (where two persons were invited to vent out their anger and frustrations by hitting an elevated platform with a chair they were assigned by the artist to sit in and not allowed to disband all through the performance, until they eventually became really mad themselves. It was a gradual transition from being invited to act madness to becoming really mad through the process of acting.), or My Schoolmates (where volunteers danced solely in front of Fang Lu’s camera in the studio to their chosen music, totally absorbed in their own movements.) revealed a central point of departure and concern of the artist. Fang Lu has herself or invites other people to play out a certain designated role, emotion or state of being in an isolated space and for a sufficient period of time until this “acted” or “artificial” state of being becomes a genuine condition. Her camera generates this transition and captures it for the rest of us. Yet the role of Fang’s camera is more than a recorder of what has happened, but a part of Fang’s conspiracy in which the border between performance and real actions is blurred. To further uproot the idea of video as a faithful recording tool, Fang would usually rework the sequence of events in her videos through editing. She directs and occasionally performs one drama after another with her video camera, in front of which, the performers would progressively move into and carve out an autonomous, self-absorbed and convincingly realistic space. It’s no longer important to question the legitimacy of these actions or emotions, as the solidity and density of their beings have completely won over us.

Unrecording tries to give a modest review of the artist’s portfolio from one of her earliest films Untitled Beings (2001) to one of her latest Skin (2010). But more importantly, it’s the artist’s attempt to communicate her idea of video-making: that it is not always just about recording. Even though the camera is recording what is happening, it is not always realistic, even less documentary.

 

(Unrecording: Fang Lu, Space Station, Beijing, 2010)

 

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