CHUNG KUO, 2017-2019

CHUNG KUO, 2017-2019
Tracing the memories sealed in Antonioni’s 1970s documentary film Chung Kuo, China, then returning to obliterate reality of China today, Cheng Ran’s new work consists of 100 documentary-style videos ranging from a few seconds to less than an hour, that record the fast-moving present and imagining the future ghosts of modernization from a unique perspective and form. These documentary and pseudo-documentary videos and sound recordings challenge the boundaries and possibilities of documentary film. They crossover and mix the past, present and future, intertwining society and individuals, the modern city and the wilderness, personally sampling from modernity and nature, emotion and reality, reality and fantasy.
In 1972, Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni was invited by the Chinese government and filmed a 3h 40m documentary called Chung Kuo, China. The film recorded much realistic footage of China at that time, yet the disturbances that happened before and after shooting reflected the real cultural collision and conflict between extreme leftism and modern western ideas of that time.
More than 40 years later, how much have these once-true memories and realities changed? Is it only the old-time architecture and society that are gone? What still remains and never changed?
Chung Kuo, China was based on a controversial multi-layered storytelling structure, from Antonioni’s self-metaphor of “traveller with a camera,” to Bernardo Bertolucci’s comment – “a true Chinese epic” – to the accusation of “betrayer of China” from the Chinese people. The film about China combined with the above-mentioned interpretations together constructed the image of China at the time. With this reference, Cheng Ran’s new film sets the direction towards a more personal and marginalized path, following the rhythm of children playing piano and footage shot from the perspective of stray cats, for example. Personal judgments set in juxtaposition with objective facts, together with an abstract editing style, redefines the boundless China through incremental pieces from multiple perspectives.
Cheng Ran constantly practices and explores his visual language from a unique perspective. After recently finishing his nine-hour experimental film in 2016 that investigates aesthetics, film language, and storytelling structure, this documentary film will be completed in one year as his most important work of 2017. As an important thread in Cheng Ran’s work that is different from his film and video art works, the new work aims to challenge the boundary of documentary film as more of a sociological investigation, yet distinct from conventional field research.
From his two straight hour-long videotapes about the city of Ulaanbaatar and the Gobi Desert in 2009 called Uncut Documentary, to his ten-screen collaborative video installation work, The Deepest Red, with artist Michael Lin at the Shanghai Rockbound Museum in 2012, that rethought workers’ labor and the spaces they work in a realistic yet surreal way. And in his ten-screen documentary film Goodbye, Fucking EXPO – From Versailles Gardens to the 21st century, commissioned by the Shanghai Minsheng 21st Century Museum in 2014 (for which the title was taken from graffiti found on the kitchen wall in an abandoned building written by French lovers,) the film recorded the abandonment and reconstruction of the French Pavilion after the closure of the World Expo in Shanghai to its reopening as an art museum, finding the lonely moments of the architecture in the modernization process. In 2015, another multi-screen documentary, Orange & Blue, recorded a nine-hour ongoing film shoot and used suggestive colors as the title of the work. From the sea in southern China to the snowy mountains of Tibet, then back to the film studio in Beijing, the shoot lasted for more than 40 days. A cinematographer and gaffer from the Netherlands, together with actors and 70 other crew members, participated in the filming and travelled over 8,000 kilometers and crossed more than half of China. The work intends to reveal a “trade” through the images of broken pieces and little details – what did we give in exchange for a film? In 2016, Cheng Ran shot 15 videos in New York titled Diary of a Madman, which discuss the connection between the city and the individual. This project is one of three chapters of the Madman series, which will be shot separately in New York, Jerusalem and Hong Kong. The Diary of a Madman project also sets the vision and foreshadowing for Cheng Ran’s new 2017 project – China.
This project is supported by JNBY