AAFF 2017 | Asian Focus: "Axes of Dwelling: The Video Art of Yuan Goangming" & more


"Axes of Dwelling: The Video Art of Yuan Goangming"
Asian Focus | New Media | Short Films
We've all seen countless homes, city streets, and natural landscapes in our lifetimes -- but never seen them quite the way Yuan Goangming does. The Taiwanese video artist's work is full of such commonplace imagery, but through innovative presentation and perspective, Yuan imbues familiar sights with surprising new feelings of both wonderment and unease. A wide variety of his works will be shown during the career retrospective "Axes of Dwelling," for which Yuan will appear and participate in a discussion with University of Michigan professor of Asian cinema Markus Nornes.

Take for example Yuan's 2011 short work Disappearing Landscape: Passing II. The piece features three channels of video, previously presented as a room-scale gallery installation but shown at AAFF in a single channel. Yuan mounted three cameras adjacent each other and filmed simultaneously as he tracked through various scenes, including multiple homes (some pristine, some dilapidated), a forest, and city streets. The final effect is a nearly 270-degree view of each setting, not unlike the 360-degree videos that have proliferated online since Yuan created the work, but also presenting the viewer with much greater perspective and sense of momentum. Yuan writes that the film was inspired by his father's death, his child's birth, and having built his own home "on ruins," and it's easy to feel and relate to the awe and melancholy that accompanies these wide-open, well-observed vistas.

Similar themes are present in Yuan's 2014 work Dwelling. The single-shot film displays a lovely, sunlit, attractively decorated room with a newspaper standing up improbably on its own centerfold as a gentle breeze ruffles its pages. Then, suddenly, several explosive charges go off and the contents of the room shatter upward in slow-motion detail. As the explosion reaches its peak, the video runs back and the fragments of the room reassemble themselves into their original order. Yuan addressed the piece in a 2015 interview. "From one perspective, it means destruction," he said. "From another, it can also represent rebirth."

Not all Yuan's works tackle such hefty themes. His 1998 installation The Reason for Insomnia featured a bed, bare except for a pillow motorized to rise and fall, emulating a breathing sleeper. A video projector controlled by a knob on the bedframe casts unsettling images that take on a disturbingly lifelike quality when thrown against the white bed sheet. A slit slowly appears in the sheet in one projection; in another, a mysterious bump crawls slowly beneath the sheet from the foot to the head of the bed; in another, the bed appears to catch fire.

The title of AAFF's retrospective is apt because dwellings and the nature of the spaces humans fill (or vacate) are clear preoccupations for Yuan. But the concept of the axis is key as well. Many of Yuan's works revolve around a distinct physical axis -- as in Disappearing Landscape, or his 1995 work The Cage, in which a fixed camera looks directly up through the bottom of a birdcage while someone carries it. But even outside his works containing unconventional visual perspectives, Yuan also consistently reorients the viewer's axis in the more general sense of an agreed-upon reference point. He has a playful sense of how the world turns, and he encourages us to rethink our own preconceived notions and play along with him. (You can also see his 2014 installation film Indication at the Ann Arbor Art Center.) March 25, 9:15 pm | Michigan Theater Screening Room

More Asian Focus films:

The River
Films in Competition 3 | Asian Focus | Shorts in Competition
In this Taiwanese short, which will screen as part of AAFF's "Short Films in Competition 3" program, director Ya-Ting Hsu explores the idea of pregnancy as a traumatic, recurring, intergenerational experience. The film is inspired by Hsu's own pregnancy. Hsu's co-director Geoffrey Hughes will be in attendance for this screening. March 22, 7:15 pm | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

A Page of Madness
Special Program | Asian Focus | Music
This 1926 Japanese silent avant-garde film following the story of a janitor in an asylum was lost for 45 years before director Teinosuke Kinugasa rediscovered it in his own storehouse. Kataoka Ichiro will fill the traditional Japanese role of benshi for this screening, providing live narration for the film, while local tiny-instrument trio Little Bang Theory provides musical accompaniment. March 22, 9:30 pm | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

Commodity City
Films in Competition 5 | Asian Focus | Shorts in Competition
Director Jessica Kingdon will be in attendance for this screening of her short film about vendors who work in China's Yiwu market, also known as China Commodity City, the largest wholesale market on the planet. Kingdon focuses on the relationship between commercial goods and those who sell them. March 24, 9:30 pm | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

Mein Hutong
Films in Competition 9 | Asian Focus | Shorts in Competition
The blend of languages in this film's title expresses the cultural push and pull in Jie Jie Ng's work. Although he is of Chinese heritage, the director lives in Germany and has never resided in China. The film focuses on his fascination with Beijing's hutongs, or alleys, many of which have a rich cultural history despite being increasingly demolished in favor of new development. March 25, 12:45 pm | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

"Video Bureau: Selections From an Archive in China"
Filmmaker Ellen Zweig curated and will present this program of short works collected by Video Bureau, a Chinese artists' nonprofit dedicated to archiving and exhibiting video art. The films range from a performance piece featuring a literal human chameleon to a documentary in which a filmmaker returns to his childhood home to explore the lives of coal miners. March 25, 2:45 pm | Michigan Theater Screening Room

Furusato 古里
Amazing Stories | Asian Focus | Features in Competition
Director Thorsten Trimpop will be in attendance for the North American premiere of this heartbreaking film about a village that fell partly within the evacuation zone for the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Residents have been allowed to return, but as Trimpop shows, their lives are anything but back to normal. March 26, 2:15 pm | Michigan Theater Screening Room

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer and the managing editor of Concentrate.

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