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‘Dragonfly Eyes:’ unfiltered life, film fiction
From:Shanghai Daily  |  2021-05-08 04:29

EVER wonder what all those ubiquitous urban surveillance cameras are recording?

Famed Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing gives a glimpse of an answer in his film “Dragonfly Eyes,” which screened at the Power Station of Art on Monday as part of the ongoing 13th Shanghai Biennale’s “Close-up” unit.

The 81-minute experimental work was completely synthesized from unfiltered surveillance camera footage uploaded to livestreaming, video-sharing websites before they were closed down by authorities.

Xu, who is best known for his printmaking and installation art, completed “Dragonfly Eyes” in 2017, one of his few visual creations. It has been screened at Xu’s art exhibition in Beijing and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but this is the first time it’s been shown to general audiences in Shanghai.

The film has a fictitious plot and characters.

“It’s hard to say whether the film should be defined as a fiction, feature or documentary,” said Xu. “All footage is from real life. People featured in the footage are not actors. They have simply been given identities, lines and roles in my film.”

The fictitious story centers on a young woman named Qing Ting, whose name translates as “dragonfly.”

She leaves a Buddhist temple where she was training to become a nun and returns to the secular world, taking a job in a highly mechanized dairy farm. A farm technician Ke Fan falls in love with her and breaks the law in an attempt to please her. On his release from jail, Ke looks for Qing but finds that she has undergone plastic surgery and reinvented herself as an online celebrity called Xiao Xiao. When Xiao slips from her pedestal and disappears, Ke resolves to reinvent himself as Qing.

“The idea of this work came many years ago when I watched cop programs on TV,” said Xu. “TV audiences were attracted to surveillance camera footage used in the shows, and I noticed that in the footage, people behaved most naturally.”

Xu said all the material in his film was downloaded from websites where netizens from around China shared surveillance camera footage for free online.

“We bought many computers and started downloading the footage 24 hours a day,” said Xu. “Eventually, we collected 11,000 hours of material.”

According to Xu, the footage-sharing websites existed for about two years before they were shuttered by authorities.

The 2017 film foretells topics that would become popular social talking points, such as online celebrities, mechanized factory work and the worship of good looks.

“For modern people, the most important skill is to master an indirect tool or item, like the cellphone or an AI robot,” he explained. “My film doesn’t have a cameraman. You can say that it has been made indirectly. Indirection can be considered a restriction sometimes. I majored in printmaking, which is also an indirect art. How to push art to its limit under restriction is my artistic pursuit.”

He added: “Dragonflies have compound eyes, implying the omnipresence of surveillance cameras. It’s also a result of evolution and development.”

Jointly organized by Center for Experimental Film and the Power Station of Art, the 13th Shanghai Biennale’s “Close-up” unit invites top artistic film directors, visual artists and other related for film screening and dialogue.

Other guests on the invited list are famed directors Diao Yinan and Wang Xiaoshuai, anthropologist Xiang Biao and writer Shuang Xuetao.