China’s Cutting Edge: New Video Art From Shanghai and Beijing


Surveys of British and Japanese avant-garde film hosted at Anthology in recent years have proven successful by focusing on the past, revealing heretofore little-known alternatives to the American historical canon. By necessity, however, “China’s Cutting Edge” devotes its time to contemporary work. Little more than 15 years old, Chinese experimental video appears to spring from the conceptual lineage of gallery art rather than the more rigorous, materially minded schooling of avant-garde film. Qiu Anxiong uses video to play with the conventions of painting and drawing. Qiu’s In the Sky is a surreal animated pencil sketch, reminiscent of William Kentridge, while Jiang Nan Poem approximates a delicate asymmetrical watercolor scroll with nearly still shots of trees; both seem better suited to hanging in a white cube than screening in a theater. Lu Chunsheng’s Before the Appearance of the First Steam Engine employs a more cinematic aesthetic, but in the aimlessly narrative, quasi-symbolic fashion likewise found in much Western gallery work. More satisfyingly media-specific is Zhou Hongxiang’s The Red Flag Flies, which marries a barrage of ironic-patriotic images of flag-waving soldiers and comrades to an audio collage of chanted government slogans; a whispering voice responds to each platitude with childlike but nevertheless pointed questions: What is success? What is having? What is beauty? What is revolution?