Beijing-based artist Zhao Liang’s mesmerizing video installation
(2006), an acute observation of social realities in China, will be on view in the Walker Art Center’s Target Gallery from December 17, 2009–March 14, 2010. The 18-minute, two-channel video depicts the interior of a dormitory for construction workers during the massive effort to build today’s China for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Also screening will be Zhao’s 25-minute single-channel video
(2007–2008), which tracks the effects of time and decay on The Great Wall, one of the most ambitious building projects of all time. Zhao Liang will visit the Walker in January to introduce screenings of his documentary films Petition—The Court of the Complainants (Friday, January 29, 7:30 pm) and Crime and Punishment (Saturday, January 30, 7:30 pm), both of which are part of the series Expanding the Frame: Journeys. In addition, he will discuss Heavy Sleepers with visitors in the gallery from 3–4 pm on Saturday, January 30. The in-gallery presentation of Heavy Sleepers and Narrative Landscape is organized by film/video curator Sheryl Mousley.
In this corridor installation, the visitor is taken into the intimate quarters of migrant workers who have traveled to Beijing to work during the city’s construction boom. One side shows the workers sleeping; the other, their empty beds. Walking through the immersive installation, the visitor encounters simple scenes illustrating the sacrifices made by China’s laborers, as the slow, unyielding camera pan reveals telling personal details. The scene of the empty beds raises the question of whether the men have gone back to work, or finally returned home.
From a distance, The Great Wall of China looks like the spine of the mountains surrounding it, but a closer view reveals only the remnants of a ruin. As the wind rustles the trees and wild grass, a sandstorm rushes towards the decaying wall. The narrative tells the story of a wall built and rebuilt between the 5th century BC and the 16th century to protect China’s northern borders. Stretching for more than 5,000 miles, the wall reveals areas vulnerable to the windblown sands from nearby fields that have been eroded through deforestation due to rapid building expansion.
Zhao Liang belongs to a generation of artists who are attempting to create an aesthetic that takes into account the methods of documentary filmmaking and the language of popular culture. Through video, photography, and documentary film, Zhao (born in 1971) examines the oppositional tensions in contemporary China: rural and urban realities, rapid progress and nostalgia, the nature of politics and the beauty of the natural world. He clearly connects with the underprivileged, whom he considers to be the engine of society, and homes in on everyday aspects of life ignored by public institutions. His work was previously seen at the Walker in the Dig.It Festival of Digital Media in 2002 and in the exhibition How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age in 2003.
Friday, January 29, 7:30 pm
Petition—The Court of the Complainants
Since 1996, Zhao Liang has filmed the “petitioners” who come to Beijing from all over China to file complaints about abuses and injustices committed by the local authorities. Often living in makeshift shelters around the southern railway station, the complainants wait months or even years for justice, and face brutal intimidation from local authorities. Shot right up to the start of the 2008 Olympic Games, Petition arrestingly illustrates the contradictions of China in the midst of powerful economic expansion. Premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. 2009, in Mandarin with English subtitles, video, 124 minutes.
Saturday, January 30, 7:30 pm
Crime and Punishment (Zui yu fa)
Filmed on the border between North Korea and China, the award-winning Crime and Punishment documents the daily life of young Chinese guards dealing with a range of people, from petty thieves to those truly in trouble. The film positions itself at the border of past and future, where the idea of justice has advanced but the practice does not necessarily follow. 2007, in Mandarin with English subtitles, video, 122 minutes.
These screenings are part of the series Expanding the Frame: Journeys.