Independent Animation is a Winding Path…
The Chinese expression Qu Jing Tong You — literally “a winding path leads to quiet seclusion” — conveys the idea of a conceptual space out of time, or better, a space suspended in a non-linear and non-eschatological time, where (and when) visions of life’s countless circumstances can be repeatedly materialized and delivered.
The inner wisdom of this proverb seems to be elaborated in the novel The Garden of Forking Paths, written by Jorge Luis Borges: in it the spy Yu Tsun, while hopelessly trying to escape capture from his enemy, an inevitable destiny, runs into a revelation about the ancestor Ts’ui Ben and his unfinished novel, planned like an inextricable literary labyrinth — the “garden of forking paths” itself. Borges’s narrative strategy, as it is articulated, contains a core of simple truth: the world is just too layered to be embraced and understood at a glance, so are its phenomena. To enumerate them is impossible, therefore, instead of making lists — another concept Borges was fascinated by — of what can be found “under the sky” (in Chinese tian xia) it is far better to try to examine the mechanisms of their functioning: repetitions, recurring patterns or slight shifts in perspective, and again turning points and unexpected convergences.
In the hypertext Borges manages to construct, time and space become unbreakable, as in the modern (and postmodern) theoretical framework. The labyrinth is the space and the time one employs to walk through it. This is also at the core of time-based technologies and multimedia art. A careful combination of time and space generates coordinated movement, which is the premise of animation. The exploration of the chances animated images involve and allow is the premise of independent animation.
The Meaning of Exploration
The idea of “exploration” itself is the starting point of the exhibition: exploration of virtual worlds and exploration of time, in the form of sequences of images moving on the screen. Animation is also one of the directest ways for artists to explore their personal imagery, as well as the collectively inbuilt visual culture(s). Beginning as a pure investigation into the depths of mind, with its fears, expectations, disillusions, temporary or long-term escapes, it becomes paradigmatic of a certain human condition and can be shared through its exposure: the unbridled layout of its contents and the amplification of the evils we are confronted with can relieve from the pain of being alive, and deliver from the sense of threat existence occasionally entails; or on the contrary amplify it. In a word, by liberating from a burden of unspoken words and hidden images, these works can liberate us, showing alternatives to pre-established models and new ways of dealing not only and simply with what is real, but with what we see as real.
Even though the technology animation involves is not as intuitive and available to all as video and photography have now become, artists can have a relatively easy access to it, thanks to the widespread diffusion of the relevant software. Yet independent animation is an adventure into a terrain full of uncertainties, risks and necessary prerequisites: above all when it comes to the restraints imposed by time and money, the two factors governing commercial animation. It certainly is a time and labor consuming technology, but as long as it primarily remains self-funded and unconstrained, it can also be independent.
Like every other art form, animation hinges upon an in-depth knowledge of history and contemporaneity, but representing an expression of the so-called “Cross Media”, it also relies on the capacity to anticipate new directions and put them in relation with each other. We are strongly persuaded that the painstaking research artists carry on, and the utmost attention they show towards the objective of their works, embody the contradictions of a language which through apparent fun and disengagement conveys disruptive messages.
A Maze of Artworks
A large part of the exhibited works has been selected from the first Shenzhen Biennale of Independent Animation (held at OCT Loft from 22 December 2012 to 22 March 2013). OCAT Shanghai has added to the list other relevant artists who have worked with and on animation — Riccardo Arena, Nathalie Djurberg (in China for the first time), Igor Imhoff, Feng Mengbo, Gu Dexin, William Kentridge, Lu Yang — and placed their works within a critical and theoretical frame in which the city of Shanghai is a crucial crossroad of cultural experiences and a platform for international dialogue.
The exhibition is articulated around two spaces which reflect two main thematic spheres: the first gathers works relating to society, natural versus urban landscapes, individual identity and gender issues (Cao Fei, Bu Hua, Nathalie Djurberg, William Kentridge, Sun Xun, Zhang Xiaotao); in the second space visitors will find videos and films which through a more abstract language explores the dynamic potential of images (AES + F, Dai Hua, Lu Yang, Miao Xiaochun, Federico Solmi, Diego Zuelli).
The participation of an artist like William Kentridge, who has regenerated, perhaps even revolutionized the language of independent animation, proves the degree of completeness of this exhibition, aimed at presenting to the Chinese and international public the most interesting outcomes of recent independent animation by young yet well-assessed artists, as well as the finest achievements of renowned artists making occasional or exclusive use of animation language and technology. Conceived as a maze to get lost in and reemerge, just like a labyrinth, or the path the title refers to, it can be temporarily deceitful, but it also represents the unlimited possibilities artists have to imagine, hence create, and opens up new ones for people to get closer to their visions.
A century ago or so, the barges that sailed down the Suzhou river, flowing just outside the exhibition halls, carried all sorts of goods to the warehouses of the National Industrial Bank of China, where today priceless fantasies are collected and shared. The storerooms located inside the cradle of Chinese industry and commerce, former seat of Shanghai General Chamber of Commerce and residence of the first Chinese Industrialist Shen Yu Li, have now become a center for contemporary art. OCAT Shanghai takes advantage of this unique location — Lujiazui skyline can be sighted outside the exhibition halls — to act as a thread between past and present, committing itself to maintain continuity in history and build a dialogue with the world, highlighting at the same time Shanghai’s uniqueness.