onsdag den 13. juni 2012

How to Start Your Own Country

Artist, designer and curator Ou Ning was invited by Moleskine to sketch his research towards founding an experimental microstate, a utopia. Through the notebook we witness the conception of an ideal community in Bishan village. It is now known as the Bishan Commune. You can see the recording on moleskine's webpage

The second page of Ou Ning's moleskine notebook carries the front cover of the book: How to Start Your Own Country by Erwin Strauss (second edition, 1983).

The picture on the front cover of the book features the Principality of Sealand located on a Maunsell sea fort build during World War II to help defend the United Kingdom. The facility has been occupied by the former British Major Paddy Roy Bates since 1967 and they claim it as an independent sovereign state. Its has been described as the world's smallest nation or a micronation (Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations).

Maunsell Sea Forts (or possible micronations):

Ou Ning's notebook and the Principality of Sealand

If we continue through the notebook of Ou Ning we see the common law of Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous area in Copenhagen, Denmark covering 34 hectares consisting mainly of former military barracks and parts of the city rampants. The area has a unique status in that it is regulated by a special law. Christiania also claims not to be part of EU.

Ruralism + Anarchism

Anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin

The Bishan Commune and its flag

Open air Cinema (露天影院) (l) and small theatre (r)

Livingquarters (r) in Bishan Village

Le Corbusier

How to Start Your Own Country can be found in its entirety here.

tirsdag den 5. juni 2012

Ou Ning: What Wukan Means

From the Wukan protests. The picture is from Ou Ning's blog

I have previously written about the uprising i Wukan village in 2011, an uprising mainly related to the transferring of property rights and unfair compensation to the transferred and dislocated. The conflict gave rise to a fleeing village party secretary and direct confrontation with the local authorities. In spite of the rough beginning the conflict ended in democratic election, where the villagers themselves were allowed to choose their own representatives.

In a blogpost entitled What Wukan Means Ou Ning gives a thorough account of the events during the siege of Wukan in the last part of 2011 and adds the historical context to conflicts related to the uneven development of rural and urban areas. Ou Ning argues for new ways to understand what happened in Wukan by reflecting on new meanings of the word "politics" and "revolution. Ou Ning argues:

It is also time for a new definition of “revolution.” Revolution doesn’t need to mean seizing power. It doesn’t need to mean one political party replacing another. It doesn’t need to mean violence. Revolution can mean the melting away of conflict, a common search for a road through our problems. It can mean sharing, rather than seizing. It can bring smiles instead of terror. It can be a storm of ideas rather than a call to arms. Revolution doesn’t need to mean the burying of a system; it can mean the system’s renewal. Revolution doesn’t need to mean chaos; it can also mean order. Wukan has already set the example. It is time for history to follow.

Ou Ning is a graphic designer, editor, activist, blogger, documentary filmmaker and many other things. His praxis encompasses many different disciplines and ways of thinking. Ou Ning is the director of the films San Yuan Li and Meishi Street (in collaboration with the artist Cao Fei) both dealing with urban redevelopment and demolition.

Ou Ning is also the editor of the literary magazine Chutzpah! Edition 6 is entitled The Revolutions and carries several articles on the Arab Spring and discussions of revolution.

tirsdag den 20. marts 2012


Both of the book covers presented above wear a picture of the artist Cao Fei's RMB city, a virtual city build and planned in the realm of the online game the Second Life. Not only do the books carry the same cover, but they are also concerned with much the same subjects: Cultural products and the urban in China and East Asia respectively.

mandag den 19. marts 2012

The Skywalk is Gone

  The overpass has been demolished. Still from The Skywalk is Gone

Lady: Why should I take out my ID card? I did nothing but cross the street!
Police: But you violated traffic rules.
Lady: That’s because there is no skywalk. It’s not my fault. I am willing to take the skywalk.
Police: You broke the rules, both of you. An underpass is just over there.
Lady: What do you mean by breaking the rules? How come the skywalk is gone?

Tsai Mingliang's (蔡明亮) 2002 short The Skywalk is Gone (天桥不见了) treats the urban transformations and demolitions of Taibei. The above conversation between a policeman and a lady apprehended for jaywalking shows us that the spatial memory of the lady is not subjected to the proposed law of the policeman. The spatial memory, real or not, is a part of the spatial imaginary of the city, thus adding layers of physical features to the already existing places of the city. Or as Yomi Braester puts it: "Taipei's material spaces are merely the visible part of a city mostly submerged in memory" (Braester 2010, 188). It doesn't really matter whether there is a new underpass or not, what matters is that the skywalk is gone and changing the physical features of the route and thereby also the possible physical behavior of the lady in mention.

The scene we can see on the picture above also shows a bodily transgression of the law. The ladies of the scenes refuse to conform with the new arrangement of the city and thus violate, intentional or unintentional, the 'control' of the space, they are uncontrollable! They open up new spatial trajectories by crossing the street an undesignated place.

Other signs that everything is slowly but surely falling apart is the missing ability of the police to say when the skywalk was demolished, the fact that the lady doesn't know who to ask for the underpass, because there are so many people on the street, how she looses her identity (-card) after being apprehended for jaywalking and the strange condition that the water is rationed leaving only fried rice with egg, and no soup or coffee on the menu and apparently no water in the tap either.

Tsai Mingliang further comments on the possible consequences of such violent urban changes by letting the two protagonists of the story walk right past each other without recognizing at all. They know each other from a previous film of Tsai Mingliang (What Time is it There? 你那边几点) taking place in that exact same skywalk that is now missing. In The Skywalk is Gone they meet in the new underpass, but fail to recognize each other. The transforming physical features makes them incapable of recognizing each others or is it themselves who are lost?

The Skywalk is Gone can be watched here:
part 1/2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkoWxPBQuNM
part 2/2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdnSXdDSzLU&feature=related

torsdag den 12. januar 2012

New Routes


onsdag den 11. januar 2012

Demolition To Die For

The picture of artist Hei Yang (Black Goat 黑羊) and his performance protest against the demolition of art districts in Beijing won "the golden lens" as the best press photo in 2010. The article states that more than 10 art districts in Beijing are slated for demolition.

tirsdag den 10. januar 2012

The Past is the Future is the Present

In his book Arkitekturen som Tidsmaskine (The Architecture as Time Machine 2010) Carsten Thau writes, amongst many other subjects, about myths and how they are past but somehow still "an underlying reality producing pattern" (p. 19) and how the distant past can seem present. Some indigenous people (e.g. Australian aborigines) practise wanderings through landscapes while singing, and they visit specific sites connected with myths. Their myths are thus not ordered chronologically, but time is spatialized through the geographical wanderings. What happens is that we somehow get layered, spatialized time, where the past, the present and the future exists concurrently and shape and is shaped by each other or possibly there is only one tense-less present (though not time-less!).

In Chinese there are no tenses, though it is possible to indicate time, either by using adverbs of time or by using particles indicating that an action has or will take place, but the important thing is that tense indication is only used, when the focus is on time (when or if something has or will happen). It is thus very common to omit these indications of tense. My argument is not that past and future doesn't exist in Chinese, but only that it in Chinese is possible to express oneself in tense-less terms. Classical Chinese very rarely has indicators of time. (I am possibly entering a mine field here...)

Why is this important? It relates directly to how we perceive of the present as well as perceptions of the past and the future, and that relates to construction of identity.

Still from Rivers and My Father

The documentary film Rivers and My Father (2011), a Chinese/Canadian production, deals with memory and time. In short the documentary is about a Canadian/Chinese guy who receives the memoirs of his father and decides to make a film of them and returns to China to visit his family. Three main characters are presented: the grand father, the father and the son, all when they are around the age of seven, so three times (past, present and future) at the same time (the age of seven). The three stories are woven together and melt together, time becomes one all embrasing unit impossible to divide into p, p and f. A returning scene demonstrates this very well: a young boy is left behind with relatives by his mother (voiceover) and we see him climb the stairs of the Yangtze River bench holding the hands of a women (they both have their backs to the camera). It is in black and white, there is a sign saying 1926, but commercial bill boards and modern scooters keep entering the picture and towards the end of the film, we are not only shown the scene, but also the making of the scene, with the directors voice talking to the young boy playing himself and a driver of a scooter addressing the film crew. The present interferes with the past and distorts it in a way, so that the father is not able to recognize his own stories and demand that corrections are made. The letter of correction is read out loud while we see the film once again, and so the past digs into the present.

As a person with Danish as mother tongue, and even though I speak Chinese, I have great trouble even imagining a tense-less sentence and thus great trouble discussing a film that is blurring the boundaries of time, without constantly referring to limitators of time (past, present and future). How do you discuss something tense-less without using tense?

mandag den 9. januar 2012

Getting the Past Out Loud

Poster from Bumming in Beijing (1990)

Wu Wenguang has initiated the Memory Project, which basically is concerned with telling stories of the past, both real and imagined. Young documentary filmmakers go back to their hometowns and interview and film their families. The films were screened at NYU. Read dGenerate article about the event and the project here.

Folk Memory Documentary Project: Famine
Collecting memories from the period of the Great Chinese Famine (1959-1961).

Read "Dancing with Myself, Drifting with my Camera: The Emotional Vagabonds of China's New Documentary" by Berenice Reynaud about Wu Wenguang and Bumming in Beijing - The Last Dreamers (1990). Bumming in Beijing is considered one of the first art house documentaries in China. The documentary was heavily inspired by the style of cinema verité. The film can be screened for free at Wu Wenguang's China Independent Documentary Film Archive.

Previous blog entries on memory and cinema:
Money Makes Minced Meat of Memory
The Past is the Future is the Present
Change has Wiped Out my Memories