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Zhang Xianmin

Professor in Beijing Film Academy Actor in Rain clouds over Wushan, Summer Palace, Raised from dust, Missing, Ce qui nous eloigne, Girls are always happy Writer of books as All about DV, Invisible Images Founder of Indie Workshop in 2005, producer or co-producer of feature movies as Raised from dust, Crossroads, Candy, Birds Island, Fujian Blue, Big Fog, Youth, The Kid, UBU, Wind/flower/snow/moon, Old Donkey, Old Dog, collections of shorts Short Stays and SEE Green Spirit. Supervised the production of Fly with Crane, One summer, Missing, River Home, My Original dream, Kaili blue, Tharlo, We Dream of movies, Ujimqin’s Shaman, Easy+free Producing in 2017: From where we’re fallen, Manchourian Tiger, Changfeng Town, My dear Friend, Fresh, Lush reeds. Artistic director of Heaven Pictures Beijing since 2010 Co-founder of Isaas (Indie screening alliance of art spaces) and Qifang Cinephile Collective in 2011 Juror in film festivals in Hong-Kong, Taipei, Busan, Yunfest, CDFF, Guangzhou Doc, Fipa, Clermont-Ferrand, Cindi, Ebs, Xi’an folk video festival, Iffr Netpak, Phoenix doc., APSA, and Asian Network of Documentary. Organizer of Chinese independent cinema events in Brasil, Italy, South Korea, Austria, France, England and China.

Jury Statement

To mark the tenth anniversary of CCAA Chinese Contemporary Art Critic Award, the jury decided to give a special price to Mr. Zhang Xianmin for his proposal “Moving Image in Public”. After ten years of supporting independent art criticism in China, the jury now intends to encourage critics to reach beyond perceived borders, beyond a narrow definition of contemporary art.
Zhang’s proposal does not focus on individual artistic creation as conventional art criticism may do. Instead, his research touches upon a wider scope of visual and media culture highly relevant to contemporary art.

Zhang Xianmin is one of the most important advocates and critics in the field of Chinese independent moving image. His continuous writing and participation has greatly encouraged the independent film making. Zhang Xianmin’s earlier book on the underground film scene“Invisible Images”established his unique style of film criticism, by echoing the film language in his mode of writing and going beyond formalistic film analysis. The special prize winning book proposal “Moving Images in Public ”will focus on another genre of moving images, those that fall into oblivion for various reasons such as over-exposure, over-appropriation, and excessive circulation in the public sphere. 

The award-winning proposal

Public Video: A Research Proposal

The research on public video consists of two stages. 

The first stage is concerned with cases studies. My research takes the form of media writing. Since 2004 I have been collaborating with a number of print media like Book Town, Southern Weekly, Phoenix Metropolis, successfully or unsuccessfully, until my cooperation with the public account of Ray Art Center in 2015. 

Based on my concern with invisibility, its promotion and research, the research findings, following the style of media writing, was collected for publication in 2004: Invisible Video. During the two years of my research, I began to touch upon the so-called “video in oblivion”. I have made tentative efforts to define it as:
1. videos that are reduced to setting  
2. videos that are most widely played or seen by the public  
3. the subconsciousness to share the video  
4. videos that are free (pirate for example) and easily available 
5. videos that are too widely shared to arouse our interest
6. videos, from the era of pictures to the era of videos, have come to “dominate” people  
7. videos that is absolutely public with no private dimension

As soon as I decided to work on “pubic video”, I chose four cases for analysis: TV ads at noon (12:00-01:00), CCTV news (2 samples, 15 days apart), CCTV Spring Festival Gala (2 sample, one year apart). The samples collected later was not so rigidly chosen, and pirated videos like Hollywood gun-fighting, Japanese AV, and profile pictures on social networks.    

Over 12 years I had been collecting samples and writing about these public video samples. It took such a long time because on one hand, printed media could not carry review articles about CCTV news or CCTV Spring Festival Gala, a tacitly comprehensible reason between us, and on the other, being very stubborn, I insisted that media writing should be published on the media. It took some time for me to learn to be more flexible, or for some reason, the printed media began to stayed out of the public or the government’s eye and could publish my articles, so these case studies met the public between 2014 and 2015.

In this period of time, I got lots of feedback from overseas scholars, media editors, and anonymous net friends whose opinion later did influence my articles. Some encouraged me to continue, like Mr. Gu Zheng, who suggested that I write about cities that were keen on “production”, and several college students who said that they wished to see my writing on nightclubs, but I stopped there.   

These cases studies, mainly cultural criticism, are each composed of three parts, i.e., general introduction, technical analysis, and cultural criticism.      

The attached file is one of the articles in this series.  

The second stage began in this spring, and I’m still working on it. I wish to finish it as soon as possible, by the end of 2017.  
It began with deep analysis of invisibility and discontent over the depth of media writing. In 2010 I began what I called the “abstract series”, long articles. I stopped at Part 5 that deals with “the homogeneity between the timeline in social change and the video timeline that does not depend on narratives”, and I have been stuck there since 2012. It is a total failure in my serious writing experience.   
Another failure has something to do with a copyright series that planned to write in the late 1990s, but it never started, though some core journals have agreed to publish 4 to 6 articles in this series.   

I planned to write a long article, between 50 thousand to 100 thousand characters, to interpret “public video” in an abstract way. It might be a summary of the research findings about cases studies about public video, or a very long preface, or something that may connect well with the case studies. I referred to some pioneers in this branch of study. Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media (1964) is quiet a good example. The book starts poetically in the first half and and transits naturally to the second part of individual case studies. My writings about pubic video was far less profound than the experts, so my research on the Chinese reality and the reality of the Internet in China is just something far less effective than theirs --- I’m clearly aware of that, but I still wish it can, in some way, interpret the present conditions, inspire the future and make some contribution to the global academic circle. The writings in this part consists of three parts, that is, “public”, “video”, and “methodology”.  

The theoretical framework of the part on “public” comes from theories by Habermas and Bourdieu. Some of the discussions about history will touch upon the supreme college and nobility in the late Confucian orthodox period in Chinese studies, as well as contemporary research about the village gatherings for religious or deity worshiping purposes (like divination, parade, Taoist rites, etc). This art extends Marx’s theory and distinguishes for it social classification that has been becoming more and more comprehensive in the past ten years. It is actually the core of all the writings.”Vide” is based theoretically on Deleuze, s well as some inspiration from Buddhism, like “appearance” and some other terms in Chengweishilun. Internet tool developers like WeChat will also be introduced.    

“Methodology” explains writing itself. I don’t anticipate a conclusion for my writings. I have to consider the long time I spend and the complexity of my methods, as well as provide some clues to prospective researchers who might be interested in the relationship between video and the views.    

I’m writing for “Public” now. It is the long writing job I’m engaged in now, and I won’t spare my time for other articles until I finish this part.   

The articles in the second stage will combine with the articles in the first stage to form a book. Some of he articles in the first stage has drawn lots of attention from some publishing houses. Hopefully, this book can be ready for publishing when the second stage finishes. 

This proposal has never applied for any research project fund domestically or overseas.  

From the end of this year to next year, if I’m permitted to choose my topic, my reports or lectures will be focused on public video, giving summaries or deeper analysis, which is right what I’m doing now. I’m scheduled to visit some institutions including Independent Feature Project in December.  

The proposal concludes with self introduction. 
In my youthful years, I was not interested in people, bent on becoming a photographer of nature. Late I became a teacher, much a helpless choice than preference. I then began writing articles, and some of them were picked out by friends and they encouraged me to be an independent film curator. It’s a joke, also my pleasure. As times passed, I found the lack of profundity in writings is a defect, so I made a choice, as scholars in ancient China and abroad did, to face the music myself, both obliged and forced. I don’t know if I’m too straightforward in saying so.    

In-depth writing will probably the most important task until I retire.   

My writing went by no means smoothly, which can be attributed to two factors: my inadequacy and cooperation with friends.Writing on public video could have be a very good team project but for the lack of of coordination with my colleagues who refused to be influenced by me and the young generation who had to struggle for life. In the end I was reduced to a lonely writer. Last night I happened to read Bourdieu’s remarks on Flaubert, who said something to the effect that he earned 300 francs from Madame Bovary, just enough to cover the cost of paper (note that hand-written novels cost then), and art was for nothing but the fun of art.   

As an independent film-maker, I have lots of exchange with the in-depth writing community. Also, a few App developers, particularly those young men who asked me lots of questions at a time when the Internet business shifted to video clips in 2015. There ideas and thoughts did give some inspiration to the present in-depth writing.   

Thanks for reading, and I wish I might not have been too dull.  

Zhang Xianmin 
Early September 2017