Saturday, March 10, 2012

A narrative film inside a gallery

Being a film student, I don’t have much experience with art galleries. This class, this field, and this exploration are totally new for me. My early understanding of art galleries only comes from the small video/film screening room in most big galleries. The trip to LA totally changes the way I look at galleries. The most unforgettable show for me is “making Chinatown”.

How is video art shown in art galleries? One common way is inside small ‘theaters’ within a gallery space. Video art is also commonly presented on monitors hung on walls like photos or paintings, constantly looping. Moreover, video art, unlike films, usually does not contain narrative content.

It’s hard to give a precise definition to separate film and video art, but narrative films require longer time and attention to watch in a quiet or dark space. As a result, people don’t usually watch narrative films in art galleries. How can a film like “Chinatown”, then, be shown in a gallery? This is a famous film with complicated plots and strong characters. It’s not an ideal project to be shown in a gallery.

And yet, the “Redcat Gallery” did just this. The gallery showed a narrative film for the exhibition, “Making Chinatown”. I don’t want to talk a lot about Ming Wang’s performances of various roles from this film. I just want to discuss what makes it possible to use the space of the gallery for a narrative film.

First of all, the curator and the artist chose eight specific scenes inside the film. These eight scenes are all important but short. Being short and being able to loop are two important elements for video art inside a gallery. So these eight scenes became eight short looping videos. Let’s look at the locations where these eight scenes were shown. The audience members can view the scenes in sequential order, experiencing a ‘timeline’ of the film as they walk through the gallery. Here is a video demonstrating this walk-through.

The big difference of “Making Chinatown” and the film “Chinatown”, however, is that the audience can choose which scene to watch and can even watch multiple scenes at the same time. This is because “Making Chinatown” has cut the sequencing of the original film into different fragments. And all the fragments appear simultaneously within the same space. This is one of the beautiful things allowed by the gallery. Compared to cinema, audiences can choose the parts they like and the order or times they view.

Other than visual part, another special thing about “Making Chinatown” is the audio. In “Redcat”, we can watch more than one scene from “Making Chinatown” at the same time. But we can hear all the eight soundtracks played together. In fact, cinema is based on time but gallery on space. The eight scenes are played at the same time in a small space with speakers. So the audios are overlapped. Again we don’t really need to know what the characters are talking about because we know the story or we can buy a DVD. But when multiple audio tracks are played at the same time, the time and space changes. We can hear what’s happening in the fifth scene and the first scene at the same time. We can see what’s happening in the first location and the sixth location together. When watching a narrative film, we need the editor to give a flashback to remind us of some plots before. But in a gallery space, we can choose or we can actually hear or watch the scenes happened before.

One more reason for the possibility of “Making Chinatown” is that this project is based on a very well known film. Though not everyone has watched the film, most people have heard about it or at least recognize it as a classic film. So people might not pay attention to the plots or characters or scenes any more, because anyone can buy a DVD and watch it at home. The point of going to the gallery is not to learn about the story. For other narrative films, if they are shown in galleries, then people need to find out what they are talking about first.


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