Walker Art Center
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from Along the Railway
photo: Cameron Wittig
October 2002

Dig.It, the second annual festival of digital arts, included five artists from Beijing. Using digital cameras and sidestepping governmental control and sponsorship, numerous filmmakers and artists in China are working independently and taking risks to document the daily life around them. Social Realism, which was the art form that dominated their childhoods, is being remodeled. These artists use the digital camera to record what the eye sees, at the margins of everyday life: the dirty lanes, neglected corners of the city, workers in the coun-tryside, punk rock musicians. This cinema reflects the harsher realities of China's modernization.

DU HAI BIN is a documentary filmmaker who has always focused his lens on everyday people and their differing lifestyles. An unflinching record of contemporary life in China, his film Along the Railway (2001) shows the ticketless travelers on trains and those in the trainyards, people who have suffered broken dreams. This film has received accolades for its direct approach to documenting people who live a fringe existence along the railway of Baoji, in Shaanxi Province. Du was born in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, in 1972, and grew up in Boaji, the location of this film. In 2000 he graduated from the Beijing Film Academy with a degree in photography. He currently lives and works in Beijing.

WANG GUOFENG has filmed his travels back home to Inner Mongolia, allowing us a glimpse at an open-air market on a winter day. Market Day (2002) shows the myriad contrasts that have emerged between advanced technology and backward productivity, including the disparity between city and countryside, control and resistance, and poverty and wealth brought on by the modernization that is rapidly changing China. Wang was born in Liaoning Province and educated in painting and art history in Beijing. He works as a visual and media artist and has recently shown his work in Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, and London.

ZHANG BO has followed the rock scene in Beijing for the past four years. As rural areas give way to factories, musicians have set themselves up in farm houses to practice their art. In The Underground Rock and Roll in China (2002), Zhang tells the story of some of her friends who face the challenges of making underground music in a culture that has been recently flooded with every style of global sounds. Zhang is an independent filmmaker, performance artist, and photographer. Her other documentary films have explored performance art, art galleries, postmodern poetry, experimental plays, dance, and other modern art forms. Her camera also documents folklore and folk opera. She is a member of the Dot Com performance art group in Beijing.

ZHAO LIANG, whose film Bored Youth (2000) is installed in How Latitudes Become Forms, has two works in Dig.It. A short piece, Jerks, Don't Say Fuck (2001), uses the fast-paced cuts of an MTV aesthetic to emphasize the different face that young people bring to China, breaking away from Maoist traditions. Paper Airplane (2001) is a feature-length documentary that looks at the breakdown of China's socialist systems, which had provided jobs and security, allowing disenfranchised youths to fall into new lifestyles that sometimes involve the underworld of drugs. With his camera rolling in houses, on the streets, and on the inside of government-sponsored programs, Zhao follows a group of young addicts through their attempts at rehabilitation. Zhao was born in Dandong, Liaoning Province, in 1971. He graduated from the Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang in 1992 and currently lives and works in Beijing.

2002-2003 Film/Video Artist-in-Residence

During two weeks in October 2002, Wang Jian Wei created a new digital-media installation using the preparation of food from his native Sichuan Province as a means to explore how a culture can be transformed through the simple acts of daily life. Movable Taste combines live performance, video and sound installations, and the spicy taste of minced meat and bean curd in hot pepper sauce, and is presented as part of the Dig.It festival. Wang's documentary video Living Elsewhere (1999-2000), also screened in Dig.It and installed in the exhibition How Latitudes Become Forms, takes place in a complex of uncompleted villas that have sat empty for ten years. Here, four dislocated peasant families have become squatters while seeking a new beginning. For Wang, this story of the push-pull between tradition and modernity is an apt reflection of contemporary Chinese artists. Wang was born in 1958 in Sichuan Province. He received his master's degree in painting from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, and went on to develop work in many other media, including film, video, and performance.

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Du Hai Bin
Wang Jian Wei
Zhang Bo
Zhao Liang