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The Existent Absence --- Shi yong’ s Video Silent Film

Author: Christina.Y.Z 2012

No matter how dexterous a photographer was with his techniques, as well as how straight a target sat up, spectator can feel an irresistible desire, wants to find a tiny spark in image, accidentally, be part of there, cause of the existence of spark, “truth” was likely completely burning up the one in the image---spectator thirsts for the invisible far-away, that place. After a very long time, under the representation that had become “past” seconds, presently still perched “future”, so touching, we will discover, after a slight review.
Walter.Benjamin A Short History of Photography---The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
                        
              
In one cold and windy evening, in November of 2012, I watched a 10 minutes video in Shanghai. The video itself should be about 3 minutes. 3 minutes of one’s lifetime. 3 minutes of an unskilled laborer’s lifetime, 3 minutes of a foreigner’s lifetime. 3 minutes of an artist’s lifetime. 3 minutes of a child’s lifetime. 3 minutes of the timelapse. 3 minutes being described. 3 minutes of the absent purpose of an artist. One 3 minutes overlay the other 3 minutes, overlay again, overlay, strengthened, lengthened, at last fulfilled this video of Silent Film. The video perfectly recorded a 3 minutes’ life flow, it was 3 minutes that would never look back upon and being explored and being enlarged, lengthened by the artist, its final timescale is ten minutes.  
The three minutes in the lifetime was endowed another life through the work of artist, this visual experience and the visual memories that caused by it told us:  this three minutes dip dyed by the eternal breath, was different with any other three minutes from the wave of one’s life. As if humankind and its gene be passed of the hands of nature, you would never find a totally similar duplicate to repeat and to overlie. You must be vigilant: such three minutes will not be as any other three minutes of one’s life, you must be confident toward its peculiar and uniqueness.  
  
In Silent Film artist lengthened the timelapse. He slowed down and filtered this drifting three minutes. Artist cautiously faded the color from the video that can be seen and identified in our daily life, left only a bit color that nearly approach to panchromatic. Whole work contains only one line: Hi! I am Augustine. Spectators can distinguish the come and go windy sound if they were quite alert, the footstep of the departing ones, all were taken away by artist. This work had finally become a silent film in fact as well as in name.  

When watching Silent Film, I sat in a dark room silently for two rounds, just like when watching a painting we will still try to figure out the thoughts and intentions of the artist. I wanted to let the image repeatedly overlay and to consolidate the repetition, and then let me approach to the truth of the work’s occurrence.
Hero of Silent Film.
Hero Augustine is a tall, young, and handsome American Artist, he never speaks Chinese, never once. He came to this place called Shanghai, he was participating an art experiment project: Body Boarder. Artist Shiyong and he were partners of this program. American young man needed to go to a building site, to spend a whole week with all the workers in a construction team, to eat, work, rest and communicate, if have the communication and possibly to communicate with. Assuming that the engineering team does not have anybody to understand his language, certainly he neither understands theirs. This is for the exploration that under such situation, the possibility of human communication.
The heroine was a child. She was standing next to a crumbling building. In the back the geometric concrete building held up the 3 minutes that in a way made immortal of this heroine’s velvety childhood.

The occurrence of  Silent Film.
It was not a set scene.
Augustine came to Shanghai, the project began. One afternoon, the author of Silent Film and Augustine walked by the old and ruined in tendency yards of Shanghai countryside, most of the yards currently rent to the immigrant families. There were also a lot uninhabited empty yards, buildings, and building sites.
  
Walked in such an afternoon that branded of present-day, passed through the crumbling, not modern buildings, walked by those immigrants and their families that be continually migrated and marginalized, because of the demand of surviving in such mighty consumption era. With abandoned yards after yards, in front of a bleak empty building, the author of Silent Film saw a child.
She stood alone in front of the yard, in front of her about 30 centimeters was an one holding hollow cylinder and its altitude nearly reached her abdomen, the rear right side of her was a long bamboo pole that horizontally stretched over the middle part of a sharp triangular empty beam, large linen net riding on the pole and falling down on the ground, cut off the wasteland of the empty building and the deserted asphalt outside. The visual memory continually told us through the up and down linen net and the fine hair from the child’s forehead it was a windy afternoon. This invisible force severely and regularly made a smoothly forward rhythm on the picture.

Young man Augustine walked by this everyday passed road. He saw the child, he determined to stay. He held an empty 4 L pure water jug. When facing this child, he had the original problem that when he tried to communicate with all the others: incapable of speaking their language, seemingly the body communication has little effect either. 24 hours lives in an environment that totally can not communicate with, works and lives with those without communication, he was severely frustrated. But he saw the child apparently neither speaks his language, Augustine decided to stay for a while. For this short while, the wind blew the hair of the child outward and upward. In the picture young man can clearly be seen he was really with a palpitating heart. The jug in his right hand unconsciously meet the rhythm of the wind, they all shook from top to bottom and from front to rear, in the beginning Augustine did not speak, just kindly smiled toward the child, the child naturally became an important element of the image. She was quite sure, and confidently stood at where she was. Not moving, and restrained a little nervous toward this image intruder, moderated the discomfort of timelapse, and the uncertainty feel of feeling, she also courageously looked up to this passers-by. Their glance exchange occurred once actually, without language.  
Artist told the writer afterwards: Augustine suddenly had the courage and desired to communicate from this accidently exchanged glance and was with the anticipation and happiness that the communication might be a success, he decided to try the rhythm and channel of the communication between him and her. He said then: Hi! I am Augustine.
    
The child lifted up her head and glanced at him once, did not she give out more possibility. Once more she glanced at him, then she peacefully looked at another place, it was another place absent in the image. Artist did not show that place to us.
There is an absence here.
Augustine did not leave.
  
The child in Silent Film had already sensed the communication. She kept her head down on the cylinder, wait for a while she lifted up her head again, quietly stole a glance at young man Augustine. She discovered that he did not leave, then she suddenly appeared as melancholy, she put her finger in her mouth, looked once more the distance which was not where young Augustine was, it was still the inaccessible far-away for spectator, the young artist with his back toward spectator looked at the right side of the child. While we can only see the back profile of him and guessing the unseen sight looked at the far-away unreachable distance. Here where the artist is and where the child is reached a connection. The two major characters stood fast at their place.
Later, the absent spectator saw the absence of young man’s face.  
  
Spectators actually do not know the feeling of Augustine whom did not receive the response. All these are speculation after. Spectators can retrospect and guess toward the visual presentation. Spectator also can deduct that after experienced numerous failures and frustrations during the Body Border experiment, whether young Augustine could feel the magnanimous generous from this angel without wings. Whatever happens, the memory of the picture is: He made a decision to try. Augustine sat down. He sat on the horizontal concrete step, which was beside the cylinder and at the bottom of the picture. That was a rough step matched the crumbling empty building. Strangely, maybe the course of the encounter of a young artist and a heroine with spiritual temperament, that rough flagstone step no longer incompatible within the picture. Our angel stood at the far right of the image, she shaped the main composition of the silent film with Augustine who sat down in the middle of the image, while Silent Film had been half played. Then, we saw the companion of Augustine whom rushed into the image. This is an important character, the unskilled laborer from an absent project. His entry did not have a context. Abolished communication, no dialogue, toughly implanted. He sat at the top right of Augustine, and filled the upper left image in Silent Film with an annoyed look.
Silent Film has been half played at this moment.  
  
The camera lens of Silent Film began to read from the little girl’s left side, spectator saw the child lightly sat on the cylinder , young man Augustine was full of hesitation, melancholy sat on the step that was at her right bottom, the unskilled laborer sat at Augustine’s top right.
Let’s carefully review this scene, from the right side which is facing us then we move to the left: The wind twisted the linen net, and waved the child’s hair, the angel without wings naturally stretched her hands and shook her head, her legs naturally and slightly shook along the edge of the cylinder, obviously she was happy and please with herself. At this moment Augustine with the white T shirt and jeans put his left hand under his left cheek, looked at the vision that the girl looked at but it was invisible to us. At this time their sights reached at the unified common distance. A spectator that knows well the visual secret may once more find out their integrated actions and connection. Then, at this time the two leading roles in the image stood fast for their common distance.

At the top left of the composition the unskilled laborer counted and entangled by twisting his fingers continually, be connected with his dialogue absent intrusion, expressionless. When for an instant the unskilled laborer was ready to leave, three characters of Silent Film looked at three directions, three absences.

The unskilled laborer stood up, resolutely left with his sleeveless shirt and long pants, spectator saw his back profile passed a fallen flowerpot on the left front, young man Augustine realized the departure of his companion who lived with him days and nights, Augustine turned his sight to his departing direction, his sight followed him, his hand, still supported his cheek, but seemingly he was thinking, worrying, doubting. Young man Augustine attentively looked at the departing person and direction. Spectator may interpret that this is a special symbol that may not communicate with him but does have a special connection with him, for the absence of this man, young man Augustine was perplexed as towards their communication failure.
  
Child at this moment looked at her own front., because she was at the right side, her eyes then turned toward to the left side of the image. Augustine looked at the farthest depth of the image, it was the place that the unskilled laborer disappeared, the corner.  
  
Young man Augustine withdrew his sight, and meanwhile, child also transferred her sight to the depth that Augustine had viewed. Then Augustine looked at his left, what he was looking was the absent spectator’s direction, the child looked at the depth. They made an exchange with their sights, the timing was close. We found out that this was their another tacit occurrence and connection of timing and action. The angel without wings looked at where he looked at, he turned back to experience where the angel without wings had experienced.    
At this time the spectator may have the understanding towards the whole image, the right back of young man Augustine was the overgrown shrubs, the fallen flowerpot was in front of the shrubs. Crossed over an absent path at this moment, we could see a row of emptied and abandoned buildings: Emptied gates emptied windows and emptied balconies fulfilled the whole left part of the image, it had become a complete field depth with the effect of void.
  
The eyes of the spectator looked back to the image, young man Augustine made up his mind to look at this child who made him to stay. His cheek holding motion still kept, he turned his face to the left and he looked up at her, this moment the child turned her eyes to her own front, it was the left invisible place for the spectator. She and he were both with the relaxed look. But obviously at this moment young man Augustine had a sense of loss, we could analyze that, firstly his companion which without dialogue but left, for the departure he had a bit losing feeling. Secondly, he wanted to see the acceptance from the eyes of the child, her continuously drifting glance did not meet the anticipation of young man Augustine, Augustine decided to lay down his hand that supported his cheek, his expression changed in a second, he no more raised his lips, it became paralleled. Then the camera focus of Silent Film enlarged at the head of the child, wind continuously twisted her fine hair, her expression looked at her left front, as if it was the farther world farer from young Augustine. But, suddenly she turned back her head. This time she crossed the linen net, horizontal pole, empty wall, looked at her far right, spectator saw her turning back, saw the weeds and young trees be blown by the wind. At this very moment, they all were blown to the departing direction of Augustine.
Young man Augustine left.
This is an important absence.  
  
This time Augustine’s eyes looked at his own front, through his departing direction, we saw the small path, and one unclaimed Minivan that with the mark of industrial age and without the characteristics of life and was without doubt unattractive. Its color was faded because of Silent Film. The more important is: spectator will no more see young man Augustine and his expressions. His back profile walked forward to the determined direction, child looked at the departing direction of Augustine, the whole process she did not turn back her head, this time, the last time, she and Augustine looked at the same far-away distance, Augustine was dynamic, she was static, young man Augustine looked at his own front, she looked at Augustine’s receding distance. The two leading roles of the image once more unified on timing and body action.

Augustine with the empty water jug in his right hand walked forward firmly, he walked towards the left depth of image, his back profile disappeared at the corner, disappeared at the absent rear which behind of the corner, and with his back profile he completed the final ceremony of absence.  
The left front of the image was empty then, the child looked back to the absent spectator. Only a glimpse, she felt she had no more expectation and she looked back to her own front.
At this part we found the child and young Augustine perfectly unified their communication and connection. They became the background and context for each other in the three minutes of their lifetime, the two characters’ three minutes composition was successfully made.  
  
The picture faded out. End.
An unskilled laborer, Augustine, angel without wings, the companion who sat with us watched the life of others. When life have had become absence by absence.
As a truth that recorded by Silent Film.
One Journey, even it was only three minutes, also can be a existent absence, with significance.
After shooting the exploration on Body Border for a few days and being hopeless for the communication and connection deficiency, when lost the communication , connection and hope from adults. The author of Silent Film received a gift from God near the empty alley.
Let’s send our regards to the angel without wings once more.
A work is finished.

2012/12/18          
In Beijing At the Actual Dwelling, Chrisinta.Y.Z

Related Artists:
SHI YONG 施勇
Related Works:
SY_3290- Silent Film

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