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December 25, 2011

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French video artist tackles China

IN 1972 Italian modernist director Michelangelo Antonioni released "Chung Kuo" (China), a long documentary about everyday life in China during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). Some Westerners received their first impressions of China, still a closed country at that time, from the slow-moving film.

In "Seven Fugitive Images" (1995) by French video artist Robert Cahen, viewers watch a similar-feeling film about real life in China, seen through its "trivial moments." The style is highly metaphoric and some might say metaphysical.

Curated by Hou Hanru, "Voyage/Rencontre" featuring the 13 works created by Cahen since the 1980s is underway at the Minsheng Art Museum through the end of January.

Born in 1945, Cahen graduated from the National Higher Conservatory of Music in Paris. While working as a composer, he was drawn toward visual images and video.

Cahen started his video adventure in the 1970s when video was rare and highly experimental, says Hou. "He is no doubt one of the pioneers and one of the most important figures in the area."

This is Cahen's first retrospective show in China, though "Seven Fugitive Images" has been widely screened in art academies.

Most of the works result from his travels to various parts of the world, including France, the Middle East, Asia and the Antarctic.

Cahen has lost track of the countries he has visited over 30 years. "That's not important. The people and culture I encounter are what really matter."

"The works systematically show the most estranged scenes of life in those locations, and turn me into a stranger in my 'own' land," says Hou.

"The choice of slow motion, for example, that traverses all my work, is one of the primordial points of my writing," Cahen says. "It attempts to recount, among other things, those things that cannot be seen, the invisible. But it also ... proposes a new open reading for the viewer who is going to project himself into the slowed images and who can then tell his own story. I try to capture the soul of a person in a fleeting moment."

The highlight of Cahen's show are two works, "Hong Kong Song" (1989) and "Seven Fugitive Images" (1995) that involve his travel in China.

There's constant movement in and out of street noise, opera singing, heart-beating and the images of cities, nature and people that appear, dissolve and reappear. Visitors find themselves in what feels to be a floating world navigating between reality and fiction.

"I came to China frequently, and I am amazed at how it has changed," the artist says. "Today Shanghai seems to be a city in the year 2100. Many people ask me what 'seven' represents. Actually it's my lucky number and it's seven poems about China."

Date: Through January 29, 10am-6pm

Address: Bldg F, 570 Huaihai Rd W.


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