We Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy
Jiawei was born in Dalian, Liaoning, China in 1988. He got his Master’s in 2016 from Sichuan Fine Art Institution, where he studied Experimental Image. His work has been shown both in China and internationally, including Beijing’s 12th Independent Films Festival and at Gray Space CAS in Chongqing. Jiawei Ning’s work has won the Future award by the Central Academy of Arts in Beijing. He lives and works in Chongqing.
Jiawei Ning’s work revolves around societal topics using different visual languages, mixing the local with global, creating an autonomous language. In his short film “Son”, he follows a story of a couple whose son is imprisoned by police without any further explanation, through almost strictly documentary form. Furthermore, in his 5-minute-long short film “Events”, he connects different major international events into an unconscious collage which might remind viewers of surrealistic automatism. The piece “Awaken” follows the struggle of an individual reviving an old machine, keeping his work possible through long, distant and patient observation in first person. The need to address issues or topics that transcend the art world is truly rooted in his creations.
For the fifth continuation of Návštěva project I’ve chosen Jiawei Ning’s film “Awaken”, which offers a very untraditional and powerful portrait of almost classical dimensions. Through slow, long, raw, sometimes seemingly crude and distant, yet sensitive images a story of an almost universal human struggle is narrated. Without explicitly stating the details of the story, the author creates a space for engaged testimony. The visual form of narration (author included GoPro footage capturing the first-person views of the protagonists) makes the experience almost physical and provides us with enough space to see behind what is seen as constituting a question of difference between struggle and suffering, individuality or happiness.
Interview with Jiawei Ningquestions by Jan Martinec
Your film character is fighting with nature, resisting deterioration, giving a new life through individual effort and all of that just to achieve something that is of questionable output, is that an image of all of us?
He doesn't have any other choice: if he didn’t fight with nature, he would starve. The majority of people pay a big price for having the choice of the way of their lives, maybe a lot of this effort comes in vain. But you cannot stop doing it; what is actually the point of doing anything? I often ask this question myself. The confrontation between the main character and nature is a portrayal of the effort the majority of people make in order to exist.
I've spent about 10 months in China and I've come to a conclusion that video art doesn’t belong to the preferred forms of expression for artists here, is that just my isolated provincial (I live in a medium sized city) point of view or is there some larger reason for that?
What is art? What are artists expressing for? I think this has to emerge from the artist's personal life and learning habits. We might find out that some artistic expressions don't need to rely solely on images; maybe technology, installation, painting etc. can also raise questions. I haven't realized that Chinese artists don't like to use video as a form of artistic expression. I might focus on more images, as the video recording storage is convenient. As the art forms are changing nowadays, I think what media is used is less important than what kind of valuable questions are raised and what triggers participants to think, not just catering to the market or creating for the sake of creating.
Was there a certain moment at some point that led you to the decision of becoming a filmmaker, a video artist?
When I was an undergraduate, I went to an independent film festival and I was fascinated by all sorts of unusual videos right away and thought: so this is how you can shoot a movie!
I know that you teach at the New Media Department of the Chongqing University, so you count as a teacher - but still I'd like to ask a familiar question to all of us - how difficult is it to make your living as a video artist in China?
The hardest part is the lack of domestic funding for video art institutions, in many cases the artist has to rely on a job with a fixed income to support himself and his work and not all the work can be commercialized. If something is done well, it might be discovered after some time, or it can get some financial support.
Is there an interest for the western art among your students? If so, what is at its centre?
Of course they are interested, the history of world art comes from the West originally, so the good students shall pay attention to the works with value.
How do you see art creation, is it something you see as a socially engaged activity? Your short film “Son” definitely touches on some socially sensitive topics.
I approve of the idea of art stemming from life and something higher than life, the context and meaning of art is given by the social level. My movie “Son” is such an example from real life, where the shooting involved dealing with Chinese laws, human rights and similar issues.
What would you name the biggest thing in China nowadays?
Young artists around me like to use VPN programs to access Internet freely.
Must we imagine Sisyphus happy?
If we are talking about the Sisyphus from Greek mythology, God punished him by plunging him into a never-ending servitude. Sisyphus lived in pain, but I think that there is no way we can set happiness or criteria for others because we don't have the right to do so.
Translation from Chinese by Zuzana Pavloňová