Sliced Units is the compelling new exhibition at CFCCA which displays three of Chengdu artist Shen Xin’s films; ‘Warm Spell’ (2018), ‘Provocation of a Nightingale’ (2017) and ‘Snow Country’ (2013). Each uses Xin’s method of filmmaking in which narratives are ‘sliced’ together and layered to create a surreal eerie presence. The films investigate complicated socio political issues based on the artist’s specific research, in which she uncovers different viewpoints and personal stories. These are merged together and overlaid with banal imagery, with the aim to offer new sites of comfort and empowerment whilst exposing the rawness and complexity these narratives confront.
Xin’s first film ‘Snow Country’ exposes the stories of ‘comfort women’ who were violated as part of the systematic sexual slavery imposed by the Japanese military during WWII. The film engages with the traumatic experiences as told by the women themselves, and in contrast these harrowing accounts are set to the imagery of serene falling snow in Scandinavian scenery. The tranquil setting combined with the layered imagery allows for a meditative space in which to contemplate the barbarity of the narrative, and evokes an emotive response in relation to the women’s stories. The film creates a sense of stillness, with the cathartic release of telling one’s story similar to the peacefulness found in watching falling snow; a calmness that resonates strongly throughout the films within the whole exhibition.
‘Provocation of a Nightingale’ shows a contemplative and intimate conversation between two lovers of different beliefs; one a Buddhist teacher, the other a corporate manager of a DNA testing service. The two sit together on the floor of an empty theatre as they debate over spirituality and science. The film oscillates between a full-length view of the pair’s debate and intimate moments between the two lovers, slicing the dialogue with the soundless – almost instinctive – communication of their bodies, as despite their stark difference they are magnetically drawn together creating a dance of rebuttal and tenderness. These sensual close ups of caresses, combined with the debate in which deep thoughts and secrets are shared offers a glimpse into the dynamic between the two as they try to accommodate each other’s polarised beliefs set against the palpability of their attraction to one another.
The final film is the début of ‘Warm Spell,’ an exploration of the complex issues of climate change and the challenges of increased tourism on the Thai tropical island Ko Yao Yai. The film’s visual centres on a female tourist’s holiday and fluctuates between the locals’ everyday hard life and the carefree tourist’s day, as the two worlds collide in the same space. Played alongside are interviews of locals who vocalise the challenges posed by the daily influx of western tourists to their traditions and customs. The narrative for this piece is more ambiguous, becoming almost a hazy dream in which the viewer navigates the complex discussion on tourism and culture clashes, set amidst bigger challenges of environmental change and its instability.
Like the name suggests the films in Sliced Units whilst shown together still have a sense of disparity between them, and it is Xin’s distinctive style that links them together resulting in a meditative space to contemplate the vast subjects the exhibition investigates. It is the sense of stillness created in the visual of slicing and layering which allows the mind to contemplate the different viewpoints, taking the viewer on a philosophical journey in which the rawness of the human condition is exposed.
Sliced Units, CFCCA, Manchester.
11 May – 1 July 2018.
Claire Walker is a writer based in Wigan.