An Interview with artist Shen Xin
17 July 2018 • video art / contemporary art / China

¶ Where and when did the project Provocation of the Nightingale originate?

'My film 'Provocation of the Nightingale' (2017) originated from a research project of more than two years into the assimilation of Buddhism across various cultural contexts. In the film, the fictional script playing out in Channel 1 is set in the context of South Korea, where the practice of Buddhism is more equal when it comes to gender — though it is embedded in a society that inherits many patriarchal traditions and practices. Besides that, however, the found footage Channel is a more open-ended investigation of other religious practices, such as female imams, and women-only mosques in China'.

¶ How significant is it that the two characters are lovers, in amongst the debate of science and spirituality? 

'The space of love is both a fiction and probably the most "felt" thing in the film. The subject matters of science and spirituality follow it — instead of the other way around. The two characters’ physical portrayals of affection allow us access to a space where all of their emotional attachments are revealed, and here, their different belief systems are established'.

¶ What considerations did you pay to working with the human body in the film?

'The bodies in the film linger on the surface of the reflective projection when it comes to engagement of the narrative. As the actors tried to interpret the expressions of queer love, which is still considered to be taboo in South Korean society, their tentative attempts began this teacher-student romance; at the same time, the actors work just as hard with their professionalism and acting skills to interpret a sort of broken Korean text — a text translated from English — to make sense of it, and to break it down into performed realities'.

¶ The camerawork often undulates or changes focus or looks up and down. I wonder if you could talk a little about the cinematography. It suggests in some ways an uneasiness about us as viewers watching the scene — even though you deal with intimacy and tactility on the other side of the camera. 

'This has to do with how the collaboration was dealt with: the actors don't speak English, the script was translated into Korean, and a translator was needed at all times. So there were a lot of interruptions, interpretations, misunderstandings — the multilayered process of translation. The actors' ways of using language differ from the translated script in a sense of speed, and in their experiences of space — so their bodies were involved as both actors and protagonists.

There were times in which the actors were looking at the camera, looking back, being aware of the construction of the filming environment, as well as reading from the script which was hiding beneath where they sitting. All these moments were precious to the construction of the filmic space. 

There were a lot of juxtapositions of edits when it came to syncing sound and image, and these were intentional considering their relationship with the camera work. The camera pans from a general impression of the theatre to the stage's edge, to the theatre seats, and to the actors.

It's constantly drawing out the space within which the filming is set. This has a lot to do with performativity from both sides of the screen: from the lovers and from the viewers. The performativity found in the speech between lovers was worth exploring, as well as how we perform our positions as viewers: in the act of establishing perspective, and the act of recognition, while we are watching a video work'. 

¶ The piece concerns spheres of knowledge: religious, scientific — the interaction of these magisteria. But it also concerns other people. What is your belief about the importance of others in the building of oneself?

'With regard to how others help build an image of the self, I think the idea of otherness concerns the production of abstraction, both experientially and linguistically.

The investment into examining this process of the production of abstraction suggests that it is constant, and the characteristic of being constant is perhaps the space otherness could inherit. And the self, undoubtedly for me, shares the same space'.

Shen Xin lives and works in London and Amsterdam. Through moving image and performative events, Shen’s practice often aims to fabricate affective relationships, examining the techniques and effects of how emotion, judgment, and ethics circulate through individual and collective subjects. Her recent solo presentations include Sliced Units, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester, England (2018), half-sung, half spoken, Serpentine Pavilion, London (2017), Strongholds, Lychee One, London (2017), and At Home, Surplus Space, Wuhan, China (2016). Recent group shows include Songs for Sabotage, the New Museum Triennial, New York (2018), BALTIC Artists’ Award, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England (2017),; and The New Normal, UCCA, Beijing (2017). Shen was awarded the BALTIC Artists’ Award in 2017, and she is currently an artist in residence at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam.

Instagram: (link: text: @_shen_xin).
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