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2012 events

Producing the 'Public Self': Ai Weiwei and First Person Action Documentary Practice in China

Dr Tianqi Yu, University of Westminster
Research seminar
5:00-6:30pm Monday 11 June, Room K0.18, Strand Campus

All welcome


This paper explores some features of the changing constitution of individual subject in contemporary China, through investigating first person DV documentaries that represent and construct the selves in public spaces. These films are growing out of the increasing amount of independent DV documentary practice in China, especially since the new millennium. Drawing on Chris Berry’s conceptualisation of ‘public spaces’, multiple sites where different power configurations and relations play out, I understand these films and filmmaking practice produce a ‘public self’, an important agency that is negotiating with different internal and external forces in the ‘public spaces’.

 Through examining Ai Weiwei’s Lao Ma Ti Hua (2009), I argue that this filmmaking practice illustrates the rebellious and rights-conscious selves and their changing relationship with other individuals and with the state. In other words, the selves are not just passively shaped by the existing forces, but are challenging the socially defined conventional relations through actively filmmaking. In this sense, this filmmaking practice shares some similarity with Japanese filmmaker Kazuo Hara’s ‘action documentary’. It can be seen as a form of provocative social participation in what Wang Hui regards the era of ‘depoliticised politics’. It helps to form a new kind of political subjectivity, and to reactivate the political space in China. On the other hand, these films also present the filmmakers’ problematic selves in interpersonal interactions that have been largely defined by traditional Confucian family ethics. In this sense, this filmmaking practice is exploring the ethics of how to act as an independent individual in public spaces.

About the speaker

Kiki Tianqi Yu has just been rewarded the PhD from Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media (CREAM), University of Westminster. Her thesis ‘My’ Self on Camera - First person DV documentary filmmaking in twenty-first century China” is an interdisciplinary study situated in the fields of documentary film studies, Chinese cinema, Chinese studies and cultural anthropology. Kiki obtained a distinction in BA (Hons) Film and TV production from University of Westminster and an MPhil in Sociology from Newnham College, University of Cambridge. As a filmmaker, her documentary Photographing Shenzhen was commissioned to Discovery Channel in 2007, and her video work Memory of Home (2009) is collected by DSLCollection. In collaboration with King’s College London, she co-organised the first international conference on Chinese cinema in the UK - New Generation Chinese Cinema in 2011. Her essay Exploring the Familial Self is included in the forthcoming book Saving Private Reel (co-edited by Laura Rascaroli, Continuum, 2013). She is co-editing a volume China's iGeneration: Filmmakers, Films, and Audiences in a New Media Age (Continuum, 2013). Recently Kiki co-founded DSL CineMag, a new bilingual (Chinese/English) multi-media app-magazine on ‘Chinese New Cinema’, with a target audience of both general public and specialists in film and art worlds.

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