Vanitas - A Study for Human Opera, 2014
single- channel, two-channel HD video (sound, loop), excerpt; , Duration Variable
In Brecht on Theatre, Bertolt Brecht believes that when taking an incident or a character from the situation of which makes it obvious, familiar or readily understandable, then the wonderment and curiosity of audiences are created. He calls this the “Verfremdungseffekt (alienation effect).”
My recent project Vanitas (2013-2014) is founded on his “alienation effect,” combining with my knowledge and understanding of literature, unifying an interdisciplinary work with multiple layers of narration. I transformed two European fictions in the 19th century—Effi Briest (a realist novel by Theodore Fontane, 1894-95) and Thérèse Raquin (a naturalist novel by Émile Zola, 1867)—and placed them into a contemporary social context. By changing the time and space in which the original stories occur, I attempted to alienate the audiences from their existing knowledge and entrust the stories with new significance. Brecht’s dramatic theory preserves and establishes a distancing that estranges and separates the audience from the play, which provides audiences a strong consciousness of that they are watching an illusion. While in Vanitas, viewers are forced to stay in a difficult position where they continually remain skeptical about the truth of the story.
In this project, I created a fictional character—an artist ‘Joseph’; and made several series of work on his behalf. The whole project will ultimately end up as a retrospective exhibition of ‘Joseph’, includes a sequence of videos of his performances, as well as paintings, photographs, texts and objects. By reading these different layers, audiences will realize that the artist of the show ‘Joseph’ was a conceptual artist who committed suicide a while ago, and also comprehend a brief history of his life and a methodology of his artistic practice.
The tale of ‘Joseph’ mainly plays out in a film (Vanitas, 2014, single channel HD video, 19'20", featuring William Corbett, Laura Marris, Mike Hickey and Tuo Wang) at the end of this exhibition. The film starts with a man and a woman presenting their monologues seemingly in a stream of consciousness -- their unhappy marriage, adultery and murder. Actually, what the man narrates is based on the story of Effi Briest, while the woman's tale is set on Thérèse Raquin. When the actor and actress narrated the plot of the novels, they were actually required to fill out the details with their own emotional experiences, intimate relationships, as well as traumas. The narratives are interspersed with a literature professor discussing and criticizing realism versus naturalism in 19th century literature as well as the two aforementioned novels. This arrangement urges viewers to keep questioning whether the two actors are recalling their own experiences or retelling the fictions. A key character ‘Joseph’ connects two stories. This figure is created from ‘Laurent’ in Thérèse Raquin—an artist and the lover of Thérèse. In the latter part of the film, viewers are led into a vision of the hero's imagination and time travel. The two versions of narrative finally merge into one story, and a solution for the preceding contradiction is also provided.