December 18th 2014 - March 22nd 2015
‘You can depict a tiger’s skin but not his bones’ is one of the last lines in ‘Chung Kuo, Cina’ the 1972 documentary by Michelangelo Antonioni, both commissioned and banned by Chairman Mao. By reframing the ideas from Antonioni’s film with contemporary images, Chris Paul Daniels has created a work that examines the rapidly changing way China is viewed through western eyes, and in doing so, questions assumed notions of ‘truth’ and ‘understanding’ within documentary film-making.
Whilst visiting China, Daniels’ documentations were framed by the1972 film, which served as a literal guide during a four week journey around multiple cities. Based on the themes of Antonioni’s and Andrea Barbato’s narration, Chris Paul Daniels has constructed an observational update of some of the same architectural subjects and specific geographical locations; revealing not just the enormous shifts that have taken place within Chinese society, but importantly, the dramatic changes in the Western perception of China.
Through contrasting the original English translation of the Italian commentary's 1970’s Euro-centric worldview with contemporary visual observations, the many elements of China’s industrial, financial and cultural expansion and perpetual growth are revealed and re-contextualised.
Simultaneously, the piece is narrated by a female Chinese speaker who reads a poorly translated simplified script, created through the use of smartphone application software commonly used by tourists and expatriates. In doing so, Daniels deconstructs the perceived trust of a film that utilises documentation and depiction of ‘otherness’ and examines how this literally translates in a digital age far from the inaccessible glimpses Antonioni captured on film in 1972.
In replacing one perception of China with another, while maintaining the same format with which these differing perceptions are described, the work acts as a deconstruction of language and filmic image and the relationship between the two. The subtitles switch between literal descriptions, oblique connections and wilful disconnection with the content of each image sequence, dominating the screen.
By making this relationship problematic, questions are asked about perceived notions of authenticity within documentary film making. The assumed truth presented is shown to be merely one truth, that of the film maker, rather than that of the subject.
‘A Tiger’s Skin’ questions the authenticity of the documentary format and addresses the anxiety of wider truth within film in representing reality. By observing the changes in time and space by revisiting the same locations forty years on from their original documentation, contradictions, misunderstandings and assumptions inherent to authoring filmic reality around a preconceived narrative are exposed.
Daniels deliberately intercuts paradoxical visual observations that contrast and, at times, contradict the original documentaries narrative. In doing so he is questioning the authority of documentary film’s assumed reliability and his own inexperience of China’s complex history, offering a critical perspective on both Antonioni’s as well as his own role as a filmmaker seeking to portray lives in cultures other than their own.
Daniels’ journey around Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou, Beijing, Chongqing and Chengdu was part of the Transnational Dialogues Chinese Caravan 2014 and was funded by Arts Council England and the British Council’s Artist’s International Development Fund.
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