Saw “realm of reverberations” by Chen Chieh jen. The short film chronicles the lives of those who were once part of the Losheng Sanatorium.
I don’t know if i can ever categorize this as a documentary or a film. What you see is what you get, and what i got was a general sense of melancholy. It’s untainted with the cliche of other contemporary documentaries. No sad music, no media-led narrative, and fortunately no vomit inducing statement of hope towards the end (as i’m sure you’re well aware after watching countless documentaries on climate change). This is their reality. Will it get any better? Will it get any worse? This film doesn’t make it a focus. Instead, we’re thrown into a world and immersed in it’s general ambiance.
A bit of backstory: The Losheng Sanatorium was built to quarantine those who were diagnosed with leprosy. At around 1954, patients were allowed to leave the sanatorium after new discoveries to leprosy treatment had been made. However, those that had been infected faced discrimination and were forced to live in isolation. Things only got worse when the government declared in 1994 that a mass rapid transit line be built over the sanatorium.
Though there is a lot to be said about the sordid state of affairs, i feel that it is not the focus of the documentary. It’s almost as if the director expected us to already know about it, or to be driven into doing some research after immersing us in it’s world. I can’t be too sure, but if i were him, I would have considered the latter. After all, I would be more inclined to watch and experience something than to read about it and fill the missing pieces in my mind.
Aesthetics wise, still shots are used often and in long takes. The subjects are in focus for most of the shots and seem to move slower than usual. Everything is in black and white and the editing is flat throughout. I liked how Chen chieh jen did not utilize the final edit to manipulate the audience into feeling anything. This lack of a “narrative” forces the audience to participate in the viewing of the artwork. “Is what we’re being presented here good or bad?” It’s really up to us to decide.
“torii” photo series by Shitamichi Motoyuki, 2006-1012, 5 photographs, C-type print, 100 x 150cm
During my trip to the exhibition, I made the error of thinking that one of the photos were taken at Saigon. Thankfully, one of the exhibition staff came up to me and clarified that the photo was taken at Saipan, and not Saigon, which makes sense, as the location of the photo was listed as USA and had a Torii gateway. My assumption was that after the US army landed on the island during the second world war, it established a base there as part of it’s island hopping campaign. After the war had ended, the base still remained active.
I was able to tell that the Torii gateway was the focus of the photo series, and after reading the title of the artwork, my suspicions were confirmed. on top of that, it was my belief that the photographer wanted us to feel that the structures were at risk of being devoured by it’s surroundings.
I’ve had the same feeling when photographing the magnificent wooden sculptures at Shwedagon pagoda in Myanmar. Some of them stretched as far as the Bayeux tapestry in Dublin, but unlike it’s European counterpart, some of the sculptures are maintained poorly and face the risk of defacement or rotting.