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Wang Bing

Dispossessed Lives. Resilient Lives

4 October - 17 November 2018 / Sabatini Building, Auditorium and Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré

Wang Bing. Ta´ang. Film, 2016
Wang Bing. Ta´ang. Film, 2016

Film-maker Wang Bing portrays people who have been excluded in China’s recent economic transformation with rare beauty and uncompromising severity, focusing on those who have been disowned by the system and experience untold cruelty on a daily basis, people who cling to life as an extreme act of resistance and dignity. In the first comprehensive retrospective on one of today’s pivotal directors, the Museo Reina Sofía and Filmoteca Española will screen the entirety of Wang Bing’s films and film installations, scarcely exhibited or shown due to their extreme running times. Moreover, the series features the film-maker’s first lecture in Spain, along with two premieres on Spanish soil and another international premiere.       

Wang Bing puts forward a profound consideration of history, the paradoxes of industrial ruin and the suffering caused by the inexorable ‘progress’ in modern China in his work, taking the cinema verité ideal of observing reality to the extreme to reach a new and profound radicalism. By and large, his films, shot covertly with digital film equipment, possess a cinematic intensity that is at once beautiful and tragic with respect to the power of a world dominated by a decaying industrial infrastructure and landscapes ruined by exploitation. For months on end, he cuts himself off, living with the people he is filming as he searches for a way to transform the material conditions and temporality of their lives into allegories of a present shaped by accumulation and systemic dispossession. Frenzied construction, land transformed for energy production, the ambition and greed of the repressed, memory in a time of developmentalist amnesia and survival in the harshest conditions, these are all themes from an anonymous and contemporary history that Wang Bing masterfully captures.

  • Organized by: Museo Reina Sofía and Filmoteca Española
    Curatorship:
    Chema González, Museo Reina Sofía, and Carlos Reviriego, Filmoteca Española
  • Admission:

    Museo Reina Sofía sessions: Free entry
    Filmoteca Española sessions: €3.00

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Program

Wang Bing

Thursday, 4 October, 7pm

Wang Bing. Masterclass

Museo Reina Sofía. Nouvel Building, Auditorium 400

The film-maker will give a masterclass to set in motion this series, putting forward the idea of film as a mediator between extreme living conditions and the viewer. Wang Bing’s approach to film-making is grounded in living with subjects portrayed over long periods of time, to the point where the director is no longer directing or arranging shots, or any other aspect of sound and image, with the camera subordinate to the lives being filmed and their daily affirmation of clinging to existence.

Wang Bing. Beauty Lives in Freedom, película, 2018

Friday, 5 October, 5:30pm

Session 1. Beauty Lives in Freedom, Gao Ertai

International premiere

China, France, 2018, DCP, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 300’
Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré. Sala 1
Presented by Wang Bing

Second session: Sunday, 7 October, 5pm. Museo Reina Sofía, Sabatini Building, Auditorium
With a presentation by Lihong Kong, the producer of many of Wang Bing’s films.

Wang Bing’s corpus of film work can be pared down to two major themes. The first, people discarded by globalisation and their living conditions in contemporary China. The second, the memory of Chinese political dissidents’ repression during Maoism; namely, the conscience of a country subjected to the double amnesia of censorship and hyper-capitalism. This film, an international premiere, falls under this second theme. Gao Ertai (1931) is an artist, teacher, philosopher who, in the 1950s, was imprisoned in the Jianbiangou Labour Camp. The film works as a diptych with Fengming, the confessional story of another victim of reprisals, and closes a vast film series on those who disappeared.

Wang Bing. Mrs Fang, film, 2017

Saturday, 6 October, 7:30pm

Session 2. Mrs Fang

First version. Cinema edit

China, France and Germany 2017, DCP, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 86’
Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré. Sala 1
With a presentation by Wang Bing.

Wednesday, 17 October, 7pm
Session 2. Mrs Fang. Second version. Museum edit
China, France and Germany 2016-2018, digital archive, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 102’
Museo Reina Sofía, Sabatini Building, Auditorium

Mrs Fang chronicles the transition to death of Fang Xiu Ying, a sixty-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s who spends her agonising final days surrounded by her family in the bucolic landscape of southern China. The long public and collective grieving evokes archaic forms of contemplating loss and, as in the entirety of Wang Bing’s filmography, pivots around the length of the final breath, the resistance to accepting defeat. As with Fengming, this film is screened for the first time in two versions, two edits of different lengths made by the film-maker, one for cinema and the other for museum screenings.

Wang Bing. The Ditch, film, 2010

Tuesday, 9 October, 10pm

Session 3. The Ditch

China, France, 2010, DCP, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 113’
Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré. Sala 1

The only fictional feature in Wang Bing’s filmography. Still banned in China, the film is a brutal endeavour to consider history against the grain. The Ditch is part of a broad film series on the history of repression meted out in the early years of Maoist China. Jiabangou is a labour camp to which a large number of dissidents were sent in the 1950s, including intellectuals and artists who, paradoxically, bought into the promises of Maoism. Most died of cold and starvation. Based on rigorous interviews with survivors, like Fengming, this film is one of the most extreme depictions of the crimes of totalitarianism.

Wang Bing. Ta´ang, film, 2016

Thursday, 11 October, 6pm

Session 4. Ta´ang

China, France, 2016, DCP, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 148’
Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré. Sala 1

The Ta’ang are an ethnic minority from Burma, forced into exile to China after a decades-long civil war. “My aim”, writes the film-maker, “was not to make a film about a grand narrative, armed conflict and its political causes, but to tell stories of displaced mothers and children wandering aimlessly, lost”. Ta’ang, a film among mass displacement and transient architecture, alludes to the efforts to maintain unity and the links to absolute dispossession.

Wang Bing. Dead Souls, film, 2018

Saturday, 13 October, 12 noon

Session 5. Dead Souls

National premiere

China, France, 2018, digital archive, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 480’
Museo Reina Sofía, Sabatini Building, Auditorium
12 noon to 2:30pm (30’ intermission), 3pm to 6pm (15’ intermission), 6:15pm to 8:45pm

Second session: Sunday, 14 October, 12 noon. Museo Reina Sofía, Sabatini Building, Auditorium

The third film, after Fengming and The Ditch, on the mass killing of citizens who criticised Maoism in its first decade. In the province of Gansu, north-east China, lie the remains of thousands of prisoners left to rot in the Gobi desert sixty years previously. Dubbed ‘rightists’ in the Communist Party campaign of 1957, these people died of starvation in the Jiabiangou and Mingshui ‘re-education’ camps. The film looks to reconstruct the oral memory of trauma from survivors and the place’s landscape of tragedy. Often compared with Claude Lanzmann’s Shoa and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, the film shows evil not as the exception but the norm.

Wang Bing. Father & Sons, film, 2014

Monday, 15 October, 7pm

Session 6. Traces, Venice 70: Future Reloaded and Father & Sons

National premiere

Traces
China, France, 2014, digital archive, sound, b/w, 29’

Venice 70: Future Reloaded
China, Italy, 2013, digital archive, original version with Spanish subtitles, 2'

Father & Sons
China, France, 2014, digital archive, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 87’
Museo Reina Sofía, Sabatini Building, Auditorium

This session features three works considered by Wang Bing to be video art, thus differing from the language of cinema. Venice 70 is a short film made for the 70th edition of the Venice International Film Festival and shows an anonymous, solitary man in his routine of survival. Traces, meanwhile, is a survey of mass graves in the Gobi Desert, but through a profoundly material and stark gaze. This is the only work by the director filmed for cinema and later digitalised, giving it the quality of poetry that is at once elegiac and stark. Finally, the film Father & Sons records the bare room that houses a worker and his two sons — engrossed in their mobile phones among extreme poverty — and has been interpreted as the expansion of consumerism among Chinese teenagers, regardless of their social background.

Wang Bing. Alone (gudu), film2

Thursday, 18 October, 7:30pm

Session 7. Alone (Gudu)

China, France, 2012, DCP, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 89’
Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré. Sala 1

A shorter version of the film Three Sisters. Three sisters, Yinx (ten), Zhen (six) and Fen (four) live alone in the mountains, at an altitude of 3,200 metres, in a small family house in the Yunnan region. Their mother is absent and their father works in the local village. Bing returns to a familiar theme here: the strength of kinship in extreme isolation.

 

Wang Bing. 15 hours, film, 2017

Saturday, 20 October, 9am

Session 8. 15 hours

National premiere

China, France, 2017, digital archive, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 900’
Screening without intermission
Museo Reina Sofía, Sabatini Building, Auditorium

Second session: Sunday, 21 October, 9am. Museo Reina Sofía, Sabatini Building, Auditorium

One of the most defiant works in recent years, this single-shot film shows a day’s work in a clothing factory in the Zheijang province, challenging the limits of structure, conception and duration in the history of cinema as it seeks to reproduce the draining and monotonous passing of time in the slave-like garment factories in China. As with the origins of cinema, Wang Bing sees this medium as the direct consequence of the great industrial machine and the proletariat. In this screening, the cinema will be set up as an installation where the audience can move around freely. 

Wang Bing. Man with no name, film, 2009

Monday, 22 October, 7pm

Session 9. Man with No Name

China, France, 2009, digital archive, sound, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 97’
Museo Reina Sofía, Sabatini Building, Auditorium

An anonymous man leaves his cave among snow-covered ruins. Wang Bing focuses on the meticulous tasks of daily survival – the man collects firewood, cooks, eats, tidies, and transports his rags. A minute, silent life of someone without history, property or identity. Are we seeing a contemporary subject close to the absurd subject of Samuel Beckett? No. This is an obstinate and radical affirmation of the right to existence. 

Wang Bing. Brutality Factory, film, 2007

Thursday, 25 October, 7:30pm

Session 10. Happy Valley and Brutality Factory

Happy Valley
China, Spain, 2009-2011, DCP, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 49’

Brutality Factory
China, Portugal, 2007, DCP, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 17’
Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré. Sala 1

Two short films, each made for collective projects. In Happy Valley Wang Bing participates with Spaniard Jaime Rosales in Cinematic Correspondences from one director to another. The two directors, long-standing friends, renounce the format of an audiovisual letter to set forth a story of two geographically and culturally distant worlds. Brutality Factory, produced for the collective work The State of the World, with the participation of Pedro Costa, Chantal Akerman and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is a fictional film of torture in Maoist China, drawn from the life of Fengming.

Wang Bing. Three sisters, film, 2012

Friday, 26 October, 9:30pm

Session 11. Three sisters

China, France, 2012, DCP, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 153’
Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré. Sala 1

Three sisters, Yinx (ten), Zhen (six) and Fen (four) live alone in the mountains, at an altitude of 3,200 metres, in a small family house in the Yunnan region. Their mother is absent and their father works in the local village. Bing returns to a familiar theme here: the strength of kinship in extreme isolation. 

Wang Bing. Til Madness Do Us Part, film, 2013

Saturday, 27 October, 5pm

Session 12. Til Madness Do Us Part 

China, France, 2013, digital archive, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 228’
Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini Building, Auditorium

Second session: Sunday, 28 October, 5pm. Museo Reina Sofía, Sabatini Building, Auditorium

Wang Bing. Coal Money, film, 2009

Tuesday, 30 October, 7:30pm

Session 13. Coal Money

China, France, 2009, DCP, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 53’
Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré. Sala 1

This film explores the heavy exploitation of the landscape, according to the logic of an insatiable market in which coal is extracted and sold on to the highest bidder for electrical production. The cruel and beautiful drilled landscapes alternate with the fruitless journey in search of a buyer. Coal Money is a drama about rampant greed that transforms the face of the earth and the solidarity between workers, who trick and exploit each other. The film ends with a shot which, after a long journey, shows us the mine once again, describing a never-ending cycle.      

Wang Bing. Bitter Money, film, 2016

Tuesday, 30 October, 9pm

Session 14. Bitter Money

China, France, 2016, DCP, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles 145’
Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré. Sala 1

The city of Huzhou is home to 18,000 clothing factories and more than 300,000 workers, mostly migrants from rural areas in the surrounding provinces. Wang Bing follows a group of these young workers in their 13-hour workdays and during their limited free-time, in which they wander around shabby rooms drinking, waste time with their mobile phones, or worry about not getting ripped off. The factory is not an assembly line; it is a place of condemnation that lacks ethics. A prize-winner of cinematography at the Venice Film Festival, the film’s camera is practically anonymous, creating through conversations and situations. Thus Wang Bing manages to render one of the most truthful and demoralising portrayals of an oppressive system.

Wang Bing. Feng Ming, film, 2007

Wednesday, 31 October, 5:30pm

Session 15. Fengming. A Chinese Memoir

First version. Cinema edit

China, France, 2007, DCP,colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 186’
Filmoteca Española, Cine Doré. Sala 1

Wednesday, 7 November, 7pm
Session 15. Fengming. A Chinese Memoir. Second version. Museum edit
China, France, 2007, digital archive, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 227’
Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini Building, Auditorium

In what way can narration and oral memory transmit and exorcise trauma? This film personally chronicles the life of Fengming, an old woman persecuted in the early years of the Communist Regime and taken to the Jianbiangou Labour Camp. It is also the search for a visual form of testimony. The cinematic apparatus becomes invisible for three hours, placing the voice at the centre and establishing a personal connection between Fengming and the viewer. Screened for the first time in two versions, the film leads on to The Ditch, Traces and Brutality Factory. Equally, this diptych will be joined by the international premiere of Beauty Lives in Freedom, Gao Ertai. 

Wang Bing. Crude Oil,film, 2008

Saturday, 3 November, 9am

Session 16. Crude Oil

China, France, 2008, digital archive, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 840’
Screening without intermission, Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini Building, Auditorium
Second session: Sunday, 4 November, 9am. Museo Reina Sofía, Sabatini Building, Auditorium

This film installation shows the daily routines of workers on an oil rig in the district of Huatugo. Wang Bing presses ahead with the idea of connecting capital with the exploitation of the land and ecological catastrophe, and in inhumane working conditions. Tedium and lack of sleep, brought on by brief shifts, mix with kitsch pop played on the radio and the sublime landscapes of the plains to create a state of permanent hallucination, frozen between insomnia and sleep, trapping workers and viewers alike.

 

Wang Bing. West of the Tracks, film, 2003

Sunday, 11 November, 11am

Session 17. West of the Tracks

China, 2003, digital archive, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 551’
Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini Building, Auditorium
11am to 3pm (15’ intermission), 3:15pm to 6:15pm (15’ intermission), 6:30pm to 8:45pm

The coda to the series is Wang Bing’s first work, a three-part documentary which puts forward the signature themes of the film-maker, his method of filming and, at the same time, establishes what the epic and monumentality mean in contemporary cinema, seen as a dialectic manifestation of the present. West of the Tracks explores the ruin of Tie Xi, the industrial area of north-east China and erstwhile heart of the state’s heavy industry. Tie Xi is now a scene of degeneration, where economic reforms, bankruptcy, displacement and demolition have emptied factories, leaving entire communities without work. In essence, the film signals the end of a regime and the start of a new phase in China’s history.

 

Wang Bing. West of the Tracks, film, 2003  

Thursday, 15 November, 7pm

Session 18. West of the Tracks. Part I: Rust

China, 2003,  digital archive, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 244’
Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini Building, Auditorium

In this first part, Wang Bing follows workers in the Tie Xi metalworks and their daily routines, breaks and free-time, capturing every moment, from the mundane to the industrious. The workers laugh, argue, bitterly complain about their future prospects, pass the time drinking, or simply digress.

Wang Bing. West of the Tracks, film, 2003

Friday, 16 November, 7pm

Session 19. West of the Tracks. Part II: Remnants

China, 2003, digital archive, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 178’
Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini Building, Auditorium

This second instalment sees Wang Bing follow the inhabitants of the town of Rainbow Road, one of the many Tie Xi urban developments. The workers’ children are aware of what the future holds: Wang follows groups of young people while their parents return home without work and begin to receive news of evictions.

Wang Bing. West of the Tracks, film, 2003

Saturday, 17 November, 7pm

Session 20. West of the Tracks. Part III: Rails

China, 2003, digital archive, colour, original version with Spanish subtitles, 132’
Museo Reina Sofía. Sabatini Building, Auditorium

This part tells the story of the freight trains that connected the factories in the district of Tie Xi, and the stories of two men: Du Xiyun and his son, both unemployed and on the margins of society, living off the railroad. While Du Xiyun and his son fight to deal with the changes taking place in the world that surrounds them and keep come control over their own destinies, their friends, state railroad workers, still repeat the movements of their now-non-existent jobs as they are locked to a bygone time.