Art Review Asia | Out of the Shadows: The Films of Wang Bing
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By Benny Shaffer
Art Review Asia | Features
Spring 2018 Issue
The opening scene of Wang Bing’s directorial debut, the nine-hour documentary Tie Xi Qu (West of the Tracks, 2003), is shot from a slow-moving train through the snowflake-covered lens of a digital video camera. Accompanied by the low roar of wheels on frozen, rusted rails, the camera navigates a landscape of dilapidated factory buildings in a once-booming, now rapidly declining industrial zone in northeast China. This point of departure for Wang’s career echoes the overlapping histories of early cinema and industrial modernity, intimately tied to trains and the particular forms of visual experience that moving images produce. While early cinema often celebrated the magic of the cinematic apparatus and the modern technologies of industrialisation, Wang’s films casts a melancholy gaze on industry’s decay. Over the course of his career, he has documented vanishing worlds and lived spaces in their most unadorned forms; yet his investigative and immersive approach has remained unsentimental and understated in its implicit critique of China’s social realities.