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Artist: Lily & Honglei Art Studio
Medium: Chinese cut paper motifs, digital Animation and soundtrack
Video Duration: 5'37"
Music: Traditional Chinese guqin melody 'Guangling San'


Integrating the traditional Chinese paper cutting medium with digital animation techniques, Forbidden City evokes an air that is uniquely thought-provoking. The dynamics between the imagery and sentiments of the atmosphere call upon the audience to contemplate about the sociocultural position of the individual in contemporary China.

The scene is set in the interior of an antique tea-house near the Forbidden City in Beijing, where a cup of tea casts its mist into sun-lit space. A window serves as a major element both in the visual composition and in the poetic construction of the work; it is a metaphor of the boundary between one’s social surroundings and introspective world. The nearest panel is adorned with an inversed Prosperity (福) ideogram, a popular traditional Chinese decorative motif that calls for and celebrates golden times. This emblem of optimism, however, proves itself to be no more than a flimsy facade. As serene as the atmosphere appears to be, a less veneer and much grimmer layer of reality is revealed when the ideogram falls apart.

Towards the end of the film, the blood-red substance left from the calamitous vision becomes condensed into steam once again while the Prosperity motif is set back in place. An apparent tranquility reigns over the setting once more and the unnerving truth is removed from sight.

An ancient melody known as Guangling San by the great Chinese thinker and composer Ji Kang is heard throughout the course of the film.



Dr. Margaret Hillenbrand, University of Oxford

Remaking Tank Man, in China (journal of visual culture)

... ...

Lily and Honglei speak directly to this genealogical disintegration in a video
work about June 4th, entitled Forbidden City (Zijincheng, 2008; Figure
16), which melds digital animation with traditional Chinese paper cuts. The
piece opens with an image of an old-fashioned tea-shop window, hung
with a red paper-cut decoration of the character fu, meaning prosperity and
happiness. A flower has been cut out in each corner of the decoration, a
face-value reference to the ‘Four Gentlemen’ of Chinese artistic and botanical
tradition (plum blossom, orchid, bamboo, and chrysanthemum) – and an
encrypted allusion to the so-called ‘Four Gentlemen’ of the Tian’anmen
Square protests: a quartet of activists, including Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo,
who went on hunger strike in June 1989 (and after whom the conceptual
art collective are, in fact, named). As a guqin plays on the soundtrack, the
paper cut disintegrates into falling petals, until only five tiny red marks

lily & honglei, media art, chinese artists, asian art
Figure 16

remain. The camera then closes in on these shapes, revealing them to be the
lone protester, three tanks, and the Forbidden City itself. For the next two
minutes, the tanks and the protester – the component parts of the original
Tank Man photograph – abandon their assigned places to move disjointedly
and at random across the screen, until the inevitable hard collision between
man and machine occurs and a spectral swirl of blood is superimposed
across the visual field. It drifts like a fractal for several seconds before
floating away, just as the falling petals reassemble into the character fu,
the swirl of blood melts into steam from a teacup, and the scene returns
to the tea shop as if the bloodshed had never happened. Narratively, the
animation rehearses the same interplay between spectrality and ‘see no evil’
which I have traced throughout this article, at the time as metaphorizing
the idea that China’s rise since the 1990s is predicated on precisely this
silent collusion with a violent order – or, as Jiang Zemin put it in his famous
motto for the post-Tian’anmen era, ‘Keep your mouth shut and get rich’
(mensheng fadacai). Meanwhile on the meta-plane, via its dismemberment
of the Tank Man photograph, the video acts out the process of reductionist
redux, the stripping down to barest bones that icons must undergo if they
are to maintain some kind of visibility in suppressive environments.

... ...


Selected Exhibitions/Screenings

- Moving Paper International Film Festival, Museum of Art and Design, New York. The work received People's Choice Award: http://movingpaper.madmuseum.org

- UMass Lowell Center for Arts and Ideas & UMass Lowell Art Department. Special Thanks to Jehanne-Marie Gavarini & Jo-Ann Green, Helen Thorington at New Radio & Performaing Arts, INC.

- Art Gallery Exhibition at SIGGRAPH, Los Angeles convention center: http://digitalartarchive.hosting.acm.org/forbidden-city/

- Boston Cyberarts Gallery (formerly Axiom Gallery for Experimental New Media Art)

- Forbidden City - Experimental New Media Art, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Art Gallery, MA (exhibition view below)

- Art & Democracy VI, Visual Artist Guild of West Hollywood, CA

lily & honglei, media art, chinese artists, asian art


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