SHEN XIN: When I moved to London, and I was increasingly aware of the surface of my presence as in the surface of my otherness, then I started making sort of short documentaries that is very much complicit of my own position in London.
The first few was as a customer in a sushi store having this sort of intimate friendship with the manager or as the daughter of someone who paints Tibetan ethnic minorities with Chinese ink painting. As my life goes on in London, I changed my direction and I wanted to understand the power of fiction in terms of, an empowerment of otherness that comes with fabrication of positions, fabrication of identity.
I was researching into how religious systems are not immune to social political structures, especially the ones that are transplanted onto a different social context and Provocation of the Nightingale is a further fictional approach towards this body of research.
It's a multi-channel video installation that investigates different belief systems. So it's not just the religious practice, but it's put against scientific practice, commercialized practice of DNA testing. It's put against different religious practice, Muslim practice in China or Thai Buddhism.
This install is constructed of three different spaces, where the audience are invited to navigate throughout different durations and each space has its own durational requirement. It's very much a guided experience. And the audience are invited to navigate the space with the mindset where performativity is the guiding principle.
Usually I’ll write in English, and then it's translated into the language, whichever language that the actors speak. And I will tell them when they receive the translation, “please...make it as you wish, simplify it break it down, fragment it.” Like, I don't care because I need them to feel that it's natural.
And then I re-translate after they perform. I have the footage and then I hire a translator to translate whatever they have said onto the script. They added emotions to the breaks, the intervals of my script and I'm very thankful for that because it's about the autonomy that you give your actors, and they give back and they contribute to the context of your work.
Shen Xin’s work Provocation of the Nightingale (2017) consists of four videos playing on four screens in a cube-like formation. On one screen, a Buddhist and a manager of a genetic testing company discuss life, science, and faith on a stage. On another, motion-capture technology records the facial expressions of people who share the results of their genetic tests in voiceover.
On one of the inward-facing screens, a male dancer and a female dancer face each other. They are gradually soaked with sweat as background music highlights their confrontation. The same music plays in the video opposite, in which a monitor on a stage plays a collection of video clips about religion. The apparently unrelated content of the four videos is connected through a shared scenography and references to texts, images, and music. Shen Xin creates a multilayered narrative structure, unveiling the tensions and conflicts between genes, cultures, faiths, and sciences that define a crisis of identity.
This video was originally published on M+ Stories.
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