Retransformation of the Supporting Roles
China since the 1950s , artistic practices grounded on policies and political agendas unfurled in various fields, and film production was no exception. A series of anti-fascisim, anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-socialist revisionism films became a gesture for political position, in this ideological “mobilization”, there was an urgency for the antagonist roles in order to contrast with the wise and courageous national heroes, the defiant fighters, fearless martyrs, resolute even in death type of revolutionary persona and etc, and what set off from these “protagonists” are the number of “villains” in “supporting roles” or the “counterpart temporary actors”, in order to “realistically” portray these “supporting roles”, in a period of political enclosure and tense military relations with the outside world, these roles had to be played by Chinese actors, some of the, are professional actors of the Uyghur, Kazaks, Muslim Minories, some are mixed blood with Russians, or han Chinese actors who had angular facial features that made make-up possible. Their retransformation allow them to adroitly dive into the satirical performance demanded of them in those scenarios, some of their hideous and creepy acting only flashed by on the large screen, others were depicted as the clumsy or cunning characters fulfill the imagination of the foreign enemies that their impact resonates in mainstream media until this day, whenever the internal political situation intensifies, these foreign “enemies” resurface, who are eternally relevant to whatever the current political satire may be, their restaged confrontation are aimed at defeating internal national conflicts.
As I give emphasis on the portrayal of these characters, most of them appear ferocious and conniving, they are the American soldiers on the battlefield of the Korean War; the arrogant, dissolute and sinful European and American sailors stationed off the shores of Chinese seaports, or the European missionaries disguised as politicians during the colonial era, and the corrupt Soviet high ranking officers and spies. These characters have become the symbols of an “era”, which are being translated, appropriated again and again, their ghostly portraits and arrogant behavior have become the inseparable forms that is no exception in the contemporary art profession; in this double-channel video, I invited 5-6 actors, who are actors from the Uyghur, Kazaks and Muslim minorities of Xinjiang Autonomous Region, they will be assigned to play multiple roles, in the stereotypical scenarios of various political eras, deflecting off each other, repeating their performances by switching roles, as an infinite abyss.
These “supporting roles” beg our reflection on the spectacle of reality that are common today, in a so-called context of “global contemporary art”, we are accustomed to assume to role of the “other”, which conceals a rather complex and conflicting mood and a unsettled sense of “homelessness”, and we, who play the global roles, are enwrapped by the discourse and ideas of “center” and “periphery”, “participants” and “others”, “the participant” and the “observer”, they are the ineffable and undispelled ghosts, we continue to yearn for a “transformation”, or another round of changing roles, in order to fulfill our psychological desire to become the “protagonist”.
—in Li Ran’s website (read more)