The Automata of Movement

Ilona Hongisto and Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen (2019): “The Automata of Movement – Immediations of Memory in Hu Jieming’s The Remnants of Images (2013)” in Erin Manning, Anna Munster & Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen (eds.) Immediations. Open Humanities Press, pp. 47–62.

 In his mixed media installation The Remnants of Images (2013) exhibited at the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney, Australia (August 27, 2014 – February 1, 2015), Chinese media artist Hu Jieming (b. 1957) displays digitally remediated and re-mastered photographs from his childhood in Maoist China. In the images, a body suddenly draws from the mass, performs a dance movement or touches the face of someone in the crowd. Others perform repetitive gestures that differ from the public façade of the Maoist regime of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. A kissing couple, children playing, the flight of a bird, or an airplane looming as if suspended forever in the sky are some of the instances the gallery guest might remember from Jieming’s installation. For the artist, the installation is part of an ongoing exploration of personal and collective memories and their elusive nature:

‘Nations cannot survive without a history, Hu Jieming says, and people cannot live without memory. China is notorious for ‘editing’ the past, but personal recollections too are unreliable. Ask a group of people to recall an event they all witnessed and each one will have a different story. Looking at private photos or historical records, we learn that things we remember didn’t happen as we imagine, or never took place at all.… “The past is alive,” says the artist, “But it is impossible to remember it perfectly.”’ (Anonymous 2014: 22)

In The Remnants of Images, Jieming approaches the past with partially animated photographs from family albums, news archives and the Internet. The images are displayed on glass screens of various sizes and stored in aged metallic filing cabinets and lockers that speak of the institutional facet of memory production. As the motorized drawers of the cabinets open and close and the animations mobilize the seemingly still photographs, the installation invites the visitor into a space where the past that evades accurate representations gives itself up for “immediations of memory.” Here, we argue, the installation invites the viewer to engage with the liveliness of a past that we may or may not be familiar with.

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