Born 1963, Beijing

A former painter who is now one of China’s most influential video artists, Zhu Jia creates cinematic works in which he reflects on the transformation of China through plotless, a-logical streams of images. He places himself in the category of conceptual artists because, as he says, expression “is about what you do with your mind”. In Waltz (2013), a couple dance, separate, come together, and dance again. The settings and their clothing—first Mao suits, then stylish outfits reminiscent of 1930s Shanghai—suggest time is running backwards. When the camera moves back to reveal the set, time leaps forward but our sense of the film’s reality is overturned. Although the artist lived through the Cultural Revolution, he was a small child then. Trying to understand the era of his parents’ courtship, just before and after the 1949 Revolution, “I can’t make sense of it,” he says. The only way he can understand their past, or China’s, is through imagination. His touching evocation deliberately jumbles chronology. The dreamlike images have a kind of truth, he says, but also the vagueness of memory—and “there is no timeline in our brain”.

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