Pearl of the Orient

My body clock has adjusted back to Europe time; I have unpacked the last of my travel things and put away my suitcase. I have just returned from China, where I had the opportunity to give two seminars at the University of Shanghai: the first on machinima, titled “Camera Absent: The Poetics of Machinima and the Digital Culture of Virtual Filmmaking”; the second on digital media, titled “Virtual Sight: Seeing Through Digital Media” (abstracts below).

University of Shanghai main gate
University of Shanghai main gate

I had first visited the University of Shanghai almost 2 and a half years ago for its “Commemorating the 90th Anniversary of Andre Bazin” international conference, where I had the opportunity to listen to prominent Chinese film scholars such as Profs Ni Zhen, Qu Chunjin and luminous film directors such as Xie Fei, Jia Zhangke, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Ann Hui (with whom I took a photograph!). Back then I was already impressed by the scholarship, dedication and level of interest of the university’s School of Film and TV in film studies and by their eager reception of knowledge and perspectives outside China. The reach of the School belies its name, which also includes departments such as advertising, art and digital film and media research. The last, in particular, is generating unprecedented interest, particularly in terms of China’s recognition of the power and speed of digital media production in the country. The question “what should China do” – “???????” – informs a great deal of digital media research at the University, spawning not only the university’s own academic journals such as International Media Industry Review and Art Studies, but also student project initiatives such as a brilliant tie-up with China Mobile whereby students produce 2-minute video content to be uploaded by China Mobile for mobile phone companies. China Mobile gets the mobile phone content they want, students are financially remunerated and gain a CV line, and everybody wins!

University of Shanghai campus
University of Shanghai campus

The School is particularly receptive to lectures and seminars given by foreign scholars, and previous speakers include academics such as Marsha Kinder (USC), Howard Suber (UCLA) and film directors such as Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential). My seminars, presented with translation (with infinite thanks to You Jie, my tirelessly dedicated translator), were warmly received, with good discussion and questions to follow. I was further very kindly hosted at the Le Hu Guesthouse of Shanghai University, treated to many meals and given every hospitable kindness and consideration during my short stay there.*

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I eventually left Shanghai – a city which has become important and had been very good to me – with much regret, even as I was happy to be heading back to Umeå after a long summer of travelling. The luminosity of this particular pearl will stay in my heart for a long time to come.

* My thanks in particular to Dean Jin, Ms Xu, Jiang An, You Jie and Annie Wu for facilitating and making my trip possible. You guys rock!

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(Mandarin version here)

Camera Absent: The Poetics of Machinima and the Digital Culture of Virtual Filmmaking
This lecture discusses machinima—films made by 3-dimensional graphics rendering engines in virtual worlds—in the light of its problematic ontology and relationship to other media forms. Being neither hand-made imagery nor filmed live action, it eschews the binary of the graphic and the recorded. Machinima is thus images recorded from objects generated in virtual worlds—cinema in total virtuality. How, then, may we think about machinima in terms of the classifications between animation, digital and film cinema? We open up fundamental questions about the definition and/or re-definition of cinema: what is/was cinema? What is a virtual film? What is an object? What is an image?

Virtual Eyes: Seeing Through Digital Media
How do the plethora of cameras in our digital media today affect the way we see the world? How do we think about media realities when every event is not only seen, witnessed and recorded, but edited, archived, uploaded and circulated around the Internet? This lecture addresses these questions and discusses the visual culture of digital media through concepts of seeing, self, place, visuality, interactivity and reality as mediated through camera-based digital media platforms, including smartphones, webcams, digital video, Google Streetview and digital cinema.

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