Girls
July 19, 2019

Girls

Girls
Girls

Started as a passion project in 2008, Girls has become a career-making image series from Shanghai-based photographer Luo Yang. Her ongoing work upends stereotypes of Chinese hyper-femininity by capturing an emerging generation of young women defying expectations of their gender. Directed by British-Chinese producer Jean Liu, this film provides a rare glimpse into the photographer’s practice.

Liu follows Yang on shoots where she profiles real women in their homes across Shanghai. The candid discussions Yang has with her sitters about gender, identity and sexuality underpin the intimate, storied approach to her work. 

“Luo Yang takes photographs of girls that I actually encounter in China everyday,” says the director. “In a country saturated with idealized images of the female face and form, Yang’s subjects stand in sharp contrast to the hyper-airbrushed, milky-complexioned girls presented in mainstream media.”

Yang’s bare-bodied models are characterized by their burns, bruises, buzz cuts and body hair. The images, which vibrate with a raw, lo-fi aesthetic, are carefully orchestrated scenes that—as the photographer describes—“capture the duality of female fragility and inner strength”.

Yang has exhibited in Hong Kong, Paris, Shanghai and Berlin and won the commendation of renowned artist Ai Weiwei, who christened her one of the “rising stars of Chinese photography”. This year marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Girls series as Yang traveled to Bangkok to extend her photographic study of womanhood to Thailand.

Icaria
July 17, 2019

Icaria

Icaria
Icaria

For this editorial partnership between NOWNESS and the Manchester International Festival, Emmy-nominated director Fx Goby breathes new life into the time-honored Greek myth of Icarus, a young man who flew too close to the sun.

Icaria features a solo dancer who transforms into a shapeshifting silhouette that crumples, tenses and flexes in time to a dark and triumphant electronic soundtrack from French composer Clément Chassaing.

Fx Goby created Icaria in response to the world premiere of Alphabus, a Manchester International Festival-commissioned show that unites transatlantic street dance with poetry, choreographed by Flex dance pioneer Reggie ‘regg roc’ Gray. “I was inspired by Reggie’s contemporary take on old myths,” says Fx Goby. “I then became interested in revisiting the myth of Icarus through dance.”

“I was particularly struck by the energy and grace of one of the Alphabus dancers, Yandass, who stars in Icaria,” Fx Goby continues. “Yandass brings great sensitivity and emotion. Her dance is complemented by original music that adds power and gravity to the film.” 

Manchester International Festival (MIF) is the world’s first festival of original, new work and special events staged every two years in Manchester, UK. MIF launched in 2007 as an artist-led festival presenting new projects from across the spectrum of performing arts, visual arts and popular culture.

The festival has commissioned, produced and presented world premieres by artists including Marina Abramović, Damon Albarn, Björk, Boris Charmatz, Jeremy Deller, Elbow, Wayne McGregor, Steve McQueen and much more. 

Manchester International Festival runs from 4 - 21 July 2019

Sister Cities
July 15, 2019

Sister Cities

Sister Cities
Sister Cities

Los Angeles-based director Jimmy Marble directs this uplifting narrative short about two star-crossed companions who are determined to jumpstart their long-distance relationship with a city break. But their plans hit a snag when they mistakenly fly to different cities. Undeterred by this hiccup, the women choose to double their cultural experience and live out parallel weekends on FaceTime.

“The two best friends love each other, fail each other, try to do right by each other, all the while looking like each other,” says Marble. “But instead of being a perfect match, the women discover they actually complement one another, which is all they really want from a best friend.”

Their hotels are not only a gateway to the world but provide a welcome break from the city’s sights and sounds. Marlyn returns to the chic comforts of Ink Hotel in Amsterdam, which encourages guests to create inspiring stories, hearkening back to the building’s past as the headquarters of a Dutch newspaper. On the other side of the world Irina reclines at the award-winning 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, a museum and boutique hotel reflecting the city’s flourishing contemporary art scene.

“Miscommunication has always been a humorous subject to me,” says Marble. “There’s a great slapstick quality to this film, and even a little bit of tragic fate, which are both great ingredients for a fun tale.”

“I chose to use split screens so we could see Irina and Marlyn’s body language open and close towards each other as the story progressed,” Marble continues. “But to build harmony and symmetry between their two worlds I played with composition and color.”

Sister Cities is the second collaboration between MGallery and Nowness which forms part of the hotel brand's Stories That Stay campaign—a philosophy that encourages guests to make memorable moments deeply rooted in a destination’s rich cultural history.

Sister Cities showcases MGallery, a collection of boutique hotels that provides singular experiences for lovers of art, design, and travel in 30 countries. Explore the collection here

Yehaiyahan: Under the Moonlight
July 12, 2019

Yehaiyahan: Under the Moonlight

Yehaiyahan: Under the Moonlight
Yehaiyahan: Under the Moonlight

Director Shijun Jia captures the daily rituals of the Yi people, an ancient Chinese minority, in this music video for Shanghai-based singer and producer Yehaiyahan. Under The Moonlight explores the growth of Yi women living in the Daliang Mountains of China’s Sichuan province and the daily activities that govern their lives. 

This latest song from Yehaiyahan is a low-fi neo-soul ballad supported by a sample from a small, female Yi choir. The director came up with the idea to track down the singers and make their home the focal point for the music video. “During our week of location scouting my team and I felt a fantastic energy surrounding the community,” says Jia, describing the Yi’s sheltered village that sits 3700km above sea level. “It’s a place that’s incomprehensible when using language.” 

“When the Yi put on their traditional dress for the party scene in the film, we felt their pride,” he continues. “Being a city person, the beauty of the place is hard to ignore. The environment the Yi grow up in is very ancient and natural, which completely fits the aesthetic of Yehaiyahan’s track.”

Under The Moonlight, which was shot entirely on 15mm film, won Best Music Video at Queen Palm International Film Festival in LA and Best Film at Thunderdance Film Festival in France—reinforcing Yehaiyahan’s presence on the international stage. 

The singer has emerged as one of China’s most prolific and magnetic independent musicians in recent years. Not only does her back catalog school listeners on hip-hop, dub, folk and electronica, but the genre-bending artist continues to build momentum by headlining multiple showcases at this year’s South by Southwest festival and embarking on a US tour. 

Yehaiyahan also appears as Faded Ghost, her experimental alter ego, in Frontiers—part of our China Wave special program profiling a new era of Chinese creative expression that is rewriting the rules on conventional art, filmmaking, music and performance.

These New Puritans: Six
July 10, 2019

These New Puritans: Six

These New Puritans: Six
These New Puritans: Six

"There’s a strength in this film's stillness," says musician George Barnett, who forms one half of the critically-acclaimed experimental band These New Puritans. "It’s not competing with the attention-deficit-disorder culture of today, it’s going in a totally different direction. This is very much an anti-music video."

"Fire always turns up in our songs somehow. Maybe it’s to do with moments that are seductive and powerful but can also consume you and destroy you," Barnett continues. "Obviously, it’s such a primal theme. The history of fire is really interesting, I find. It was really the first technology for transforming our environment, the whole landscape that we consider ‘natural’ is the result of fires started by humans."

Six is the third collaboration between Australian filmmaker Daniel Askill and These New Puritans, following on from their highly commended music videos "We Want War" and "Fragment Two". Askill created the visuals that would be used in Six before the band approached him—he’d been waiting for the right project to come along.

“I knew this track was the perfect partner to my film,” Askill says. “Six is such a beautiful piece of music and combined with the imagery it creates a visual meditation with open eyes. I think George describes it best when he contemplates themes like ‘nostalgia for the future’, ‘eternity in a moment’, ‘power in stillness’, ‘something modern that resonates with the primal and ancient’... I think we are both drawn to these kinds of polarities and interested in finding ways to explore them in image and sound.”

Six is the last track from Inside the Rose, the hotly-anticipated first album to be released by These New Puritans in six years.

The Dreamers: Lucia Liu
July 8, 2019

The Dreamers: Lucia Liu

The Dreamers: Lucia Liu
The Dreamers: Lucia Liu

The Dreamers profiles women who have imagined their careers into being, usually in opposition to the cultural zeitgeist. In this three part series, intrepid creatives explain how, by either taking the road less travelled or carving out entirely new paths for themselves, their outward success has transpired from inward imagining.

Lucia Liu has quickly established herself as one of China’s most sought-after designers and celebrity stylists, with clients ranging from Mandopop singer-songwriter Bibi Zhou, actor Zhao Liying and luxury retail brand Lane Crawford.

With an insatiable appetite for creative expression without barriers and a robust work ethic without rules, Liu began her career as style director at Harper's Bazaar China. But since then the indefatigable designer has appeared as a judge for China’s Next Top Model, founded a bespoke creative studio, and is currently executive deputy editor-in-chief & fashion director of The New York Times T Magazine China. 

Liu is one of the most influential fashion designers of her generation who simultaneously breaks the rules while learning from tradition. The stimulus behind her work comes from the harmonious pairing of her rural upbringing with city living, which is reflected in the visual language of her work and this film. “Lots of elements inspire me,” says Liu, who works between Beijing and London. “I love nature, color, flowers, romantic parks...all the things of old Beijing. But I also love its futurism and hard shapes.”

Liu has previously described her style as “a process of assembling from creative chaos,” an attitude that director William Kennedy evokes in this final episode of The Dreamers. As Liu discusses her artistic process, Kennedy captures abstract elements—such as archival film, a futurist fashion muse and Super 8 footage—to create rich, evolving imagery that compliments Liu’s own dynamic style. 

A White Butterfly on a Bus
July 7, 2019

A White Butterfly on a Bus

A White Butterfly on a Bus
A White Butterfly on a Bus

For ten days, in a city in the far west of China, a young Chinese actor and a Belgian filmmaker embark on a relationship that blurs the line between fictional performance and documented reality. The protagonists, played by Jin Jing and Matthias Delvaux, go on a hunt for intimacy in a city that is unfamiliar to them both.

Hangzhou-based director Xinyuan Zheng Lu presents A White Butterfly on a Bus like a fragmented memory. The audience are only invited to witness partial events from the characters' lives and form a narrative from Zheng Lu's use of static, observational shots and suffocating handheld close-ups. 

The up-and-coming director made this project as part of First International Film Festival's Training Camp program, which is designed to cultivate a new generation of directors. 

A White Butterfly on a Bus was screened at Beijing International Short Film Festival and First International Film Festival Xining in 2018. Aside from film, Zheng Lu has experimented in other art forms that explore the boundaries of visual media.

A White Butterfly on a Bus is part of China Wave, our month-long special program of films profiling a new era of Chinese creative expression that is rewriting the rules on conventional art, filmmaking, music and performance

Aerobics
July 5, 2019

Aerobics

Aerobics
Aerobics

Tian Xiaolei is one of the most experimental VR artists to emerge from China in recent years. His imaginative work has won him awards from Today Art Museum and UCCA in Beijing, where he uses history, religion, science, technology and biology to create new, otherworldly visual experiences.

The artist’s latest project, Aerobics, is a carnival of eccentric and far-fetched digital creations that run amok in a graphic cathedral. Xiaolei ‘repairs’ the Venus de Milo by attaching a pair of swaying robotic arms to her body.  A man gyrates wearing nothing more than an x-ray scanner around his waist and a microscope on his head. A gilded monkey and baby in spherical cages replace the moons of Jupiter, and a piston spliced with human legs pumps to the music. 

“In the future, god will be replaced by a hybrid being that is both man and machine,” says Xiaolei. “Humans are only at one stage of evolution and we will continue to go through progressive upgrades. A new era for a fleeting species is about to begin.”

Aerobics is part of China Wave, our month-long special program of films profiling a new era of Chinese creative expression that is rewriting the rules on conventional art, filmmaking, music and performance

Double Sexy
July 3, 2019

Double Sexy

Double Sexy
Double Sexy

Documentary filmmaker Ben Mullinkosson provides a no holds barred look at the skate culture and underground party communities of Chengdu—the capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan province.

Double Sexy introduces the audience to three of Chengdu’s countercultural residents who represent the beating heart of China’s capital of cool. Their disparate lives coalesce in this film that becomes a sympathetic spectator to their drunken antics, coarse conversation and clandestine pleasures.

“It’s not until I started living in Chengdu and speaking Chinese that I realized the government is not an accurate reflection of the people of China,” says Mullinkosson who lives and works between Chengdu and LA. “The world is quick to dismiss any empathetic bridges that connects them to the individuals that comprise the largest country population on Earth.

“The characters each have big dreams and are growing up in a place changing faster than almost any other city in the world,” Mullinkosson continues. “They are free—free in the sense that they go out, get wild, fall in love, explore their sexuality, make mistakes, and learn from the process. Each person is figuring out answers to life’s questions.

“As a doc filmmaker I’m attracted to stories that help us understand each other and the world around us. I moved to Chengdu because I wanted to get a different perspective on the world and, after being here for a number of years, I’ve fallen in love with the complexities of the Chengdu underground party scene.”

Frontiers
July 1, 2019

Frontiers

Frontiers
Frontiers

This week we kick off China Wave—our month-long program that puts the spotlight on the rising stars and underground icons using unorthodox yet intimate storytelling techniques to embody modern Chinese culture.

Frontiers is a multisensory feast of music, drag, art and dance, performed by China’s most rambunctious, generation-defining artists. “Chinese youth have all become creators on social media. I started to wonder about the nature of self-expression today, particularly in the field of underground subcultures,” says Roni Shao, the Shanghai director who makes music and youth culture his lifeblood. “When I met these young underground artists I was shocked by their bold souls. Their performances revealed unknown frontiers where emotions explode and flow. They never give in to sugary, gratifying art. Instead, they provoke you. They make you uncomfortable with displays of pain.”

The eight performers featured in this film are as follows: 

Absolute Purity is a Shanghai-based experimental post-punk band, known for their explosive sets, who merge melancholic vocals with touches of electronica and psychedelia. 

Alex Wang & ChillChill join forces to create a whole new audiovisual landscape. Alex Wang is a Shanghai-based producer, musician, and DJ who creates futuristic club sounds. ChillChill is a 3D artist who uses game engines, algorithms and virtual worlds to explore people's relationships with the internet and reality. 

Faded Ghost is the producer/DJ pseudonym of Shanghai-based vocalist ChaCha Yehaiyahan. She is as much at home on the stage at SXSW as in the underground clubs of Beijing. In Frontiers, she performs an ethereal vocal set cross-legged and surrounded by intergalactic flora and fauna. 

Hua Who is a practitioner of Shibari, the Japanese art of rope bondage, which has found a new home in China's fetish clubs and queer spaces. 

Yanhao Du is a Chinese contemporary dancer and choreographer. 

Huang Jiaqi is a model and photographer known for his shy yet expressive aesthetic voice. In Frontiers, he is seen smearing himself with lipstick until his entire face and torso are covered in deep red.

Jia Wei is a Beijing rapper who belongs to Purple Soul, one of the biggest hip hop groups in China. His crew is currently setting the music industry on fire by releasing music with politically sensitive material.

Yi Hao is a makeup artist and drag performer from Chengdu. For this performance, he faces the camera in a resplendent extraterrestrial outfit and wears exaggerated fingertips. His character is then beset by a dark figure that robs him of his clothes, leaving him naked and powerless.

"Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth," says Shao, quoting an old saying. “But I wonder whether the artists wear their masks when performing, or just when they return to everyday life?”

Kiss of the Rabbit God
June 28, 2019

Kiss of the Rabbit God

Kiss of the Rabbit God
Kiss of the Rabbit God

Long-time Nowness collaborator Andrew Thomas Huang writes and directs this captivating short film about an ordinary restaurant worker’s extraordinary sexual awakening. Nightly visits from the Rabbit God, who arrives in the body of a tantalizing mysterious stranger, blossom into a tryst that empowers the young man to embark on a journey of self-discovery. “Interweaving my personal family history in the Chinese restaurant business with the richness of Chinese mythology,” says Huang, “Kiss of the Rabbit God is a confession and a love letter to my queer Asian community.”

LA-based Huang looked to his own Chinese heritage as inspiration for this Nowness-commissioned project, which is also the filmmaker's first fictional narrative short. The Qing dynasty myth of Tu'er Shen—the Rabbit God—traces the story of a Fujianese soldier who was executed for professing his love to another man. The ruler of the underworld decided that since Tu'er Shen’s crime was one of love, the soldier would be ordained as the Rabbit God, the patron deity of gay love.

“Being asked to create a piece centered around queer Asian characters became a dauntingly personal journey for me,” says Huang. “I grew up with a deficit of queer Asian visibility on-screen along with the frequent stigmatization and devaluing of Asian male bodies in Western visual culture. I wanted to unpack these issues while also crafting a story that I felt enriched our collective imagination of what queer Asian male love, sex and intimacy could aspire to be.” 

Huang is internationally renowned for creating outlandish imagined landscapes and for experimental filmmaking that blurs the line between video art and traditional cinema. His strength in world-building has led him to collaborate with Icelandic artist Bjork, avant-pop musician FKA Twigs, Radiohead's Thom Yorke and British director Joe Wright. 

Kiss of the Rabbit God forms part of China Wave, our month-long special program of films profiling a new era of Chinese creative expression that is rewriting the rules on conventional art, filmmaking, music and performance. 

Kiss of the Rabbit God will be screening at Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ film festival, which runs from 18 – 28 July 2019. Click here for more information

Dambe
June 26, 2019

Dambe

Dambe
Dambe

“Nigerian Dambe is a brutal and exhilarating sport. A fight to the knockout with prize money at stake,” say Alex Simpson and Sebastian Barros, the London-based co-directors behind this new project. “This style of Nigerian boxing is fiercely competitive and largely undocumented.”

The story of Dambe is told through the eyes of 35-year-old Taiwo, a street boxer from Ogun State, Nigeria. Simpson and Barros conducted parts of Taiwo’s interview on top of one of Lagos’s many unfinished tower blocks that provide cinematic sunburnt views across the former capital. Shots reveal the Ogun fighter training in empty stairwells, underneath bypasses and with a make-shift punch bag made from rice. “We wanted to capture the essence of Dambe in a cinematic way,” say the directors. “Witnessing the practice through the eyes and experience of Taiwo felt like the most personal and effective way to do it.” 

Dambe is fought in rounds of three, or less if an opponent is knocked out. The fighters are self-taught and surreptitiously learn the rules and techniques of the game by watching other fights. The most fascinating feature of Dambe is the competitor’s primary weapon, a single arm bandaged in cotton and rope—not for their own protection but to deliver devastating blows. What started as a rural sport in Northern Nigeria has become a national phenomenon that is now somewhat funded by the government and has a dedicated channel on YouTube (Dambe Warriors) boasting millions of online views.

“Beyond the strikes and intimidating stares there’s a depth to Dambe that you otherwise may not have known existed,” the London filmmakers comment. “The sport is steeped in tradition and surrounded by theories of supernatural protection and magical amulets.” Dambe fighters may receive money, cattle or jewelry as winnings but Taiwo explains that the real prize is the glory and adoration the competitor receives from the crowd. Simpson and Barros conclude, “When Taiwo spoke of his fights we felt the enthusiasm pour out of him—reliving each fight with intensity and affection in equal measure.”