‘Our house is our corner of the world.’ —Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
Inspired by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, artist Xiaowen Zhu presents a new moving image work, The Details Are Invented. This multi-channel film is a poetic probing of the space of the Brunswick Centre, an iconic modernist, residential and commercial complex in Central London with a parallel observation of Hackney Wick and Stratford – areas of rapid gentrification in East London.
Exploring these places by following the character of a flâneur – a ‘foreigner’ who strolls the city like a walking camera, Zhu seamlessly connects public and private space, collected texts and marketing language, personal narrative and critical reflection. At a time during the ongoing housing crisis and urban regeneration that is primarily focused on business and profits, Zhu combines these elements to share thoughts on how an individual – native or international – can make his or her home in ‘a city that’s always on the go, always in the middle of becoming something else’.1
Mixing documentary, essay film and video installation, The Details Are Invented is driven by poignant and urgent questions as well as a much wider and versatile quest: How can we learn from history and avoid making the same mistakes again and again? She subtly presents this angle by comparing Franz Hessel’s concerns about urban development in Berlin during the late 1920s with the similar pattern that emerged in 1980s London. Interview footage of an architect and resident of the Brunswick Centre reflects on the consequences of profit-driven urban regeneration.
Xiaowen Zhu is an artist, filmmaker and writer. Described as a visual poet, social critic, and aesthetic researcher, she uses film, photography, performance, installation and mixed media as platforms to communicate the complex experience of being a diasporic person and to wrestle with the notion of a disembodied identity. Born and raised in Shanghai, Zhu is currently based in London. She has received numerous awards, including TASML Artist Residency Award, Marylyn Ginsburg Klaus Fellowship, Jury Award of DOK Munich, Jury Award of Mexico International Documentary Film Festival, among others. Her work has been widely shown internationally, including Whitechapel Gallery (London, UK), Whitstable Biennale (Whitstable, UK), Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum (Beijing China), Chronus Art Center (Shanghai, China), Art Basel (Hongkong, China), ZKM | Center for Art and Media (Karlsruhe, Germany), V2_Institute for the Unstable Media (Rotterdam, the Netherlands), ISEA2011 (Istanbul, Turkey), Dumbo Arts Center (New York, USA), Videonale (Berlin, Germany), Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago, USA), Los Angeles Art Association (Los Angeles, USA), Venice Arts Gallery (Los Angeles, USA), Strozzina Art Space (Florence, Italy) and more. www.zhuxiaowen.com
Xiaowen Zhu was selected as the sixth artist in the Passen-gers’ series through our open call. The panel was drawn to her work for its potential to to engage with the people and place of the Brunswick Centre, drawing on its social, material and historical contexts with contemporary relevance.
Passen-gers is a site-specific exhibition series that explores the historical, social and material context of the Brunswick Centre. Artists present work sequentially to explore the real and imaginative associations of the site. The title references the 1975 film The Passenger by Michelangelo Antonioni that uses the Brunswick Centre as a powerful and otherworldly mise-en-scène. The plot follows a journalist who assumes the identity of a dead businessman while working on a documentary in Chad, unaware that he is impersonating an arms dealer with connections to the rebels in the current civil war. This notion of a ‘passenger’ as someone who inhabits transient identities and spaces, relates to how each artist is rendered a passenger within the larger exhibition structure – a structure that is generative and multi-directional, allowing different ideas, themes and narratives to emerge, overlap and intersect, creating dialogue over time. www.passen-gers.co.uk
1. Franz Hessel, Walking in Berlin
2. Brendan Woods, Architectural Review, Mar 2007