The Frye Art Museum is proud to present the US premiere of Dragonfly Eyes (Trailer), a work in progress which will culminate in the first full-length cinematic feature by renowned Chinese artist Xu Bing. The film eschews camera operators and on-screen actors, and instead employs publicly available video surveillance footage of everyday life.
In Dragonfly Eyes (Trailer), courtroom scenes, beauty parlor discussions, car crashes, gang fights, and even a lightning strike—all the drama of a Hollywood spectacular—are compressed into an enigmatic four-minute cinematic trailer. In a recent interview, Xu noted that George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and the 1998 American film The Truman Show—in which the title character learns mid-movie that his entire life is actually a reality TV show being broadcast worldwide—provided inspiration for Dragonfly Eyes. According to statistics from global information company IHS Technology, there were 245 million professionally installed video surveillance cameras active and operational globally in 2014, 65% of which were in Asia. Xu contends:
This transforms the entire world into a giant stage that is constantly being monitored on a live feed. What I find most interesting about this project is that it seeks out a way of working and creating that matches this new kind of civilization. There is no cameraperson on our team, but all of the 24-hour surveillance cameras across China and the world are working for us. This is a method of the present, but it also presages future artistic methods.
The film centers on a female protagonist named Dragonfly, who frequently undergoes cosmetic surgery. Inspired by an alleged news story that went viral online, Dragonfly Eyes is based on the reputed case of a husband who, after his wife gave birth to an ugly child, sued her for divorce when he learned she had undergone plastic surgery prior to their marriage.
Dragonfly Eyes (Trailer) constructs a narrative from seemingly unrelated fragments of reality to reveal what cannot be seen by the naked eye. Above all, the film reminds us that even in our most intimate moments we are being watched.
Xu Bing was born in Chongqing, China, in 1955. In 1977 he entered the printmaking department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), Beijing, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in 1981; he stayed on as an instructor and earned his MFA in 1987. In 1990, at the invitation of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he moved to the United States, where he remained until his return to China in 2008. Xu served as the vice president of CAFA Beijing from 2008 to 2014 and is now a professor at CAFA, advising PhD students. He currently lives and works in Beijing and New York.
In 1999, Xu Bing was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in recognition of his “capacity to contribute importantly to society, particularly in printmaking and calligraphy.” In 2003 he was awarded the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize, and in 2004 he won the first Wales International Visual Art Prize, Artes Mundi. In 2006, the Southern Graphics Council awarded Xu a lifetime achievement award in recognition of his use of text, language, and books, which “has impacted the dialogue of the print and art worlds in significant ways.”
Xu was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Columbia University in 2010 and in 2015 was awarded the 2014 Department of State Medal of Arts for his efforts to promote cultural understanding through his work. In April 2015 Xu was appointed A. D. White Professor-at-Large by Cornell University.
Solo exhibitions of Xu’s work have been held at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC; the British Museum, London; the Joan Miro Foundation, Barcelona; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Prague; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, among other major institutions. As well, his work was presented at the Biennale of Sydney, the Johannesburg Biennale, and the 45th, 51st, and 56th Venice Biennales.