CHEN Chieh-jen’s Realm of Reverberations

by Yilin LEE, HUANG Li-ping, CHEN Chun-chih / 2016-09-18

Reverberations originally indicate the gradually inaudible frequency through a period of time, after the sonic wave went through continual processes of refraction and absorption when the sound source was distributed in space. CHEN Chieh-jen, the director, argues that we could see “Reverberations” as extended situation of diverse “reverberations of consciousness” in every “incidents”. The crucial part would be how could we made these serene “reverberations of consciousness” visible and audible.

He also argues, art could truly expand the politics, but it was not limited to representation of reality, especially when the incident seems to come to a conclusion. Art could reopen the possibility of a dialectical space through the seemingly unchangeable reality. Since Lingchi (2002), CHEN Chieh-jen not only shows his concerns on various social issues, but also incessantly explores the ways of art practices on how to produce “undispellable” memories, imaginations and actions, through the mixture of video art, experimental film, performance as well as other techniques. In other words, rather than represents reality, CHEN concerns more on how to “produce incidents” from various impossibilities.

In Realm of Reverberations, CHEN Chieh-jen led audiences back to the remains of Losheng Sanatorium and its’ surrounding. Audiences were able to gaze on the wounded land once again through his quiet long shot as well as lingering light and shadow between black, white and grey. Realm of Reverberations was the shortlist of both International Competition and Taiwanese Competition in 2016 Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival. Below is the summary of an interview with CHEN.

Q: Why did Realms of Reverberations choose Losheng Sanatorium and Losheng Preservation Movement as the starting point of narrative?

Every social movement has its’ own primary appeal. However simultaneously, there is also the existence of other imaginations. These imaginations were always neglected under the emergency state of a movement. I didn’t participate in the Losheng Preservation Movement, and I knew only a few of the Losheng Youth Alliance. Before I decided to create a work, I would need to go through a long process of thinking and put in lots of efforts. In other words, I couldn’t think of creating work without participation of my body. There were already many good and valuable documentaries about the Losheng Sanatorium. Hence I didn’t think of making a film about Losheng at that time.

It was not till 2012, four years after the Losheng Preservation Movement reached its’ peak that I met CHANG Fang-chi, who continued to accompany residents in Losheng. At the time I was working on a one-year-long project Happiness Building near the Losheng Sanatorium. I remembered she would always sketch and write on papers when she was free. One day, I asked her if I could see those writings and sketches. A few days after, she came with a big pile of writing and sketches on various kinds of papers. For me, these scratchy writings and sketches were not only her inner monologue after the peak of the movement, but also some “sentimental records” that carried no intentions.

Maybe we can put it this way - these “sentimental records” indirectly revealed her unexplainable feelings on her decision to continue accompany the residents of Losheng Sanatorium. I was touched by her behaviour and “sentimental records”. This also causes me to rethink about extended meanings of the Losheng Preservation Movement. I started to shoot Realm of Reverberations a year after.

Q: In Realm of Reverberations, unlike those documentaries of the resistance that we were familiar with, using black and white image, and minimal forms that were rather “quiet” and “fragmented”, you discussed about various extended situations initiated by the Losheng Sanatorium. Have you ever thought of how would audiences view such minimal sound-image narrative?

First of all, I respect documentary filmmakers and researchers who shot documentaries of the resisting process in a state of emergency. The introspection after movements could not be possible without their documentations and researches. Various issues and questions triggered by Losheng continue to develop, although they weren’t that obvious and visible.
I’m too late for the event, especially five years after Losheng Sanatorium was demolished. When I looked at the remaining buildings and the large construction site of Taipei Department of Rapid Transit Systems’ depot (DORTS), they were as if two juxtaposed wounds as well as the overlapping sites of wound and “desires on development”. What I concern about is how to extend the spirit of “Safeguard Losheng” through the process of reflection.
The Losheng represents the colonization modernity of the past. The colonizer shapes “the civilization of subordination” about colony through executing forced isolation of Leprosy’s patients and other medical policies. On the other hand, Taipei Department of Rapit Transit Systems’ depot in Xinzhuang District moved to Losheng Sanatorium’s compound that could be viewed as the logical operation of neoliberalism in localization. Hence, when facing the double or multiple wounds caused by these two sites, we have to rethink the questions such as what is the isolation form in contemporary society.

I mean that there are a kind of isolation form towards the people who are potentially “unclean”, “illegal” and “non-citizen” in our mind. Moreover, the thought was mostly being normalized, naturalized and justified. In other words, it’s not only a site with multiple wounds, but also a site to question us about the existing thoughts.

As for how audiences would view this “fragmented” film with minimal narrative, I couldn’t know and predict. I could only believe that some audiences will open up their imagination. For me, “viewing” is also another kind of re-creation.

Q: Realm of Reverberations is consisted of four parts, Tree Planters, Keeping Company, The Suspended Room and Tracing Forward. Each part was told from a different perspective, respectively from old residents, a young woman CHANG Fang-chi who keeps sanatorium residents accompany, a hospice nurse from Mainland China and a ghostly political prisoner. Could you talk about more about your thoughts of the arrangements?

When I encountered countless life history of the residents, it was as if a box of slides I picked up within Losheng Sanatorium. These slides show what the leprosy really is. But it had become the unrecognizable and abstract images after chemical reaction due to the humidity. In the other words, no matter how many residents we interviewed, they are only a small piece of those life stories. It is impossible to truly understand the pain they went through either physically or psychologically.

We should not run away from this inevitable restriction. Hence in the film, I focuse only on the stories behind the 800 trees planted by the residents. And the rest are left to faces, singing voice and words of the residents, the remains of the Losheng Sanatorium, the sound of the construction, and the sound of wind and “silence”.

One Who Keeps the Residents Accompany
In general, the Youth Alliance seems to be trees growing out from the Losheng Preservation Movement. As an outsider who had not participated in the movement, I would not talk about the Youth Alliance who had been last for a few generations. I have therefore decided to film CHANG Fang-chi who I was familiar with and who never joined the Youth Alliance. CHANG is not only a person who accompanied the resident but also a creator of “sentimental records” (her inner monologue and memory puzzle) ?it’s the part that I am interested in. I don’t know how long will she stay at Losheng. But she has been staying there since 2007 because of the reasons even she could not explain. For me, words or languages could carry the things that can be clearly explained, while the ambiguous emotional state probably only can be captured by images. I was always attracted by people, matters and an atmosphere that were hard to be narrated literally.

Hospice nurses from Mainland China
For people who slightly understand Taiwanese society, they would know there are many hospice nurses from Mainland China working in death wards, taking care of dying patients. Ironically, due to the special rightist thinking in Taiwan, the brides from Mainland China had become the most discriminated group among foreign brides. Even a political party suggested that the brides from Mainland China should not be granted citizenship. If the leprosy patients are the victims of discrimination, exclusion, isolation, where their citizenships were once taken away under the colonization modernity; then could the brides from Mainland China encounter with a new isolation caused by the contemporary Taiwanese society?

How could we not see the brides from Mainland China and the hospice nurses? In the film, they sing the revolution songs adapted from Chinese folk songs such as “The White Hair Girl”. These songs are about their youth memories. Moreover, they are about how we rethink and reexamine the history of revolutions in human’s society.

Is the last part of the film fictional? I am always wondering how could people differentiate between “reality” and fiction. For me, Tracing Forward is the story talking more about the various “reverberations of the consciousness” in assembled and dialectical state than ghost or fiction. Consciousness for me is the “reality”, which is more “real” than the visible reality.
The starting point for Realm of Reverberations’ narrative is Losheng, but it’s not only a story about Losheng.

Q: Realm of Reverberations was shown in different versions in different occasions. What are the interactions between audiences and the film in different sites?

We always think film is an independent medium. But do not forget that film was developed before theatre, television, computer and mobile phone. In other words, the screening facilities and the viewing environment could also affect audiences’ state of viewing. I didn’t mean that film doesn’t have enormous significance by itself. But, even if it is only “a film”, we could produce a montage of the film, different environments and audiences through creation of various viewing forms in surroundings.

Realm of Reverberations was shown in the Losheng Sanatorium, through a screening ritual in the form of pseudo image theatre. It was also shown as four channel video in an exhibition space. I juxtaposed the four channel version of Realm of Reverberations with the recordings of local homeless people in foreign exhibitions. I also gave a speech on narrating the film to the audiences who had never seen the film before, allowing the audiences to imagine the unseen film.

Through diverse exhibitions and performance, I intend to link with the young people in contemporary society, whose rights of producing sentiments were deprived, the homeless people in Australia, and the dispatching workers in Japan and others. Of course the film was also shown in television and cinema. “A film” could also be a singularity point, a multilayer sound-image of the movement that gathered internally at first and extend to the external world later.

For more information about Realm of Reverberations, please click here.

(Translated by AU Sow-yee)