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A Lonely Night

"This Superman of China has already flown to California." -Chen Zhou


Honora Shea

A small Superman surveys the city by moonlight, making movements that do not signify that he is about to leap, but rather that he is gesturing, feeling out the space, seeking an awareness of his position as well as his limitations. He is interrupted, however, by some messages and a mysterious phone call on a social media service. Some confusion follows, further complicating his already palpable inaction. Not very Superman-like behavior, certainly, but perhaps Superman has a human story to tell as well.

© 2013 Chen Zhou

Chen Zhou’s excerpted short film “Superman – California Dream” may illuminate the dueling perils and potential of technology and social media, but it also forms a neat bubble around an emotional state that is not as sharply rendered. Rather, this state is nebulous around the edges, seeping into everyday decisions and dreams. Cinematic speed is strangely conjured via slow movement through the darkness, and the film’s energy ultimately emerges as anxiety, wistfulness, and self-aware longing, rendering everyday life through a dream-like filter.

It is obvious that a fantasy is being enacted, but it is unclear where reality ends and the fantasy begins. Fantasy is both method and movement here, it is a process for resolving issues that may not have a clear-cut outcome. I spoke to the artist about fantasy, and we started talking about the role-playing subculture known as Cosplay, about which the artist remarked: “I do not have any experience with Cosplay, but I like the people who do. I like people, any special acts, I like to explore people’s problems.”

One of the protagonist’s problems in “Superman – California Dream”, is inertia, or lack thereof, which connects the film to some of the artist’s previous works, in particular “I am not not not Chen Zhou”, and “Morning”. What makes this one different is that it suggests more explicitly that inertia has a relationship to certain trappings of modern life, as well as to isolation from any sort of classical culture or tradition. However, the artist sees these contemporary, mostly technology-based diversions as additional fodder. “New technologies bring new poetry, and I like this emergence of a new poetic form”

© 2013 Chen Zhou

Chen Zhou considers himself to be both a writer and storyteller in addition to an artist, plainly declaring:  “I can only tell stories, telling stories is the world’s most touching thing. Stories must have roles, and the roles in my stories are mostly very lonely. I like to look at the time in a person’s life when he is living by himself. That time is often particularly lonely”. 

Perhaps loneliness is a function of space. The idea of California is a distinct contrast to the reality of dense urban apartment blocks, and its wide open spaces have obviously always symbolized new ambitions and beginnings, and in many cases the ultimate fantasy. “California, to me, is cacti, gas stations, motels. I would love to go there.”, the artist told me. California might be a scary leap, it might be a faraway dream, but it is also a real place at the same time. I asked him what happens to Superman in the end. Hinting, perhaps at the resolution of the film he cryptically says "This Superman of China has already flown to California."



About Honora Shea:

A native of Pittsburgh, Honora Shea has a BA in international studies from Johns Hopkins University, and began her professional associations with art and architecture in the offices of Steven Holl Architects in New York. She is now based in Beijing, where she previously worked as the project manager of artist Cao Fei’s virtual urban planning project RMB City, and with the gallery Vitamin Creative Space, as well as on freelance writing, design and curatorial projects.