In recent years, there has been an outbreak of Chinese animated films internationally. In the just concluded Berlinale, Liu Jian’s new work Art College 1994 was shortlisted in the main competition at the film festival. The film tells the story of an anecdote that takes place in the early 1990s at the Southern Academy of Arts. Using the form of animation, Liu visualizes abstract ideas and expresses them in an exaggerated and symbolic way.
Similar to Liu Jian’s creation, young artist Hong Ning also used animation to express his humanistic concern for social change and sustainable development. Whilst Hong Ning’s expression is more radical and unconventional, showing the vitality and innovation of the young generation, and constantly pushing the boundaries of art.
One of the most striking aspects of Hong’s work is his use of experimental visual effects to explore ideas and emotions. Inspired by another experimental animation artist Lei Lei, whose featured film had also been selected by Berlinale in 2019, Hong likes to play with various media formats from retro and hand-painted animations to photos and collages.
His short film Does Not Consider was recorded in Changchun, China, the city was hit by a sandstorm on May 6, 2017. The dust and sand were greeted by the strong wind, and the streets were sparse with almost no pedestrians or vehicles except for the roadside sanitation worker who continued to work as usual. The filmmaker travelled through this mirage-like submerged, dark yellow corner of the city. He made Some of the images filtered and masked in bold, vivid colours through elliptical frame patterns. While the shouting pictures are moving in and out, the surreal and dreamlike images challenge the audience to identify the real world after a natural disaster. It is hard to recognize those images in their original colours because the reality and the surreal were blended into one at this point. By using animation as a medium, Hong Ning creates visually stunning worlds that capture the complexity of the environment and conveys his message in a way that is both beautiful and thought-provoking.
Despite the use of exaggerated visual effects, what I really love about Hong’s works is his spontaneity in creation. “At that time (when the sandstorm hit Changchun), I just put on a scarf and a mask, and then took a camera and ran all over the street to shoot. That was very impromptu work and a response to the environment at that time.” Hong revealed his unintentional shooting experience in a recent interview with UCFC.
Most of Hong’s creations come from his unique observation of every day minutiae. In “The New World: Variations on Stay-home Activities”, he found joy in exploring people’s ways to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic through online short videos. He made a collage of short videos about people’s indoor activities after frame-by-frame keying, depicting a common state of mind of people in times of crisis. In Autumn, Spring and Summer, Hong seeks to get a glimpse of the relationship between human beings and the development of media through photographs, from black and white photos to photobooth pictures to camera filters and metaverse avatars. He explores the expressions of the same self at different time stages on personal and trendy aesthetic tastes, further questioning the development of self-image in future photographs.
Hong’s cutting-edge observation and expression of our relationship with the surrounding environment have proven sustainability is never a boring topic. For the younger generation, reflection on sustainable development is not necessarily to be a long, powerful speech, a photo, a clip of a short video or an animation can do the same but with more interesting expression. When asked about the meaning of ‘global sustainability’, Hong responded, “For me, the word ‘global sustainability’ is very big, and I can’t find an accurate way to explain this concept. What I understand by it is that we need to develop for the long term. I guess it is like art creation, we can choose to create on a whim, but we can also choose to create for a lifetime.”
The Hong Ning Collection (The New World: Variations on Stay-home Activities; Autumn, Spring and Summer; Does Not Consider) had its recent appearance in Odyssey 2023, as part of its pre-festival programme. The annual film festival will launch officially in May.
About Hong Ning
Hong Ning was born in 1996 in Shandong. He graduated from Jilin Animation Institute with a B.F.A. in Animation studies in 2018. Focusing on experimental film, he is a young artist and a member of Building 23. His work was shortlisted in the 45th Annecy International Animation Film Festival, WTF2021 – Midnight Special.
About Odyssey 2023
Presented by UK-China Film Collab, Odyssey is an annual film festival in the UK in conversation with Greater China and overseas Chinese communities. The festival features 60+ films, 10 discussion panels and exclusive Q&As.
Festival Date: May – June 2023
Format: Offline in Person and Online via Shift 72
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