Mika Mattila | Finland | 2013 | 87 minutes
China is a country at a critical juncture. On one hand, it has a rich culture rooted in millennia of history. On the other, it stands poised to become one of the largest economic superpowers in the world. Chimeras renders the conflict between old and new China through the stories of two contemporary artists: internationally celebrated painter and pop-conceptualist Wang Guangyi, and photographer Liu Gang, a promising new arrival on the arts scene.
Wang’s fame came about through his fusion of western and eastern art, in particular the confluence of Communist propaganda with commercialized imagery drawn from advertising and marketing. Even as his work has made him millions of dollars, Wang looks at the increasingly westernized landscape of Beijing with something like disdain. Liu Gang is more at ease with globalization, seeing it as an inevitable reality. He wields his camera to try and make sense of such wholescale change.
Finnish director Mika Mattila captures both men at a time when they, much like their country, are in the midst of an identity crisis. While Guangyi’s pop art portrait of Chairman Mao and Gang’s photographs of crumbled advertisements may seek to subvert China’s importation of western culture, what is a contemporary artist who does not seek to accumulate cultural (read: monetary) cachet? The old and new, rich and poor, and east and west come together at a curious crossroads where the age-old questions linger: who are we, and what are we looking at? -CP
This intellectually bracing, visually arresting documentary freezeframes China at a moment when its aspirations are at war with its sense of identity. - VARIETY
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