Accepted Paper:

"If you fake reality then reality is fake!": DRAGONFLY EYES by Xu Bing as ethnofiction of surveillance practices  
Maya Scherr-Willson

Paper short abstract:

Dragonfly Eyes transforms CCTV footage into narrative film, using voiceover to construct continuity. The methodology posits that this disciplinary technology is fluid and indeterminate. The film tests the limits of observation and considers the sensuous and relational moments captured by this gaze.

Paper long abstract:

Dragonfly Eyes (2017) by artist Xu Bing, explores surveillance society in China through the transmutation of CCTV footage into a narrative film about a tragic love story. It uses voiceover narration and editing to give a sense of continuity, splicing together over 10,000 hours of real surveillance material from dashcams, video chat rooms and cameras in factories and train stations capturing accidents or workers on a clandestine smoke break. It is clear that the film’s fictional main characters, through their transformations and iterations caught by surveillance cameras in constant flux and motion, have no stable identity beyond the instructed reading decided for us through the narration. The film demonstrates the absurdity of the whole surveillance enterprise, exposing the cracks in its gaze, especially as it is most often centered on the visual, to the exclusion of sound (allowing for easy dubbing of the film with the AI narration). These gaps are gaping enough to encompass an entirely fictional narrative. Through this re-appropriation of material, Bing suggests a fluid and indeterminate reading in response to a technology used to control and discipline. Through a convergence of methodology and content, Bing’s work can be conceived of as an ethnofiction that simultaneously tests the limits of observational knowledge, in the most literal sense, and offers a generative space of speculation and a close consideration for the sensuous and relational aspects of humanity that pass before this surveillance gaze.

Panel R05
The limits of observation: ethnofiction and documentary horizons
  Session 1 Friday 10 March, 2023, -