‘Video art is interesting in that it functions between the worlds of film and art,’ Fang Lu tells us. A fledgling non-profit institute started by Fang along with fellow artists Chen Tong and Zhu Jia, Video Bureau collects, exhibits and archives video art.
‘Oftentimes, people will ask us, “How is it different from film?”’ she adds. Video art remains in its infancy in China, and the Bureau was founded, in part, so that people could experience it for themselves. ‘It’s a place for people to watch video,’ Fang says without irony. Returning to the question she posed herself, she explains. ‘Video art exists outside the normal narrative structure of films. It requires more from the viewer, because there’s no easily digestible story – it’s up to the viewer as to whether to continue watching, or to walk away.’ In her own, considered way, Fang is gushing. ‘It creates a lot of possibilities that don’t exist in film. If you look at the video artists in our archives, you’ll find completely different ways of working within the same medium, from journalistic-styled pieces, to some that are installation media pieces – maybe just a few seconds of clips, which are then duplicated throughout an [installation] space – to others that are closer to having a performance perspective.’
As the first archive of this sort in Beijing (there is also a branch in Guangzhou), Video Bureau operates as a non-profit out of necessity as much as idealism. ‘At the moment in China, it’s impossible for us to operate a space like this except as a non-profit,’ Fang says. ‘We’re still trying to cultivate an audience for video art.’ As an alternative to the market logic of increasing a work’s value through its scarcity, Fang sees the Video Bureau as participating in a collective movement towards preservation. ‘If 100 people have a file [with copies of a work], then your work will be more likely to be preserved,’ says Fang. ‘What you see here are all copies, not the original prints. We don’t have the facilities to control the right humidity, the right temperature, where we can tell the artists, “Oh, bring all your original tapes and prints, and we’ll lock them up for you.”’ In this respect, Fang Lu says, Video Bureau is more like ‘going into a newspaper archive and reading about an accident, rather experiencing the accident yourself.’