The Chinese Visual Festival

The Chinese Visual Festival is a London festival of visual culture from the Chinese-speaking world. Based out of a number of the city’s universi- ties—it has at various points used the premises of London South Bank

University and Birkbeck College, and is now associated with King’s College London—the event has run annually since 2011. It covers visual culture in the broadest sense, curating film, art, and even traditional Chinese musical performance, but its focus has primarily been contemporary art and documentary film. While the artists exhibited have largely come from mainland China, the film programming has broadened to incorporate documentaries and features from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even outside the Asia Pacific region. In 2014, for example, the festival had a workshop specifically aimed at local filmmakers of Chinese ethnicity, thus engaging directly with the issue of film production in the diaspora.

If the Taiwan Cinefest is helmed by one person, the Visual Festival is the brainchild of two—programmers Sylvia Zhan Xuhua and Xie Jingjing— with a third, James Mudge, joining at a slightly later date. Zhan, who is originally from the PRC, is curator of the festival’s contemporary art program. She studied Fine Art and Art History at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art, before working in the city as a designer. There she witnessed the growth of the independent film and art scene, exemplified by Ou Ning and Cao Fei’s U-theque Organization, an independent film and video collective established in 1999. Zhan originally came to the UK to study paper conservation at Camberwell College of Art. She stayed on, working in the museums and galleries sector, establishing a company, China Culture Connect, which organizes Chinese culture-related events, and studying arts management.37 Xie is also from the PRC, and the festival’s primary film programmer. She studied English in Guangzhou as an undergraduate and Film Studies as an MA student. Like Zhan, she was also connected to the city’s independent film scene through U-theque. However, she also worked for the Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival (GZDOC), initially as a translator and interpreter, then as assistant to the festival director, and then as head programmer of the festival’s public screenings section in 2007. After moving to London for personal reasons, she was commissioned by a Parisian collector of Chinese contemporary art to curate a program of documentaries in London. During this process, she and Zhan were introduced to one another by a mutual friend. When funding for this program failed to materialize, they decided to hold a festival anyway: thus, the first iteration of the Chinese Visual Festival was born.38 Mudge, who covered the festival for the specialist film website, came on board initially as media manager in 2012, and festival manager thereafter.39

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