Ou Ning’s first documentary film San Yuan Li focuses on the urban village phenomenon in the process of China’s radical urbanization; it was a team effort. All the participants were amateur film lovers. They got to know each other through the U-thèque Organization founded by Ou Ning and taught themselves filmmaking during the weekend screening activities. His second documentary Meishi Street focuses on the demolishing of the street in front of Tiananmen Square and the protest of the residents prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. It was also a team effort, but for the first time, Ou Ning gave a digital camera to one of the residents, Zhang Jinli, who then learned basic skills and documented his protest himself. Through egalitarian discussion and mutual learning, Ou Ning and his team—and the ordinary people they engaged with—used acquired skills to document their reality, to shape their own narratives, and to find their own voice, in a process of self-empowerment. This practice of collectivism, which encourages participation, cooperation, equal rights, and mutual learning, was later applied to the Bishan Project, a six-year rural reconstruction and placemaking project, and has been updated and extended in a series of his recent experimental projects in different places to improve the local auditory identity through soundscape studies. In this lecture Ou Ning will share the practices he has consistently honed over the past twenty years.
Ou Ning is a Chinese artist, filmmaker, curator, writer, publisher, and activist, who currently lives and works in New York. He is the director of two films, San Yuan Li (2003) and Meishi Street (2005), chief curator of the Shenzhen and Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (2009), jury member of the 8th Benesse Prize at the 2009 Venice Biennale, member of the Asian Art Council at the Guggenheim Museum (2011), founding chief editor of the literary bimonthly Chutzpah! (2011–14), founder of Bishan Commune (2011–16) and School of Tillers (2015–16), visiting professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (2016–17), and senior research fellow of the Center for Arts, Design, and Social Research in Boston (2019–22). His most recent book is Utopia in Practice: Bishan Project and Rural Reconstruction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).