***This is the English translation of Traverse Video’s Festival Director Simone Dompeyre’s peer review of Linda Lai’s video works presented in March 2019. Three videos are in discussion: No Paths but My Footprints, Diaries – ‘Dry rain’ and Doors Medley. Translation from French to English by Caroline Ha Thuc.

No Paths but My Footprints / Diaries – ‘Dry rain’ / Doors Medley (2min02 / 4min25 / 7min, Hong Kong)

Study / Exercise /

Linda Lai calls her videos Diaries, but they actually stretch across two worlds which are deemed, too quickly, antagonistic. Under this subtitle we find the home videos, the diary, and those films in the first-person “I” which enter the lived nearness, and which often reach into the intimate, including the affective and / or sexual life. However, Linda’s diary is also that of a researcher eager to deeply engage in experimentations. Her daily life also integrates into her personal impulses the questions of seeing, filming and cinematic composing. The manoeuverability of her video turns moving image into the pen or, better, into the brush of a vision of what she discovers or of what becomes the instrument of research in such a vision.

Where others would compose melancholic poems about the rain against the window, or elegies about the solitude forced upon us by the power of Nature, she writes in video just like scientists would manipulate elements in a laboratory in order to understand their nature by changing the relevant variables. The image is no longer linked to any referential purpose; the filmed object is being radically rethought in aesthetic terms. The constraint becomes itself an intense idea – an applied echo of Baudelaire’s formula.

Diaries: Dry Rain. Video still courtesy of Linda Lai

The primary element here, in Diaries: Dry Rain, would be the buildings of a big city since they juxtapose each other without any indication of location – Hong Kong is only designated as “explicit” – and visible from one of the opposite buildings of the same height. The analysis would imply the following constraints: to see from a particular point, in front of the object, from a same height.

The variants are: rain, shower, downpour, tornado.

The problem is: until what degree of intensity of waterfall does the object remain identifiable? When does the glance slip from the document to the plastic?

A rain screen, torrents of water are destroying the visible. The straight lines of the skyscrapers become vague, balustrades and floors dislocated. A slight panoramic take singles out such or such building, a zoom catches such a floor or such group of houses in reiteration and variation, and on the white suddenly appears the red color of such a construction when the rain curtain thins. The protocol is serial, and instead of notes we have such or such elements that connect or sink into the imprecise. The walls rain. Interior and exterior are all one for this home video in the literal sense of the term with indoor shooting and “chamber film” as it can be said for music.


No Paths but My Footprints. Video stills courtesy of Linda Lai

No Paths but My Footprints: the title refers to the poem Caminante by Antonio Machado whose poetry often singles out the way, the path as a metaphor for life and for real places: a path, a walk during the season when leaves fall, in Spain. This “one-shot exercise” opts for a different constraint – its principle, a single top-down shot, in motion; the acceleration of take and colors and active montage. Using this limitation, Linda creates a poem in video and raises the question of time. Machado writes that these are just traces, a path and nothing more, and that “Al andar se hace el camino / the walking is the way.” Linda takes it and adds “Al filmar / the filming” is the way. Hence, nothing folkloric here, nothing typical nor even clued, only two or three occurrences arise, when the leaves are superimposed and transformed themselves into colors. In fact, large, accumulated, hasty lines saturate the visual field and change direction under the influence of whispered voices. Colorization takes hold of the field and denaturalizes the announced path, with purple dominating. The plots vary in thickness or are lost in their mass, becoming video texture, weaving themselves under a hubbub before returning to the iconicity of colored leaves, far from their family of plants. The return of the same creates a temporality out of time, but time reappears  in the iconicity of the leaves. In addition, Floor drama 2 (of which this video is a segment) in its second term brings back the question of the “I” who writes, the refusal of iconicity turns out as an interior landscape which does not reveal anything else than the pictorial game of this video ride. The work is performative but not exhibitionist.

For Diaries, The artist says, “Video diary… window view from my home that year… Typhoon (hurricane) signal no. 8 was up — no school, no work. I `write’ with my video camera as usual. On the spot. Like automatic writing. Or free writing. The original footage was one long take, which I reconstructed to study how montage preserves a different kind of here and now.”

For No Paths but My Footprints, the artist says, “Memories, desires, histories and footprints of travels… leave nothing but visually textured traces of impermanence… No Paths but My Footprints shows a moment, the time of an impromptu ride in Sevilla in Spain where, as I often do, I was writing my thoughts with my camera. These few minutes reveal a 30 minutes long version of images from my personal diaries and of archives started many years ago.”

Doors Medley

Doors Medley. Video still courtesy of Linda Lai

«The cine-eye method is the method of scientific-experimental study of the visible world» — Dziga Vertov 

Although Linda changes her writing method when she borrows films from Hong Kong’s 1960s film collection, she loses neither her “experimental” composition practice nor the way she announces of the “object”. Thus, if one translates Medley by light musical composition made of various pieces that follow one another, one realizes that, like Matthias Müller, the fragments of film scenes assembled in these seven minutes will make doors open, close, slam. Like this German director, she does not stick to a typology but composes a subtext describing her desires, her questions, her relationship with the other. She makes plans juxtaposed, whose encounter is forbidden, the anxiety of the love of a girl, the frightened look of a man and, variously, she brings together in one of the few unique shots, two faces of man as if kissing. The footage deliberately retains melodrama and installation in their proper locations: windows, interiors, clock and, of course, doors through which one enters, goes out, brings furniture … one hides, makes surprise … and Oulipian type sentences: “If someone wants a door to be shut, why open it?” Or “an unlocked door says: Come in”/ “a locked door says: Who is it?” carry these variations. While she does not forget some topoï, such as the ghosts recognized by all and feared, “Ghosts, ghosts,” the girl in flowers and in tears and the worried lover, some sentences escape them and start the unspoken “I desire you”, which reiterate or, more precisely, look beyond the diegetic “Face”… Conjoined faces of the young couple in sepia color, difficult writing of the letter, threat with a knife, perspective shot of a silhouette at the end of a corridor, children (though very rarely), a still ancestral duo dance… How to behave in different life situation? – the work is a canvas addressing the popular conscience. The filmic model [of normative behavior]. The footage becomes a magnifying glass of popular cinema’s ways of thinking, paradigms that thus slide into the movie theater, and back to Linda’s laboratory. By destroying the narrative logic, by reiterating certain schematics that the original film could motivate by adventures, it is the thoughts that underlie models of action that are addressed. No comment, a data statement. And in abyss, which wakes up the echo of Rear Window, a man with binoculars watches from his window until the girl brings him a telephoto lens. To see more closely and to see such an object – that is the project’s embedded purpose of changing the way we look at films. Indeed, Doors Medley is not confined to mere assembly [of clips], it is partitioned. And this is done in two models: a triptych that confronts distant plans for the electrification of the assembled scenes and musical organization of these encounters. Some – like the frightened face of the lover – return regularly, chanting the other phrasings, among others of the triptych until the last movement when they multiply by three to occupy the whole. Besides this man, for example, a hand trying in vain to unlock a door, and a girl called Bauhinias, are also subject to the rule of re-iteration. Deconstruction reverses gestures, movements, acts in the literal sense, by resetting the triplet scheme with sequences that increasingly lose their narrative logic. The combination of signs excludes narrative sounds, preferring the visual score, which it rarely strikes first from an isolated sound and then from an isolated fragment. The passage is calculated, the reiteration counted, the metric variation, each moment of the film is precisely measured in its connection with the other parts in order to form the filmic ensemble. Ready-made film with the trace of Linda.

/ Simone Dompeyre (June 2019)

(English translation by Caroline Ha Thuc, November 2019)