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Chaiqian/Demolition: Reflections on Media Practice


  • J.P. Sniadecki


In 2008, I spent three weeks filming a demolition site in the center of Chengdu, the capital of China's Sichuan province. I collaborated with migrant workers, site managers, and city dwellers to produce the feature-length film Chaiqian (Demolition), which offers a sensual and open-ended portrait of migrant labor, urban space, and ephemerality. This essay presents a set of reflections on the production process and aesthetic choices of the film, and draws on sensory ethnography, phenomenology, and the concept of cinephilia to explore the ontological differences between written ethnography and film. I observe that the conventional approach to media production in anthropology has tended to limit the multitude of meaning inherent in images and sound by reducing them to mere illustrations of an argument and/or cultural data. While this dominant approach has its specific uses, especially in terms of pedagogy, I argue that equal value ought to be placed on an approach to media anthropology that not only embraces sensuality and ambiguity but also appreciates the multivalent powers peculiar to sound and image, and refrains from constraining visuality and aurality to the wholly linguistic and propositional. The essay concludes with a meditation on the value that such an approach—with its accommodation of multiple interpretations of the image—possesses for historiography and the construction of alternative archives.