Published Apr 24, 2013The word chimera has a few different meanings but it would appear the one that best applies to this contemplative documentary is that of a single organism comprised of two distinct cells of different origins. Ruminating on the influence of the Western world on the Chinese art scene, Chimeras follows artists from two separate generations and stages of their careers and provides a stately and elegant glimpse into what motivates them.
Wang Guangyi is one of the most lucrative working artists in the world, with international exhibitions and acclaim. He regards the importing of Western culture as something of an identity crisis for his country, where it's now become hard to tell what remains of any original Chinese perspective. Guangyi is smart and loyal but not above dressing down a professor in a memorable scene with a didactic lesson of his own.
Dovetailing nicely into Guangyi's views is the contrasting story of young photographer Liu Gang, a talented only child torn between the familiar divergent paths of career and love. We watch as he creates his pieces by cutting out airbrushed pictures from newspapers and magazines before carefully crumpling them and posting them on a wall to be photographed. As he begins to gain traction with exhibiting his work, his parents worry about his desire to marry and his selection of the one-child policy as his next artistic subject.
Though the notion is certainly discussed enough in an abstract and intriguing manner, it would be helpful if the film had delved into more specifics on the precise ways that Western influence has manifested itself in the work of the Chinese. To be sure, the art we are shown of both Guangyi and Gang contains such touchstones as distorted Coca-Cola imagery and creased and torn dream houses but there is little mention of how or why this merging of ideals happened, focusing instead on its implications.
Ultimately, it's the human stories occupying the flip sides of the same coin that manage to be most worthy of attention. Guangyi's comfortable lot in life was born out of much hard work and many allegiances-- both personal and professional-- that remain to this day. Gang is at the precipice of committing to this same path, unsure if he can weather the instability and competitiveness that lies ahead.
This duality is another fascinating chimera of its own; another indication of how child is the father of man. (Independent)