Shangri-La

 
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Patty Chang

Shangri-La, 2005
October 29 - December 12, 2010

Patty Chang’s 40-minute video Shangri-La (2005) embodies an artistic career focused on the visual exploration of contradictions and misperceptions surrounding ethnicity, gender differences, and cultural mistranslation. In this video she focuses on the aforementioned mythical city that formed the basis of author James Hilton’s wildly popular novel of the 1930s called Lost Horizon. Written in 1933, Lost Horizon tells the story of Hugh Conway, a British consul in Afghanistan who along with 3 other individuals are attempting to escape Baskul during a revolution by boarding a plane to Peshawar. The plane is high jacked and is flown instead over the mountains to Tibet. The plane crashes, the pilot dies, but not before telling the four survivors to seek shelter at the nearby lamasery of Shangri-La. 

More than 70 years later, Chang’s version of Shangri-La comes at a time of great political and social uncertainty in this border region that is vividly reflected in her film. By adopting an anthropological approach to this mythic place while assimilating the elements of utopian fantasy found in the novel and movie, she is able to highlight the shortcomings and foibles of these aspirations. Filmed in a documentary style, her establishing shot is taken from a view from an airplane window onto the Chinese town near the Tibetan border called Zhongdian, which in 1997 declared itself to be the basis of Hilton’s Shangri-La in the hopes of attracting tourists from a newly prosperous Chinese middle-class.