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Empty Cage

Jiang Zhi

Release year: 2002

Run time: 25 mins

Film type: Documentary


Empty Cage is a documentary that looks like a fictional film. The camera follows a homeless girl for one day, but the next day she disappears. In search of the girl, an image of a neighbourhood emerges.


Director biography

Widely regarded as one of the most versatile Chinese artists of his generation, Jiang Zhi works with a wide range of media, including photography, painting, video and installation as well as publishing volumes of fiction and poetry. Consistently engaging with contemporary social and cultural issues, Jiang consciously positions himself at the intersection of poetics and sociology, whilst weaving everyday social and personal experience into his works. His practice explores the problematic conditions of modern consciousness, looking to complex computer imagery for stimulation. His manipulated images which combine reality with hi-tech digital imagery represent and revisit our perceived present and the mental conceptions we bring to it. His photograph of the Chongqing House, known colloquially as the ‘House of Nails’, is representative of Jiang’s work, where a neon light floods a house of which the owners refuse to leave, despite the demolition of their neighbourhood. Jiang Zhi was born in 1971 in Yuanjiang, China. He graduated from China Academy of Art in 1995 and lives and works in Beijing. He has had major solo retrospectives at Chinese institutions such as OCAT Shenzhen and the Times Museum in Guangzhou in addition to Sifang Art Museum, White Cube Hong Kong and Magician Space Beijing and has exhibited at international institutions and biennials including the Guggenheim Museum, New York, M+ Museum Hong Kong, the 9th Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai Power Station of Art, the 4th Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Art Museum, ICP and Asia Society New York, the 50th Biennale di Venezia, the 4th Gwangju Biennale. Jiang Zhi was awarded the Chinese Contemporary Art Award, the Academic Award of Reshaping History, and the Credit Suisse Today Art Award.

Director's statement

One day in 2001, just before the day I was about to move again in Shenzhen, a strange homeless girl caught my attention. She stayed under a wire pole in front of my building, reading the same piece of newspaper though she held it up-side-down sometimes. When the night fell, she went to sleep under the pole covering herself with the newspaper. She carried an empty and bottomless bird cage with her all the time like some kind of treasure. It is certain that the empty cage meant a lot to her. I am not sure what it means to her, maybe it is the only thing that she can take hold of, it is a symbol of home. Of course, this is only my guess. For me, the feeling of emptiness is very strong when I shot the film. Passengers passing by the girl like winds, time that looks still by flies away like an arrow…About sympathy and indifferent, about slowness and rapidity…about consistence and random…Everything seems to be about emptiness.