Dream Delivery

Zheng Yuan

This video is no longer available

Zheng Yuan, Dream Delivery (still), 2018.

Artist Cinemas presents Dream Delivery
Zheng Yuan

9 Minutes

Artist Cinemas
Week #6

March 29–April 5, 2021

Join us on e-flux Video & Film for an online screening of Zheng Yuan’s Dream Delivery (2018), on view from Monday, March 29 through Sunday, April 4, 2021.*

An exhausted motorcycle courier falls asleep on the bench of a roadside park. In his dream, fellow couriers gather together in a shanzhai, or counterfeit, park in the desert where the previously mobile riders have become static “statues.” The scene stands in contrast with the speed and efficiency with which they pursue their work around the clock, revealing another side of the Chinese economic miracle.

The film is presented here alongside an interview with Zheng Yuan, conducted by Yang Beichen.

Dream Delivery is the sixth and final installment of Crashing into the Future, a program of films and interviews convened by Cao Fei, and comprising the fifth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

Crashing into the Future will run from February 22 through April 5, 2021, screening a new film each week accompanied by an interview with the filmmaker(s) conducted by Cao Fei and invited guests.

*Crashing into the Future wraps on Monday, April 5 with a repeat screening of all six films presented in the program. Watch the films here.

Zheng Yuan in conversation with Yang Beichen

Yang Beichen (YB):

Several of your works, including Dream Delivery (2018), are filmed in or around your hometown of Lanzhou. This northwestern Chinese city has its unique history, with Inner Asian attributes that make it distinct from eastern Chinese cities and even most East Asian cities. Apart from “homesick” factors, what are the reasons that you made you choose Lanzhou as a starting point for your work?

Zheng Yuan (ZY):
I was back in Lanzhou recently and spoke with a native friend about my filming there in recent years. He told me, “Your videos are good because it is rare to encounter what we see in them in other places. Only Lanzhou is left with pre-socialist characteristics.” I was quite surprised when he used the term “pre-socialist.” Perhaps we can apply this idea as some kind of general consensus: Certain things change completely and become “post,” while some things remain “pre”—these could be concrete things or things stored inside people’s memories. I’m a person who looks for the pre—you could say my work is built upon a kind of alternation between the pre and the now. Over the past two or three years, I’ve been going to cities that also belong to the so-called Inner Asia, such as Jiayuguan, Jiuquan, and Hami, without ever thinking about the idea of being “homesick.” Perhaps there was a homesick moment in the beginning when I initiated these works. But I refuse to create works that indulge in personal memories or emotions. I don’t even have memories that belong to these cities.

I think the “pre-socialist” concept you mentioned is pretty interesting. Pre-socialism in China currently remains in astate akin to an archeological relic—it has to be excavated. According to the mainstream ideology of today’s China, it would seem that this part of history can only ever provide us with reflective or failed experiences of reference. Your work reminds me of historian Arif Dirlik’s discussions about post-revolutionary and post-socialist China. Whether in Dream Delivery or your China Northwest Airlines series (2017-ongoing), you’re dealing with the pre-post socialist processes of transference and transformation, which reminds us that these processes still have an impact today.

The concept of pre- or post-socialism actually permeates contemporary art discourses, and is often used as material by artists from formerly socialist countries. So when my friend dropped the word indifferently, I was shocked: You thought about that too?

After 1991, there have been many lessons learned from the collapse of the Soviet Union. The event was disseminated to various national departments in China as a case study, to prevent the “great changes” of the Revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe and beyond from happening in China. It would have been difficult to exert influence and impact if the Soviet’s collapse hadn’t been used as a case study. What interests me is the question: How can gradual transformation happen in China, without these “great changes”?

The theme park in Dream Delivery is undoubtedly arresting. It belongs to the culture of shanzhai, or counterfeits—which are considered a kind of metaphor for the globalization dream since China’s economic reform. A similar phenomenon is echoed in Jia Zhangke’s film The World (2005). China’s particular reality finds its footing in a surreal environment. Can you speak about your thoughts in choosing the theme park?

The first time I watched The World, I thought of this park I had visited in a yellow minibus as a kid in southern Beijing. I had a strong impression of musician Lin Qiang’s soundtrack and liked the film. When I encountered the concept of shanzhai later on, I thought of it quite differently from what is described in The World.

The globalization dream in The World was poetic, but today’s reality is getting more bizarre. In 2004, I went to visit a friend in Beijing’s “Berlin Philharmonic,” and the gate of the community was in the style of the Brandenburg Gate. Since then, I’ve been to the “Eiffel Tower” in Hangzhou, to “London Bridge” in Suzhou, and to “Thames” Town in Shanghai. The surreal scenes in Dream Delivery are actually prevalent in Chinese cities. The real and the hyperreal are becoming interchangeable. The world of Beijing World Park in Jia’s film has become part of reality, while the Window(s) of the World—as these theme parks are referred to after the Window of the World Park in Shenzhen, which opened in 1993 right after the Reform and Opening-up policy was resumed—now open the door inward.

You nonetheless let delivery workers appear in your Window of the World. Many disputes surround the delivery industry in China these days, regarding the systematic exploitation of workers pegged to algorithmic calculations, as well as the case of self-immolation of a delivery man that shocked the country. In Dream Delivery, you touched upon these controversies intentionally, albeit you used a poetic approach: depicting the sleep and dreams of these people who are forever bustling. This was a treatment of oppositions—Lanzhou and the world, socialism and capitalism, workers and dreamers—that vividly brought to mind the complex and layered internal contradictions under the era of glocalization.

Actually, after I finished the film I went back and replaced the melodic music at the end with an alarm bell sound, in an effort to deromanticize the work. This act could be connected to the beginning of your question —“you nonetheless let delivery workers appear.” I also received criticism from a good friend. “What right do you have to portray the workers poetically? I am angry because you exoticized them. It is inconsistent with the cruel reality they experience.” Since Dream Delivery, there have been loads of discussions about delivery workers over self-media (independently operated social media accounts) that are now leading to further debates on digital labor, overwork, and 996 working hour system (named after a 9 am to 9 pm schedule, six days a week)—even if these discussions are only happening over cellphone messages. I am compelled to ask the friend who criticized me: So, what did you do? We often participate in these discussions but we don’t initiate them. Image-making is the only thing I can do, and in a way her criticism was as easy as my romanticization.

For the filming, I was looking for a place that is both divorced from reality while being very particular. I almost immediately thought of that place. The theme park in Dream Delivery was caught in a dilemma. The place was not technically a theme park. It was constructed originally as a movie studio. Inside, all the recreations of the world were actually made for motion pictures. A boss from coastal China had the ambition to turn Lanzhou into the next Hengdian World Studios. However, aerial photography was not permitted as the site was too close to an airport. I was the first user of this movie studio. I don’t know if I will be the last one.

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

Bodies, Capitalism, Labor & Work, Technology
Algorithms, China, Experimental Film, Immaterial Labor, Post-capitalism
Return to Crashing into the Future
Return to Artist Cinemas

Zheng Yuan lives and works in Beijing. Working primarily in time-based media, his works have been shown at UCCA, Tai Kwun, University of Chicago, and Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève. He also screened at film festivals including Visions du Réel, Oberhausen, and Ann Arbor Film Festival among others. He received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015.


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