Unsafe Passage

‘Annotations are always superfluous. No one cares about the intention.’  
Miraculous Trajectories, 2019 

If Cheng Ran’s epic 2015 work In Course of the Miraculous depicts stories behind three mysterious real-life incidents, his newest work, Miraculous Trajectories, implicates such depictions in a much greater mystery. Cheng’s interest in literature, history, cinema, and moving image continues to push his practice forward, towards an ever more rigorous interrogation of image making—and especially of his own work—as an amorphous, oblique, almost unknowable entity.  

In Miraculous Trajectories, Cheng punctuates sequences shot during the In Course of the Miraculous project with diagrams, quotations, and what could be read as ‘behind-the-scenes’ footage, as if to demonstrate his creative process to the audience as a series of tangential, divergent trajectories. His acute sense of the tensions between so-called ‘events of record’ and the impulse of human imagination causes a viewing of the work to sway between allusions to visual codes, art references, and surveillance on the one hand, and questions of our reliance on familiar markers on the other. Moving between the imaginary and the historical in three distinct cases of disappearances—George Mallory on Mount Everest in 1924, Bas Jan Ader on the Atlantic Ocean in 1975, and the fishing boat Lu Rong Yu on the Pacific Ocean in 2011—Miraculous Trajectories introduces the crucial dimensions of the creator and the audience. Experiencing the work requires repeated travel: moving into the fictionalised or mythologised spaces of the three mysteries, entering the mind of the artist, and occasionally arriving at a crossroads where we must decide our own path. The work itself mirrors our experience of it, as a meandering process of creating, revising, refuting, and forging meaning. Our trajectory is much like the physical journeys of the three protagonists as well as Cheng’s artistic process—marked by determination, wonder, doubt, stillness, and, at certain points, loss.  

Shao creates an expansive soundscape for Miraculous Trajectories, in which the audience is invited to dive deeper into the journeys portrayed on-screen. His hypnotic composition acts as both a frame and a connector for the mysteries in Cheng’s work. Listening to Shao’s live performance of a set of overwhelming sonic textures gives the film an even wider interpretation; it not only complements our reading of Cheng’s imagery, but also expands its range and reach. In experiencing Miraculous Trajectories, we submit to the fundamental quality of exploration: an openness to interpretation, illusion, and uncharted territories.  

Chanel Kong
Associate Curator, Moving Image, M+