Where are we Now?

Finding Identity
Project “City Vision” turned out to be threads of thinking ways to find identity. By viewing different films that places each protagonists in an alienated city, I started to question how someone could eventually belong somewhere and build up a new history of one’s own in an unfamiliar city.
Maybe your country is only a place you make up in your own mind. ... Maybe it's not a place on the map at all, but just a story full of people you meet and places you visit, full of books and films you've been to. (Hamilton, 2003)

According to Hugo Hamilton, a hometown may not relate to an actual place, but is actually a route of different memories and experiences. But how could one’s trail of memory expand and go further beyond from what one once belonged to?

I would like to reconcile thoughts of building an history in a new place or time by remembering and completely forgetting at the same time to make a move towards the future.

24 City is a film of remembering. Zhangke Jia plays with juxtaposition as an overall structure, placing an opposed pair of scenes together―stories related to a building being built up compared to the building itself being demolished. His film takes place during the process of a factory called 420―a top secret weapon manufacturing factory located in Chengdu, China―being pulled down to become a luxurious building full of flats and hotel rooms called the “24 City”. A group of people who’s lives have been closely devoted to the factory are interviewed throughout the film. As different memories start to compose a fully connected singular story and your imagination flourish, Jia brings in a climactic scene where the factory is simply demolished and about to disappear.

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By the act of remembering, Jia gradually constructs a subtle association with the disappearing factory through his aesthetics. 420 factory will never be forgotten as long as the film is available, which enriches the story of the new “24 city”.

It is magical how the name of the new building “24 City”―a name that comes from an ancient poem about Chengdu: “the cherished hibiscus of 24 city, in full bloom"―makes sense when you understand the overall history of the place. The name reminds me of the flow of nature: winter―the sacrifice of people who gathered altogether from more than 24 cities despite their separation from hometowns and families―“[disappearing] into oblivion.” (Bradshaw, 2010) and followed by the “full bloom“ to greet spring.

Wings of Desire is a film of forgetting. Wim Wenders explores his vision of Berlin by following repetitive itineraries of emptied, temporary and unknown spaces of Berlin. These sites of anonymous are ideal for Wenders to build a future for Berlin. They are unfixed and opened compared to typical or historical symbolic ruins, which enables a new identity or history to be built up upon.

It is the human who has an ability to forget and move on from “forever hovering above”(Wenders, 1987), while angels are representative of never forgetting, like places of the historical ancient ruins. Drawing a framework of angel Damiel transforming to a human, Wenders proposes a promising hope for Berlin by the act of forgetting, in order not to repeat or live forever in the past.

Wenders also presents good precedents of forgetting by Peter Falk, who lives the now and the everyday life, while Homer―the old man who remembers to forget―lives in a “tragic utopia [that] he will never find again.” (Kolstrup, 1999) Thus, it is forgetting to remember and move on, live the now, such as philosopher Marc Augé has put it this way:
We must forget in order to remain present, forget in order not to die, forget in order to remain faithful. (Augé, 89)

Where are we now?
Remembering or forgetting is doing gardener’s work, selecting, pruning. Memories are like plants: there are those that need to be quickly eliminated in order to help the others burgeon, transform, flower. (de Certeau, 17)

A single, released since a decade of David Bowie’s silent career, repeats the phrase:
Where are we now? (Bowie)

Where are we Now is an obvious reminiscence of Bowie’s past days spent in Berlin. It is also a question of his new identity.

Berlin was a place more like home to Bowie, as he points out: I will never forget it ... they were very important years. ... Everyone in west Berlin thought they had seen Bowie, either cycling past or eating a hamburger. That's partly how he became an accepted part of the city's fabric. (Connolly, 2013)
It was a great success in “Bowie's mid-1970s Berlin experience [as well,] ...when he first got in touch with Berlin he was ready to explode. [It is easy to] feel the real sense of homesickness he has for Berlin”(Connolly) from his single:
“The moment you know. You know, you know”

But Bowie asks again and again, where are we now? He seems to be sick of being homesick for Berlin. He questions his existence by positioning himself lost in place and time:
Where are we now? ... A man lost in time. Just walking the dead.

As Markham’s book West with the Night suggests:
I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. (Markham, 1983)

Where are we Now definitely shows a strong pledge of will from Bowie, a promise―towards the people he had shared his experience with―to move on from a fascinating career and continue a new one,
As long as there's sun / As long as there's rain / As long as there's fire
As long as there's me / As long as there's you 

[Image & Bibliography]
Figure 1, 2, 3, 4
24 City. 2008. [Film] Directed by Zhangke Jia. China: MK2 Diffusion

Hamilton, Hugo. 2003. The Speckled People: A Memoir of a Half-Irish Childhood. New York: HarperCollins.
24 City. 2008. [Film] Directed by Zhangke Jia. China: MK2 Diffusion
Bradshaw, Peter. 2010. The Guardian. 24 City. [Accessed 16 Sept. 2013]
Wings of Desire. 1987. [Film] Directed by Wim Wenders. Germany and France: Argos and Westdeutscher Rundfunk
Kolstrup, Søren. 1999. P.O.V. No.8, Wings of Desire: Space, Memory and Identity, Available at: [Accessed 6 Sept. 2013]
Augé, Marc. 2004. Oblivion. London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Bowie, David. 2013. Where are we Now?. [Digital download]. New York: ISO/Columbia
de Certeau, M. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. London: University of California Press.
Connolly, Kate. 2013. The Observer. Bowie's Berlin: 'A time of Sturm und Drang in the shadow of the Wall' [Accessed 15 Sept. 2013]
Markham, Beryl. 1983. West with the Night. North Point Press


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