The Epistemology of Surveillance

Andrea Lingenfelter reviews Dragonfly Eyes, a film by Xu Bing

A grainy black and white long shot, filmed from a high angle. A solitary figure is walking away from the camera, along the edge of what appears to be a lake or small reservoir. It’s night-time, and the person walks unsteadily, weaving from left to right, as if drunk, or maybe just tired. Then, without warning, the person falls into the water. It’s hard to tell if the person can swim or not; they seem to struggle. We see their head and arms, but after a few seconds, their head and arms disappear beneath the surface. Gradually the ripples subside.

According to the timestamp, this took place some years ago. But that makes it no less immediate, no less disturbing. We have become witnesses after the fact to a death — one that seems to have gone unwitnessed in real time. Powerless to help, we feel implicated all the same.