A VIOLENT DEATH, MEMORY & REALITY
By Gabrielle Kennedy
2015 INFORMATION DESIGN (MA) GRADUATE ALICE WONG WON THE 2016 DIORAPHTE AWARD AT THE NETHERLANDS FILM FESTIVAL FOR HER GRADUATION PROJECT, “RECONSTRUCTING REALITY”.
Alice was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 1989. Her father ran a famous Chinese restaurant. In 1992, when Alice was three-and-a-half years old her father was murdered.
The facts are murky, but it seems Mr. Wong had fallen into the jaws of Chinese gangsters. Stunned and scared, Alice’s mother took her three children back to Hong Kong trying to forget the past and to create a new life for her young family.
“Over the years different people told me different stories about what happened to dad,” says Alice. “That he had died from liver cancer and that he had died from lung cancer. I never believed any of it and sometimes I’d ask mum, but she’d tell me to stop asking questions and to just say that he had died in a car crash.”
But in her mind Alice continued rehashing the facts. She learnt that the car crash story couldn’t be true – there was no case history of a fatal crash reported during that month, plus it turns out her father never had a drivers’ license.
Then one day she saw a segment on Chinese TV about Design Academy Eindhoven. She already had her BA in graphic design and the move felt right.
With the academy being so emphatic that students focus on their personal fascinations, Alice got to work. She consulted forensic experts, gathered police reports and tried to piece together the crime scene. She researched guns and bullets, and visited her father’s old hangouts, but nothing led to an answer. “At some point my teachers Joost [Grootens] and Gert [Staal] told me to stop,” she says. “They said the truth is within, you will only get close, but you will never know exactly how it was.” The murder, to this day, remains an unsolved crime.
It was the realization that the truth was not within grasp, added to the growing irritation that she owned no memories of her dad that gave Alice the idea for her film. “My memories are all borrowed from others,” she says. “But I think that this idea of borrowing memories is maybe more common than we realize.
I doubt many people and certainly not you or I have ever witnessed a shooting. Most people have absolutely no clue what it would really look like and the only way to conjure up an image is to borrow a memory from a film or other media. So then I ask is your shooting scene any more real than my shooting scene?”
Arthur Roeloffzen, one of Alice’s influential mentors, was the one who spoke to her about the importance of placeholders. “Thanks to him I started to think more deeply about how no one knows exactly how everything works,” she says. “We constantly fill up the gaps with different information by ourselves. One’s memory can be notoriously unreliable.”
In her film – ‘Reconstructing Reality’ – Alice borrows scenes, or memories from various films she saw growing up. “Fragments, chopped up and edited back together into my life,” she explains. Her method is a way of presenting research and of visualizing complex information in a simple way using story telling. It is also a technique to introduce perspective based on honest information.
Alice’s point becomes that when reality cannot be grasped, perhaps it’s best to simply question reality, which, as it turns out, is mostly constructed.
“This is a very ‘design’ film,” Alice explains. “There is a lot of research, a lot of layers, a lot of content, and it is not glossy or technical, but it is very visual. Through the layers the question shifts from what is reality to how is reality constructed?”
When accepting her Netherlands Film Festival prize, Alice had just one thing to say: “I know you probably all think everyone at Design Academy Eindhoven make chairs, but I made a film!” And her mum? “I think she is mostly relieved that the lie is over,” Alice says, “but I also I don’t think she really understands what I am trying to do about it.”