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LCF23: Chenshuo Xu NOWNESS premiere Ode to the Centaur

Ode to the Centaur poster of 4 centaurs in the woods
  • Written byLubna Hussain
  • Published date 20 March 2023
Ode to the Centaur poster of 4 centaurs in the woods
Centaur in the woods | by Chenshou Xu, director of photography Chris Keng Huang 2023

We got in touch with Chenshou Xu from MA Fashion, Film and Digital Production on his recent premiere with NOWNESS of his graduate film Ode to the Centaur. The story follows the centaur’s journey through different landscapes and environments in search for answers about himself - something many people can relate to at some point in their lives.

It is often difficult to understand our own identities or where we fit into society when faced with so much uncertainty; however, by seeing how this creature navigates these challenges without giving up hope was incredibly inspiring and uplifting with moments throughout the animation that really highlighted certain aspects about Chinese culture.

Ode to the Centaur protagonist in lilac and white attire shot in the sky with a backdrop of the city skyline
Ode to the Centaur Protagonist | by Chenshou Xu 2023
Ancient building with a circular platform at the top with intricate designs
Ancient building | by Chenshou Xu 2023
Congratulations on your recent premiere with NOWNESS of your graduate film Ode to the Centaur! The 3D animation narrates a beautiful journey of a Chinese mythical beast who goes on a quest to find his true identity, how does this storyline resonate with you as the producer?

Based on myths of different systems in the world, the short film explores the representation of the centaur by using ancient mythologies to talk about modern masculinity while questioning the validity of limited views on the ‘definition of manhood’.

The key findings in the film explore going beyond duality, cultural fusion, body extension, and mythological depictions of male centaurs. This is done using digital descriptions to advance the concepts and practices of masculinity in connection, mobility, categorisation, and fusion.

With the centaur as its central figure, Ode to the Centaur visualises history and mythology through a modern lens, weaving the Dunhuang dances of ancient China through interactions with the horse God, and recalling the Dharmapalas guardian warriors of Dunhuang – a merging of male flexibility and rigidity.

What made you want to explore the Fashion, Film and Digital Production MA course?

I try to think about cultural identity and identity as a whole through the context of digital space and with new technological means. Following the queer morphology and digital spirit, I wanted to deconstruct stereotypical masculine identities with a new fashion narrative to understand the transcendence of culture, gender, and species.

I have been yearning to create my own personal fashion language and have come back to see that the images I tend to create represent an interdisciplinary blend of religion, philosophy, psychology, and modern technology, with implications of real-life forms and structures from which parable and religion originate. This is where the course spoke to me as I was able to iterate through the images that I visualise as lyrics to achieve the "maximum freedom of association". The use of metaphors, symbols, rhythm, and other skills of poetry helped me to explore the infinite possibilities of moving images.

Ode to the Centaur poster of centaur levitating on top of circular platform
Ode to the Centaur poster, centaur levitating | by Chenshou Xu, director of photography Chris Keng Huang 2023
Ode to the Centaur poster of centaur and man
Ode to the Centaur poster | by Chenshou Xu, director of photography Chris Keng Huang 2023
Your graduate short film has underlying nodes to the transcendence of culture, gender, and species bringing light to the experience of the different chapters in life that can be applied to anyone. As a queer male what personal story are you wanting to share with the world?

I am exploring the sense of new masculinity from the heart and actually experiencing it in the process of my own body in my artwork. The city that appears in Ode to the Centaur combines my hometown; the huge bronze bell, and the sculpture of five horses all relate to my experience. I hope to approach it in a sensitive and rational way, as the artist Zanele Muholi said:

"We need Allies, queer or not, and artists need to take sides and support the movement."

Why did you decide on having a historical fabled figure play the protagonist in a 3D animation setting?

When it comes to creating a 3D animation, there are countless possibilities for the protagonist. From superheroes and villains to aliens and robots, the choices are endless. However, one option that stood out from all of these is having a historically fabled figure as it made sense to me to tie in the storyline to what resonates with me the most.

From ancient China to ancient Greece, fables, and myths, spanning thousands of years, not only tell the transverse story of the people that gave rise to them, but they also signify different periods in time that represent the means to be a ‘man’. The horse is one of the many dualistic animals, embodying both power and freedom in world mythology, and has been inextricably associated with the male elite in the past.

Myth and reality are far apart in time and space, but they have a logical connection. In the past, myths were all about the interaction of gods with otherworldly forces and humans, which is what we are allowed to do in the digital space today. The boundaries between human, natural and mechanical have faded. In this case, humans can transcend the basis of biology and constantly push the boundaries of gender and human identity.

Intricate visual map of the Centaurs journey
Intricate visual map of the Centaurs journey | by Chenshou Xu 2023
3D animation of the film setting of tower bell and horse God recalling the Dharmapalas guardian warriors of Dunhuang
3D Animation of film setting | by Chenshou Xu 2023
Societal suppression can be pressuring for both young and mature people alike, what is your advice to those who are wanting to break free of this?

I want to portray the centaurs of modern mythology to tell the story of fighting against fate and convey the anthem of courage. It seems that the queer community as a whole is invisible in China. Men are deprived of the opportunity to express their vulnerability and emotions in traditional gender orientation.

People of other genders are faced with a crisis of belonging that makes it difficult to belong to the binary group in traditional society. Without "leaders" and "peers", people of the other genders often struggle with self-knowledge. But I want to have a positive impact on others who are afraid to express their courage through film and personal experiences.

How did NOWNESS get in touch with you in wanting to feature your film?

Since my fashion film "The Ultimate Samsara" was selected to premiere in NOWNESS last semester, I kept in touch with them during the creation of my graduation work. I have been studying the use of 3D environments to express the connection between traditional Chinese culture and modern society. I want to present Chinese culture in an innovative and culturally responsible manner.

What does life look like for you after having completed your graduate degree? Do you have aspirations in wanting to proceed in this field?

Life after graduation makes me feel free in my creative abilities. I want to keep exploring culture and ancient myths. I will be creating images related to myself, constantly questioning, searching, and revealing myself through film.

People sat watching the film on a projector at the LCF23 postgraduate exhibition
Ode to the Centaur screening at LCF23 Postgrad Exhibition | by Chenshou Xu 2023
Ode to the Centaur screening at LCF23 postgrad exhibition with people watching
Ode to the Centaur Screening at LCF23 Postgrad Exhibition | by Chenshou Xu