Chunning Guo

The Story of First Person:

Recovering Autobiographical Memory through Animated Documentary Ketchup

PRESENTATION: Friday 25.5., 14:10 @ MuseumsQuartier – Raum D/quartier21

Douwe Draaisma as a famous psychologist indicates the importance of autobiographical memory: Autobiographical memory is our most intimate companion, “it grows up with us. It behaves differently when we are five, or fifteen or sixty, though the changes are so gradual that we hardly notice them.”

According to the 1896 study L’Année Psychologique by Victor and Catherine Henry, initial memory always exists as visual images and the most common initial memories (as the first part of autobiographical memory) are: 1) The birth of a younger brother or sister; 2) The impression of Death; 3) Disease or fire; 4) Celebration of holidays; 5) The opening day of elementary school.

As a unique genre, animated documentary seems to echo the pioneer phycologists’ saying through its memory-telling with the power of overlapping the virtual and reality.

Ketchup(dir. Baishen Yan, Chunning Guo) is one example of how animated documentary explored autobiographical memories, especially of the initial memories on the impression of death. To reflect the social background of 1984 in China, this film reconstructed four real events of unnatural death (The Death of the Convict, The Dogs’ Death, The Death of a deputy to the people’s congress, The Child King’s Death) into three-steps (as a three-part narration structure) of how tomatoes are made into ketchup.

This animated documentary offers a chance to regard the first person story- telling as a mixture of imagination and impressions. These almost forgotten events evoked a new life in 3D animation, combining real photos from the background of the 1980s and the gestures of virtual models. All the scenes, colors and tastes of the memory were recreated as they were visualized.


Chunning (Maggie) Guo teaches New Media Art and Animation at Renmin University of China’s School of Fine Arts, Beijing, China. The dissertation for her PhD in Philosophy was titled The Experiments and Critics of Independent Animation. She is the author of two books: Thinking Communication (Renmin University Press) and Digital Media Contextual Studies (China Machine Press). Her animated artwork has been exhibited and collected internationally by galleries and festivals all over the world.