‘Kids should have been running on these magnificant fields that bred generations of our ancestors.
Since we arrived here 800 years before, wars, disasters, famines, turmoils, none of them made us to abandon this land.
Now the villiage is half under nine inches of dirt.
Who’s gonna inherit those memories from dilapidated houses and fading elders?’
This project was inspired by my journey to Zuheros, Spain.
Zuheros is a small town located an hour’s drive from Córdoba. On the Andalusian field, the vast space significantly enlarged the distance between the village to other cities. This distance is evidently a factor of putting the town in a relatively isolated position. It is quite a familiar scene both in China and western countries that there are a few small stores in a small town, one pharmacy and an empty town square. Generally, job opportunities and living condition of such villages cannot match the attractiveness of big cities. But surprisingly, during my favourite walking time after dinner in Zuheros, basically every day, I met new faces of young people. When nights fell, teenagers running and chatting around the ancient street of the town, concerts and fiestas were held at the plaza. I do recall in the morning of one of those days my friends and I were walking up the slope, and we met a young girl in town hall’s uniform serving her duty of street genitation. Then I noticed young people work for the local administration, public services and extra employers is actually not a strange thing there.
My hometown is located in the mountains. A typical mountain village in Southern-east area. An extremely long road was built from the nearest city, and connect those villages I can name, and I cannot call in series. Numbers of these residences are various, their sizes are different, their cultures sometimes distinctive; the variety of local tongues always amazed outsider.
But they share a common spot.
The overwhelming silence.
Lives in the mountains are simple. Due to geometric conditions, business opportunities are very limited. Most of the villagers still rely on farming to support their families. Young people, generally since my father’s generation, often travel outside for their education and jobs. Here, no investigation is needed to be precise. Simply none of them would return home.
Nowadays the transportation problem was successfully solved by the local government. Roads are built, buses sometimes coming as well. But there already is no young blood any longer. New generations have rooted in the world outside. The world outside directly provides higher incomes and better living condition to attract them from going home.
My grandfather is a typical old man, that feels quite difficult to express emotions, especially, love. Every time my family went to visit him, he would spend hours waiting in the convenient shop at the entrance of the village. He pretended that he’s okay whether my parents and I would show up, like, has no facial expression at all. Putting all of his attention in the chat about the card game.
Then he just pushed us home, and make as much noise as possible so neighbours would notice that
‘Oh look, family Chen’s Elder son has returned, along with his wife and son. Behold, what a lucky old fellow!’
I am pretty sure this kind of sentences would flood in my grandfather’s brain.
This behaviour seemed to be very childish. However, most families in the village only have elders at home alone. Their children had to work in places really far from the mountains. They barely have the chance to feel the polity of such reunion. Frequently I wonder, when those elders fade someday, it is pretty sure that their children will not return and live here; but away from a dilapidated house and a weathered tombstone, who would remember that a family use to live here, maybe already for centuries.
One. My parent has only one kid. My father always wanted to have several kids. But by the time when the birth control policy decision that only allows one child is not suitable for the environment anymore, it was already too late. My parents and their brothers and sisters were already too old to have babies. And the next generation is facing the sharply growing living cost. No need to consider having children, sometimes having a marriage is, like, something, takes a lot to achieve.
So this is an awkward moment for the village. People have connections with it only decrees, or stay even. I could say that it is just a matter of time that the town is wholly forgotten.
There is a decent spot where you can have a view of half of the village. It was at the entrance of areas in higher hills. If you keep walking for twenty minutes, you will reach a temple. Villagers donated generously before its construction, and after its built, they had celebrated for days.
On the day I went for the documentation of this project, I have been there for the entire morning and been counting cooking smoke. It is hard for me to speak out an accurate number, but I would say, it’s not enough.
Children that banned from their birth, in our traditional culture, they should have been born, This is a confusing sentence. I considered those unborn children, as well as children grown up elsewhere in the status of ‘only exist spiritually and within a common sense built on cultural belief’. Chinese people generally consider the number of children as the most important standard to judge whether a family is flourishing.
The population control policy may seem unbelievable for westerners, but it was the only correct method to keep the population structure from collapsing which will eventually result in the shortage of ration and infrastructure.
My father entered a top five university to study traditional Chinese literature back in his time, he had a strong agree with traditional Chinese culture. He always wanted to have multiple children. But the man’s sense of social responsibility and honestly did not allow him to fulfil his expectation. He did not like some families, raise another and pay the fine later. Now I am the only child my parents have.
I can see the resignation in his eyes when he said he is too old to raise another child. Rethinking the loneliness and solitude due to lack of company in my childhood, I felt this is undoubtedly a pity which can never be fixed.
Under the political restriction, the birth rate of my generation was controlled effectively. But it also resulted in another unbalance in the population structure. Scenes I wrote about my hometown have shown this awkwardness: through decades of hard work, the local government finally ensured the infrastructure for villagers, but less and fewer people are there to enjoy this benefit.
I picked ten photos of different moments of my childhood, judging by the facial similarity to my grandparents’. I reckoned these characters are visualised carrier of the pitiful scenario.
At the very beginning I was thinking about painting them on the wall to create a sarcastic display of statement like Banksy’s; however, considering the respect to private property and lack of Graffiti culture in China, the design was cancelled. Since I need to rethink the format, new inspirations were gained. I believed I need to find a method for my figures to fit in a specific scene physically; at the same time, the idea of ‘exist spiritually’ I mentioned above should be expressed.
I thought about glass first, which fragileness of the glass can also stand for the unrealistic imagination of unborn children. But the budget I had was indeed a significant challenge to the installation. Firstly, the number was cut to 8, then 7; afterwards I have to switch materials to plexiglass with acrylic. The similar visual effect, but without some metaphors. I have to say this challenge was indeed a lesson which told me the difficulty of being an independent artist without the support of investment. (After the switch I’d say my hardworkness of every task has been strengthened significantly, like a harder-core ‘work my way out)
Several times of try-outs have been through.
The decrease of the number and lack of budget has made time and energy two resources I was riched of. Therefore I put more time and patience to cover the shortages. Each of those figures cost around 6 hours. I used a very old oil painting brush to paint a minor number of strokes every brush; and with comparison to thousands of family photos (thanks to my father, who obtains considerable amount of knowledge in professional photography area, as well as the habit of documenting basically everything), I have put a lot of adjusting to facial structures to make those characters more close to my great-grandfather. Especially the crying infant one, I considered that piece of my the most successful. And as usual, my favourite piece gained the least popularity.
After finishing the painting process, another major challenge was standing in front of me. The setting-up of the installation was designed to build wooden support for each piece to allow them to be placed in the flat ground. Very shortly I realised how immature that thinking is, I already decided these pieces to be installed in fields, so how can I find that much flat ground in mountainous landform?
So I spent a significant amount of time drawings sketches/blueprints for the design of the support. I eventually came out with a promising idea which finally worked – to stick these plexiglass boards in the soil. So a massive amount of details that needed to be discussed came up: How deep should these supports be buried into the dirt so that the installation would not be broke off by strong seasonal wind in autumn? What will the material of this support be? What is the size of parts that supports share with paintings? What time of the day will be best to shoot photos? Will humidity especially dews in the mountains damaged the painting?
One problem at a time.
I have interviewed several experienced carpenters and handcrafters, they helped me to calculate the length of the sharing parts to be at least 5 centimetres’; we experimented bamboo and deal, bamboo can be commonly gathered in mountains while deal is stronger; At least 15 cm of the support needs to be fixed into the ground considering the height and fragileness of boards; before 8’o clock would be best, when morning fog can still be found; after consulting my initial mentor of oil painting, a surface of wax medium and spray fixative has been applied to the painting to further fix the drawing as well as preventing them from water.
Then the details were set. I used branches of pine trees to crafts 14 supporting structures for paintings, set them on fields, and photographed them.
After days of photoshop (I was commissioned to design characters for a project, see in relavent blog), here are the final outcomes.
Not finished yet!
I documented one of the process of removing the installation. Considering the fact that farmers are fed by these field, no waste should be left.