Zheng’s work deals with the relationship between the Chinese people and their landscapes, it’s idealised nature as a site for forming, as man-perfected/adjusted material, a symbolic residue or site of potential for human activity.
His works stem from an investigation of his home town of Jixi, a mining town in NE China. Jixi Research Project, ongoing since 2004, is a documentary-like archive of visual and spoken records of the lives of the people living in this town dominated by mining and the consequences of this industry on their lives and landscape. This piece is presented as a 4-channel projection with interactivity, emphasising the audiences participation in the story telling process.
For Sunflower Project, Zheng commissioned his family and friends to plant a large field of sunflowers in the hills surrounding the town of Jixi. The resulting artwork is an ultra-high resolution composite photograph of this field. On the one side in the distance is Jixi and on the other a memorial marking a mass grave of locals killed by the Japanese Army during the occupation of China during the Second World War. The sunflowers act as physical link between the living and the dead, a route of remembrance, reflecting during their short lives the remains of life and death all around them.
This is a great collection of 28 sculptures, placed within the landscaping of these botanical gardens. There is a real sense of these pieces working well with their surroundings. And it’s good to see them being used!
Despite the warnings, the pieces were being used as playgrounds by children who had been dragged along by their parents. I felt annoyed at first that I wasn’t able to appreciate the pieces in some kind of ‘pure’ state, without the distraction of people clambering over them, but I soon realised this was a great way to appreciate the pieces, by interacting with them, not just viewing them from afar in stately isolation.
Of course, this brings up questions about the preservation of art, questions which usually seem to be concerned with commercial value (as in “to touch a piece will reduce it’s value”), but I actually think we shouldn’t be so precious about these works where a physical relationship adds so much to the appreciation.