At the Hangzhou Bay near Cixi and Zhenhai, a large area of the intertidal zone has been fenced by fishing net. This intertidal zone is densely packed by jumping fish. The jumping fish are also known as mudskippers. They have good nutrition value, and they are sold at high prices. The reproduction and harvesting of the jumping fish are both heavily dependent on laborer’s hard work. Even on cold rainy days, the fishermen have to go in person. They put efforts into protecting the fish from typhoons and birds.
Mr. Lu, born in 1952, is from Weishi, Kaifeng. Nine years ago, another beekeeper from the same town as him told him that he should go to Ningbo as soon as possible because of a better living for a beekeeper. Mr. Lu traveled to Jiangshan with his beehives. He found a small piece of land along the road facing the sun, built a shack, and housed a dozen of beehives. He has been staying in the shack for four years. There is no electricity nor water to the shack. It is hot in the summer and cold in winter. Once it turns dark, he goes to sleep. His three meals every day are all pancakes, and for dinner he would reward himself with a little wine. He has been a beekeeper since young, and he is illiterate. His father and grandfather are both beekeepers. Mr. Lu, whose wife passed away long time ago, has a son and a daughter. His son also makes a living as a beekeeper, traveling across the nation with his beehives.
Mr. He is almost 70 years old. He is from Zhubu Village, Ninghai, and his skill to catch snakes is inherited from past generations. Besides planting, he often goes into mountains to catch snakes at night. Zhubu village is located in the remote mountain area, and many villagers have the skill to catch snakes because it is a great part time job for them. However, selling the snakes is not easy. Mr. He has had the snake for half a month for now, but he is still unable to make a good amount of money. His nephew lives with him and his wife. When the nephew was 7 years old, his mother got cancer, while his father got cerebral hemorrhage. The responsibility of caring for him comes to this old couple.
Feijia Pier in Chunhuzhen, Fenghua is famous for oyster farming. The newest method is the use of obsolete tiers, which float in the sea for oysters to live. Some of the sea area is far from the beach, making it hard for farmers to get back before rising tide. Therefore, they often have to spend a night on the sea. The space on their boats are so limited that they could only bring a blanket.
Dong Guochang was born in 1934 in Fenghua. At the age of sixty, he builded a huge grave for himself in addition to two pavilions for future generations to rest when they visit him. The township head discouraged him from taking so much land for his grave that even the mother of Chiang Kai-shek did not own such a huge one. Dong, with rulers in his hand, went three times to compare two graves. Finally, he agreed to dissemble the two pavilions. Now, he becomes a famous painter in the village.
Wang Cunguo was born in 1952 in Shiqiaotou, Fenghua. His mule has been with him for ten years. He keeps it at the foot of the hill behind his house every day. Every time when it hears Wang’s motorcycle heading home, it shouts happily and goes around in circles. Wang often goes behind his house to play with it, which would laugh and act like a child. Over the course of ten years, Wang and his mule have been carrying masonry and cement within mountainous areas in Fenghua, Shaoxin, Yuyao, and Xinchang. Usually after ten years with mules, owners would sell them. Wang’s mule is turning that age soon, and his wife always wants him to sell it as soon as possible. Now, his mule costs 5,000 yuan, but if he procrastinates, the money would keep dropping. Wang knows that once his mule is sold, it would be killed for food. He is not ready. His mule is a member of his family now.
Location: The Gallery
Address: 202 E Wisconsin Ave, Lake Forest, IL 60045
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In the museum of Van Gogh in Netherland, I encountered this palette of him with remains of pigments. At that point, I felt I was so close to the artist yet distant. I felt the sense of intimacy meticulously tracing each crack on the pigments even more than the time when I was complimenting his oil paintings on the wall. However, I was also frustrated by the glass between the palette and me. It was the first time the concept of distance came to me.
A couple years later, I became a curator myself for my dad’s photos of people in the Siming Mountain, the mother mountain that cultivates rural culture in Ningbo. The concept of intimacy is always with me.
I named my first two exhibitions “Nostalgia” because they are exhibitions that trace roots for the urban Ningbo people. For the two exhibitions, I not only displayed photos but also their stories below each. I wanted to establish the feeling of intimacy to the photos with the stories. I reflected on the role of photography. Nowadays, people look at photos on social media for no more than five seconds before they scroll down. During my first exhibition, the approach for me was to use stories to bring people closer to pictures. During my second exhibition, I invited a 96-year-old mother and her 76-year-old son to the opening ceremony so that the audience could interact with them.
After two in Ningbo, I decided to reach global audience. I went to the local art gallery and persuaded them to provide a place for these pictures and their stories. Besides thinking about what I can do with all those photos and stories, I thought about what it means for the old residing in the Siming Mountain for their entire life. They have never been outside of the mountain before, and the exhibitions would not even matter to them. I came up with the idea of not only shortening the distance between art and audience but also the subject of art and the audience. I have made my photos for sale, and I am going to bring the money back to them. I have also encouraged the visitors to leave messages to them so that they know there are also a group of people knowing and caring about them from the other side of the earth. They depend their entire life on labor of themselves and they probably do not realize they need help from others. On our notebook for message, I already received some warming messages praising this caring sense and reflect on the rural life between China and U.S. I do want to break the geographical isolation and connect to them and the history they have witnessed. For those foreign visitors, I have printed out posters, and I hope they will keep this glimpse of lives in rural Ningbo with them. I, therefore, named this exhibition “More than Nostalgia.”
Aiju Wang was born in 1918 in Maoyangtou, Fenghua. The picture is all her family members at the birthday celebrating her age of 100 years. Right after she was born, her mother lost conscious and was unable to feed her. After a year later, her biological father sent her away to the Zhangs. He was a child bride for their adopted son.
The biological son of the Zhangs died 18 years before (ca. 1900). They adopted a son who used to be an orphan. Life was hard for the Zhangs since they had to feed both their son and the child bride. A hundred years later today, she says that she survived because she drank lactic of the mother. Wang is lucky to have more than a hundred members on her family across five generations.
Historical background: The reversal of social classes- the end of “private ownership”
Hong Shengheng, born in 1927, is from Xiashao, Beilun. Orphaned at an early age, he, at the age of 10, came to Xiashao from Lianjiang, Fujian on a boat that transported sugarcanes. He came for his uncle who worked at the Baolaixiang candy shop. After he was adopted by his uncle, he also inherited the candy shop. Baolaixiang, being a famous dessert shop, makes candies in autumns and winters and bakes in spring and summer. After the establishment of PRC, all the private retailers came onto the communist way. Hong and his wife thus turned from shop owner to staffs working in the collective shop. In 1980, Baolaixiang stopped runing, and the shop becomes the house that the couple lives in.
Historical background: The lowest peasant class in the old ages
Xu Shiyue, born in 1931, is from Xiashao, Beilun. He does not know where his ancestors come from; the only thing he knows is that the Xu family has been watching the ancestor shrine of the Shao family for five generations. They belonged to the lowest social class in the society, depending entirely on the family shrine of the Shaos.
Since the Ming Dynasty, they were banned from going to school, being government officials, or marrying other social classes. They were only allowed to held degrading jobs, like taking care of ancestral shrines or being barbers and butchers. Such discrimination was eliminated by Yongzheng Emperor and gradually faded since the Republic of China period.