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.
Location: The Gallery
Address: 202 E Wisconsin Ave, Lake Forest, IL 60045
Check it out if you can!
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.”
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.
In Feitianwugong Village lives Yu at the age of 89. On July 30th in 1934 in lunar calendar, his father went to work in the cornfield with him before it was too dark. When they just arrived at the cornfield, a gang came up to them. Yu’s father was shot, and Yu was abducted. The gang requested 300 yuan from Yu’s mother. In order to save her son, she sold everything she could and even borrowed money from others. After half a year, Yu was released. Maybe because of such experience, he does not like to talk.