In the first of three articles highlighting individual works at the 2012 edition of the Biennale of Sydney, Art Radar talks to Ji Yunfei about his The Three Gorges Dam Migration.
Art Radar was at the 18th Biennale of Sydney to take a closer look at how art works fitted with the theme “All our relations”. In the first of three articles, we speak with Chinese artist Ji Yunfei about his environmentally and socially motivated work, The Three Gorges Dam Migration.
Other posts in this three part series
The Three Gorges Dam Migration (2009) by Ji Yunfei is a watercolour woodcut print in the form of a traditional Chinese hand scroll. Although the drawing was created in the style of a Song Dynasty landscape painting, it depicts a very contemporary theme: the flooding and social disturbance caused by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, located at the upper reach of China’s Yangtze River.
An exploration of the relationship between human society and the environment is key to the work. It was commissioned in 2009 by the Library Council of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the woodcut prints were hand-printed using over 500 hand-carved woodblocks by the century-old printing and publishing house Rongbaozhai in Beijing.
The human migration and environmental issues that are a by product of the controversial Three Gorges Dam and other similar projects in China captured Ji’s concern. He says,
Constructed between Si Chuan Province and Hu Bei Province, the Three Gorges Dam is the biggest engineering project in the history of human beings. I have visited villages in this area a few times since 2002 and witnessed the dismantling of the houses. I was shocked by the dramatic landscape and habitat changes over the years. There were a lot of problems associated with this project, especially in terms of the environment, the Three Gorges Migration, fish migration and the loss of biodiversity. I took a special interest in this project because it concerns a lot of questions. In recent years, I have also been visiting the sites of South-North Water Transfer Project (in China) and witnessed human migration as well. The urbanisation in China is developing very fast, and the identity of country folks is always in between peasants and industrial workers. I am especially interested in this, because our time changes fast so the environment has to adapt to fit the development of human society.
According to the artist, childhood memories of living in the countryside with his grandmother, his ongoing study of the Three Gorges Dam project and local folklore all came together to inform the making of The Three Gorges Dam Migration. As Ji explains,
Some say that, in China, we build a city the size of Boston in a day. You can easily get lost in your own city if you have not set foot in that part of town in a few months. As the pace of development hastens, we risk losing ourselves even more, metaphysically, as we become more and more disconnected with nature and memory.
Ji downplayed the political dimensions of the artwork, talking instead about how the work centres on an ability to adapt to changing environments with endurance and wisdom. The work, he says, is about presenting questions to and welcoming open interpretation by the audience.
Other posts in this three part series
About Ji Yunfei
Ji Yunfei graduated from China Central Academy of Fine Art in 1982. In 1986, at 22 years of age, he relocated to the United States, spending the next twenty years in this adopted country. The Three Gorges Dam Migration was commissioned in 2009 by the Library Council of MoMA and is the seventh work in the organisation’s artist book publication programme.
Ji is currently represented by James Cohan Gallery of New York and in June to July 2012 held a solo exhibition of his artwork, called “Water Work“, at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art at Beijing (UCCA).
- Gwangju Biennale 2012: Curatorial genius or chaos? – August 2012 – we explore the multiple themes behind the 2012 edition of this premiere Asian art event
- Emerging replaces established: Chinese artists at 2012 Biennale of Sydney – July 2012 – Chinese artist selection mirrors curatorial perspective of Australia’s influential White Rabbit Collection
- Migrant Ecologies: Innovative Southeast Asian science-art collaboration – February 2012 – a project that explores the relationships that exist between both science and art, and nature and humanity
- Winning Australia Venice Biennale pavilion design controversial in its simplicity – April 2012 – Australia boosts its presence at the world’s most renowned biennale
- Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong recreate urban spaces – ARCO interview with Marisa Gonzalez – March 2012 – unique social activities captured through photography
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