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By: Yan Preston
Yan Preston will be in China for a research and development trip for her project that explores the Yangtze River and the current urbanisation process in China in April and May 2011. For one month she will live next to the river, reflect her experience and produce new work. The project is supported by Arts Council England, Grants for the Arts.
# 5 [9 May 2011]
5th May 2011
Trial Point 1 - A hit on my head.
GPS: 28.48”400’N, 104.52”322’E. Altitude：869ft.
We drove for over 4 hours from Chongqing upstream along the Yangtze, and located the Trial Point 0 without much trouble. From Google Earth there is a big island in the middle of the river, and the Point is right next to the island. When we were getting close the landscape along the river seemed reasonably tranquil, Perhaps I can get something ‘pictorial’? However things changed very quickly when the Point location came into view: the island is being dug out by over twenty diggers and trucks. The stones forming the island are dug away to a nearby outdoor factory and turned into sand to build the road from Yibin to Shanghai. A bit further from bank, the land was covered by many small factories, and the dark red water from the factories was flowing to the river.
I am deeply saddened by this view. The concept of a river in my mind is so different from reality, and this has been proven again and again during my journey along 1000 kilometres of this river. I fear that all my points will fall on locations like this. I am not even sure if it’s worth going on.
# 4 [9 May 2011]
4th May 2011 Three rainy days
It’s been raining for 3 days in Chongqing and the visibility is really bad. I haven’t taken a single photo during this time but it’s been a productive time.
Firstly, I’m finally setting off to do a ‘trial point system’ tomorrow for 4 days. This is one of my original ideas for tackling the river: to divide its length in equal sections, to travel along the river but only take photographs at the dividing points. In 2009 and 2010 I tried this system on the River Ribble, but the Yangtze is a whole new story. It’s simply tooooo big! Now I have many questions towards this system but things will only get clarified after the test. I have randomly pinned down a starting point near the city of Yibin, about 400km upstream from Chongqing. From there I’ll travel downstream, taking photographs at the dividing points of every 100 km. For the time being only 5 points will be tested but hopefully I can have a taste of this method. Two local friends are going with me, it’s great to have friends and to discuss plans with them.
We have also decided to have my residency exhibition in a new art gallery-cafe in Jiangbei District in Chongqing. Now I have a nice place to work for, I can collect more pebbles and take more photos.
Also I’ve spoken to a famous geologist and explorer, Mr. Yang Yong, who is going to the source area of the Yangtze this summer. It’s possible that I can join their team and go to Tibet. How exciting!
I’ll let you know how our point system goes...
# 3 [3 May 2011]
1 May 2011
Today’s experience seems to be damaging for my emotional well-being.
I went to downtown Chongqing with the intention to find the photo lab but even the policeman seemed to know nothing about their local area. So I gave up the idea and walked to Chao Tian Men (the Sky Gate), where the confluence of Jia Ling Jiang and the Yangtze River is. It is obviously the centre of Chongqing.
I was immediately swallowed by the endless skyscrapers. To see them from a distance is one thing, to completely emerge into them is absolutely another thing. The weather was of typical China, overcast and extremely foggy. I walked in the extremely dense high-buildings, people, cars and noise, feeling weightless and soulless. It was indeed a human world, everything is made for and by us, including the limited number of plants. How does it feel to live in a concrete world like this all the time? According to Taoism, human and other things in the universe, such as mountains, rivers, plants and animals, are in the same energy circle; by standing on a mountain top, humans can absorb energy from the universe without obstacle. If this is correct, then what’s happening here? There is nothing else for us to exchange or absorb energy. Does that mean we are more fragile? Without fresh recharge of life forces? If human beings are also part of nature, then we seem to be cut off from everything else that’s nature. I thought of making pictures, but my instinct is to run away, to find a breathing place.
So I thought of my approach to the project again. Perhaps I just need to follow my heart, if city centres are unbearable, then I can escape to the river side. At least there’s a belt of a few hundred meters’ width that isn’t covered by buildings, people, or cars yet.
# 2 [3 May 2011]
29th Apil 2011
First real day with the river
Today has been a full and important day. After months’ preparation, I finally had the opportunity to stroll and sit next to the river.
In the morning I set off to Li Jia Tuo Bridge in the south east part of the town. The 10-minute’s walk between 501 Artspace and the bridge is full of noise, dust and crazy vechiles, just as anywhere else in China. I walked to the other side of the bridge, found a steep path and descended all the way to the riverside. To my surprise, the exposed muddy river bed was covered by human and animal footprints. It seemed that it is actually a busy place, despite its ugly appearance. A couple were catching tadpoles for their child from a small pond formed by trapped water. They originally came to fly the kite but there was no wind. The river seemed to have changed now: when I was so close to it, it suddenly became alive: the water was running fairly fast, with small waves washing the shiny sand constantly.
In the afternoon I visited another stretch of the river with two local friends. By accident we called into a Buddhism temple, which is next door to the grey power station. The red wall and tranquil atmosphere of the temple are of sharp contrast of its neighbour, but we don’t how long it’ll be there for. This whole area is obviously waiting to be turned into yet more skyscrapers.
In the evening I was having posh coffee in a five-star hotel with a friend. Sitting in the lounge full of marble columns and crystal chandelier, I was actually thinking about the grey river with its messy concrete structures. There seemed to be a sharp contrast again.
# 1 [3 May 2011]
28th April 2011. First Day at Chongqing
I finally arrived at Chongqing. This is my second trip to the Yangtze River. For the first trip, I went to Yi Chang, the downstream border city of the Three Gorges Dam (Chongqing is the upstream border city of the Dam).
My initial motivation for the project was to pay a proper visit to my Mother River. However this imagined relationship with the river was completely broken during my visit to Yi Chang. The river has been transformed by the completion of the Dam and it isn't beautiful at all (at least compared to my imagination of it). The landscape along the river was of a massive industrialisation and urbanisation process, during which nature seems to be taken for granted. I found it hard to grasp or to take photos for. So this time at Chongqing I hope to somehow build a relationship with the river.
For the first afternoon I visited Chongqing Fine Art College. The campus was full of peach blossoms and rape seed flowers. Ancient－style stone bridges, pavilions and farming tools were bought from other places to decorate the campus. It was beautiful but in stark contrast to all the new urban areas outside of the campus. It seems to me that these things are being abandoned and destroyed daily outside, while other people are paying a fortune to re-build them in this campus.
The photos with this post are from my trip to Yi Chang.
Yan Preston is a photographer and visual artist based in West Yorkshire. Her work is primarily fine art photography, but it also includes installation, art-research and creative community engagements. Her current photographic work focuses on the relationship between human and nature. Being a British-Chinese artist, she is exploring this topic in both Britain and China.
Yan Preston's work has been shown in national and regional galleries such as the National Portrait Gallery and York Art Gallery.
She is currently completing a PhD in Photography at the University of Plymouth under the supervision of Jem Southam, Liz Wells and David Chandler.