Where is the place of nature in the age of rapid urbanisation? Perhaps, it is still close to our heart. However, how to preserve or re-create nature in new cities remains a major challenge, especially when economic growth and efficiency are also strongly desired. In the Forest series, the British-Chinese artist Yan Wang Preston documents the other-worldly landscape of ‘ecology recovery’ in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Here, while a small rural area is being turned into an international leisure town and an ecology model town, it is decided that nature is to be improved, re-made, or, simply visually mimicked. Vast amount of semi-artificial soil is brought in to replace every inch of its own topsoil, the latter is seen as being less fertile. Grass and mature trees are planted to make ready-made forest. Meanwhile, green plastic netting is used to cover up any objects less visually pleasing, for example, construction waste and steep quarries. The objective here does not concern ecology anymore. Rather, it is to be seen as being ‘green’. It is the ultimate abuse of such a life-friendly colour and its symbolic meaning that are documented in Yan Wang Preston’s Forest series. The exhibited images are from a long-term project (2010-2017) with the same title, which is published by Hatje Cantz in 2018.
To the South of the Colourful Clouds
This section documents the other-worldly landscape in Haidong Development Zone, Dali, Yunnan Province, China. In the midst of a rapid urbanisation process, construction, destruction and recovery happen simultaneously. Focusing on the town’s effort to ‘recovery the ecology’, Preston makes use of the vivid colours of red (of the brought-in soil), green (of the plastic netting) and blue (of the characteristic sky) while questioning the motive, effect and impact of such practice.
This section focuses on a single tree, Frank. Having lived in one traditional village for over 300 years, Frank was transplanted and subsequently died when its village was to be submerged by a Yangtze River Dam. Frank is a case study of the complex situation faced by nature and traditions in China.