Our first stop on Dong Shan (East Mountain) was Zijin An (Purple Gold Temple). This is a small, well-preserved Buddhist temple, first built during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). By the sculpting technique used on the faces and clothing of its three main three statues, you can tell they were made during the Tang. At either side of the main hall are the sixteen statues of Buddhist Arhats that are the most well-known part of the temple. Allegedly they were made by the famous Lei Chao and his wife more than 800 years ago. These sculptures represent a traditional, formulaic religious aesthetic, yet for me they also manage to communicate the emotions of everyday life.
Incidents (of Travel)
Xiao Kaiyu is a good friend of my father. I first met him with my parents around seventeen or eighteen years ago, in Shanghai. I had been told he was a super-radical poet. Xiao was the first poet I had met in my life. He became my Chinese teacher and taught me reading and writing for several months. Then he disappeared.
What I was not told until years later was that because of Xiao’s activities in the cultural field, restrictions had been imposed on him by the Chinese government. His work and reputation made it difficult for him to live in China and he chose to leave his native country. He moved to Berlin, and we lost touch.
After so many years I never thought that we would meet again, until he appeared at the opening of the exhibition Advance Through Retreat at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai in May of 2014. Following more than ten years away, he had returned , working as a visual artist in China. He still writes poems. He is full of energy. At first he did not recognize me. “You’re a big girl now!” he later said to me.
I was happy that we had re-connected. I soon visited the big house in Shanghai were here lives and writes each day from afternoon until early morning. There were no everyday objects on the tables, nor food in the fridge—there were only books. He told me that he was writing a new book and had finished the first volume, but still had a lot of work to do on it, too much work actually. “You always feel that you can work more, but you cannot exceed your own time, and your own energy,” he told me. After so many years, although I am no longer his little pupil, I still consider him to be a teacher figure. We also talk freely like friends, or perhaps comrades, sharing our experiences and thoughts.
As a wise man, Xiao always throws out brilliant words and beautiful sentences. I enjoy talking with him. I naturally and immediately thought about inviting Xiao to collaborate for Incidents (of Travel). I had long wanted to escape for a day to walk and talk in the mountains with this old friend. And I am happy we finally did it. Maybe in my mind, we should have done it before Xiao left for Berlin. Maybe in a dream we had done it already, on some rainy day seventeen years ago.
We learned that the inkslab craftsman Mr Qian has been working at the Purple Gold Temple for seven years; essentially he is employed to promote the culture and art of the past. Many Chinese citizens have learned about ancient culture through showrooms just like this one, full of inkstones with complicated decorative hollows. Mr Qian has been on television and was interviewed by newspapers and he fully believed what he was doing was marvelous and important. Yet after only a short chat with him we discovered that he actually had no idea of how inkstones should be used for calligraphy.
A local driver told us of a short cut to Moli Peak. By walking through a grove of orange trees, we would soon be on the way to top. Such a peak made us imagine something mysterious and intimidating, as the Chinese letter for Mo means not, and Li means centimetre, so Moli suggests something that is not easy to measure.
Xiao was getting tired and rested in a pavilion. I decided to climb farther. After passing through a small forest, I arrived at an abandoned building with the familiar yellow walls of a temple. Yet there was really no temple at all, only a metal stand for candles and several incense-ash bins. It looked like parts of a temple had flown in from somewhere else. Dark patches on the walls showed the age of the architecture and I imagined how the candles were brought here by old worshippers who came to pray. The temple had gone, yet their prayers stayed.
This young man was the only person we met while hiking up Moli Peak. By now it was raining heavily so we decided to rest and take shelter in a pavilion along the way. We chatted with him and he told us what he did, where he came from, the places he had travelled to and the places he planned to go. It was good to meet a fellow stranger in travel, especially one who was open-minded and talkative. Stories began to emerge. The man was only twenty-three years old and he had left home when he graduated from high school, looking for work in many different cities. It sounded like he had spent a lot of time and effort simply walking and looking, yet he had still not found a place he belonged to. He worked as a security guard at a school in Suzhou for now, and he liked to hike and travelled around the city on the weekends. He had dreams of making some “explosive” things he told us—“this pond is too small for me”. Comparing dreaming with inventing missiles, Xiao and I persuaded him to do something practical, “Missiles kill!”, the man said as he glared at us, with a spark in his eyes as if to say, “but I am a big fish.”
Moli is definitely a more appropriate name for the village than the peak itself! It is a very small village with old-style tile-house structures mixed in with newly-built villas; its narrow lanes are intricate and complicated. You will easily get lost if you come for the first time. For hundreds of years the local people have made their living from cultivating green tea (planted on East Mountain) and freshwater fishery (from Tai Hu lake). Nowadays, more and more travelers come to drink the renowned Bi Luo Chun, and to eat fresh fish and crustaceans. A few people here are getting rich. As we walked down this lane we passed many children on their way back home from school. Suzhou city center is not very far away, and neither is the big modern Shanghai, yet many people prefer to live in this village, leaning on the side of East Mountain and enjoy a slower, but healthier country life.
We knocked on a door in the lane to ask for directions back to Suzhou station. The woman who answered was so friendly that she invited us into her house. She showed us into the living room and invited us to sit,. All the members of the family were sitting around the dinner table separating baby tea leaves from old ones, while chatting and laughing.
It had been a rainy day and it became foggy as it was getting dark. Xiao and I sat in a restaurant by the lake, but we couldn’t see the lake at all. We asked the waiter to turn off the lights so that we could feel more at home in the darkness and fog. We had revisited the old haunt of East Mountain after years and everything had changed. We had expected to find out more about nature, but actually we felt there was more reality in the few strangers we talked to along the way.
An expanded phase of a project conceived by Latitudes (Barcelona) in 2012, this new series of tours is conceived as fieldwork and an expanded studio visit. It is presented as reportage and dispatches from invited curators and artists working around the world.
(b. 1985) is a visual artist based in Shanghai, China, where she completed her MFA in the Sculpture Department of Shanghai University in 2011. In 2008 she co-founded am art space , a self-organized, independent exhibition-and-residency organization. Her artistic practice employs sculpture, installation, performance and video, to explore the relationship between time and nature, body and spirit. Her recent solo exhibitions include Black Mountain, Beijing Commune, Beijing; Diary of Sulfur Mining—Pataauw, Mind Set Art Center, Taipei (both 2016) and Never Left Behind, C-Space, Beijing (2014). Recent group exhibitions include Snacks, Power Station of Art Museum, Shanghai (2016); Nocturnal Friendships, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong; and Inside China—L’Intérieur du Géant, Palais de Tokyo, Paris.
is a poet and critic living in Shanghai, and a professor of Chinese literature at Henan University, Kaifeng. Born in 1960 in Zhongjiang, Sichuan, China, he was trained in traditional medicine, and worked as a doctor from 1980–1986. His poetry began to be published in literary journals in the mid-1980s, and in 1989 he founded the underground poetry magazines The Nineties and against. His first poetry collection, Wild Pleasures at the Zoo was published in 1997, the year he relocated to Berlin until 2005. Other collections of his poetry include The Sweetness of Learning (2000) and Poems from Xiao Kaiyu (2004). Xiao Kaiyu is a professor of Chinese literature at Henan University, Kaifeng.