“Ecological Entanglements” is a co-learning series curated by Mia Yu in 2022. By inviting a number of Chinese and Swiss artists to delve into locally-grounded research on extractive culture and economy in Northeast China and other sites in the world, the project reveals manifolds of ecological sensibilities which resonate across different locales, while exploring shareable solutions for a sustainable future.
“Ecological Entanglements from Northeast China and Beyond” is a co-learning series among artists, presented by WU SPACE and supported by Pro Helvetia Shanghai. The series, curated by researcher and curator Mia Yu, invites artists and researchers from home and abroad to delve into local history from their own field experiences, and to engage in dialogue and co-learning on topics such as nature awareness, energy infrastructure, ecological transformation caused by mining, post-industrial rewilding, and industrial waste. The series attempts to establish comparative links between Northeast China and other regions of the world, and to explore the neglected and non-classical perspectives of the Global South.
Four Swiss artists, Anastasia Mityukova, Pauline Julier, Uriel Orlow, and Vanessa Billy attended the event series. Due to the limits of travel during the COVID period, the project experimented with various modes of remote collaboration, combining online seminars, workshops and local field trips.
Between the Dongbei Railroads, the Hengduan Mountains and the Greenland Ice Sheet: Mediatizing the Infrastructures of Planetary Dimension
Speakers: Anastasia Mityukova, Chen Xiaoyi, Mia Yu
Convener: Mia Yu
The first online seminar focused on massive-scale infrastructures embedded in the earth. Respectively addressing themselves to the railroad–coal-mine complex in Northeast China, the scatters of mining caves in the Hengduan Mountains, and the U.S. military base in Greenland, the participants explored the geopolitics, ecological transformation, image mechanisms, and individual narratives behind these infrastructures. The melting of Arctic sea ice is the corollary of fossil fuel emissions, and the ecological problems caused by the Cold War are manifesting themselves in an unexpected way in the present and the future. As humans overexploit nature, nature, in turn, rewrites the fate of humans. What are the complex entanglements between coal, minerals, earth’s crust, ice, and human beings in the telescoping of deep time and the history of the 20th century? Using the media of painting, photography, and video, how do artists mediate macroscopic studies and microscopic perceptions of planet-scale infrastructures? Moreover, does the work of artists imply the existence of certain non-classical alternative perspectives of the Global South?
Reclaiming Temporalities and Narratives in the Landscapes of the Anthropocene
Speaker: Pauline Julier
Discussant: Wang Huan
Convener: Mia Yu
The second seminar of the series centered on the different possibilities of engaging landscape to tell the stories of the Anthropocene.
Pauline Julier | Naturales Historiae: Multiple Temporalities and Narratives in the Landscapes of the Anthropocene
Pauline Julier’s Naturales Historiae (56 minutes, 2015-2019) is an art project that takes form in a film, a publication, and an exhibition. The film title Naturales Historiae is borrowed from the encyclopedic work by Pliny the Elder of the Roman Empire. Filmed in China, France, and Italy over the span of four years, the work questions the ways of which human think and represent nature. Each chapter explores a situation of human beings grappling with nature and its images, including the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull, the prehistoric forest fossils found in Ordos’s coalseam, how Pliny the Elderly died while observing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and Cassini’s suicidal mission to Saturn. Julier’s film reveals our obsessions to nature and shakes up our certainties of taming it. The artist skillfully embraces multi-perspectives of the filmic medium while weaving various forms of narration like document, story-telling and science fiction. For the event, Pauline Julier will show film excerpts and speak how she utilizes the multi-temporalities and muti-perspectives of film to restitute the complexity of a place.
Mia Yu | Gaia has Never Left: Three Journeys to Fushun From 1682 to 2022
Since 2020, Mia YU has organized a number of field trips to Northeast China, as part of her curatorial project “North x Anthropocene”. One of the key destinations of these field trips was Fushun coal mine, Asia’s earliest fossil fuel base, also the home to the largest open-pit mine. After more than century-long excavation and accumulation, the mine and its vast mine tailings have fully integrated into the city’s morphology. Since mining activities decreased twenty years ago, the tailings, in particular, grew into a state of wilderness. Such unintended rewilding process made multi-species ecologies possible. Currently, Fushun is undergoing massive transformation to renewable energy. Tens of thousands of solar panels are being erected by the government on the tailings. For this talk, Mia YU will talk about her field research in Fushun and her ongoing writing project in which she imagines a female flâneur and storyteller called Gaia who live and wander on the coal refuse hill. Interweaving historical facts and fiction, Gaia tells the story of three historical journeys to Fushun: the 1682 eastern tour of the Kangxi Emperor accompanied by Jesuit missionary Nan Huairen (Ferdinand Verbiest), the 1934 trip of a Japanese cartographer to Fushun, and the 1961 sketching tour of Fu Baoshi, a well-known Chinese ink painter. From the traditional cosmology of fengshui to the Socialist spirit of “man can conquer nature”, how do human perceive and depict landscape through technology and power? How might Gaia’s story offer us new perspectives on multispecies symbiosis?
Fushun as a Research Field: Thinking About Temporalities, Energy Flow and Individual Sensibilities Towards a Sustainable Future
Speakers: Uriel Orlow, Han Qian, Qiu Yu, Li Yong
Convener and Speaker: Mia Yu
The third part of the series focused on the artists’ field trip to Fushun in August 2022. Fushun was Asia’s forerunner in energy and the largest heavy industry development since the early 20th century. It also possesses the deepest ecological trauma. Taking Fushun as a research field, the trip seeks to shed lights on the shifting human-earth relationship and complex ecological perceptions in China’s transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy.
Uriel Orlow | Ruins in Reverse, Haunting and the Restitution of Memory to History
In this talk, Uriel Orlow will present a number of recent projects developed from Armenia to the Democratic Republic of Congo which engage with micro-histories, spatial manifestations of memory, social and ecological justice and blind spots of representation. He will engage with the question, how we as artists can engage in different forms of haunting, alternative temporalities and reparative sociability?
Mia Yu | Unpacking Fushun: Energy Flow, Deep-Time Landform and Geo-Engineered Nature
As the initiator of “North x Anthropocene” project, Mia Yu provides an overall review of the summer fieldtrip to Fushun. On one hand, this fieldtrip is an exploration of the rise and fall of mining and industrial development history, enabling artists to refresh their impression of various forms of energy infrastructure; on the other hand, it attempts to offer a planetary perspective on the complex interplay among deep geological timescale, coal, oil, mining wastes and renewable energy. In the process, Fushun emerges as a perceptible site of artistic research.
Han Qian | In The Stillness Between Two Waves Of The Sea: The Field in Art Practices
Han Qian will base her reflection on how an artist arrives at the field, from her current new work “In The Stillness Between Two Waves Of The Sea,” With ten-year living experiences in Europe, Han Qian is torn between two different perspectives. It was only when she arrived in Northeast China for the “first time” that the tangled relationship between land and identity led her to a new field. From Wuhan to Northeast China, from the ironworks to the mines, all the encounters and arrivals interpenetrate and absorb everything around her confronting both the order of the old world and the look of a new life. In her recent works, confusion and understanding share a ground of intergrowth in her work. How can anthropogenic time and geological time grow from this land and mirror each other? In this process, In this process, does the human also transformed into a kind of “sediment” in different scales of time? What is consumed and what is built seems always to be intertwined.
Qiu Yu | Complex Perception marked with the “Scar”
The trip to Fushun brought Qiu Yu to a specific field wherein his body becomes a medium for perception. The convergence of hope and abandonment echoes the transition from fossil to new energy. In the magnitude of geological time, the strata elements mingle with the body, of which the wandering artist becomes a part. As the “scars” are covered with callus, they pulsate and itch, and tangle with each other. Qiu Yu will share his idiosyncratic experience, episodic reminisce and imagination aroused by technology, energy, ecology and body perception during the period of the transition from old to new energy.
Li Yong | “The Burning Wilderness”: Two Stages of Observing Xishechang
A Fushun resident and observer of Xishechang Waste Field, Li Yong has experienced many changes in his ways of observing and engaging Fushun after co-organizing and participating in the fieldtrip. Li Yong’s creation has always been marked with the keyword “waste”, tapping into the energy and vitality in “waste”. The energy of Xishechang is embodied in the heat with the form of combustion. It strikes an astonishing resemblance with the landscape in the Mexican writer Juan Rulfo’s work. On the cover of Rulfo’s book “The Burning Field”, there is a sentence which reads “Despair is like wildfire, burning the hard-skinned plain clean”. For Li Yong, burning never equals desperation in Xishechang. Li Yong attempts to understand the geological and historical time of the combustion and treats it as an influx of light and heat, while reading the changes in Xishechang in the ebb and the flow of time.
Speculative Geology and the Hauntings of the Anthropocene
Speakers: Vanessa Billy, Shuyi Cao, Mia Yu
Convener: Mia Yu
The fourth part of the online sharing series featured recent works of New York-based artist Shuyi Cao and Zurich-based artist Vanessa Billy, and invite both artists to share their insights on concepts of speculative geology, the materiality of the waste, post-anthropocene landscapes, and the multi-species kinship supposition, to which the convener Mia Yu will actively respond.
Vanessa Billy | Fossil Afterlife
Vanessa Billy is looking for ways to engage physically in a contemporary world geared towards consumption of finished goods. Presenting works spanning over a decade she will discuss her sculptural and installative practice, which started with picking up waste in skips and has developed to use both handmade and industrial materials. Contrary to evolutionist models Billy proposes hybrid forms as a way to escape the dualism between nature and culture, an attempt to inscribe the human in a de-hierarchised continuum. Her installation reveals a complex materiality, in which each work is autonomous but comes together to create a landscape of altered nature. This ensemble simulates a mechanised, or industrially produced, environment in which the metabolisms of animals and plants have gone awry. In this way the artist makes tangible the myriad of macro and micro alterations inflicted on the earth and other life forms.
Shuyi Cao | Speculative Geology, Paradoxical Kin
The talk focuses on the speculative geology addressed in her recent explorations of material and technological approaches to layered temporalities and latent terrains in a more-than-human world, navigating through incompatible scales and relational affinity across a myriad of networked life forms.
Mia Yu is art historian, curator and filmmaker based in Beijing. Her research explores divergent narratives of the Anthropocene through technological mediations, eco-imageries and alternative cosmologies. Engaging writing, exhibition-making, filmmaking and performance lecture, her practices intend to enact emotive and affective kinship between the human and the more-than-human on the landscape of ecological trauma. Mia Yu has widely published and lectured about her work at institutions including Harvard University, University College of London, the Courtauld Institute of Art, Goldsmiths, California College of Art and Bauhaus-Universität Weimar.
“Ecological Entanglements” Co-Learning Series
Organizer: WU SPACE, Shenyang
Supported by Pro Helvetia Shanghai
Fieldtrip Organizers: Mia Yu, Li Yong, Pang Haoqing
Participants: Han Qian, Geng Yini, Li Tianqi, Ma Shuoli, Qiu Yu, Song Yuanyuan, Zhang Ran, Zhang Yibei, Zhao Lu, Lucy Yuxi Lu, Miao Jiang
Sites of Visit: Fushun West Open Pit Mine and Ecological Zone, Xishechang Photovoltaic Power Generation Project, Xishechang Waste Incineration Treatment Plant, Qingyuan Pumped Storage Power Plant Construction Site, Mining Subsidence Area, Fushun No. 1 Oil Refinery Plant Ruins, Fushun Coal Museum, Fushun Daguan Kiln
Support: WU SPACE, Pro Helvetia Shanghai