After ‘To Add a Metre to an Anonymous Mountain, 1995’


Lancashire, UK, 2021

 I left China for England in 2005. During the recent pandemic while facing the real possibility of permanent exile from my motherland, I began to ask how cultural migration may look like. To answer this, I decided to start a set of artistic experiments---to literally ‘transplant’ one artwork from one place to another, just like the colonial botanists did with plants back in the day. After ‘To Add a Metre to an Anonymous Mountain,1995’ was the pilot in this series. It would be my first ‘naked’ piece with the extra challenge, but also the thrill of, being a participatory piece in the open landscape.

Preparation, a myriad of it, was the key. The first step was to gain permission for the re-staging from the original Chinese artists. This was done through various personal connections back in China. Then I needed to find participants. To do this I wrote a letter explaining the intention of the project with all its awkwardness and risks. 9 people were found without too many difficulties. To build trust, I made sure to get to know them ‘properly’ beforehand--- naked wild swimming was proven to be an effective method. Meanwhile a suitable site was needed to build a fitting view/context, and enough soft foreground for the actions. I chose Shedden Clough, a post-industrial land on the watershed of the South Pennines, for its un-pristine and un-pastoral quality. A team was assembled: a filmmaker, a documentary photographer, a large-format camera operator (since I’d be in the body pile too), a sound recorder, and a field assistant. Several rounds of test shooting and filming were done.

Finally, the day came. The 18th of August 2021, the wettest and most miserable of that summer. All 15 people turned up on that desolate car park on time. The shoot went like a dream. And I made new discoveries. Before the action, I only had a vague idea to challenge and to explore. Yet such idea became a total celebration. The vulnerability that we all felt, being naked in the testing natural elements and in front of strangers, brought powerful senses of trust and solidarity. It was so warm, safe, and eternal in that pile. Like ten hearts beating together, and ten living bodies becoming a conglomerate. Spontaneously, we had naked hugs afterwards---when would you ever do that, to hug a stranger nakedly, with an open heart in an open land?

We all became good friends after the shoot, the only person who wasn’t living in the area soon moved over. As for myself, I found my place in the British society, just like the foreign rhododendrons. I already have roots and a sense of communal belonging here; I just didn’t realise it before. Meanwhile there is an answer to my original question. Migration enriches culture. And the value of hybridity weights more than nativity. That is my discovery from adding a metre to a Lancashire hill.

The piece was made with a network of support, consent, and teamwork.

My first acknowledgement goes to the Chinese artists who created the original work To Add a Metre to an Anonymous Mountain in 1995. They were: Zhang Huan (张洹), Cang Xin (苍鑫), Duan Yingmei (段英梅), Wang Shihua (王世华), Ma Zhongren (马忠仁), Gao Yang (高炀), Zuo Xiao Zuzhou (左小祖咒), Ma Liuming (马六明), Zhang Binbin (张彬彬), Zhu Ming (朱冥), Kong Bu (孔布), and Lv Nan (吕楠)。Among them, I managed to establish contacts with Zhang Huan, Cang Xin, and Duan Yingmei , who kindly gave me permission for the restaging. My friends in China, Yan Yan (闫颜) and He Chengyao (何成瑶), made the initial introduction for me to reach the original artists.

My gratitude goes to the brave people who stripped off naked with me on a freezing day. They were Clive Green, Katie Back, Adam Buckley, Kate Kinoshita, Clare Pearl, Davide Penazzi, Michael Ryan, Brant Richards, and Sasha Goldsmith. We had such fun together!

The work was realised with a team of experts: Alex Mannion-Jones was the cinematographer; Lucy Cartwright took all the wonderful still images to document the process; Christine Zhou was the sound recorder; the artist, Dr Sarah-Jane Eyre, operated the 5 by 4 inch camera while also provided the final touches before she released the shutter (since I was also in the pile.); Paul Croft provided whatever assistance that we needed.

The School of Arts and Humanities, University of Huddersfield, where I have a part-time teaching post, provided some of the much-needed financial support to make the piece. My gallery, Messums.Org, holds great faith in the work and will present it for the first time in my solo exhibition Three Easier Pieces at Messums London.