‘Yuan’ is the collective title of three performative photo works that I did in the winter of 2011 at two Yangtze River locations in China. ‘Yuan’ is a play on words. This romanised pronunciation can stand in for several Chinese characters:

圆-a circle, which is the shape that I made with my hands, the stones and the mineral pigment. Such elemental shape is also full of symbolism. Here I used it as a Taoism shape symbolising harmony between people and our environment. The struggle with such ideal has stayed in my work ever since.

 源-a water source, which refers to the headwater of the Yangtze River where I made one stone circle and one red circle. The source of the Yangtze, the Mother River of China, holds vital significance in our collective sense of identity. For me, returning to China after emigrating away was firstly a search for a lost home, therefore it had to begin from the beginning.

原-a beginning, an origin. The three pieces represent a formal beginning of my artistic creation while containing all the fundamental elements of my work. There is a hybrid practice that combines photography, land art and performance art. There is no binary between the urban environment and the wilderness. There is the strong desire to have an embodied, personal relationship with my subject matter, as well as the tendency to endure physical and emotional discomfort while making. Travelling to the source of the Yangtze River at 5,400 metres above the sea level on the Tibetan Plateau was first and foremost an adventure. The lack of oxygen and the extreme cold could easily kill. However, this is the type of environment that I seem to thrive. Looking back from 2024, it is surprising to see how far we can venture away yet how close we always remain to our origins.

A note on the stones:

Stones, particularly those sculpted by rivers, hold significance in Chinese traditional philosophy. While water represents Yin, stones and rocks represent Yang. Shaped by the persistent flow of water over time, river stones physically embody the integration of Yin and Yang as well as the eternal power of water. I held the stones shaped by the Yangtze at two locations: one at a headwater leading from Gangjiaquba Glacier on the east face of Mt. Galadandong in Tibet, the other one in Chongqing, a river metropolis 3,700km from Mt. Galadangdong. To hold the stones was to have a symbolic yet skin-to-skin connection with the river itself, the latter represents my memories of the motherland.

A note on the red pigment:

The red colour in one of my circles was produced from a mineral pigment called ‘Indian Red Earth’. It is used for Tangka-the Tibetan religious paintings. The source of the Yangtze River lies in an area with longstanding dispute towards its ownership. However there is no doubt that it has always been a traditional home for the Tibetan people. For me, there was a complex feeling of both homecoming and trespassing to be there. Using the particular pigment was my humble attempt to pay tribute towards the Tibetan tradition there.