Three Village Circular 三村通

Three Village Meeting, 8th June 2019 with, 1st row from left: Yang Qing, He Jixing, Jay Brown, He Shufen, He Shiyuan, Li Chunping, Chen Wanrong; 2nd row: Selena Kimball, Bob,Zhu Ming, Petra Johnson, Kitamari, He Xuemei.

Three Village Meeting, 8th June 2019 with, 1st row from left: Yang Qing, He Jixing, Jay Brown, He Shufen, He Shiyuan, Li Chunping, Chen Wanrong; 2nd row: Selena Kimball, Bob,Zhu Ming, Petra Johnson, Kitamari, He Xuemei.

’Three Villages’ is a loose affiliation of researchers, artists and curators in three villages close to Lashihai. Though all three villages are Naxi Villages, their proximity to Lijiang town (Ciman Village), Lashihai as a tourist location (Zheng Sheng Village) or protected wetlands (Jixiang Village) means their development is subject to different forces.

Whilst researchers in Ciman Village explore habitat selection and this year focus on the pear, researchers in Zheng Sheng Village contrast ancient Han Chinese agricultural traditions with holistic approaches developed in Western contexts and enrich both through encounters with local knowledge. In Jixiang Village, on the (still to be determined) border of a protected area and a working agricultural village, we try to learn from the community and focus on finding points of convergence between art and agriculture by using a variety of strategies from open air film showings that invite locals to dub films in Naxi or children to re-enact animations; observational walks; in depth interviews (see Jixiang Film Productions) and by hosting experts from different disciplines.

Left to right: Chen Wanrong (Lara); Li Chunping (Head of Ciman Village); He Jixing

Left to right: Chen Wanrong (Lara); Li Chunping (Head of Ciman Village); He Jixing

Three Village Circular 三村通 (2)

Participants: Yang Qing; Lara/Chen Wanrong; Zhuming; Jay Brown; Li Chunping, Village Head of Ciman Village; Selena Kimball; Kitamari; He Jixing; Petra Johnson; Bob.

On Saturday, 8th June 2019, we met to discuss three questions in the order set out below. Before summarising my overall impressions of the discussions, I will quickly retrace the origin of these questions. 

My first question emerged from a talk, I gave at China Academy of Fine Art at a Practitioners Forum organised by He Wenzhao and Professor Cheng in December 2018. The brief had been to reflect on my experience of being at Lijiang Studio. The process of writing and researching images revealed to me not so much the extent of the impact Lijiang Studio had on my work, but the detail. In the disguise of intuition, traces of an experience made in 2006[1]had by 2012[2]quietly shaped a practice – or rather a composition of rhythmic movement (pedestrian walking) – with affects (an intensity like wonder or serenity evoked by the everyday) for an urban context. This example of processing and translating an event rooted in local culture led to Question 1, and my current preoccupation: ’Can one make this process more conscious? Can it be taught?’ This is not about instrumentalising local knowledge, but finding ways to enable another relationship to our environment, a relationship that the anthropologist Eric Mueggler calls ‚auscultation’, in contrast with the notion of ‚surveying’.[3]

Question 1:


How to create an environment that fine-tunes the ability to note and disseminate local knowledge?

Following the Practitioners Forum at CAA, we were invited to a field trip to Pingnan, a region in Fujian County that dates back 3000 years and currently has 22 protected villages. We visited five: Qianyang Village, (Ming/Yuan Dynasty, very few occupants, all old). After trying various approaches, including artist residencies, the village will now be turned into a Natural History Museum; Shuangxi Village has been turned into an art village for locals by Li Zhenglu [4]. It is now also attracting visitors from further afield for free one week courses in oil painting, with materials supplied. There is also a building providing intimate spaces for reading. Next to these well-equipped libraries there is a facility for showing films. Longtan Village follows the same pattern on a smaller scale, with emphasis on writing studios. Xiadi Village: of the orginal 500 inhabitants, only 10 old people are left. The renovation for a form of gentle tourism is led by Mr. Cheng, an art critic. Xianfenxi Village has 1.000 registered inhabitants and 300 occupants. The old road to Fuzhou passes right through it. CAA is building a small outpost here, and in 2018 a group of students came three times to work with villagers on various projects, including sound recordings, and mapping and learning local crafts. The village has a twin, Lifenxi Village, which is deserted.

A half day heated debate with all the above-mentioned activists as well as the Party Secretary/Chairman Ms. Zhou Fenfang, who is facilitating these diverse approaches, led to the following question:

Question 2:



Between preserving a village and providing means for continuing its life, there is a moment in time.

What choices are available?

Question 2 is entirely informed by the dilemmas posed by villages that have been deserted. The very well-meaning and thoughtful attempts to resurrect/protect these villages are inevitably informed by urban thinking. The moment in time I am referring to is that moment where villagers are still in a position to influence the future of their village. Ciman, Zhen Sheng and Jixiang Village are in that moment of time. All three villages are subject to very different forces, and the choices available may well vary.

Question 3: 


How to maximise traffic from the rural to the urban,

so it changes the city?

Question 3 came out of a reflection on the first two questions. Deserted villages are a consequence of traffic from the rural to the urban. And some research (for example, Jeremy Cheval: Shanghai Shikumen Lilong, socio-spatial transformations of human settlement: appropriations in shared spaces beyond destruction)highlights the skills of improvisation and communal living brought by villagers to the city.

On a different scale, by unravelling the origin of my walking practice, I can demonstrate that it is possible to translate practices originating in rural contexts into an urban environment. However, the visit to Pingnan County alerted me to the prevalence of urban thinking in seeking solutions and the dilemmas posed when addressing critical conditions once the village no longer presents a ‚voice‘. 

’A place is a cycle of places’[5]

The discussions during our second meeting on Saturday, 8th June, were intense. Villages have gone through many changes already (Lara/Chen Wanrong), they have survived possibly greater challenges than the ones posed now. Many regions in many countries grapple with the preferred solution from governments and business, which is tourism. Meanwhile government decisions based on safety or environmental protection affect villagers‘ livelihood, like a prohibition – in the name of fire control – to take animals to graze outside the village in Guangxi Province. Closer to home, in Jixiang Village, locals gathering for Qingming by their family graveside, were asked to leave for the same reasons. As one of the participants put it: ‚People don’t know what to do’. Local governments often have to face seemingly conflicting objectives: to increase the standard of living; to protect the environment; to stabilize society. For a local village chief that means constantly trying to find ways of translating and appropriating new policies for the benefit of the village. We all bring different perspectives, different skills and different personalities. What is constructive about our coming together is sharing those multiple viewpoints and allowing visions to emerge that are outside the reach of any one of us.

In Ciman Village, the Media Service Center has recently put emphasis on the pear, a fruit for which the village used to be famous. This has brought people in the village together and created a focussed community with a clear objective. There is a drive to plant new pear orchards with support from NGOs. There are also plans to work in partnership with an urban community.

In Zhengeng, Zhuming and Wangmei have started to learn from a deserted house once inhabited by a local, now deceased, who was very knowledgable about medicine and the needs of plants. They do so by taking note of the plants, their orientation, their spatial relations to other plants, their relations to the buildings and the mountain, they find testimony to a life that would otherwise fade into oblivion.

In Jixiang Village, He Jixing has started weekly open-air film showings in the old primary school, once the site of the village temple. By sharing at a public site, we bring together the studio and its residents with locals from different generations. We learn about people‘s interests, and get an inkling of the aspirations of the children.

We learn. 

Most of all we learn about local technological practice, a practice that is ’specifically oriented to the growth and continuum of the natural world and humanity’s place in it, direct contact with ancestors, and the creative and moral shaping of future reality.’[6]

[1]A 24 hour Ritual of Cleansing a Farmstead with He Xiudong in Tacheng.


[3]Mueggler, E. 2011 The Paper Road University of California Press

 ’Their (Dongba) mode of investigation did not survey the landscape. It auscultated its depth, threw out lines of communication to its hidden presences, and divined traces of a past that had vanished from its surfaces.’p.45

[4]Li Zhenglu has been in the area for three years. In 2001 a National Policy of regenerating rural areas was introduced and Li Zhenglu argued with government officials against the policy of implementing creative industry parks. A humanist vision, he argues, can only be created by art. 

[5]Downey J., 331 quoted in ‚Caring, Curiosity and Curating, Beyond the End’by Carla Macchiavelo (2015)

[6]Peter Sellars 2009, quoted in Salter, C. Entangled  MIT Press    p.IX