He Bo: Farewell to the Stream (of…)
Participated in the “Artist-in-Residence in the Verzasca Valley 2022”. He worked at the Valley from July 24-September 5, 2022. Then his works were exhibited from September 1-4, 2022.
He Bo’s past artistic practice is mainly concerned with the re-creation of ready-made images and its theories, the narrative relationship between images and texts, the fictionality of archives and memory. Currently, he is concerned with reflecting on photographic practices used to create and maintain intimate relationships, and the “authenticity” within them. He also seeks to find rational ways for himself to deal with themes of home (homeland), memory, trauma and aftermath, and to rationalize the connections between regional and family histories across time.
“What is the most famous thing about this place?”
This was the question that drove me to rough research before attending my residency at Valle Verzasca in Switzerland in the summer of 2022. I was feeling unsure: should I make a specific well-prepared project proposal based on something from this place so that I could carry it out immediately after I arrive?
My senses told me that it’s both impossible and unnecessary. It is hardly feasible (at least for me) to “know” a place from a geographical and historical distance, nor is it likely that I, as an outsider and intruder, can know more about this valley than the local people.
Therefore, instead of (awkwardly) doing research for the sake of completing the work, I should continue to emphasize how my own experience relates to the place I am going to – this tension generated by distance is what I most want to experience and translate into my artistic practice.
In this sense, I arrived at Valle Verzasca with the only potential clue for a project: Valle Verzasca is the habitat of an indigenous breed of black domestic goat called Nera Verzasca, though the actual number of them is not clear. This clue later led to my first work during my residency: They Say These Goats Are Rare, but They Say They Are Actually Not That Rare. When I consulted Pascal Favere, a local goat breeder, about the actual number of Nera Verzasca, he told me about the association between this number, scientific research, and the governmental finance expenditure. Thus, a set of loose fables featuring these rare goats begins to be generated. The fables include the relationship between goat keepers and goats, the role of goats in human society, and the society of goats as a metaphor for the logic of how human society functions. Together they build the narrative through photographs, videos, readily available materials (leaves, charcoal ashes, etc.) and performances.
On the other hand, the other work of mine Farewell to the Stream (of…) is the reflection of how I felt after I arrived at Valle Verzasca. From the moment I arrived, I felt more and more that the landscape of Valle Verzasca was similar to the mountainous terrain of the western Sichuan plateau near my hometown. Such similarity triggered a weird homesickness and the feelings of missing friends—they are related to the duplicated visual experience, as well as the physical situation of actually being in a distant place. I then asked my friends to send me photos of the western Sichuan view they took during a trip we went on together. Using the brushes I used when I studied Chinese painting as a child and dipping them into the water in the streams and creeks of Valle Verzasca, I tried to draw the scenes in the photos on the rocks in the bodies of water. After painting a section, the water on the stone would quickly dry out, so I photographed each section of the painting and eventually assembled them together. For the exhibition, the original landscape photos and the composite photos of the stone paintings are presented side by side.
In short, making art in an unfamiliar environment has always been a question of how to dialogue with it under the premise of recognizing “distance” (geographical distance, historical distance, cognitive distance, relational distance, etc.). It’s my great pleasure to collaborate with friends from home who are also enthusiastic in photography and art to create concrete visible connections during this residency, and to have the opportunity to intersect for a moment with the daily lives of strangers within the limits of my own personality (how much I am willing to disturb others). These touches and interventions have once again confirmed the importance of the concept of “distance” in my practice and my life: because of it, small but inevitable meanings are continuously being constructed.