Mountain River Jump! : Horns, Wrestle, Role
There is one clue that links Lingnan and Switzerland: cow.
The horn of a cow (or an ox) in Cantonese is 角/gok. Horn fight角斗/gok dau is wrestle; horn measurement角度/gok dou is angle; horn color角色/gok sik is a role.
Mountain River Jump!’s residency was supposed to take place in 2021, but the pandemic delayed it to 2022. It was such an adventure with surprises and gains. When we set off, Shanghai was in COVID-19 lockdown. Flights, trains, buses, catering, anything could be canceled at any time. It was very difficult to travel within the city, not to mention to go abroad. Before our flight finally set off, there were passengers on our flight having stayed at the airport for a week with their whole families. It is said that there wouldn’t be any direct flights to Zurich for a year after that. Such a magically absurd reality. We chose our flight date based on astrology analysis. It was until later that we found out that our flight date was close to the birth date of the Northern Emperor at Foshan Ancestral Temple. The Northern Emperor was a god who looked after people’s travel.
We chose Zurich because we are deeply influenced by Swiss psychologist Carl Gustave Jung’s Analytical Psychology, especially his theory of archetype and synchronicity. Jung was a man of broad vision, who had a creative understanding of many things, including I Ching. Some of his stories are interpreted on Chinese social media and have gained millions of views. What’s more, the cow is favored in Switzerland just as in the Cantonese region where we live. One of the classic themes of Foshan ceramic art is Laozi Riding on a Black Ox. Between the end of the Ming dynasty and the start of the Qing dynasty, people who followed the Ming government gathered in southern China to recluse from the world and practice Zen. In Ten Oxherding Pictures, which is a series of short poems combined with drawings used in Zen tradition, ox is the symbol of the mind, while herding ox and searching ox are analogies for different stages of a practitioner’s progress towards enlightenment.
In May we brought our work Cards of Chinese Animal Idioms and hosted a workshop with a local audience for two consecutive days. In the second half of June, we summarized our experience of visiting Valais (a lovely place with friendly people) and produced Fight in Synchronicity, a performance that combines shadow play and martial art fighting elements.
2022 marks the 100th anniversary for the Herens Cow Fighting Festival in Valais, a French region in Switzerland. The local Herens cows are strong and competitive. They would even start fighting outside the arena.
Huang Shan (a.k.a. Mountain): The peak of the snowy mountain was shining at the back of this battle for the queen’s throne. The cows’ plump bodies shook unwieldy with the heavy bells on their necks. This is a battle for the mother of genesis, a battle for the archetype of the Great Mother. The winning queen will lead the cattle for the next year, until the next challenger wins. For the most part of their fight, their horns tangled with one another, quiet and solemn. The two black cows stuck together like one giant stone, peaceful and silent, like a black mountain. Suddenly one of them burst out a devastating force, broke the opponent’s defense and drove her away, swift as wind and strong as thunder (the thunder did roar in the battle). It was like watching two psychic energies tangling together, coexisting while smothering one another. The conflicts were between joy and pain, between being in control and out of control, between the mask and the shadow, between the conscious and the unconscious.
Huang He(a.k.a. River): The Herens cows are like cattle breeders’ pets. They are silent but savage. Some cows went into the arena without the will to fight: they just buried their heads into the grass and left the arena after a casual walk. When two cows were fighting, sometimes they were focused, sometimes they weren’t. But when they were, they remind us of Listening Energy in Tai Chi. This is an objective and intuitive way of communication between animals, and it’s so different from the “bullfight” we thought. Therefore, we decided to represent this sense of psychological time and space in our following performance at Theater am Neumarkt.
Mountain: We transformed our discovery into a surrealistic short play titled “Fight in Synchronicity” at the Chorgasse space at Theater am Neumarkt. The genes of Cantonese martial arts movies woke up in us and taught us how to use horsetail whisk to fight. In this play, we are belligerent, impulsive and wild, but we will also restore peace like a fishing hermit in a straw raincoat. The Great Goddess in mythologies and art is a symbolized representation of the primordial image or archetype of the Great Mother in Analytical Psychology. Inspired by this, we also tried to interpret the transformation of form between characters. Zurich, which had been blazing with sunshine, seemed to be infected by this “battle” atmosphere. At nightfall that day, suddenly dark clouds rolled in and the lightning flashed.
River: This work combines shadow play and martial art elements, some interaction with objects, and an interchanging montage of audio and lighting. It begins with a shadow play cow fight in slow drumming, followed by plants that merged with female features, artificial snow, Eastern imagery fighting, Tai Chi pace, and writing invisible characters, etc. Some friends said that we did something not so European at the most European place. The seats in our performance space were fully reserved instantly, and the audience were very engaged.
During our residency, we stayed in the Gleis 70 Building in Micafil, Zurich. Coincidentally, the number of the studio we stayed in was our birth date. One day we were researching on Google in the middle of the night. Then we found out that C. G. Jung once used a series of coincidences related to bullfighting to explain the theory of synchronicity in his book Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal. In fact, we were born in the year of ox. During the residency, we visited ISAP (International School of Analytical Psychology) and C. G. Jung House Museum as planned, and we also, by accident, visited The Bollingen Tower, which is not open to the public. The tower rests within the mountain woods, and we walked 30 minutes to get to it. It remains in its original appearance to this day: harsh stone walls and ground surrounded by wild woods and grass. On the floors and ceilings of the tower scattered sentences carved by C. G. Jung himself, twinkling with wisdom. It was here that Jung wrote the preface for the English version of I Ching translated by Richard Wilhelm, published his research on the “synchronicity” of I Ching, and finished his book Mysterium Coniunctionis, etc. More information can be found in this book: Jung and Chinese Culture, Capital Normal University Publishing House, October 2018, first edition, authored by Shen Heyong and Gao Lan. Before our residency, we visited Professor Shen Heyong in Guangzhou.
Mountain: C. G. Jung House Museum was the highlight of our journey. We lingered at his study for a long time, unwilling to leave. We could feel the time condensed on his scroll of Water-Moon Avalokitesvara, his Tibetan Buddhism thangka of Kurukulla and the Wheel of Life (it’s also my phone screen saver), and his ceiling-high bookshelf filled with mythology and philosophy books. It was here that Jung wrote (or drew) his famous The Red Book, in which he interpreted the painted Tiger Pedestal Bird Stand Drum from Chu Dynasty of ancient China, and wrote down a paragraph in German that is equivalent to “long, long had been my road and far, far was the journey; I would go up and down to seek my heart’s desire” from Li Sao.
Huang He: Jung put the books about China on his shelf where he could reach easily. His love for ancient Chinese culture was not out of colonialism or a certain political belief, but a sincere fondness. In this 6-months abroad trip, Jung’s study was where my spirit felt the most at ease. We can’t ignore the Asian hate and Sinophobia in the post-pandemic time.
At ISAP, we attended a class related to the late 15th-century European tapestry with unicorn motifs. To our surprise and delight, we had the honor to meet Professor Allan Guggenbühl, the founder of Mythodrama method as well as his daughter Valeri. From Professor Allan Guggenbühl’s perspective, the human mind tends to chase conflicts, therefore, we are all attracted by conflicts.
With an introduction by Yasmin Naderi Afschar, we went to a small town, Würenlos, to visit Emma Kunz Zentrum, a healer and artist with a unique philosophy and approach. She is respected by the residents in the town who turned her original home into a small memorial. In her lifetime, Emma Kunz predicted that her paintings would be re-recognized in the new century, and she was right.
Our flight back home was suddenly canceled, and we had to stay indoors to figure out what to do. The extended journey also gave us more chances to explore. During this time, we met artist Janeth Berrettini, who is obsessed with Francois Cheng’s works and with using ink brushes. We hit it off immediately. In July, we were invited to conduct a “Time Diving” with her, which was a workshop combined with improvised painting and fortune telling.
If we could have a time travel, we would love to experience all of these absurd, anxious yet mild moments again.
In the end, we would like to mention the spray painting on the artificial cow horns made by Noelle Choquard, who’s in charge of the props at Theater am Neumarkt. Coincidentally, she comes from Valais, therefore the texture of the Herens cow horn was restored vividly. We would also like to thank a lot of staff from Theater am Neumarkt, as well as many friends from Gleis 70 and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.