Yang Zhou

2016 - Ongoing

On-going project Faerie tries to find an unique way of conversation with the cultural heritage. At the mouth of the Yangtze is the fertile flood plain where many intellectuals of the old dynasties made their retirement home, after serving as advisors in the Court. Here, they build their private Gardens, characterizing artificial mountains made of stones from the Lake Tai, winding corridors with carved windows and pavilions upon quiet ponds. As renowned scholar James Cahill argued in his book Garden Painting in Old China, time seems to work differently within and outside the gardens. A thousand years could have passed in the real world while merely a day in the gardens. He went on to conclude that a garden is a Faerie within the real world.

Wandering along the corridors or around the artificial mountains, I was struck with the realization that the Garden was not a representation system in which the man-made referred to the real hills or lakes in the Nature as people usually thought. In effect, the Garden does not follow the law of the Nature, nor is it mere simulation of our Primary World. Rather, the intellectuals who built them, were Sub-Creators of a Secondary World, in the same way, as J. R. R. Tolkien argued, that fairy-story authors create a Secondary World, a Faerie, that follows its own law, free from the domination of observed ‘fact’, and into which our mind can enter and find Escape and Consolation.

The Garden is a three-dimensional Secondary World, into which we can physically enter, and Escape, not only from the old or modern ‘real life’, but more importantly, from the ultimate Doom: Death. After all, in the Ming Dynasty classic Peony Pavilion, it was in the Garden that a fair maiden dreamt of her true lover and later woke up from Death for him. This sudden and miraculous happy ending gives us Consolation, and “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief”. From the classic Kunqu Opera Peony Pavilion to Liaozhai Zhiyi: Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio full of fairies, ghosts and spirits, Gardens have always been the background. Just like Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or the Heian Period described in Onmyōji novels, the Gardens have formed a similar fictional time and space, in which our ultimate desire could be fulfilled: to gain immortality.

Indeed, today as popular tourist destinations, the Gardens are not what it used to look like centuries ago. After repeated destroy and renovation, the Gardens obviously are no longer authentic heritage, even though the preservations are done with great efforts to follow the historical document. Yet, even if their layouts, vegetation, and ownerships keep changing, there is something about the Gardens that stay unchanged throughout the centuries: as long as we as human beings continue to fear death and desire immortality, the core of the Gardens remains. Look beyond the material world and seek this hidden Faerie.

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