In early 2020, Chinese conceptual artist Zhao Rongjie cocooned herself in her studio in southwest China for three months as part of her Breathing 2020 project. While in quarantine, she spent her days raising 2,000 silk worms, harvesting silk, stitching embroidered artwork, and plastering a crystal ball with layers of international newspaper clippings as a daily ritual. Throughout the long Spring, she documented the parallels between her evolution and the metamorphosis of silkworms in a short film, poetry, writings, and a collection of images for ArtsEverywhere.
The following Spring, Rongjie set off from her home in Dali for an ancient Buddhist temple complex perched nearly 1,000 meters above a high, ear-shaped, alpine lake–– Er Hai. For six months she lived among farmers, monks, and mushroom hunters in a small mountain hamlet on Jizu Shan (Chicken-foot Mountain, the sacred mountain where it is believed the Future Buddha, Maitreya, will re-emerge) conducting research for the Breathing 2021 project. There she scours the wooded mountain slopes for rare fungus with local experts Da Ge and Da Sao and documents the unique spore structure of each species in situ and as negative prints.
In 2022, Rongjie began filming an ethnographic docuseries that explores agricultural traditions and the experiences of farmers in some of Yunnan’s Indigenous heartlands. Each film focuses on a unique region of the province and builds a narrative around art-making and the conflict between tradition and modernity. With Seeds & Seeds, Rongjie has crafted a series conversations with artists and farmers who exist on the peripheries of modern China, within communities that have either been neglected or objectified as “isolated” or “exotic”, but in fact are simply rooted to the soil.
In early 2020, visual artist Zhao Rongjie cocooned herself in her home in the mountains of southwest China and raised 1,000 silkworms over two months, creating a series of videos, cocoon artworks, and silk embroidery as she underwent her own process of metamorphosis.
Breathing 2021: Field Notes
In the mountains of Yunnan Province, near China’s southwestern frontiers, conceptual artist Zhao Rongjie has spent months collecting and documenting rare endemic fungus species with local mushroom hunters.
Breathing 2021: Field Notes Week 2
Conceptual artist Zhao Rongjie chronicles daily life on Jizu Mountain, as she helps her local hosts Da Ge and Da Sao harvest walnuts and mushrooms to sell at the weekly market.
Field Diary: Among the Mushroom Hunters
In the mountains of southwest China, conceptual artist and director Zhao Rongjie meets a husband and wife team of mushroom hunters who welcome her into their home and introduce her to a simpler, antiquated world of physical labour, spiritual inheritance, and symbiosis with nature.
Listening 2021: Mycelicopia
Conceptual artist Zhao Rongjie brings the psychedelia of spore prints to film in an hypnotic visual collage of rare mycelia and symbolic natural (and unnatural) soundscapes.
Breathing: Opening Night in Chengdu
Soon after the ban on public gatherings was lifted in China, Zhao Rongjie traveled to the capital of Sichuan Province to display two years of silkworm cocoon installations, mushroom spore prints, and embroidered silk tapestries.
Seeds & Seeds
Episode 1 of an ethnographic docuseries that examines the relationships between community, culture and seeds in southwest China.
Seeds & Seeds: Xiangtang
Episode 2 of an ethnographic docuseries that explores agricultural traditions in one of Yunnan’s isolated, unrecognized ethnic minority communities.
Seeds & Seeds: Dai
Episode 3 of the ethnographic docuseries introduces three generations of Dai artisans who are preserving Hinayana Buddhist traditions and community identity through creative means.
Seeds & Seeds: Tibet
Episode 4 of an ethnographic docuseries from Tibetan Yunnan that explores the decisions communities face when modern development and environmental fragility converge.