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 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.