When the harvest moon comes out, we feel the pangs of place. American schools hold homecomings. Jews build booths. Chinese families reunite to stare into the sky. There is something fundamentally human in the autumn air, the feeling that things have turned, cyclically, but irrevocably all the same. The fruits of the bygone summer are picked, positions are consolidated, the long winter is braced for. It’s a good time to think about who our neighbors are, and where we call home.
In an axiomatically global moment, the question of home elicits ironic grunts. “Where are you from?” a fraught inquiry in the nineties, is now met with universal ennui, at least in an enclave like the art world, fortunate enough to be mobile. Still, the bonds of place persist, and that’s what this issue tries to get at. In a national context as rich and varied as China’s, it is inevitable that certain allegiances arise based on who’s from where. Our cover package looks, from different angles, at four regional homes throughout China, at the distinct traits and histories that are ascribed to their natives, and at the different ways these groups have responded by forming communities based on these places, the better with which to confront the (art) world at large.
Elsewhere in the issue, the question of place is picked up more obliquely. Adrian Wong’s installations play around with the sign-system of a land—Hong Kong—that is both his ancestral seat and current base, if not truly his home. The Long Marchers on their road through Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam cut across Southeast Asian locales this past summer in search of how the histories, but also the poetics, of these places inflect their positions on the global stage. Chen Wei’s fashion shoot unfolds in a domestic space with a distinct aesthetic of collapse. Zhou Bin’s performances ask about the contingent, constructed nature of the everyday; and what is a home if not a place in which the everyday unfolds, a default place where we envision ourselves to be when not somewhere else?
We do funny things for our hometowns. Ask the high-flying painters of Sichuan in Beijing, who have taken into their studios countless younger painters from back home, giving them a place from which to grow. Or ask Liu Xiaodong, who has spent the better part of the last three months in the tiny papermill town in Liaoning province where he grew up, making images from the people who populated his childhood; our cover this month is a painting from this series, aptly titled My Hometown, which depicts the inside of the house where he spent his childhood.
As the cliché goes, late September and early October offer Beijing’s best weather of the year. Still, there is a kind of autumn air unique to my own hometown, outside Philadelphia that I miss. It’s a distinct crispness that evokes, in a single breath, the simple complexity of being rooted in a single, special place.
September 26, 2010