I like the humid landscape in the tropics, where rainforests are reminiscent of everything mysterious and spiritual. It could be a topophilia of mine that every time I chose Southeast Asia as the destination of my international travels so far. The region attracts me with its particular temperature and landscape — the flourishing vegetation there seems to me wild and untamed, meanwhile the more natural they are, the more comfortable it feels. The same vibrancy and wildness can also be felt in other tropical countries, be it rainforests or deserts.
However, if you look at these countries from a historical perspective, you will find that even though there is such an unruly temperament in their landscapes, they have never resisted the intrusion of outsiders (more civilised countries relatively speaking). The invader-and-invaded relationship adds a disciplinary part to the wildness here and changes the original state of the place. Starting from the question of 'Why the tropics tend to give birth to colonies rather than developed countries', in my recent works, I examine the ideology that was left behind in the tropics by the capitalist empire and the 'landscape' that has never belonged to the region. I consider this particular 'landscape' an attachment or parasite left in colonies by imperialism, which is indicative of the process and the lust of conquest. What is left here adheres to the locals, their minds and the cities, carrying the form of nature as well as human intrusion. After the colonists left, it became a relic of colonial memory, containing emotions of erosion, scars and speechlessness. In addition, the process of taming the tropics by the colonists also reminds me of the animal world, where an intense tropical anxiety is brought to people and landscapes in the tropics by the fact that the weak are preyed upon by the strong. The desire and anxiety both seem apparent to me.
The image of the tropics changes gradually under the transformation of colonists.We could think of how Joseph Conrad describes in his Heart of Darkness, that 'The wilderness had patted him on the head, and, behold, it was like a ball-an ivory ball; it had caressed him, and-lo! —— he had withered.' That powerful ghost of empire emerged from the void and exerted its profound impact on the places, before and after its disappearance. The consciousness it left behind remains and continues to grow on the tropical land. Therefore, this tropical room contains traces of others.
I try to capture those traces that are related to nature but are affected by the empire, as well as the difference between the core and periphery of the world system. In each and every form of dialogues exist a 'powerful speech' and a 'powerless speech', the symbiosis between which is similar to the derived 'loss' or the invaded 'co-exist'. What the Western colonialism brings to the subordinate tropical land is both a poison and a therapy, which changes the tropical land simultaneously. Nowadays, even though colonialism and the former colonies are viewed in the past tense, ghosts are still there and post-colonialism still wanders in the tropics.
by Chen Dandizi
Press release courtesy Hua International.