The Golden Tree: On the nature of nature in contemporary Chinese Cities

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


A green mountain is a gold mountain*. Such is the pressing desire for having a better and greener environment in contemporary China. However, in a brand-new city, can nature be established as quickly as the mushrooming high-rise apartments? This paper explores the politics of the (re-)constructing nature in some representative Chinese cities by reviewing and contextualising Preston’s eight-year photographic project Forest. Focusing on Chongqing’s journey to become a ‘Forest City’, Preston begins by photographing the transplanted mature trees in their heavily pollarded, wounded, suffocated and propped status. Elaborating the idea of abusing trees to the idea of abusing the symbolic colour of ‘green’, she then documents the otherworldly ecology recovery landscape in Haidong Development Zone, Dali, Yunnan Province.

Through an explorative gaze, personal sensitivity and in-depth research, Forest questions the nature of nature in contemporary Chinese cities, where nature is merely part of an ever-changing landscaping project that is created for GDP growth, quick visual pleasure and reaching temporary environmental target. However, the long-term investigation also witnesses signs of integration. After all, trees and people do adept and grow. In the process, the new city shows potential to change, from signs of diaspora and displacement, to a place with new memories and roots.

In this way, the paper contextualises the Forest project in the current discussion around the city, urbanisation, urban ecology and the artist’s role in contributing towards such contemporary issues.
Period12 Nov 2019
Event titleChinese Centre for Visual Arts 12th Annual Conference
Event typeConference
Conference number12
LocationBirmingham, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational