Forest re-seen: From the metropolis to the wilderness

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Rooted in practice-based research, the article uses the author’s artistic work as a springboard to discuss wider issues of ecology restoration, rewilding and environmental aesthetics. The first section of the article critically reviews and contextualizes the author’s eight-year photographic project, Forest, which investigates the politics of nature restoration projects in two new Chinese cities. Hinged upon contemporary environmental awareness and canonical photography aesthetics such as the topographic, the documentary and the storytelling, the Forest project pictorially and dialectically discusses the complexities of urban nature while beginning to accept urbanized China as a possible homeland. Extending the notion of constructed nature to an international context, within the global conversation efforts of re-naturalization and rewilding, the second section of the article analyses the inherent contradictions of rewilding in the post-wild world. The rewilded landscapes, the neo-wilderness, are brought into attention as a physical space to be investigated. The third section of the paper returns to its roots as practice-based research and tries to understand the neo-wilderness from the perspectives of landscape aesthetic traditions of both the West and China. The article finds commonality between three generations of representative western and male environmental photographers in their aesthetic choices and their philosophical grounding towards the sublime, pristine nature, as well as the binary between nature and culture. Finally, after a cautious discussion around the potential mis-use of Chinese traditional landscape aesthetics within contemporary landscape photography, the article points out the need to find alternative landscape aesthetics in order to critically investigate the meaning of nature now, with the constructed, rewilded landscapes as a crux for artists to produce an informed pictorial understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)345-366
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Contemporary Chinese Art
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


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