I was born in Beijing in 1989, into a generation some described as born “in the gap of history.” Like many other young people born in big cities, my childhood was surrounded by materialism and consumerism- accompanied by Disney toys and animations like Ultraman; the award for getting a good test score would be a ticket to an amusement park or water park. Nowadays, the relation between the individual and the world seems concrete and straightforward: everything we want is within reach. Still everything seems further away, our desires never fulfilled. A person could feel at home in a strange place, but the concept of home also becomes strange at the same time. We are constantly immersed in solitude and isolation, and these sensations arrive at specific but discreet moments. I’m curious about the relation between the individual and their surrounding spaces in these moments.
The phrase “In-Between Places” has always been fascinating to me. It floats into my mind from time to time; waking up alone in a chain hotel in an unfamiliar city; sitting zoned-out in the rest areas of countless indistinguishable shopping malls; going with a friend to an amusement park in her hometown only to find it a vacant lot; returning to the natural history museum I visited as a kid and realizing the immaculate plants and trees were fake; recognizing the same monotonous images of an ideal city on billboards across the country.
There’s an image from my childhood that lingers in my mind: in the playground of my kindergarten was a roughly-built mini Great Wall covered in graffiti and stickers. Next to the Great Wall were a few sculptures of the Zodiac in traditional style. At dusk, the sun crept through the entrance of a turret, changing colours and refracting on the stickers like stars in daylight. The picture is set in my mind like a luminous island, timeless and bizarre.
It’s also this scene which led me to the project of “In-Between Places,” to revisit the most quotidian of public spaces: the shopping centres, chain hotels, zoos, aquariums, planetariums… places at once familiar and strange, belonging to our time but also of an indeterminate age. In the process of creating this work, I found myself developing nostalgia for the childhood memory I intended to criticize. To attempt to observe these moments and spaces as an “outsider,” I realized, was both childish and arrogant. This is the era I know; what I might have looked down upon has equally shaped me from the very beginning, embedded in my memory and emotions.