Frank and the Forest
Frank, a 300-year-old daqing tree (Latin name: Ficus hookeriana Corner), was still standing at its home—the tiny village of Xialiu at the southeast corner of Lijiang Prefecture, an area with a reputation akin to Shangri-La. Ludila, one of the Yangtze River dams, was soon to flood the village. Everything had to move.
The entire Xialiu village had been flattened. No trace was left. Frank and three other centuries-old trees in the village were sold together for RMB 100,000 (Euro 10,000). Each family received a small share. Frank was bought by the owners of a planned five-star hotel, Hot Spring Hotel, in a nearby county called Binchuan in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. Construction for the hotel had not yet begun. According to the only security guard on site at the time, Frank, after having its crown and leaves removed, still weighed seventy tons. It broke two cranes before finally getting uprooted from its home of 300 years. It was so big that it could not be transported around city street corners. The local police had to coordinate the move. By the time it reached the hotel, it had cost the new owners RMB 250,000 (Euro 25,000). Someone else made an offer of RMB 700,000 (Euro 70,000), but it was declined. When asked if the tree would survive, the guard replied with pride, “Yes. They were all experts for transplanting trees, it would most definitely survive.”
The Hot Spring Hotel’s foundation had finally been laid. But Frank was nowhere to be seen. It had died two years before. Only the mound of red soil that it once stood in remained. Apparently, after Frank, another tree was purchased and planted on the same spot, but it also died. Judging by the fates of these old trees, the feng shui of this place was seriously in doubt, as the locals said.
Frank’s story is not unique. In China, the country where cities are springing up, transplanting and re-constructing nature are big businesses. In the photo series Forest, Yan Wang Preston spent eight years following many uprooted creatures that are now in concrete deserts. Meanwhile, a fantastic ecology model town, with its blood-looking semi-artificial soil and fluorescent green landscapes, is also documented. Once again, the meaning of homeland is questioned in this age of mass urbanisation.
“Preston’s photographs are bold, her feelings are powerful. She began with trees and has in the end encompassed the land itself. Through these pictures Preston has raised the consciousness of urgent questions faced by all of us in this era of urbanism. In doing so, she joins the ranks of exceptionally dedicated photographers and artists who have looked, asked questions with care, and responded with their hearts.”
Excerpt from Forest foreword by Zelda Cheatle
Yan Wang Preston
Yan Wang Preston, born in 1976, is a British-Chinese artist primarily interested in how landscape photography can challenge myths and reveal hidden complexities behind the surface of physical landscapes. Her previous work has won several international awards including the Shiseido Photographer Prize at the Three Shadows Photography Annual Award in Beijing, China (2015) and the Reviewer’s Choice Award at the FORMAT Portfolio Review in Derby, England (2014).
Her work has been shown at the Photographers Gallery, Dublin, Dubai Photo, the 56th Venice Biennale, Three Gorges Museum, Chongqing, China, Wuhan Art Museum, Hubei, China and the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai. Preston’s work is collected by the Wuhan Art Museum and is represented by the Three Shadows +3 Gallery in Beijing.