Compass in Hand: Selections from The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection

Yun-Fei Ji. The Empty City: Autumn Colors. 2003

Chinese watercolor and ink on Chinese paper, 31 1/2 x 92 1/2" (80 x 235 cm). The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection Gift. © 2022 Yun-Fei Ji

Narrator: In this drawing, The Empty City: Autumn Colors, artist Yun–Fei Ji explores the controversy of the construction of the Three Gorges Hydroelectric Dam in China, which was begun in the early 1990s. Thus far approximately 1.5 million people have been relocated to make way for the dam.

Artist, Yun-Fei Ji: When I visited this area, most of the people were scavengers who built these makeshift tents with the leftover doors and windows but their work was going through the ruins, and salvage things, and these people become the main character in this group of work. I kind of try to see the landscapes through their eyes, and imagine a world maybe they might have experienced in this very lonely landscape. I was wandering around in this area imagining the ghosts and the people who might used to live there, and things like that.

Like many children in China, I was taught calligraphy as a child by my grandfather who said that in order to make a simple horizontal line one has to have the image of certain cloud formation in mind. [studio clean up pause here] //And a vertical line is image of dripping water down on a decayed wall. So as soon as one picks up a brush to write there is an immediate connection to an ancient way of understanding nature. Today we're both lost physically and mentally, and there is a need to find a way back. Painting is a meditation of the land as image of our moral failure.

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