about distortion 关于失真
To the casual observer, passing through on a tour bus speeding along the brand new highway that traces the southeastern hills and connects Lijiang to Shangrila and Kunming, the idyllic valley of Lashihai might appear as a primordial realm, situated between a cobalt lake and a shining glacial peak, perennial in bloom and in harvest.
Surely this allure even persists after alighting from the bus and mounting a pony for a pleasure ride along a dusty road—otherwise what would draw the countless tourists to this place, when in the middle of the Lijiang Old Town, one can find plenty of horses and never worry about lack of outlets to charge one's iPhone?
Stay just a little bit longer, keep observant, and one notices all manner of alterations underfoot, not least of which is one's own footprint. One could remark that the damage done by tourism to these surroundings and this culture is downright deplorable; but at the same time, the local, traditionally Naxi culture is going through its own interrelated changes. Generally speaking, what was different is now different to itself and is becoming the same, adopting the same generic, uprooting systems that have transformed these vast and differentiated regions into One World, One Dream. And as this direction intensifies, the paving of fields and graveyards, the swapping of packhorses for quarry trucks and ploughs again for ponies, the old ways that lend us our identities are then gradually forgotten.
Therefore, those concerned with tradition start with distortion. The young people who would learn the recipes of their grandmothers, and who regard the value of the soil with more than its speculative appraisal, are changing a direction, distorting a momentum that has naturalized into a societal consensus.
As part of a residency at Lijiang Studio from December 2013 to March 2014, the Distortion of Distortion project investigated the skills and practices that hadn't necessarily been written down, but that have been carried in the weathered hands and earthy wisdom of the people of Lashihai. However, writing these down is itself a kind of distortion of customs passed on orally or through gesture. So distortion goes a step further, and invents possible origins that defy origin.
Part of this project involved inviting "new farmers" to come and participate. In February, a group from Japan travelled with the Distortion of Distortion project to the remote mountain village of Wumu overlooking the Yangtze River, where the Dongba cult's rituals are returning to memory after being stamped out since the Cultural Revolution. Despite all the aforementioned changes, these “new farmers” could witness older forms of ritual animal slaughter that the walls of industrial abattoirs in their own country have removed from social practice.
Powers and values linked to particular places, nurtured across generations, are prone to change as outsiders distort them; but they can also be absorbed by the outsider, carried onward, and honed again toward the particular.