Jorge Mañes Rubio: Normal Pool Level

On 02/09/2014 by CFCCA Administrator

In January 2013 Jorge Mañes Rubio decided to travel off season along the Yangtze River to collect objects that reflected the complex changes that have occurred in the area. The dislocation between past, present and future, tradition and modernity and memory and progress were key to the journey for Mañes; developing an alternative narrative through which a more accurate experience of the area’s transformation was revealed. CFCCA presents his project Normal Pool Level, the result of this two month long artist residency. The exhibition comprises a collection of objects, photographs, drawings and installations which become the narrators of the designer’s journey. By travelling off the beaten track and engaging with the locals Mañes has managed to collect an array of symbols and memorials that don’t appear to belong to either Eastern or Western culture, portraying the identity clash that the area has been going through and the cost the region is paying for the country’s development. Below, you can hear Jorge’s recollections and thoughts on the project, and see a selection of images from his residency. Jorge stayed in Chongqhing, a major city in the West of China and one of five major cities chosen to lead the country into a new political, economic and cultural phase. Housing 29 million people within its suburban areas, the city is a metropolis growing at an incredible rate, its landscape seemingly changing by the week. This urbanisation has of course spread into rural areas, and more and more people are relocating to Chongqhing from its surroundings, or rather its once rural surroundings have been swept up by urban expansion. The pressures of the artist residency, along with the sense of otherness felt in Chongqhing, led Mañes to shift focus slightly away from the city and onto the Yangtze River that runs through it; a symbol of the extent to which the area has transformed. The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia, the third longest in the World; its source is at the T-Bed and runs east to Shanghai, dividing China in two, not only geographically, but culturally and economically also. The water from the Yangtze has been used for thousands of years for transportation and farming, and people have inhabited the Yangtze valley for thousands of years, going back to the Stone Age. The significance of the river is such that attempts to harness it’s potential as an energy source have been in place since 1919 when plans for a dam were first explored by Sun Yat-sen in The International Development of China. In more recent times, the river has been synonymous with the Three Gorges Dam; perhaps as strong a symbol of today’s China as the river itself once was. Completed in 2006 at a rumoured cost of up to 80 billion US dollars, the Dam is China’s most ambitious building project since the Great Wall, which gives some idea of the scale of the project, and its intended longevity, as China enters a new age, and creates a reservoir the size of which approaches that of the whole of England. The dam generates energy equivalent to 18 nuclear power plants, and has vastly reduced the consumption of fossil fuels, as well as improved transportation and flood control. There is however another side to the construction. The damming of the river necessitated the flooding of 13 major cities, 140 towns and 1432 villages, unhousing around 4 million people, the number of landslides along the river has doubled and the slower current of the river have reduced the water quality and thus reduced biodiversity. Besides its industrial significance, the Dam has also become a tourist attraction for visitors, who come to observe this monolith of China’s industrial future; the worlds of the touristic experience, and that of the reality of relocation, flooding and mass destruction, now clash along the river. Jorge began his travel up the river, with a stop at Fengdu, a city rebuilt on one side of the Yangtze, while the old one is left empty on the other bank, a ghost town. Jorge collected some water from this site into jerry cans, which are transformed in the exhibition, adorned with traditional design in blue and white, contrasting the old china with the new industrialised version; the cans are a symbol of the conflicting identities of the region.

Jerry Cans filled with Yangtze water collected at Fengdu, decorated with traditional grape motif

Jerry Cans filled with Yangtze water collected at Fengdu, decorated with traditional grape motif.

A man swims above what was once Fengdu

A man swims above what was once Fengdu.

A visit to the ghost town of Fengdu produced the stool shown in Normal Pool Level, created from the offcuts of local carpenters, who had previously been farmers, forced to move from their rural origins during the area’s transformation, and assembled in Chongqhing. Mañes sees these objects as souvenirs, serving as personal memento of his trip, but they are also powerful symbols of a changing economy; the stool blends the artistry of traditional carpentry with the junk aesthetics of the wooden offcuts, which also carry a certain primitiveness.

Stool made from wood offcuts from a carpenter's shop in Fengdu's "Ghost Town"

Stool made from wood offcuts from a carpenter’s shop in Fengdu’s “Ghost Town”.

Whilst the dam provides renewable energy on a huge scale, the towns that surround it, such as YunYang, still rely heavily on coal for cooking and heating; the energy goes to the richer cities in the East. The coal briquettes produced in the factories of YunYang are representative of the struggle the townspeople go through and must overcome; Mañes places one on a pedestal, bringing to the forefront its aesthetic qualities.

Chinese coal briquette, transformed into sculpture by Mañes.

Chinese coal briquette, transformed into sculpture.

Traditional stoneware vase, adorned with the water levels of the rising water.

Traditional stoneware vase, adorned with the water levels of the rising water.

Jorge’s project showcases the changing landscape of the Yangtze valley through a series of objects and photographs, which present a cultural identity that straddles two phases; the traditional is married with the industrial. As the Yangtze River has transformed, memories have been submerged to make room for economic progression; Jorge’s souvenirs act as vessels of these forgotten histories, each carrying a regional identity. The works are anachronisms, which defy temporal categories. Normal Pool Level is at CFCCA until September 7th.

Normal Pool Level is at CFCCA until September 7th

Normal Pool Level is at CFCCA until September 7th

Leave a Reply