Scenes of Sichuan and Yunnan

Multimedia artist Ekaterina Bazhenova-Yamasaki visits China’s provinces.

Moscow-born visual artist Ekaterina Bazhenova-Yamasaki traveled through the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan this spring. Based in London, Ekaterina mixes still and moving images, sculpture and sound to create narratives full of symbols and emotions.

My three weeks in Sichuan and Yunnan feel like a fragile fantasy, but a fantasy anchored in reality. Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, is flat with no distinguishing natural features. That geographical monotony is probably what attracted me to the area. The sky is always gray with no sunlight at all: a Sichuan dog barks, mistaking the moon for the sun.

At the northern end of the Mengsong area sits the village of Naka, a producer of the pu-erh tea renowned for its weight-loss properties. The local Hani people take both their tea and their tea trees very seriously. They believe the trees provide essential connections to their ancestors.

Here is Kuming, known as “the city of eternal spring,” which somehow possesses a beauty despite its ugliness; the ancient town of Jianshui, which has stood its ground against waves of tourists seeking “authentic old villages”; and Jinghong, known as China’s mini Thailand, whose endless banana fields we passed through on our way to Burma.

Everyday objects serve as my starting point when taking photographs. My art practice is led by a need to interrogate how the physical object is defined as opposed to my own metaphysical relationship with it. A photograph is more than just the sum of its parts: a photograph searches for both the roots and boundaries of its subject matter. I try to push an image beyond its edges, forcing it to transcend its reflection of the physical. 

This process requires no literal message or narrative, and I don’t try to trick viewers in any way. Instead, I aim to activate the eye’s natural desire to wander and imagine. A viewer doesn’t assign meaning through assembling discrete bits of information about a seen object; rather, one scans, questions and analyzes the object in order to arrive at meaningful configurations.