Screening the Artist: Between Presence/Absence, Immediacy/Mediation
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Decolonial gesture and the screening of the botanical artist in Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings (Bo Wang and Pan Lu, 2017)

Publication Date Jul 15, 2022

Abstract

Bo Wang and Pan Lu’s split-screen video essay Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings (2017) charts the relationship between its titular categories and British imperialism in China, especially the colonial possession of Hong Kong as a result of the Opium Wars in the nineteenth century. It centres on the collecting of plants from China for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, along with their documentation through botanical drawings by local Chinese artists. The video essay shows fleeting glimpses of several anonymous Chinese paintings, revealing in the process the dual sense of screening at the heart of the colonialist enterprise that involved showcasing the art while obscuring the artist. Wang and Lu, in contrast, return attention to the skills of the Chinese artists. Through their own dual vision, they challenge myriad hierarchical colonial images of human-plant relations. Drawing on Vilém Flusser’s work on the gesture of video and combining this with Walter D. Mignolo’s discussion of decolonial gesture, I show how Wang and Lu question through their own artistic gestures the distortions of the colonial gaze evident within dominant western image regimes. In this, their work speaks indirectly to recent writings in the environmental humanities and critical plant studies that valorise more lateral relations between humans and plants.

Concepts

Imperialism In China Video Essay Dual Vision Botanical Artist Collecting Of Plants Chinese Artists British Imperialism Skills Of Artists Nineteenth Century Dominant Image

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