I have been working on a large composite drawing for the Re:Collections exhibition at the Oriental Museum at Durham University next year, carrying out further research and re-thinking the form and content of the piece. Consequently I have been producing a new set of  drawings which will go together on the walls on the museum’s mezzanine floor (replacing my original idea of using the Ghost Tree drawings which I am looking to bind as a book). I am also archiving all of the books I have read for the project as a series of scrolled paperbacks which will be shown alongside the drawings.

They are made by drawing with Chinese ink and brush onto plastic, card and metal and lifting the images onto thin Wenshou paper. The results are deliberately enigmatic, suggesting desolate mountain landscapes, buildings of unspecified use and bleak lunar surfaces. I have been looking at the images that were transmitted back from the far side of the Moon by the early Soviet Luna 3 space probe (www.mentallandscape.com/C_CatalogMoon.htm) and attempting to capture some of their qualities – pictures which shift focus, break up into bands of interference, dissolve into white noise.

The piece is called “Half way to the Moon and Back” and refers to the travels of Swedish explored Sven Hedin. I first came across his amazing life story whilst working on a Comenius funded project about the Silk Road which involved research visits to Istanbul, the International Dunhuang Project at the British Library, the Guimet Museum in Paris, the University of Uppsala and the Ethnographical Museum in Stockholm.

During the early years of the 20th century Hedin travelled throughout Central Asia, a region of great geographical and historical significance – a desolate buffer zone between great empires, criss-crossed by ancient trade routes which acted as a conduit for the transfer of materials and ideas between East and West. I have been reading his trilogy of books which document his final epic expedition to north-western China between 1933 and 1935, when the Chinese government asked him to survey suitable routes for new motor roads to link this remote region toPeking.

Hedin could never have imagined the long term impact of his journey as he set off with his small team of adventurers in a tiny battered Ford and four bone shaking trucks, although as a seasoned traveller he did know how tough it would get.Find Xinjiang Province on Google Earth and it is immediately apparent how enormous and desperate this area is, a region of endless deserts and impenetrable mountain ranges.

Following WW2 and the Revolution the communist government followed up Hedin’s plans for road building to open up the province to colonisation and exploitation. Most significantly the drained wastes of the Lop Nur salt lake became China’s nuclear testing ground and Hedin’s lost paradise is now one of the most dangerously contaminated places on the planet.

(Look up Guniggir, Xinjiang on Google Maps and you will see an empty area of grey desert. This is strange when you consider that this is listed as one of China’s main test areas for underground nuclear explosions. The only tell-tale sign is a trace of what appear to be ruinous buildings surrounded by a zig-zag trench system.)

A miniature Gobi Desert on a beautiful Northumbrian beach at Cresswell yesterday!

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