This project is to recreate the memory I have had of my aunt and uncle’s cave house during Chinese Spring Festival.
From age two to five, I lived with my aunt and uncle in their cave house in Shanbei – a very remote rural area north of Shaanxi Province. For many years, to visit my aunt and uncle from Xian, it took a day and a night on a bus to circle up and down endless mountains. In 2010 the train from Xi’an to Shanbei started working and the whole journey took only four hours. I was very happy to go back to visit finally. But soon I realized that due to rapid urbanization and large-scale migration, most cave houses were abandoned. When I was able to go back easily, the cave houses were empty getting into ruins under the lonely sunshine, telling stories of a past. My aunt and uncle had been long gone and their cave house was used as storage, but luckily it is still there.
In the long Chinese history when men were educated, women were largely illiterate. However, there was a tradition of paper cutting using scissors by women with no education. Scissors were women’s companion in cutting and sewing, but it was also used to create beauty and to transcend the reality, which was often very difficult. The scissors in women’s hands have been compared with the brushes in men’s. They indeed share similar subjects, themes, and Taoist aesthetics – the emphasis of Qi, and the oneness of human and Nature.
Cave houses have been one major traditional carrier of the paper cuts. When cave houses are abandoned, paper cuts are disappearing too. My nephew traveled over ten days around Shanbei during the Spring Festival of 2011 with his camera and he wasn’t able to find one cave house decorated with paper cuts.
It has been on my mind in the past few years as to how to keep the tradition alive, and how to make the paper cutting still relevant to the modern and post-modern world. I am wondering whether the very local art makes sense to non-local viewers.
And this is one of the trials, tests, and efforts.