When Ta-tung-tan disappears, Pai-tung-tzu reappears
Gallery A402, CalArts, 2016
When Ta-tung-tan disappears, Pai-tung-tzu reappears is a multi-projector photographic slide installation. Through a synchronized loop of image and text slides, the work juxtaposes the sites of three different dams in the United States and China: the ruins of California's St. Francis Dam, which collapsed catastrophically in 1928; Hoover Dam along the Colorado River; and Three Gorges Dam on China's Yangtze River.
The text slides contain excerpts from a 1920 handbook written by Cornell Plant, a British steamship captain and colonial administrator famous as the first person to successfully navigate the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in a powered vessel without the use of human trackers. Plant’s book is a meticulous, yet romantic navigational aid to the upper Yangtze River of the early 20th century. It describes rapids, shoals, boulders, reefs, whirlpools, and islands—all features of the river that have now vanished, lost under the waters of the reservoir created by Three Gorges Dam—while symbolically marking the arrival of industrial modernity in China's western inland regions.
Through a comparative exploration of landscape and text, the installation points to the dispersed, yet interconnected histories of these dams, while also examining the broader ideologies and desires underpinning the development of monumental infrastructure projects.