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Curating Chinese High Landscapes

Type of project
01.09.2015 -> 31.08.2019

About the project

Chinese high cold mountains had long been hinterlands of the country, white spots on a map, mysteries in a literature. While the Swiss and Norwegians started to appreciate tough beauty of high landscape and represented them in paintings and maps artistically, Chinese artists made few glimpses to high mountains. Instead, early explorers – botanists, cartographers, geologists and mountaineers attempted to read high landscape through scientific lenses. One of the stories is Mount Gongga, the highest peak of Hengduan mountain range, embedded expeditions in 1930s by Eduard Imhof, Arnold Heim, Josef Rock, and Richard Burdsall – chasing floras, measuring the height, summiting the peak. They collected material and represented high landscape with maps, texts, photos, paintings, samples and arboretum. Nowadays more and more Chinese amateur trekkers, with leisure, animal watching and photography interests, are traveling to Gongga and other part of Hengduan. Limited environmental and aesthetical landscape representations can these amateur explorers obtain before departure; Few guidance and limitation can them receive after arrival. Meanwhile, researchers and conservationists work on maintaining high mountain ecology; residents see their mountain as place of worship and resource. High cold mountain now is an open museum, abundant and vulnerable, lack of careful curation, and is under new pressure of disorganizing and fragmentation. If landscape architects take a role as contemporary explorer and curator, use landscape representation as tool, can Chinese high landscape be curated, so to organize mountain space for people who are visiting and living in mountain area? This PhD thesis answers the question by compilation, refers to Swiss and Norwegian mountain landscape, and takes Gongga of Hengduan mountain as a case. The first stage describes the phenomenon, the reference and the problem. The second stage reveals current high landscape situation through landscape expedition, photography and cartography. The third stage discusses high mountain space alternatives with the support of landscape representation. Three workbooks associated with three articles document the researching and searching process. The research goal is to create a curating model for representing and reorganizing Chinese high mountain landscapes.

The PhD project is part of the Urbanization of Rural China project.