Yan Wang Preston
In the context of the exploding human infection and death numbers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the British-Chinese artist Yan Wang Preston photographed the same rhododendron tree 182 times during an entire year. From 17th March 2020 to 16th March 2021, she walked to the love-heart-shaped tree growing on an industrial wasteland in Lancashire at the regularity of every other day. From the same angle, always at half an hour before sunset, she recorded the indefinite changes of the weather, the plant and the landscape across four seasons. Meanwhile, she collected all the autumn leaves, seed pods, stillborn flowers and falling petals from another tiny rhododendron tree. She touched them, burned them, mourned their death and celebrated their life before making them into artworks.
This paper will reflect on this process of embodied making in the context of time—the time of human pandemic, the time within species migration enabled by colonial exploration, and the time embedded in a plant’s ceaseless life cycle. The core of the critical tension here is our perceptions towards plants such as rhododendron. In Britain it was introduced as a prized botanic discovery, then disregarded as an invasive species. For Preston, it is a symbol of her homeland in China, where many of the rhododendrons originate from.