Zheng Bo – The Soft and Weak Are Companions of Life

Historically, in most of Western principles, values, and rights, the human species always occupies the main role. Marginalizing the natural element has led us today to have a low awareness and respect for life forms other than humans and animals. Nowadays a lot of people simply don’t know which kind of plants surround their houses and characterize their cities, and most of the time, empathy with ecological issues doesn’t always correspond to a real knowledge of them, creating just a fake awareness and physical distance from what really lives around us.

Exhibition The Soft and Weak Are Companions of Life
Artist(s) Zheng Bo
Venue Kunsthalle Lissabon, Lisbon
All images Courtesy by the artist and Kunsthalle Lissabon

Zheng Bo tries to reduce this distance going beyond a simple conceptual approach to the knowledge of plants. Pushing the idea of intimacy, the artist gives us an example of a possible heightened relationship between men and vegetal world, overturning, in the meantime the anthropocentric vision we have of nature. But the ferns represent also the neglected and the queer in a standardised nature-culture, pointing, in this way, to the urgent need to expand our notions of interspecies relations, communities, and counter publics.

A new series of drawings titled Drawing Life opens the show at Kunsthalle Lissabon. Zheng Bo has been walking on Lantau Island – where he lives in Hong Kong – and making a drawing of local plants every day since late spring this year. He notes the names of the plants that he could recognize, but since there are always more plants to draw and identify the text on each drawing always ends with “etc.” This is the first time he exhibits a selection of these drawings.
With Pteridophilia 1-4 (deriving from the Greek pterid- “fern” and -philia “love”) Zheng Bo films young men making close contact with various kinds of ferns in a Taiwan forest. Men establish emotional and physical relationships with the plants: they lick, wrap, stroke, bite, ingest, and fuck them, showing us an infinite number of possibilities of vegetal-human intimacies.
Zheng reflects on our current moral outlook questioning our ethical quandary. Where does human exploitation of plants start and where does it end? Why is it “natural” to eat plants but “unnatural” to make love to them?
The Soft and Weak Are Companions of Life 柔弱者生之徒 is a sentence from Chapter 76 of Dao De Jing, the Daoist text written in the 4th century BC. Dao De Jing is written in Classical Chinese, which poses a number of challenges to complete comprehension. As Daoist scholar Holmes Welch observes, the written language “has no active or passive, no singular or plural, no case, no person, no tense, no mood.” So, the entire text is open to a huge range of interpretations.

In this vast horizon of alternatives, Zheng Bo, with his videos, his taxonomies, and his philosophy gives us the possibility to rethink the entire human system of categorizations of knowledge about nature. Zheng Bo’s invitation is to combine all the elements we have available around us, trying to find all the different combinations out of them, optimizing all the potentialities belonging to plants and humans, in order to acquire the best from each one and generate new harmonies.

out now

Tique | publication on contemporary art #3: Six Questions