In November 2016, I came to a remote rural village, and participated in the establishing of the international art village with several other artists. This village was impoverished and lacked resources. There are 10 kilometers of road winding through the mountains between this village and the nearest town. During the past two years, after physical exhaustion and emotional hardship, and with happiness and arduousness, I managed to transform a house abandoned for 30 years into a little cozy hotel, which is my Craftsmen House. The arduousness was because all the modern materials had to be bought and transported from faraway towns into the mountains, though I made use of local materials as much as possible (which is also my long-held concept), carrying all those heavy construction materials climbing up a mountain without a proper road were no easy work, and would easily get hurt. As for happiness, the view here was undisturbed and full of natural beauty, and the air was so fresh that its quality ranks among the top in China. Moreover, I met some interesting people. Among them, a 78-year-old man always makes me feel warm. He is Mr. Wei, my best friend in Art Village, and the one that I respect most.
I made him a pair of sunglasses as gift, but he cherished them so much that he rarely wears them, and said that he’d keep them as treasure. I think this was the symbol of our friendship.
I often invite him for meals, and also join him for meals, as we are often alone. He usually has simple and plain food, but we were always happy when having meal together.
We often go to town together, even when he has nothing to do in the town. He was willing to be my companion to the town.
He is a great craftsman, being able to build houses. Before being transformed into Craftsmen House, the house on this site was originally built by him for his eldest son.
And this house was also built by him.
He can repair the roof, climbing up to the roof tops to re-arrange and replace old tiles.
He is a professional ploughman. Once the ploughing season comes, he would work with his ox for two weeks. This was hard work, but could bring him income of about 2 thousand Yuan. It is really laborious. In addition, he had to cut grass to feed the ox, in case the ox may run about and destroy others’ crops.
He and his ox walking pass my grass-decorated installation on the wall.
He takes care for the vegetable garden and is self-sufficient.
He can also make local wine, using rice and corn.
Located in the mountainous area, the soil of this village is quite barren, but suitable for growing corns. Every year, Mr. Wei grows hundreds of kilograms of corns, to feed the oxen and cows, roosters and hens, and for making wine.
We were peeling the corns together.
Mr. Wei is strong enough to carry up to 40 kilograms. He also participated in the extending the attic of Craftsmen House.
However, what surprised me most was that, after simply looking at us making bamboo-weaving bags, he successfully made two exquisite bamboo-woven storage baskets all by himself after going back home. Previously, he had only used bamboo to weave some rough agricultural instruments and cages for everyday need. When he showed them to me, I was so surprised that almost jumped out of my chair, as he virtually designed two new styles, both was delicate, and one of them was woven by a technique initiated by him. I was very excited and provided some advice for visual and detailed improvement; the products will be nicer and more refined. I was happy because I was always thinking about offering an easy job for him, so that he would not have to do those heavy and dangerous physical works in the future. At the same time, I hope to sell his bamboo-woven work to help him make more money and improve his life. Above all, the most important thing is that he has followed his own heart and has achieved a great breakthrough in craftsmanship. His later life will not be tired and boring any more.
He was splitting the bamboos into thin strips. Hasn’t done this for over 20 years, he was still skilled at it.
We are processing the bamboo at the terrace of Craftsmen House.
In fact, he was not so well-educated. However, he has always tried to create and innovate. In this sense, he is doing better than most young people in the village. Though I’m good at innovation, I still admire him much.
Then he seemed to be somewhat addicted. He designed a new fruit basket yesterday when I visited him, which was also pretty-looking and of practical use.
Last year, he told me that he had a wish, which was to see his youngest daughter, who was now living in my hometown because of marriage. The distance between these two places is so long that he can only see his daughter every a few years. He also hoped to go there by plane, as he has never travelled by air in his life. I promised to go with him and pay for his flight, and drive him to the city where his daughter is in (my hometown is the provincial capital, about 4 hours’ drive from his daughter’s city). He was reluctant to accept my kind offer, thinking it inappropriate for me to pay for these, though I could insist doing this. However, today I seem to find a way of helping him that would be more acceptable for him. I thought of the charity crowd funding on Indegogo, and hope to raise the travelling expense for him to visiting his daughter and live there for some time (the city his daughter is living in is in the developed area, so the living cost is relatively higher). At the same time, I also hope to help him to realize the dreaming of visiting Beijing. For safety sake, I will go to Beijing with him.