De Expeditie • The expedition

De expeditie
The expedition
(to Chánglóng)

Two wooden boxes with content
Mixed media: wood, paper, porcelain, ceramics, paint, prints
Both boxes are 40x30x23 cm

The expedition to Chánglóng
Two airplanes
a high-speed train
and a bus, that followed an ancient mountain road
It was so remote
that I could hardly remember her face
when I returned
Grey stairs and narrow streets
castles in the sky
There was a pagoda on top of each hill
Gold and red
All cars drove slowly 
The drivers had faces like porcelain
Fireflies as big as lanterns
they lit up the wet and empty streets
If you listened close you could hear 
people whispering
about long dragons
who they never saw

For an educational project commissioned by Kunstgebouw, I studied expeditions to distant lands in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is an interest I have long had for 19th century expeditions to exotic places.
In 2013 I saw an exhibition about an expedition to northern China by Robert Sterling Clark in 1908 and 1909: Through Shen-Can: The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China, 1908-1909.

On photos from that expedition you see an almost medieval China. For example, photos of the city of Lanchou (Langzhou), with huge city walls located on the Huang He (Yellow river), and all low-rise buildings, Langzhou has now become a city with high-rise buildings and nearly 3 million inhabitants.
At that time, hardly anything was known about large parts of China.
The exhibition contained objects from the expedition, such as boxes, surveying equipment and old cameras.

We can hardly imagine, visiting an area that nobody knows about, with the push of a button we can find information about almost every place in the world. It must have been enormously exciting for many Westerners to read around 1900 about areas where there were hardly any other Westerners, and to be able to see pictures of them and learn about the people with their customs, the special plants and animals, the landscape. Conversely, it must also have been an attraction for the Chinese in the areas visited by the expedition, such a group of strangers with a strange appearance and all sorts of strange things (including photo cameras!).

The artwork is about such a journey or expedition in an indefinite time to an undiscovered area, perhaps somewhere in China. I call the area “Chánglóng,” which means “Long Dragon,” and I used that name for a drawing I made earlier this year: “Expedition to the Mountains of Chánglóng.”
Chánglóng has hardly been mapped. But there are also cities, with old city walls and towers, and skyscrapers and odd buildings. In Chánglóng one finds flora and fauna that is unknown elsewhere. There are unknown religions. The fictional expedition took objects back from Chánglóng and did research in the country.
This box with objects is the only thing remaining from the expedition. Text has not been preserved, only this box with ceramics, natural history objects, maps, prints and photos.