Zheng Bo

Zheng Bo's Karibu Islands (2004-) interweave video, text and interactive participation. In the piece, people are invited to imagine their lives in a fictional space in which time runs backwards. It explores the social issues faced by minorities from their own point of view, challenging mainstream norms, criticising the idea of modernity and providing an alternative way of thinking about love. Karibu Islands consists of three phases: a video essay, a discussion and a questionnaire filled in by the audience.

The video essay introduces the imaginary islands and the lives and histories of their fictional inhabitants. One of them is a young girl who reads a letter to her parents, in which she relates how she is eventually starting to enjoy her new life on the island. Reversed time and the stories of the other inhabitants are visualised through footage run backwards. On the island, people are born old. Many awaken in a hospital, others on a battlefield; J.F. Kennedy would come to life at the instant a bullet hit his head. Sakyamuni Buddha would have returned to his secular life and family. People become younger and healthier, and finally they depart from the world by climbing into their mothers' wombs. Concepts such as economic development and social progress are given entirely different meaning on the Karibu Islands.

The islands act as a reverse mirror held up to the real world, forcing the norms of our real life to be reconsidered. In this way, the piece becomes a tool for challenging the existing social order, raising questions on heteronormativity and the problems related to gender and sexual orientation. Four years after the first phase, Zheng Bo, who is gay himself, decided to anchor the project in the Beijing queer movement. In 2008, a series of discussions was organised at the newly-opened Queer Cultural Centre. Eleven gay men, nine lesbians and thirteen heterosexuals participated in the discussions. The video essay from Phase 1 was shown to set the tone. He then asked the participants to express and discuss their opinions on topics such as homosexuality, same-sex marriage, adoption, personal success and societal development. The discussions were recorded and became part of Phase 2. Afterwards, the participants had to fill in a form, a "birth certificate" with fictional information on what happened at their "birth" on the Karibu Islands: age, health, openness, family structure, life plans, etc. The groups then met and discussed their imagined lives. These discussions gave gay and straight participants the opportunity to project their ideals onto a fictional location and approach questions of sexuality form an alternative perspective.

In later exhibitions, audience members were asked to watch both videos and then fill in the "birth certificates", imagining themselves to be Karibu Island inhabitants. The forms were hung in the exhibition hall and became part of the dialogue of the piece. Hyejong Yoo has commented: By manoeuvring the tension between the imaginary and reality in order to foster social development, Zheng explores the potential of art as a creative social medium. Zheng Bo's Karibu Islands recreates a representation in the collective dialogue of a more diverse and tolerant society, thereby challenging the existing social order."[1]

Zheng Bo imagines love on the Karibu Islands: "Perhaps when we left this world, we already have a partner. Two old people, who had spent their days together, who had grown in strength together. After a few decades, they become two young people with a newly-burning flame of love, then they part and return to innocent childhood. Finally, conscious life ends with 'death'. This sort of love might make us put greater stock in our partner's personality, way of thinking, and less on outer beauty."

Si Han, Curator



[1] Hyejong Yoo, "Collaborative Imagining for Social Evolution", in Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon: The 4th Auckland
Triennial, 2010.

Zheng Bo 郑波

1974: born in Beijing, and has lived in the U.S. and Hong Kong
1993: began his study in computer science and art in the U.S.
Currently a PhD candidate in Visual and Cultural Studies at University of Rochester, writing in Beijing and teaching in Hangzhou