Zheng Bo: Less Preaching, More Practising

Zheng Bo, Wanwu Council 萬物社, 2021, three day meeting. Courtesy the artist and Gropius Bau, Berlin

In his new book, Wanwu I, the Hong Kong-based artist pushes the idea of plants having politics

The opening pages of this handsome publication – it’s supremely tactile, printed on heavily textured paper stock, with pages that need to be cut open so that they might be viewed – are decorated with photographs of naked young men, their faces grimacing in moments of ecstasy as they thrust, writhe and grasp at the forest ferns and other plants in which they are immersed. Hong Kong-based artist Zheng Bo likes to ‘collaborate’ with plants. When we get to the prologue, written by Stephanie Rosenthal, we are told that this is part of ‘honouring the interconnectedness of life’. (The book is published ‘in relation’ to Zheng’s 2021 exhibition Wanwu Council, at the Gropius Bau, Berlin, of which Rosenthal was then director.) We also learn that wanwu means ‘10,000 things’, ‘myriad happenings’ or ‘more than human’, and that Zheng aims for a world in which all things are wanwu. What follows is a series of conversations with scientists (Matthias Rillig), garden historians (Phillip E. Bloom), artists (Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stevens) and writers (T. J. Demos, Ye Ying), interspersed with images of Zheng’s drawings and other artworks, that, collectively, get at how the wanwu stuff is happening already (in the natural world, where plants form communities, communicate with each other and exist in symbiotic relationships) and how it might evolve (if we’re prepared to rethink our relation to and understanding of the world).

At the extreme, Zheng is pushing the idea of plants having politics; the more scientific of his interlocutors don’t go quite that far. Along the way, Zheng recalls how his work gravitated from social practice with humans to a social practice with plants in 2013 when he encountered a colony of weeds, in what was then the industrial area being developed into West Bund in Shanghai. He admired their beauty, vitality and persistence. Now, making art is ‘a way to spend time with plants’. The men spending time with plants on those opening pages are from the ongoing film Pteridophilia (2016–), a form of ecoporn that the artist has been filming in Taiwan. Zheng’s daily drawings of plants on Lantau Island are a kind of Buddhist path to enlightenment and a means of practising what his exhibitions preach. Which seems really to be what Zheng is after: less preaching, more practising. We’re living in an age of environmental catastrophe after all.

Wanwu I by Zheng Bo. Walther und Franz König, €38 (softcover)

Most recent


We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. This includes personalizing content. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, revised Privacy.