Wang Yishan: Nature-watching in Beijing - Rethinking Visual Practices as a Matter of More-than-human Care

2023.02.18 Saturday 19:00



Speaker: Wang Yishan

Time: 2023.1.18 19:00-20:30

Tencent Meeting: 203-258-774

In conjunction with the “Multispecies Clouds” exhibition at the Macalline Art Center, the public event series “Meshwork” is honored to invite Wang Yishan, PhD in Anthropology from Oxford University and currently working at the Twenty-Four Solar Terms Research Center of the China Agricultural Museum, to share some of the small stories of Beijing residents who encounter multiple species in their neighborhoods.

It is about how Beijing residents, through nature observation practices, have gone from being blind to seeing the long-eared owl resting on the centuries-old cypress tree at the Temple of Heaven, the Beijing rain swallow that returns from southwest Africa to breed in the Summer Palace, the Chinese carp in the Qing River with its iridescent colors, and the ribbon phoebe in the National Botanical Garden. What about these multi-species neighbors of the city that are present but seem to be on the edge of visibility?

In the context of Wang Yishan's field research in Beijing, this talk aims to discuss the significance of visual experience and practice in shaping urban cross-species relationships. She will analyze the threefold viewing dimension of urban observation of nature: seeing, discerning, and continuous in situ observation, in order to reveal the potential of nature observation activities to move from viewing to caring for multiple species. In Beijing, urban dwellers keen to discover, observe, and explore the urban non-human other are convinced that "the only way to care is to see". To "see nature" means to overcome the "blindness" of multi-species and to step out of ourselves to care for the other. Seeing is thus not only an important way to understand nature, but also makes possible new cross-species relationships. Through the eyes of nature-watching enthusiasts, we can see that the city of Beijing may be more deeply entwined with the non-human other than we thought.

About the Speaker:Wang Yishan

Wang Yishan received her DPhil in Anthropology from University of Oxford.  Before coming to Oxford to study MPhil in Medical Anthropology, she undertook a MA degree in Gender Studies at University College London. 

Her doctoral research, funded by China Scholarship Council (CSC) and Universities’ China Community in London (UCCL), scrutinises a variety of visual practices to engage with an array of living beings in Beijing that she refers to as “nature-watching” (ziran guancha 自然观察) ; it seeks to unveil the caring and relational potentials of visual encounters in nature-watching. 

The deep curiosity and care with which people in her field engaged with more-than-humans in Beijing was infectious, to the extent that she grew into an avid nature-watcher herself. She has been working as a volunteer in nature-education organisations including Beijing Feiyu and Friends of Nature Gaia Nature School. She has great passion in her role as a guide in public bird-watching and plant-observation activities where she strives to guide participants’ attention to the richness of more-than-human beings Beijing has the great fortune to offer. 

About the Project Curator: Yang Beichen

Dr. Yang Beichen is a researcher and a curator based in Beijing, China. He is the director of the Macalline Art Center (Beijing), and one of the members of the Thought Council at the Fondazione Prada (Milan, Venice).

Macalline Art Center is a practice-oriented site focused on contemporary visual inventions. The Center engages with artists and art groups by building physical and online communities through events and research. The Center is guided by the working processes of artists, constantly re-defining and testing itself and renewing perceptual and cognitive systems in contemporary situations and contexts.