Since 2005, Xu Tan’s ‘Keywords Project’ has explored linguistic activities, collective research, public space and knowledge production through a variety of working methods in his unique art practice. ‘Searching Keywords’, ‘Keywords School’ and ‘Keywords Lab’ emerged from this project and reflect Xu’s evolving approach to social investigations, research and aesthetic activities as he studies connections between individual thought and collective consciousness.
Social Botany (2012– ), one of the projects developed though ‘Keywords Lab’, focuses on inhabitants of the Pearl River Delta region in China. Xu spoke with farmers, horticulturalists, national garden officers, urban construction officials, citizens displaced by development, urban farmers and artists who farm – in total nearly fifty people. He then embarked on an analytical investigation of the material, which led him to determine three directions from which to establish keywords for study in their use environments: 1. agriculture, planting and planter; 2. urban-rural construction and green planting; 3. an informal planting movement by citizens and residents. As a multichannel video installation, Social Botany reflects Xu’s subjective process of enquiry and analysis, juxtaposing interview footage with linguistic genealogies as well as his own solitary reflections.
This project was part of Sharjah Biennial 12