Living Collections

Residency at Asia Art Archive

September 2018 - March 2019

As we seek a more equal co-existence between humans and non-humans, how do we think about knowledge beyond conventional archives and collections? Zheng Bo, artist and scholar in residence at Asia Art Archive, reimagines ways to approach collections from an ecological perspective. He asks how we interpret archives and collections as cycles of knowledge — produced and then composted — rather than as bodies of materials preserved forever. He also looks at gardens, seeds, and genes as sites of knowledge, not only producing but distributing knowledge across time and space.

As part of his residency, Zheng Bo conducts conversations with scientists around the idea of “living collections”; leads a walking and drawing exercise; moderates a roundtable discussion; and makes a few gentle interventions in the AAA Library.

(Text by Ozge Ersoy)

Special thanks to Rose Mak of Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences; David M. Baker of School of Biological Sciences, University of Hong Kong; Chen Hubiao of School of Chinese Medicine, Hong Kong Baptist University; Doryun Chong of M+; Michael Leung; Wynton Tsui; and Resham Daswani for their contribution.

Zheng Bo leads a walk with AAA team in Sheung Wan and Central, observing and drawing weeds between the cracks. This silent and collective exercise asks how one can slow down in an urban centre, learn from plants, and imagine non-anthropocentric worlds.
Zheng holds a conversation with David Baker, a marine biologist at the University of Hong Kong. Baker’s research focuses on ecology, conservation, and biodiversity. Baker and Zheng explore how non-human beings practice knowledge. Watch the video on AAA website.
A statement of thanksgiving is added in the library.
A statement of thanksgiving is added in the library.
A small “monkey puzzle” tree (Araucaria araucana), given to Zheng Bo in Paris in 2016 by a young artist from South America, is placed next to a computer.
A small “monkey puzzle” tree (Araucaria araucana), given to Zheng Bo in Paris in 2016 by a young artist from South America, is placed next to a computer.
Library visitors are invited to take a break and look out to Hollywood Road Park. Trees visible have been identified.
A display of winged seeds of Oroxylum indicum (木蝴蝶) from the Ha Bik Chuen Archive. The late artist used these seeds as signatures in his books.
Green cards are inserted into books to mark pages with pictures of plants.
A book deaccessioned from the library is composted. Accompanying text by Zheng: “On February 14, 2019, I had a meeting with AAA’s library team. I was happy to learn that the library collection is growing at a slow pace, and the team is deaccessioning some items. I consider this a sign of good health. Growth requires space and energy, and we humans had better be more cautious about growth, whether it’s population, economy, or knowledge. The deaccessioned items are currently being given to school libraries. Is it ethical to delete a piece of knowledge? Is it ethical to keep every piece of knowledge? How should we determine what to keep, for how long? How should we take climate change and ecological crisis into consideration? At the end of the meeting I asked the library team to give me one deaccessioned book to compost. It’s a catalogue published in 1992, of artist Hu Juzhan’s watercolours. Perhaps the artist would be unhappy upon hearing that I’m composting his book. Or perhaps not. It seems that he liked nature – many paintings in the book are of fish and flowers. He might be delighted that his book is now nourishing other species.”