Social Botany- Keywords Lab
An Experimental Art Project about People and Plants
Social Botany – Keywords Lab • San Francisco is an ongoing art and social practice project in 2015-2016 at 41 Ross in Chinatown, organized by the Chinese Culture Center with internationally renowned artist Xu Tan. Social Botany studies the social meanings given to plants through the wider context of social change of migration, urbanization, gentrification, and globalization. The project will delve deep into different communities in the Bay Area, especially the Chinese immigrant community, to unearth individual perceptions of botany, as well as the connection of plants and human activities.
Inspired by his prior work with community in the San Francisco Chinatown Keywords School (the first launch project of 41 Ross, a creative placemaking space in Chinatown with a celebration and mural unveiling), the artist for Social Botany concentrates on the unique immigrant character of the Bay Area and the influence to both people and the environment. SF Chinatown Keywords was the first iteration of his signature series Keywords to work actively with the community and with immigrant youth. Participants from all over the world have contributed their insights to Social Botany.
Xu Tan’s unique methodology of Keywords blurs the definition between art and social science. Although an accomplished visual artist, in the last few decades Xu Tan has focused on the “anti-visual.” Taking a organic research approach, the artist explores local communities to connect with potential contributors. He conducts interviews, taking video and audio notes, and also visit sites that are suggested by interviewees, connecting the abstract description with a persuasive visual image. Analyzing and archiving interview content are essential to Xu Tan’s practice. At the end of Social Botany, Xu Tan will exhibit the collection of videos, information and personal arguments to give back to the community and display in the communities they were collected.
As with his prior projects, Xu Tan has a long-term interest in using his keywords methodology to investigate individual ideologies and social problems. The artist initiated his first Keywords project in 2005 and has been focusing on Social Botany as his new keyword since 2012. Research and exhibitions of Social Botany is international, having traveled to Pearl River Delta, China; Xi’an, China; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; Kyoto, Japan; Leipzig, Germany; and Yekaterinburg, Russia.
To introduce this project to the Bay Area, videos documentation from previous Social Botany research and interviews are on display at 41 Ross, a creative placemaking space in San Francisco Chinatown. Beginning in November 2015, the artist will conduct interviews and field research. Forthcoming workshops, artist lectures, and other public events on Social Botany will also be held at 41 Ross.
Social Botany is organized by the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco (CCF), with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and in partnership with the Chinatown Community Development Center.
Please contact Anqi Li, [email protected], or call 415-986-1822, if you want to participate and share your ideas of Social Botany with the artist.
About the artist:
Xu Tan is an internationally respected artist. Born in Wuhan, China in 1957, Xu Tan currently lives and works in China and the United States. He studied at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and joined the influential experimental art team, Big Tail Elephant Group, in 1990s. Xu Tan is a recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation and the co-director of HB-Station in Guangzhou. Xu Tan has exhibited worldwide, including at 41 Ross (a pop up project by the Chinese Culture Foundation), the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Venice Biennial, Italy; Berlin Biennial, Germany; and Today Art Museum, China, among others.