Regardless of the ways in which Yunnan architecture traditions are absent from the mainstream contemporary text, they remain a continually developing presence.
In his unfinished work Being and Time, Heidegger used the term “befindlichkeit” (attunement) to describe the state of “being,” accepting the linear nature of time, and demonstrating that “being” can only move forward. In the exhibition title, “Fields of Being: Traditions of Yunnan Architecture,” the “Being” is inspired by Heidegger’s theory of “being,” which seems to be particularly suited to describing the state of Yunnan architecture and settlements in the academic context.
Meanwhile, the term “fields” emphasizes a supplementary relationship between margin and center, embodying an outlier state of cultural geography, a marginal position in the academic discourse. Furthermore, in his research of the Chinese countryside, Rem Koolhaas proposed the idea of the “generic village,” meaning a universal, comprehensive “average village,” a model for the village that is not constrained by individual cases.
But this model cannot be used to describe Yunnan.
The diversity of its architecture types, and of the social groups they contain and accommodate, cannot be “averaged.” From northwest Yunnan, where the people live among the gods along the three parallel rivers, to the western frontier, linked to Myanmar and Tibet by the caravan trails; from southeast Yunnan, crisscrossed by multiethnic cities, towns and villages, to northeast Yunnan, built on metallurgy industries; from southwest Yunnan, heavily influenced by Dai culture, and marked by both fusion and difference, to Kunming, which has thrived on, and channeled, its waterways.
This exhibition is the first comprehensive exhibition on the architecture of Yunnan. Through the structural sifting and refinement of the long-term research carried out by several generations of architecture scholars, this exhibition examines the physical appearance and spatial usage of Yunnan architecture, and to trace the unique social and cultural roots behind them, and thereby to present the characteristics, definitions and differences in Yunnan architectural traditions.
Rural architecture is marked by “anonymity.” Over 90% of the built environment in the countryside was constructed by anonymous builders.
I hope on the one hand that Yunnan rural architecture can be anonymous no longer, and that the traditional settlements and rural architecture of Yunnan, so long ignored by mainstream academic research and publishing, can appear now in depth and detail in the form of an exhibition, to show the world its precious scholarly value. On the other, however, I hope that it can remain anonymous, because its unique craftsmanship, construction, and customs have continued to be passed down in their original geographic environment, living space, and ritual behaviors, without excessive interference from modernist ideas.
An important difference between the architecture traditions of Yunnan and those of other regions is that due to the long presence of minority ethnic groups, and the strong cohesiveness of their culture, the architecture is strongly correlated to the basic cultural consensus. Despite the passage of time and outside cultural incursion, the architecture is able to maintain a state of relative stability rooted in historical and material unity. That is why, even today, the architectural traditions of Yunnan are still closely linked to the soil in which they grew.
Finally, this exhibition about architecture is inevitably also about time. As an abstract element of human experience, time must be materialized to become stable and legible—and architecture is the best technology for realizing this aim. The architecture traditions and built environments of Yunnan make for a classic example of the materialization of awareness, culture and technique, possessing the visible manifestation of time’s duration (no matter in which way history progresses).
They are everyday experience, and spectacular events.