The Rhythm of Life- Artist Residency Yunnan Sept 2023

Buttress tree at Xishuangbanna  Tropical Botanical Gardens 


Its not often you find yourself standing on the edge of the world, a place so remote with exotic ecologies, diverse ethnicities, different languages and pace of life in a village called Menglun, which sits next door to the largest protected rainforest in China.

Returning to Xishuangbanna (Yunnan) to spend two weeks at the Octagon Lodge was a true joy. The combination of intense painting and getting to know the other artists and also the environmentalists in the education centre in Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens XTBG for me was a perfect union of strengths and energies.

Cai Meng Xia蔡梦霞 with Katharina Rahmi and Gao Xiang on the right .

At the helm of the ship was prof Gao Xiang from Kunming University . Together with Director Zhou Rui (Cultural department Jinghong) they brought over 18 artists including postgrad students from Kunming to The Octagon Lodge in Menglun.

Chen Nan陈楠,Dao Jun刀军 and Che Bai 车白 September 2023

I had already known a few of the artists from the previous residency in 2021 such as Chen Nan, Che Bai , Dao Jun , Huang Yan and also one of the post grad students Tie Farong . On this residency for a few evenings Farong and I spent an hour or so working together after dinner creating our collaborative “Forest Breath” song . He had a metal hangdrum which provided interesting etheral melodies for the rhythms. We had studied Daizu songs and performances and decided to integrate “call out” segments and while retaining a simple melody. Farong had performed professionally as a drummer many times however I humbly admit I might be the weakest link here as my performance was lacking. We had been rehearsing for an hour or so before filming , tapping beats on the tree and trying to find good locations and my endurance skills were not the best. Next time I will do better!

During filming rhythm and beats with Tie Farong 

Nevertheless the collaboration of artists in this video celebrating the tropical forest was a special achievement. Each creative endeavor of each beat,  a scratch of brush on canvas or tap of mallet on wood, the soft thud of ink brush on paper or the flutter of floral petals, these are disciplines of self awareness , of unwavering attention to a world which is fully alive . A huge thank you to film maker Ma Jinzhong 马金钟 and his team who came from the city Jinghong to make this video , integrating the different rhythm s  that celebrate the XTBG forest.

I hope this video will inspire other artists of all cultural disciplines such as music, writing , film, and education to experiment in ways to support new green economies and help in the transitions to sustainable living.



Katharina Rahmi, Chen Nan, Liu Guangyu (XTBG ), Gao Xiang, Zhou Rui, Yang Chun Long, Niamh Cunningham

Other highlights of this residency were several interesting chats with Liu Guangyu director of the Environmental Education Centre at XBTG. One evening we went to hear a lecture where he gave a fascinating overview of both botanical and ethnic knowledge of the ecosystems of the area. XTBG has a special centre with surrounding gardens focussing on ethnic practices , such as which plants were valued for what purposes and other customs and habits of the Daizu minority in particular .

Residency Artists

Prof Gao Xiang高翔

Cai Meng Xia蔡梦霞

Zhou Rui周睿

Chen Wen You 陈文有 (from XTBG but included here )

Chen Nan陈楠

Huang Yan 黄燕

Dao Jun刀军

Katharina Rahmi- Swiss  凯瑟琳娜

Che Bai 车白

Niamh Cunningham – Ireland 倪芙·瑞莲

Yang Chun Long 杨春龙

Lv Duo 吕多

Zhong MingXi 钟明曦

Post Graduates

Tie Farong 铁发荣

Su Chun 苏淳

Huang Shunfu黄顺富

Zhai Xiaolong,翟小龙

Qin Ruijuan 秦瑞涓

Chen Da陈达

Sun Jiayi 孙嘉仪

total : M:F 11:9


This section takes a look at artist intention for the work which was made for the exhibition (other than when stated otherwise) .

What the Artist Says :

Prof Gao Xiang高翔

Along with his expansive canvasses Gao Xiang also made a wood sculpture. This is the third residency where I have worked with him and two of which he has been one of the main organisers. It has been an education for me to watch him pull different things together to make things happen . I am indebted to him for pushing me in my own work.

Elephant Pagoda. Mahogany and red brick, Gao Xiang, Zhai Xiaolong, Chen Da, Yang Chunlong, Tie Farong, 2023

What the artist says:

This work takes the tower as the basic shape, using square and straight alignments to shape the elephant tower, absorbing the simplicity and loveliness of the traditional Dai statues, and expressing the awe of the tropical rain forest and animals.


Cai Meng Xia蔡梦霞

Cai Meng Xia is a professor of Calligraphy with CAFA Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Her work is renowned for its power and strength and people are  often surprised to find the author of such works created from such a small physique. I was thrilled to be working next to her on the third floor of the Octagon.

The Sound of Water is not Deep, ink on Rice Paper,  Cai Mengxia 2023

What the artist says: 

I really like this sentence written in the work:

The water is deep and silent,

the sound of water is not deep.


Zhou Rui周睿

Speaking of working next to an artist…. two years ago I was working next to Zhou Rui on this same residency. Although this time he was busy with administrative work in Jing Hong he still managed to make several  visits throughout the residency including making a work near the Buttress tree in the video

Inspiration’ oil on canvas 160 x 130 cm Zhou Rui

What the artist says:

Chinese civilization is the foundation of contemporary Chinese literature and art and a treasure of literary and artistic innovation. I want to devote myself to honouring and promoting exceptional traditional Chinese culture.


Chen Wen You 陈文有

Chen Wen You makes science accessible to the public through art and design at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens XTBG. He often came to eat with us in the evenings . He facilitated many aspects of the residency with XTBG including arranging studios for some of the artists , wood for the wood sculptors and of course the exhibition which is currently running at the Enviromental and Education Centre at XTBG.

The Entanglement of life” Chinese ink on rice paper , Chen Wenyou

What the artist says:

The Entanglement of Life  is a tenacious and unyielding life. You are among me and I am among you. We tolerate each other, rely on each other and share the same breath and destiny.


Chen Nan陈楠、

I had known Chen Nan from the previous residency and was able to communicate with him a little more this time. He is very gracious. He works with great speed, he had a couple of paintings completed before I began my own painting.

“Eternal Life” oil painting 120cmⅩ100cm Chen Nan September 2023

What the artist says :

Unique rainforest creatures coexist harmoniously with people, and the mysterious atmosphere brings fresh and rhythmic vitality.


Huang Yan 黄燕、

I first met Huang Yan of Hani nationality at the residency two years ago. She works in the Cultural Sector and is director of the Xishuangbanna Artists Association. Her deep reverence for the natural world is apparent in her work. 

A corner of the Rain Forest, Ink & Ink wash on Rice paper , 4 feet in length Huang Yan 2019

What the artist says:

As an ethnic Hani in Xishuangbanna, I am deeply in love with the land where I was born and raised. Just like the rocks, flowers and trees here, I belong to this vast and mysterious tropical rainforest. I believe that only by being in harmony with heaven and earth can we achieve success. Only then can you truly stabilize your soul and create truly touching works of art.



Dao Jun刀军、

Dao Jun, who is of Dai nationality works in the cultural sector. I first met Dao Jun at the residency two years ago. He continued to share his energetic gusto for life . One of the other artists and I started to call him ‘the Godfather’ because of his choice of music .

What the artist says :

Love life, Love art, Love nature


Katharina Rahmi  凯瑟琳娜

Katharina Rahmi is a Swiss artist currently studying and researching in Hangzhou. Her knowledge of Buddhist art is astounding. Her investigations are thorough, when she discovered her new found plant was edible she asked the people in the kitchen restaurant to cook it for us one night which we all enjoyed , it apparently has health benefits.

“Oroxylum indicum” Katharina Rähmi 2023

What the artist says:

This beautiful plant Oroxylum indicum in Xishuangbanna became a main player in my new work . The pod is like a narrrow boat, suggesting adventure in the rainforest, carrying back countless seeds. “I jumped on this boat, maybe there is a little storm inside me”


Che Bai 车白,

Che Bai is Jinou ethnicity and is currently creating 100 works for the series “A Nation Like Water – Feelings Like Mountains” based the two ethnic minorities who reside in Xishuangbanna: the Dai zu and Jinou.

The Jinuo ethnic group is the 56th and the last ethnic group in China recognized by the State Council in 1979, with a population of more than 20,000. The Jinuo people have no written language and have their spoken language. However they are also called a people who record events on wood.

Feelings Before the New House , oil on canvas, Che Bai ,2023

What the artist says:

The Jinuo people have lived in frame-structured wooden houses in the mountains for generations. The houses are built with thatch cut from the wild and made of straw. This work I created is based on the memory of my childhood 40 years ago! In the painting, several young men from the same village go to collect grass and come back together. After getting married, the Jinuo woman can no longer feel at ease and rest for a day. She is the breadwinner of the family.


Niamh Cunningham 

The blog following this one will take a look at the Forest Breath Series.

Stone Forest Sky, 120x100cm acrylic on canvas Niamh Cunningham,2023

What the artist says:

What is Air?

Air is 400 millions years of Forest Breath!


Yang Chun Long 杨春龙

Although Yang Chun Long worked his days in the wood yard inside the park I managed to have a few conversations with him. I know he has strong links with another friend wood sculptor Zhujing Hua and also his son. I have seen some of teacher Yangs exquisite wood carving, quite unimaginable how he made the intricate layers which are all one piece. The piece of work he showed me images of took him 10 years to make.

The Guardian, mahogony,  metal ladles, Yang Chunlong and Zhu Jinghua,2023

What the artist says :

My master Zhu Jinghua designed the manuscript. When I went to the site to make it, it was wood, dead trees, and the environment of Xishuangbanna Botanical Garden that guided me to complete the entire creation. It seemed like everything had been arranged a long time ago and I just gathered them together including the ladle spoons.

Therefore, only by feeling with your heart can man and nature be in harmony and synchronized.  When you finally make the placements , it feels like it has found its destiny.


Lu Dou 吕多


DouDou was a delight to have nearby , not just because she had excellent English , she was so cheerful and observant. I had learned later that she completed her MA in History of Art with prof GaoXiang many years previous. She currently teaches art at Changxin International College of Art, Yunnan University

Fauna in vivo, 60x60cm, acrylic on canvas , Lv Duo 2023

What the artist says:

I saw many wild flowers and plants in Xishuangbanna that I had never seen before, which was a new inspiration for me – because before I had been painting potted plants but these plants are in vivo!


Zhong MingXi (钟明曦)

Photographer Zhong Mingxi is from the Lahu ethnic group, she lives and works in Lincang, Yunnan. When I saw her four works after installation I was profoundly moved.

Lahu girl 50x 80cm digital print on composite aluminium, Zhong MingXi 2023

What the artist says :

The disappearing skyline. I document the changing and dying minorities.



Post Graduates

Tie Farong 铁发荣、

There is no better way to get to know someone than  to work on something together. Tie Farong was my collaborator for the Forest Breath performance and he was so great to work with and making decisions with him was easy. I already knew he was a very good percussionist from the last residency two years ago . He is currently one of Prof Gao Xiangs post grad students.

Symbiosis, oil on canvas , 104 x 83 cm Tie Farong 2023

What the artist says:

The inspiration comes from the growth process of the main plants in the rainforest. These trunks and vines may not seem to belong to the same subject, but they do. They are also breathing the air from nature and absorbing the nutrients of the same earth. Their wild growth is the rhythm of life. I use lines to describe their postures. From the left and right directions of the picture, they are different trees and vines. From the top and bottom relationship of the picture, they are a symbiotic body.


Su Chun 苏淳

Su Chun was incredibly helpful troubleshooter to me (and everyone ) during my stay at the residency. She is from the Bai minority and I have her special magnet sitting proudly on my fridge door. She is particularly talented in graphic design and digital art. This artwork is not part of the current  exhibition.

The Corner of the Octagon , digital print , Su Chun 2023

What the artist says:

On the first day in Menglun, before dinner the sky outside the Octagon restaurant was particularly beautiful, with tree branches swaying and distant stars shining in the beautiful twilight. In the beautiful glow, I noticed this small pottery jar hanging on a trunk . This broken flowerpot seemed to be endowed with vitality , becoming particularly lively and interesting .

Existence is reasonable, and every experience happens for a reason. Regardless of when or where never forget to climb upwards and strive to grow.


Huang Shunfu黄顺富、

I had met Huang Shunfu before two years ago . He was so helpful back then as well as this time round. I noticed other members of the post grad team also spoke very highly of him. This artwork is not part of the current exhibition 

Digital image HuangShunfu 2023

What the artist says:

Like the big tree in Xishuangbanna, it strives to take root downwards in order to welcome the rising sun every day. The bells in the morning and the drums in the evening are endlessly enjoyable.


Zhai Xiaolong,翟小龙、

Zhai Xiaolong was one of the wood sculpture team assisting the other artists with their works. His work below is not part of the current exhibition

“The Time of Pastoral Dreams”27cm*30cm*14cm Zhai Zhaolong 2022 

What the artist says: 

What will it dream about in this quiet moment? It must be a wonderful and pleasant story.


Qin Ruijuan 秦瑞涓

Qin Ruijuan shared the third floor space and I used to pop over to her side when I needed to borrow the lighter for the insect repellant burner. Although studying in Kunming she is from Xishuangbanna . She was a life saver in helping me get my train ticket and helped us all with her driving.

Hometown, oil on canvas 50x 100 cm Qin Ruijuan 2023

What the artist says:

This is a work I created in Menglun in September 2023, expressing my feelings about the vitality of my hometown in different colors on the picture plane.


Chen Da陈达

Chen Da was the other half of the Duo team ( together with Zhai Xiaolong) assisting the wood sculptors throughout the residency . This work below is not part of the current exhibition .

Fuxian Lake Suite, three mahogony panels, Chen Da

What the artist says:

These narratives are based on my home town of ChengJiang . I hope to pass on these beautiful stories to more people.


Sun Jiayi 孙嘉仪

Always cheerful Sun Jiayi also painted on the 3rd floor of the Octagon. Occasionally I would come over to take a look on her work. One day I thought we would manage a half an hour coffee together but alas there was never the time.

Flat Bamboo Orchid  oil on canvas 40 x50cm  Sun Jiayi, 2023

What the artist says:

The flat bamboo orchid loves the sun, it is drought tolerant and resistant to cold. Its petals grow freely and unfettered, just like every one of us



‘The Rhythm of Life’ has been an amazing artist residency. Huge thank you to prof Gao Xiang 高翔 and director Zhou Rui 周瑞 for making this possible, to all at Xishuangbanna Tropcial Botanical Gardens especially director Liu Guangyin 刘光裕主任 of the environmental education centre for the great chats (and for the upcoming Tree Story for the Memory Palace of Tree Stories ) , to the brilliant and lovely artists (see video )for sharing the fun and hard work, to the very helpful students especially Xiao Su and also to Mrs Yu of the Octagon lodge (玉金女士 的八角楼).

I have long believed culture and the arts have a vital role to play in confronting and resolving our global ecological crisis. This project has given me a good measure of hope that we are moving in that direction.

The exhibition is currently showing at the Exhibition hall at the Environmental Education Centre in XTBG till Nov 19th after which it will be exhibited in the capital of Jinghong at the Xishuangbanna State Museum in Dec 3rd 2023 . A huge thank you to Xu Yunhua 许云华 and to Chen WenYou 陈文有 for hosting and facilitating this exhibition.

Note : there are more artists participating in the current exhibition which can be viewed on these links

Link 1 

Link 2