In this semi-fictional essay film, the sources are taken from the records of Xinjiang Construction Corps’ production practices at the May Day Pasture from 1954 to 1964, as well as news photography and performance documentations from 1950s to 1980s. In the film, the three generations of sheep are analogies of the migratory (colonial) life of Christians, in which the separate dreams between generations bespoken numerous contradictions. I speak both the outsider’s and the insider’s perspective when narrating the story, provoking the contextual crack between the Christians and the world around them.
Reminiscent of Aldo Leopold’s reconsideration of the “Abrahamic concept of land”, Li Ran’s video essay Life of the Pilgrim considers the analytical structure of colonial expansionism by contemplating the Christianity. The narrative also concerns the ecological changes taking place where migrants and indigenous peoples meet. As the essay depicts an ecosystem, Li Ran’s narrative spans multiple generations and involves multi-species. The still images come from scientific records and archives from the Xinjiang Construction Corps in the 1950s related to sheep farming. The tone of the narrator imitates that of nature programs, depicting three generations of sheep (symbolizing Christians) migrating to Xinjiang and their interactions with the religions and lives of the natives. In the film, Li Ran describes this as a “worldly confusion.” Against the backdrop of historical trail-blaze in Xinjiang, he reads from actual biblical sources and reflects on the expansionist colonial history inherent in Christianity. It concerns the ways in which dualistic monotheism interact with indigenous animistic belief, and with the localized forms of worship that developed within Protestantism. Spanning three generations of religious ideas, the narrative does not bound by its linear and epic nature, it forces us to witness other dimensions beyond the settlers and the natives: changing landforms, re-organized crops, the process of domestication, and so on.
What is man that You are mindful of him? Psalm 8:4
There is still an apparent seam between metaphor and personification,
this is obviously not an alternative relationship on a historiographical sense,
I thought, are there other possible ways of telling the story?
For example, grinding up all romanticized rhetoric,
or eliminating all nostalgia and the infinite narration
And restoring it to a case in history?
This story does not have a narrative.
There is a group of the construction militants of Xinjiang in 1954,
who labored and interned for a decade at the May Day Pasture.
There is no mention of them reclaiming the land, building tents, grazing animals, husbandry, artificial breeding, consolidating data, recording, group photographs.
Besides being nostalgic, the process of dehairing, flaying, chopping, deboning, and freezing, cycled endlessly
until they stepped on the horse carriage to return to the city in 1964
whereby to wait for the next movement that will fundamentally reform them.
These fuzzy things you see
are none other than a group of useless animals on the sunset grassland.
When you are alive, there is always the perfect reference of skin and flesh placed there.
Thereon, they eat together, sleep together, fornicate together
and excreting together,
be hunted together, and be slaughtered together.