Not Fog – 雾非雾


Composer and director: Lemon Guo
Costume design: Jing Li
Visual projection: Mengtai Zhang
Voice and Movement Ensemble: Amélie Gaulier, Anna Lublina, Anna Slate, Leigh Akin, Lemon Guo
Data Sonification: Ethan Edwards
Production Assistant: Summer Lin

Not Fog – 雾非雾, comes out of thoughts on China in the past and present. Rapid industrialization has brought with it dense and constant air pollution in nearly all major cities. The growing urban-industrial sprawl consumes more and more of the land. Economic conditions ensure that living in this environment is the only option for countless people. The smog is a long-term health hazard for all those who live and work in these environments. It also stands in contrast to a long cultural tradition in China of a deep respect and idealization of nature. Painters chose to depict mountains and rivers; poets wrote of birds and trees. These court officials lived in the great urban capitals of their time, but maintained a healthy relationship and longing for the purity of the natural world. One theme in particular they loved, was the fog, the mist, which hides the greatness of the land. 

In both Chinese and English, "雾霾" - "smog" is a compound word - "雾“ for Fog, “霾” for smoke. The title “雾非雾”, extracted from Tang dynasty poem “花非花” - "flower but not flower", translates literally into “fog but not fog”. The poem’s illusive and romantic imagery is representative of the symbolism of fog in Chinese culture. The direct translation proposes an ironic and alarming juxtaposition of these two deceptively similar phenomena.

The piece follows a woman trapped by the smog and looking at others, with more power to move through this. She is overcome by fantasies of the past, the poets and their fog, the folk tale of the white snake, and the communist idealization of rural workers and their songs. She places those she sees into these fantasies of fog. As a mediation of our relationship with the environment, ‘Not Fog’ constructs a portal of fog, which destabilizes and lulls people in.

The visual and sound materials are drawn from traditional and contemporary situations. The sounds of breath are based on Air Quality and Sulfur Dioxide levels in the past two weeks, the inhale in New York, the exhale from China. The music compositions are inspired by traditional Wenren music, Beijing opera, and 20th century communist propaganda songs. Images come from Satellite data of Chinese smog conditions, ink paintings, and Beijing opera. The costume design and the choreography are drawn from the same sources, as well as shadow puppetry.

The work received grant support from Columbia University and commission from the Human Impact Institute, and have been presented at venues including the New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME 2018) in Virginia, Creative Climate Awards (2017) at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, and Collaboration Across Borders Conference (2017) at the German Embassy.