Zheng Bo developed Pteridophilia in 2016 during an artist residency program at TheCube Project Space in Taipei, following his observations of Formosa in Formation, an exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Zheng was inspired by the movement of Japanese artists to Taiwan in the early 20th century, who were drawn in by the island’s tropical flowers; and the way in which colonizing forces from both Japan and Nationalist Party of China (Kuomintang) have been sustained by the edible ferns when forced to retreat to the forests of Taiwan, following defeat in battle over the control of the island. Today, Taiwan’s woodlands are rich in plum blossoms due to the preferences of early leader of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek, and tourists take hiking trails to view cherry blossom—planted by former President of The Republic of China, Lee Teng-Hui. The relationship between the politics of Taiwan and its botany is further reflected by its trend for naming social movements after plants, for example the 1990 Wild Lily Student Movement, the 2008 Wild Strawberry Movement, and the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement. Still, in spite of the significance of ferns in Taiwan’s political history, to date no social movement has been named after this plant.
In Pteridophilia (deriving from the Greek pterid, meaning ‘fern’) Zheng explores the intimacy between humans and ferns: depicting alternative imaginations for life on Earth, where humans co-existence with other living species is not only built on functional rationality, but pleasure too.
Pteridophilia 2, filmed in January 2018, a man is seen making love to a bird’s nest fern and then eating it. While society considers eating plants as ‘natural’, making love to a plant is ‘unnatural’; Zheng reflects on this moral outlook. Presented as a series, Zheng’s Pteridophilia films further explore power, control and submission, and how these manifest in politics, sex, and ecology. The fern, henceforth, becomes an emblem for the artist’s own enquiry, which suggests the beginnings of a possible social movement.
Zheng Bo, born 1974 in Beijing, lives and works in Lantau Island, Hong Kong.