Timekeepers - China

Once upon a time, grand ancestral homes in Yixian, China were a testament to the wealth of merchant families. Nowadays, however,  the young move to the cities for the modern conveniences and opportunities, leaving these once grand buildings to deteriorate and fade away into memories of a bygone era.

What really keeps time – clocks or memories?

»Timekeeper« is a series of photographs by Matjaž Tančič, inspired by the set up of Hui-style living rooms in the old village houses of Yixian.

As one enters these dwellings, the eye is again and again greeted by the same sight: a small altar comprised of a clock, two vases and a mirror. Why were these altars created? What do they signify?

In Chinese, the Zhong Sheng Ping Jing (clock, vases, mirror) has the same pronunciation as lifelong tranquillity. But what at first glance gives the impression of sacred artefacts and hints at an exciting tradition is later revealed to be only objects to the majority of today's villagers.

Just a clock, two vases and a mirror.

The young have all but forgotten the original purpose of their house altars, just as old traditions and ancestral values slowly but surely fade away.

The »timekeepers« now tell a new story – a story of today. The old clock may be replaced or even lost, but then perhaps another object will take its place, transforming the altar into a reflection of the household.

Photo albums, medicines, wrist watches, toys or food are now all part of the set up and tell the story of the altar's current owners – farmers, tea growers, retired teachers and artists. Individuals from several different villages are featured in the photos with an altar of the clock, two vases and a mirror.

As the altars changed, so have the villages. They are way past their prime, the young people desiring the hustle and bustle of the city. Trade has also found a new home in large urban areas, turning the once-wealthy village merchants into a mere memory.

What remains are their luxurious houses that have now seen centuries, and in them – small altars that keep old memories and tell new stories.


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