Normal Pool Level: “Height in meters above sea level at which a section of the river is to be maintained behind a dam.” 

The Three Gorges Dam is China’s most ambitious construction since the Great Wall. In July 2012 the largest Hydroelectric project in the world was fully functional for the first time. 

The project and its new 660 km long reservoir generated a huge environmental and human impact in the Yangtze valley, flooding 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,352 villages, submerging thousands of years of Chinese history. It has so far forced 4 million people to relocate. New and bigger cities have been built on higher ground, keeping the same names from the ones that disappeared. The Three Gorges reservoir has been turned into one of the top touristic attractions in China, and every season thousands of western visitors sail along the Yangtze in luxury cruises enjoying “cultural parks” that bring together new buildings or manufactured relics put together for the sole purpose of entertaining foreigners. 

In January 2013 artist Jorge Mañes Rubio decided to travel off-season along the Yangtze river to collect and transform a series of objects that depict the complex changes that have occurred in the area. The dislocations between both past and future, tradition vs. modernity, and memory vs. progress are crucial to understand a journey where the artist presents us an alternative narrative. Through his shocking photographs and fictional souvenirs a more accurate experience of the area’s transformation is thoroughly revealed. 

During his trip Rubio managed to visit some of the areas that got partially or fully flooded by the Three Gorges Reservoir. On some occasions being one of the very few western individuals if not the first one who has photographed some of these places, his efforts to recognise such locations and their inhabitants turn upside down our preconceived notion of touristic souvenirs as consumer objects. In Normal Pool Level, fictional keepsakes and mementos are linked to their original locations, opening a new space for the public’s interpretation. His objective but creative perception of the reality that surrounds the Three Gorges Project engaged with the local audience in the project’s first exhibition in China, telling a story they already knew, but somehow in a completely new way.

The exhibition comprises a collection of objects, photographs, drawings and installations that become the narrators of the artist’s journey. By travelling off the beaten track and engaging with the locals Rubio manages to create an array of symbols and memorials that don’t seem to belong to Eastern nor Western culture, portraying the identity clash that the area has been going through in the past few years and the cost the region is paying for the country’s development.

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