I always deeply loved Maleonn 马良 work. His surreal, melancholic and sometime grotesque staged photographs are always brilliant, nostalgic and touching. The colors are wonderful; they remind prints from the 50’s, old hand colored photos, or watercolor. It is really the work of a master.
For Camera Obscura Maleonn wrote a wonderful article about his Postman series, an article about memory and dream, his souvenirs of Shanghai and the story of a crazy dream that became reality.
Following text and images by Maleonn.
I remembered that my primary school teacher once asked me seriously who I wanted to be after I grow up. My classmates’ answers were quite boring, just like soldier, teacher, scientist, etc. I was a dumb boy at that time, and famous for that. So I was allowed to answer the question lastly hence i got enough time to think about that. I clearly remembered that I was hesitate to make the decision between the artist and postman in my mind. Although I finally picked up being an artist as my dream which could be announced loudly, actually I was quite unwilling to give up the other choice despite it was not that respectful. I had no idea how to explain over that ideal. Speaking about being an artist, at least I inherit my father (he was an artist), but I couldn’t say my wish straight out that i want to be a postman. At that time, any romantic idea was embarrassing, to say nothing of being a postman was convinced by myself as a romantic job without any reason.
About the end of last year, I happened to pass by Wu Jiang Lu, where I lived before my thirteen, the once narrow and quite road is a crowded road famous for its food. Beside the road is a large block of traditional Shanghai lanes called Shi Ku Men. The other side stands an old building constructed by Russian. My old residence was just next that building. It’s said that the building was a clinic of Russian doctor before liberation. There were fireplace and elegant decorated ceiling. All my classmates from primary school lived all in the other side, in those Shi Ku Mens. I preferred there. Normally I didn’t go back home after school, one was because my parents worked late outside most of the time, they had nap in the afternoon, so I couldn’t make any noise. On another hand, the life in Shi Ku Men lane was too abundant. I played there every afternoon, always went back home after sunset because i was hungry then.
Twenty years later, when i walked into the lane again, I was completely shocked. Time seemed been sealed here. It seemed that all haven’t been changed. Everything was exactly what it was since my childhood. I could even see the gaps on the ground where those glass marbles had jumped over. The public toilet at the end of the lane had even the same smell.
The only thing that changed was the background of the sky behind those roofs of Shi Ku Men. Many skyscrapers with glass surface appear in the background, and the notice of being turned down. Even the memory could only last for the last several months. Soon the neighborhood will be emotionlessly effaced as other memories of this city by the modernization.
I don’t know why, I suddenly thought of postman then.
Encountering memories is always unexpected. When the postman appeared again right in the corner of the lane from my memory, I was already a bald adult. Remembering the old time of growing up, for the uncertain dream of art of my childhood, I really experienced too much sweet and sours. Wandering in the devious path of life, those sweet and pain which cannot be shared, became the sealed secrets respectively, and would be carried in life heavily. One day I suddenly found that I was not only engaged in my beloved art, but also I became a postman. My job is coming back and forth between the most unreal world and the most real one, e.g. like bringing some amazing but fragile things in memories back to present; like taking some ordinary time of nowadays into certain atmosphere of the past or the future, seeking the beautiful balance lost in time.
Later, I took the series of ‘Postman’ by using the vanishing Shi Ku Men as the background. The starting point of this work was quite blur. I couldn’t explicit that, just had the desire to do the shooting. In my recently journey to Europe, I read an article on the flight, which was a story about a postman and his dreaming castle. I was so touched when I was reading that article. It seemed that it also was sort of evidence to cater all my best expectations on the term of ‘Postman’.
About one century ago, in Leon, France, a countryside postman walked everyday in the villages by feet. One day, he stumbled on a stone on the mountain lane. He suddenly noticed that stone looked quite weird. Hence he picked up that stone, and observed for a while. He liked that stone, put it in his bag and took it home.
After going back home, he got a crazy idea when he staring at the stone. If using such beautiful stone to built a castle, how amazing that would be. Now we have no idea why he could be so excited on that idea. But he really believed that he could accomplish this tremendous project by himself. So, this postman who had never learnt any architecture and had never left his hometown started to collect the stoned on his daily way when he delivering the mail. Gradually he collected a large amount of stones and construction materials, and began to work this imaginable dream. Every daytime he was a postman, and a labor sending the stones. In the night, he was an architect. He followed his own thinkings to build his own castle.
In terms of his behaviour, many people thought that was hard to understand, and he was insane to do so. But he didn’t stop even one day because of the fleer. He still firmly believed in that the initial dream would become true if only he continued to work on, the ideal castle would be done finally. In the next twenty two years, he continuously looked for stones, delivered and piled them. The remote place when he lived, finally appeared some various styled castles, like mosque style, Hinduism style, Christianism style, the total area was almost one thousand square meters. The highest point is twelve metres. These different styled castles mixed up together, even didn’t conflict each other, other than that, it generated fabulous feeling. Local residencies all knew that there was such kind of silent weird postman built such a fantasy wonderland by himself using the childish purity and persistence, time and love. In 1905, a journalist of a french post happened to find those beautiful but weird castles, those scences astonished him. He wrote an article over that story, and the postman became a legend afterwards. Many people came to visit the castles, even the most famous Picasso went there and was deeply touched. Today, the castle is one of the most famous sight seeing spot in France, and its name is “Postman Cheval’s ideal palace”.
You see, some postmen are so romantic, and its so simple, just the belief, that he trusted his initial belief. Once the dream started to be realized, never doubted. The ideal castle can fianlly be completed, if one had a letter of the postman.