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A short film and digital exhibition that traces the cultural, ecological and urban implications of the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline.
71 backers pledged $7,893 to help bring this project to life.

About

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Roadside View - Kumul to Urumqi (image courtesy of Xiaoxuan Lu)
Roadside View - Kumul to Urumqi (image courtesy of Xiaoxuan Lu)

Please click here for more pictures of Xinjiang taken in 2012.

Overview

We will complete a short documentary film and online digital exhibition that traces the cultural, ecological and urban-spatial implications of the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline. The Turkmen pipeline, the first leg of which became operational in 2014, stretches 1,833 kilometers (1,138 miles) and is the largest of a handful of new infrastructure projects in Central Asia that follow the path of the historic "Silk Road." The largest project of its kind in the region, the pipeline is one component of a USD $16.3 billion Central Asia “Silk Road Strategy Fund” established by the Chinese Government to finance new cross-border energy infrastructure. 

Although major oil and gas infrastructure projects in the region are examined often in policy reviews and by major media outlets, little research has been undertaken that documents the cultural, ecological, and urban transformations of the landscapes affected. This project will help to fill this gap.

The historic Silk Road is being reinvented into one of the most important energy corridors in the world. (map courtesy of Xiaoxuan Lu)
The historic Silk Road is being reinvented into one of the most important energy corridors in the world. (map courtesy of Xiaoxuan Lu)

What is the Silk Road? 

The Silk Road is perhaps the most thoroughly documented linear landscape in the world. Historically, the passageway has served as the principal conduit between China and the Mediterranean World beginning as early as the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). The route has facilitated both trans-ecological and trans-civilizational exchange, passing along a varied terrain of ecological frontiers including desert, steppe, piedmont and mountain ranges. The flow of goods and ideas prompted the emergence of a handful of prosperous oasis towns, including Urumqi (China), Almaty (Kazakhstan), Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) Shymkent (Kazakhstan), Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Türkmenabat (Turkmenistan).

Why the Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline? Why Eurasia?

Today, the historic Silk Road is being reinvented into one of the most important energy corridors in the world. However, in a turn of fortune, the flow of trade has been reversed: whereas silk once traveled from China, through Central Asia and into the Mediterranean, natural gas – “the fuel of the 21st century” – originates in broader Central Asia and flows Eastward to China. The energy trade has led to resurgence in economic development in a handful of historic cities, as well as the formation of new energy “boom towns” such as Baku in Azerbaijan and Otar in Kazakhstan. In virtually all of these cities, wealth in natural resources has fueled investment in real estate development. The city of Ordos in Chinese Inner-Mongolia is but one example of how new streams in oil and natural gas revenue are manifesting vast new ecological and urban landscapes.

This project is also important in a context larger than that of the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline and Central Asia. Roughly 130 gas pipeline projects valued at USD $100 billion are being pursued globally, many of which are being constructed across national borders and ecological frontiers. To this end, the project will document the spatial reality of large-scale linear infrastructure, in order to understand and contextualize the urban, ecological and cultural impacts of this energy boom. Although our point of focus is on contemporary infrastructure development, we will overlay current projects with the historical route of the Silk Road.

The principle method the traders used to travel and carry their goods along the Silk Road was the caravan. (Source: Silk Road Atlas, Washington University)
The principle method the traders used to travel and carry their goods along the Silk Road was the caravan. (Source: Silk Road Atlas, Washington University)
A Chinese worker of Asia Gas Pipeline (AGP) walks along the pipe of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline at Otar gas station outside Almaty in Kazakhstan. (Source: REUTERS / Shamil Zhumatov)
A Chinese worker of Asia Gas Pipeline (AGP) walks along the pipe of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline at Otar gas station outside Almaty in Kazakhstan. (Source: REUTERS / Shamil Zhumatov)

The Documentary Film

The aesthetic approaches of road documentary and landscape film have rich histories. Even before the birth of cinema, painters and photographers traveled the world and recorded landscapes that were henceforth unknown to outsiders. In a world in which geographical distance has been compressed, we believe that long distance linear documentation brings enormous value to the transnational cultural-infrastructural landscape this project investigates. As we travel along the Turkmenistan-China pipeline this summer, video will allow us to document in subtle and dramatic ways how energy infrastructure is changing everyday life for people across Central Asia. 

The Digital Exhibition

In addition to the short documentary film, we will develop an online exhibition on the Omeka-Neatline web platform. This interactive website will allow us to document our observations, interviews and drawings in real-time while we are in the field, and tweak and build on material collected as a digital exhibition after we begin the editing stage. The online exhibition will be publicly accessible and we anticipate it will help to build a broader conversation that brings together individuals from academia, the art world, and the general public. 

Please click here for a beta version of the digital exhibition.

Please click here for a beta version of the interactive map, which will be updated daily while the project team is in Central Asia.

Sir Marc Aurel Stein’s 1925 Map “Chinese Turkistan and Adjacent Parts of Central Asia and Kansu”
Sir Marc Aurel Stein’s 1925 Map “Chinese Turkistan and Adjacent Parts of Central Asia and Kansu”

The Project Team

Lu Xiaoxuan

Lu holds a Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Architecture from SCI-Arc. She is currently a PhD Fellow at Harvard University. She previously practiced as architect and landscape architect at Turenscape (Beijing), SWA (Los Angeles), Bjarke Ingels Group (Copenhagen), and West 8 (Rotterdam). Her MLA thesis project at Harvard, “Mining as Demining”, a strategy for how we might repair this long-scarred landscape, which earned her an Award of Excellence from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2012. In 2013, an exclusive interview by Lydia Lee entitled “Double Digging: A Harvard student proposes that gold miners be recruited as mine sweepers in Laos” was published in the March Issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine. Early 2014, Lu’s talk on the post-war landscape in Laos was posted by YIXI Talk to YOUKU, the largest Chinese video-sharing website and had almost 1 million viewers in less than a week.

Learn more about Lu's work by clicking here or here

Benny Shaffer

Benny's research focuses on independent cinema, contemporary art, and popular performance troupes in China. He is currently a PhD Candidate in Media Anthropology at Harvard University, where he makes film, video, and audio works in the Sensory Ethnography Lab. He has been a recipient of the Harvard Film Study Center Fellowship (2012-15) for his films about migration and performance in contemporary China. His documentary The World (Outside) screened at film festivals in Europe and North America, including the Jean Rouch International Film Festival in Paris, France and the International Ethnographic Film Festival of Quebec in Montreal, Canada. He was formerly editor at LEAP: the International Art Magazine of Contemporary China, and currently curates the Emergent Visions film series, which showcases new and innovative works of digital cinema from China.

Justin D. Stern

Justin is a PhD Candidate and Teaching Fellow in the Department of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at Harvard University. He holds a Master of Urban Planning (MUP) from Harvard University Graduate School of Design and completed his bachelor’s degree (BA) in Urban Planning and Urban Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Oxford. During the 2012-2013 academic year Justin served as a Fulbright Fellow in Seoul, South Korea and was the recipient of a Harvard-Frederick Sheldon Traveling Fellowship to support comparative fieldwork in China, Indonesia and the Philippines. He has presented his work at numerous conferences including the East Asia Regional Organization for Planning and Human Settlements World Congress; the Cosmopolitan China Conference at the University of Manchester; TEDxTaipei; and at the University of Hong Kong Shanghai Center. His research focuses on the political economy of urban form in rapidly urbanizing cities in Asia. 

Learn more about Justin's work by clicking here

The Rewards:

postcard samples design by Xiaoxuan Lu
postcard samples design by Xiaoxuan Lu
bookmark samples design by Xiaoxuan Lu
bookmark samples design by Xiaoxuan Lu
journal book sample design by Xiaoxuan Lu
journal book sample design by Xiaoxuan Lu

Where Will the Money Go? 

Contributions will be used to support logistical expenses including round-trip airfare from Boston to Almaty, car rental and accommodation. Funds will also be used to pay for camera equipment for filming, film processing, web hosting and other incidentals.

Risks and challenges

While we have done extensive preliminary research and planning, we cannot anticipate every possible obstacle that we might encounter during our journey through Central Asia. A project of this nature is characterized by uncertainty and chance; though the uncertainty of the project presents a unique and exciting opportunity to document everyday experiences along the pipeline. We predict that certain areas of the pipeline will be difficult to access with a camera, but we have already reached out to many local research institutions and universities, and we are confident that these connections will be highly productive.

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    Pledge US$ 5 or more About US$ 5

    A personal thank you in our digital exhibition and recognition as a contributor in the closing credits of the documentary film.

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    Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline bookmark with original design by Xiaoxuan Lu!

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    Two postcards with original design by Xiaoxuan Lu, sent from two cities in Central Asia, with handwritten greeting notes in English, Chinese and Uyghur!

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    Six Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline bookmarks and two postcards with original design by Xiaoxuan Lu, sent from two cities in Central Asia, with handwritten greeting notes in English, Chinese and Uyghur!

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    Copy of a reproduction of Sir Marc Aurel Stein’s 1925 Map “Chinese Turkistan and Adjacent Parts of Central Asia and Kansu”, printed on 100% cotton, acid-free fine art paper, and two postcards sent from Central Asia.

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    Copy of a 75-page Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Journal Book, with an originally designed cover, and two postcards sent from Central Asia.

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    Six Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline bookmarks and a copy of a 75-page Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Journal Book, with an originally designed cover, and two postcards sent from Central Asia.

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    Six Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline bookmarks, a copy of a 40 page Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Observation Book, including our observations and photographs produced on site, and two postcards sent from Central Asia.

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    Copy of a reproduction of Sir Marc Aurel Stein’s 1925 Map “Chinese Turkistan and Adjacent Parts of Central Asia and Kansu”and a copy of Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Observation Book, including our observations and photographs produced on site, and two postcards sent from Central Asia.

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    Six Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline bookmarks, a copy of Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Journal Book, Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Observation Book, and two postcards sent from Central Asia.

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    Six Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline bookmarks, a copy of a reproduction of Sir Marc Aurel Stein’s 1925 Map “Chinese Turkistan and Adjacent Parts of Central Asia and Kansu”, a copy of Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Journal Book, Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Observation Book, and two postcards sent from Central Asia.

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    Copy of Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Journal Book, Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Observation Book, and two postcards sent from Central Asia. A digital copy upon the completion of the Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline documentary.

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    Copy of Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Journal Book, Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline Observation Book, and two postcards sent from Central Asia. A digital copy upon the completion of the Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline documentary, as well as a Special Thanks in the credits. On top of that, we will cook you a Chinese / Uyghur dinner in Cambridge (MA, USA) or Beijing (China).

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Funding period

- (30 days)