Tao Follows what is Natural: Di Jiao MA Art, Space & Nature

Something mysteriously formed,

Born before heaven and Earth.

In the silence and the void,

Standing alone and unchanging,

Ever present and in motion.

Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.

I do not know its name

Call it Tao.

For lack of a better word, I call it great..


Human follows Earth.

Earth follows heaven.

Heaven follows the Tao.

Tao follows what is natural.

— Tao Teh King 25


Di Jiao, whose undergraduate Degree was in Landscape Architecture, has been influenced by her grounding in Chinese traditional culture. Her works associate with introverted oriental culture and profound philosophy. In her postgraduate studies, Jiao has explored cultural connotations with Chinese ancient philosophy and poetry in the landscape of Scotland.

Jiao’s first exploration of the Scottish landscape was during the first semester, on a field trip which looked specifically at the environment of the Flow Country in the North of Scotland.


Stroking the black peat, she listened to throaty roars of stags and poetry read by George Gunn. One day, lying in the quiet peatland alone, she felt the most primitive subtle connections between her and the wind, rain, plants, animals and earth. Thereafter, she created her first work ‘TAO’ in which she observed and understood what she felt through Taoist philosophy. “Tao follows what is natural” being her core concept.

910543366147827293‘Tao’ Tent Gallery, Edinburgh, 2017.


The work was in two parts, both film and sculpture, showing both process and output. In the sculptural component exhibit, she metaphors the natural undulating earth with crumpled paper on which the smoke of incense and melted frozen peat powder respectively flowed. Alongside, the processes of flow was filmed and subsequently exhibited together with a Chinese and Western poem.The Chinese poem was taken from “Burn Incense” by Chen Qufei in the Song Dynasty with equal words in each line, which talks about religious mood and burning of incense. The Western poem is an excerpt of George Gunn’s poem “Rain in August” with different words in each line.

358231058506130460Sculptures and poems
IMG_6014Still image of INCENSE
IMG_6015Still image of FROZEN PEAT


This work is a microcosm of nature. Traditional Chinese Taoist philosophers believe that the formation of the universe should follow the law of nature with the accumulation of tens of millions of years. In this work, whether the dense downwards-flowing smoke or the melting ice drops with the soil wrapped, both of them slowly flowed through nature’s fragmented landform, they intersect, separate, and then wind their way forward. As times goes on, the ash and water stains precipitate down with the veins of the paper, unconsciously revealing the most primitive bones and texture of nature. Chinese incense and ancient poetry, as well as the peat and George Gunn‘s poems in the culture of the Scottish Highlands, are all adopted in the work, black and white, fire and water, freedom and rule, and also faith and pursuit. They interact and mingle with each other, and they, are everything.


To develop a further understanding of Scottish culture and the history of peatland, her second work – “THE SHAPE OF NORTHERLY LAND” was a complete poem of George Gunn’s “A Walk in Strathnaver” , the text delineated with powdered peat. Thousands of years of accumulation not only formed peat, but also laid the foundation for Scottish literature. In the poetry of contemporary poet George Gunn, there are scattered memories and landscapes in the Northland. Beneath the foot of these fragments lie peat, which is dark and vulnerable, formed by mountains and lochs, oceans, sky, plants, Gaelic and generations of Scottish people for thousands of years.

Peat, the annual ring of Scotland.

Poem, the shape of the Northerly land.

53006716305409982Letters delineated with powdered peat
258248256936913015‘The Shape of Northerly Land’, Tent Gallery, Edinburgh, 2017


Surface engraved with a narrow stroke, path

between two points. Of singular thickness, a glib remark,

fragment, an unfinished phrase. Any one edge of a shape

& its contours in entirety. Melody arranged, a recitation,

the ways horizons are formed. Think of leveling, snaring,

the body’s disposition (both in movement & repose).

It has to do with palms & creases, with rope wound tight

on a hand, things resembling drawn marks: a suture

or a mountain ridge, an incision, this width of light.

A razor blade at a mirror, tapping out a dose, or the churn

of conveyor belts, the scoured, idling machines. 4 A conduit,

a boundary, an exacting course of thought. And here,

hammered-in tent stakes, shoveled earth, a trench.

(Donovan 2003:333)

The exploration of landscape was further developed in two subsequent works ‘ORAN’ and ‘DISAPPEARING LINES’.

ORAN’ which means poem and song, was made for the Art Space + Nature presentation at the 2018 Bookmarks Artists’ Book event. She embroidered on the six-layer yarn with different heights of undulating lines, which represent not only the mountains, but also undulating sound waves and traces of human exploration. Turning each layer of yarn, the mountains will disappear layer by layer – presenting the perspective of getting closer and closer to nature. Gaelic names can be recognized clearly through each layer of yarn from different heights.


20180320_170022‘ORAN’, Bookmarks, Edinburgh, 2018
WechatIMG16The First page of ‘ORAN’
WechatIMG18Line with Gaelic name


The linear language of ‘ORAN’ was developed in ‘DISAPPEARING LINES’ for the group exhibition, ‘6Carbon’ at Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation.


Here, an image of a glacial landscape from Greenland was painstakingly detailed in needlework. In this work, the line represents time and space. It is the trajectory of the action, and the rise and fall of the sound waves. It is not only the outline of nature’s back bone, but also the mark of the melting and falling glaciers. As for her, she is a brave and inexperienced adventurer, unaware and perplexed. Using the needle and thread to follow the profile of the glacier, step by step, flutuating, exploring, wearying, melting and falling. The beautiful and fragile glaciers are named because of us, and finally disappear because of us. Who am I? I, am you.

imgdo152288647850022‘ Disappearing Lines’, Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, Edinburgh, 2018



Following a second fieldtrip to the Black Wood of Rannoch (a remnant of the original Caledonian Forest), Di Jiao again brought a Chinese perspective to the Scottish landscape in the work ‘SHANSHUI’. ‘Shanshui’, in Chinese culture, means mountains and water, that is, landscape. In addition, this is also a very important category of Chinese painting, which contains the ancient Chinese traditional view of the universe and nature – the focus on harmony between heaven and man.

WechatIMG19‘Shanshui’, Patriothall Gallery, Edinburgh, 2018


The work is in two parts. The first being four pictures of ripples along the water surface – lines drawn by the wind, which unexpectedly resembles ‘Thousands miles of mountains and rivers’ painted by Wang Ximeng in China’s Northern Song Dynasty. The pictures show a strong oriental flavor, mountains and water, interweaving and overlapping at the moment of capture.

20180516_17103320180516_17181120180516_17195220180516_172016The second part is a natural ink landscape painting, derived from soaking wooden sticks in a liquid mixture, embodying natural processes – peat powder, tea and freshly grated plants. The process of soaking – thus, absorption of the mixture by the wooden medium – seeked to echo nature’s formation of peat.

20180524_190226The sticks were delicately arranged one by to form a natural ink paining. Taking a closer look at the dry water stains, the intricate details and textures of the painting is revealed.

20180515_172630Details of water stains


In this work you can find staticity within change, encounter the shadow of the mountain in the flow, and pursue the context of humanities within nature. Scotland has witnessed natural and cultural changes over thousands of years. These changes are thick ink; every inch of the land’s skin has been infiltrated by undulating and indelible marks made by nature with the passage of time, constituting the historical context.


Di Jiao’s final, degree show work, ‘EMBRYO’ returns to a research concern from her

final undergraduate project. That project was to design a cemetery which respected religion, and subsequently, to a feeling of awe for nature, through an intervention of people’s moods via manipulation of space, light and shadows. Though she was interested in the theme of life and death, her interests lies more in unfolding the eternal cycle of birth and death as well as life vitality. The name of her degree show — ‘EMBRYO’ was inspired by the layout of some Chinese graveyards. In the preceding graveyard investigation, she found that a number of Chinese cemeteries looked like the shape of womb, provoking the thought of where we are from and where we will be going. The womb as a symbolism and juncture point that contains both life and death, serves as an important starting point for the artist’s work.

Prior to developing her work, she conducted research by asking more than three hundred individuals to…

1/ describe the moment of a fetus curling within a womb;

2/ In nature and landscape, when and where makes you feel like you return to your mother’s womb?

‘EMBRYO’ is an installation which combines architectural space, video and audio.

poster-embryoThe space is enclosed in a womb like structure which the visitors enter, enclosed, sacred and full of vitality. It continues the ancient Chinese Taoist philosophies as in her previous works, and in combination of the selective natural element is sealed with multi-layered thin fabrics into a circular space at the very center of a dark space. The circle represented the origin of consciousness of the universe in ancient China and thus, is the origin of life. In Taoism, the universe revolves back and forth, and all the birth, development, death of nature and social phenomena took place in the endless motion of this revolution. In this case, circle becomes the most important and essential part of Chinese cultures and could be seen in almost all the domains of religion, architecture and historical cultures.embryo layout


In her work, the circle is not only a sacred religious symbol but also a safe enclosed space. The crimson leaf veins printed on each layer of cloth of the circle look like the infinite expansion of blood capillaries and vessels to all directions, creating a uterine mucosa which belongs in the natural, which wraps humans in by layers. Around the circular device are three projectors, simultaneously projecting the video of what was previously recorded during the field trip – an orange flickering video clip recorded when driving through the woods, captured with hands covering the lens, as if one is passing through the woods with their eyes closed – onto the central hanging fabrics. As visitors walk into the middle of the circle, they feel wrapped. At the same time, when the orange light shines on the cloths, the crimson leaf veins on them pulsate like the blood vessels with heart beats under shadows of light and shade, as if one is curling up in the womb of the great nature, looking at the outside world of skins.



A collection of natural sounds from the streets, coast and forest were used to create audio which bring a background harmony to the whole space. Within the circle, visitors can hear these sounds while being immersed in the natural womb installation.

  1. Tzu, Lao; Butler-Bowdon, Tom. (2012).Tao Te Ching.In Tao Te Ching (pp29–224). Hoboken, NJ: Capstone.
  2. Donovan, M. (2003) ‘Line’, Poetry, 181(5): 333.
  3. Tim Ingold, Lines: A Brief History. (London and New York: Routledge, 2007, 186pp., illustrated, pbk, ISBN 978 0 415 424271)
  4. Gunn, George (2013) A Northerly Land.[Online]. Available at: http://www.skyerecords.com(Accessed: 2nd Dec 2013)




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s