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Concept and photography:
Text editing and translation:
Rob van Hoesel
NPN Printers (NL)
Amsterdams Fund for the Arts
Aeronautics in the Backyard is a mythical, fairytale-like photo series about the dream of flying, freedom and creativity.
All over the country in China, in the most unexpected of places, farmers rise up to build their own aircraft. They don’t work in fancy hangars with all the equipment one could wish for, they simply play around in their backyards, recycling scrap metal and using household tools. They are self-educated, self-employed and penniless.
Some of these aeronauts have worked for decades but never achieved to get airborne. Although that might sound like a waste of time, they see it differently. For them, the game is not about how far or high they can fly, it’s about pushing their boundaries in order to achieve the impossible. They call it real-life science-fiction.
Xiaoxiao Xu (CN/NL) is driven by questions of why, of all people, Chinese farmers have the guts and skills to become aeronauts, even though they lack both education and resources, and how they manage to achieve such dazzling goals while working full-time jobs on the side and taking care of their families on a daily basis.
In 2015, Xu drove across China’s extensive land for several months, residing in eight different villages spread out over three major provinces, meeting and interviewing eight different aeronauts. Although coming from similar backgrounds, all eight have completely different ways of building their machines, and all carry countless unique stories with them.
Xu recorded their tales, took pictures and simultaneously collected many original aircraft drawings and technical documents. All these little artefacts will be brought together in the book, thereby unveiling the hidden world of Chinese aeronautics in full detail for the first time.
With this project Xu shows the creativity of individual farmer, deeply touched by their resourcefulness, flexibility, positivity, playfulness and childlike playfulness.
The book is a detailed story in which text, image and historical resources are brought together to strengthen and deepen the subject as fully as possible.
The dummy of the book was nominated for the Unseen Dummy Award in Amsterdam, Vienna Photo Book Award, Guatemala Photo Book and Photolux Photobook Award in Italy.
Xiaoxiao Xu moved from China to The Netherlands in 1999 when she was a teenager. In 2009 she cum laude graduated from the Photo Academy of Amsterdam. Since then she worked on her own projects, balancing in-between documentary and autonomous work. She wants to tell stories from a unique perspective that leaves spaces for the reader to be freely interpreted, stories that evoke people’s imagination, that lure them to look over and over and dream away. In 2020 she won the Jimei X Arles Women Photographers Award with the book Watering my horse by a spring at the foot of the Long Wall.