Zhen Shi

Tragédie, Coïncidence et La Double Vie de L.L.D.M

La Maison de Z

In 2018, Chinese-French artist Zhen Shi founded La Maison de Z, a publishing initiative aimed at presenting her own work as well as the work of other Chinese photographers working within analogous areas focused on the intersections between memory and reality. To date, La Maison de Z has released five excellent books; the ambitiously constructed Uncharted+ (2019) by Wang Juyan, the abstract and meditative Even Us, Even Me (2019) by Sun Yanchu, the diaristic The Bliss of Conformity (2018) by Yingguang Guo, and Xiaoliang Huang’s cinematic Mais La Nuit Ne Part Pas Pour Autant (2018).

Its latest release is Tragédie, Coïncidence et La Double Vie de L.L.D.M by Zhen Shi herself, and charts the repercussions of a chain of events following her discovery of a 19th century diary in a flea market in the Marolles district of Brussels in 2015. The proliferation of photographic projects, particularly photobooks, utilising archival and found material as a way to re-view the past has been significant in recent year. This particular journey is kept intriguing and fresh by Zhen Shi’s ability to interweave her own story with that of her subject, the owner of the diary, a woman known only by her initials L.L.D.M.

This photobook starts at the end of the story in 2017 with the ransacking of Shi’s car, whilst it was parked outside the very flea market where the journey first began two years prior – and with the resulting loss of all Shi’s hard drives, photographic equipment, passport, luggage and two years’ worth of original research material. The book documents two years of Shi’s unpicking of the information gleaned from the found diary and via a series of coincidences concludes with a meeting with the great-granddaughter of L.L.D.M. Swerving between genealogical research, journal excerpts, historical family photographs and her own images of journeys taken and sites visited, the end product takes us on a quest crisscrossing through the almost fated lives of L.L.D.M and Zhen Shi. The book object itself is intricate and delicate, allowing the viewer a chance to slowly pick through letters, photographs, maps and other ephemera to piece together their own non-linear account of the events.

In keeping with the motifs and subtext of the book, the story ends in a bizarre and extraordinary manner with the photographer spending a night sleeping in the bedroom that formerly belonged to L.L.D.M; and later on, Shi exchanges emails with various representatives of the ‘dark web’ who claim to now own her stolen equipment, hard drives, passport and in effect her identity and her secrets. These mysterious figures demand payment: “I’ve been tracking you for long time” they tell her – an apt and surreal conclusion to a very unique book.

Daniel Boetker-Smith

All images courtesy the artist. © Zhen Shi