The Mount Fuji photographs were taken with a self-timer: they show the artists from a distance, hand in hand, walking toward the mountain. In many of the photographs, there's so much snow that you can't see Fuji, only a trace of horizon and the twig-like figures of the artists in the white landscape. In other shots, they lie together on the frozen ground, or crouch like animals in the snow. In the last photographs, the massive cone of the mountain suddenly appears, shrouded in clouds—just as the artists vanish, leaving two sets of crooked prints. "There really is a Fate—or some sort of intermediary," Rong Rong said. "We came across this beautiful environment. The irony is that we wanted to photograph Mount Fuji, but in the end you could hardly see the mountain." "A gift from God," Inri said.
I knew that nothing remained of the original Beijing East Village, but I was curious to see the place where it had once existed. Today you enter the south side of Chaoyang Park through a futuristic red and yellow archway. The park is enormous—790 acres—and signs point in several directions: to the Rainbow Children's Playground, the Boat Pier, and an area identified as Shade of the Tree and Happy Sound of Singing. On the morning I visited, it was several degrees below freezing, and with the exception of a few hardy retirees practicing tai chi near the duck boats, the place was almost deserted. It was in this kind of weather that Rong Rong returned to the site to take photographs, in 2002. Even after studying those photographs, however, it was impossible to determine exactly which corner of the park the East Village once occupied. I felt silly for trying. In the couple's recent book, Tui-Transfiguration, Inri observes: "People who go to visit those places cannot perceive the world of our experience. That world does not exist anywhere in the real world. You can only possess that world with us through these photographs." It's an observation everyone who travels understands: a city shows each visitor a new face, and every traveler arrives in a city no one has ever seen before.
Nell Freudenberger is the author of Lucky Girls. Her novel The Dissident will be published in September.