June, 2020

hu yun

It’s been only a bit over a year since I visited Bor, a Serbian town for the first time. However, the global outbreak of the virus for the past few months has redefined my perception of “time”. Sitting by my desk in the southern hemisphere as I try to write something down about my several short visits to Bor during last year, I feel like I’m describing a trip during which I’ve constantly moved in and out of the same dream.

My first visit to Bor was a 2 days trip occurred in February 2019, right after I have learned about several Chinese investments in the Balkans as parts of Belt and Road Initiative1 The reason for choosing Bor issimply that I have never been to a mining field, and as a Chinese, I am very curious about the Belt and Road project, which has become one of the hottest topics globally, but at the same time so little information can be traced domestically. Therefore, I chose Bor as a study case, to follow the coming changes of the city and its surrounding area. Throughout the year 2019, I have made another two visits to the place, which I am going to write about in the coming texts, all together making a series of ongoing field notes published by the As you go… journal.


Infection (a drawing based on the map of Bor 2020), ink on paper, Hu Yun, 2020




Public Square

Departing from Belgrade, it was a 3.5-hour journey towards the southeast by coach. The road was flat most of the time, and scenery along the way was dull enough to hypnotize people. But before we reached the border of Bor, the coach had to cross over several mountains, which shook up the few passengers on board.

My companion, K, is a Belgrade-based curator who is from Bor.
As it wasn’t completely dark when we got off the coach, K took me to a mining pit nearby. It was the first open-air copper mine extracted on a large scale in Bor at the beginning of the 20th century2,_Serbia. As mine extraction gradually expanded towards surrounding areas and went underground, the pit is no longer in use, and has been gradually backfilled by tailings from surrounding mining areas. Adjacent to the south side of the pit, there were arrays of houses, most of which were built while the mine was first extracted. The houses, together with whole mining area, as well as the town of Bor that took shape afterwards, were all planned and constructed by a French mining company back in 1904. The matchmaker who facilitated all these to happen was George Weifert3, whose portrait is on the banknote of 1,000 Serbian dinars (and the main road connecting the mining area and the downtown is also named after him). The term of the lease signed with the French lasted 99 years.

Known as “Tilva Roš” (In Vlachian4 it means The Red Hill) by the locals, the area was home to red hills rich in minerals, which could still be seen in colour photos taken in the 1940s. However, after one hundred years of extraction, not only were the red hills removed but also a negative form of the hills was created out of thin air. The city of Bor, taking the mining area as a starting point, gradually expands southwards.
K took me for a walk through the abandoned houses around the pit, so deftly as if she had a map of the place in mind. Looking around, there was no fence whatsoever around the vast pit. As long as you are bold enough, you can do as Stefan did at the beginning of the movie Tilva Roš5 Roš: to ride a skateboard all the way down to the bottom of the pit. K told me anyone who was born and raised in Bor, more or less would have some memory related to the pit. The north side of the pit was close to RTB mining area and there was even a sightseeing platform there. K didn’t quite remember in which year it was built. But the location used to be a major “gathering point”. Especially in summer, as long as there was no wind (sandstones blown up by the wind around the pit were formidable), people liked to go there to have some fun. Seen from the platform, the man-made landscape was indeed spectacular under the setting sun. What laid in between me and the town on the other side was the vast pit, or say, void.

Whether scenes of the performing band at the abandoned house around the pit (which remained the same) in Good Luck 6 (Ben Russell, 2017) or those of the workers’ chorus shot beside it (where now the sightseeing platform is located) in Beli Beli Svet 7 (White White World, 2010), the city was always shown as if it was surrounded by a vast black hole, drawing people inside. If every modern city must have a public square, for Bor, that would be the pit – the void that connects everyone who lives here.



The next day K’s father took the role of a guide. He worked at the cable factory (like almost all the other factories in the city, the cable factory was affiliated to RTB Group8, which after being taken over by Zijin Mining Group9 was temporarily shut down, waiting for further arrangements from Zijin10the final agreement was signed in December 2018). And he was also a hunter. He tried to explain to me how things went on in the factory, and even brought me there. However, “hunter” seemed to me a more suitable description of him after the short time we spent together.

Standing at a commanding height of the city early in the morning, one could take an overview over the entire Zeleni Bulevar (which is one of the few main streets running through north and south). The pit was still an overwhelming presence in the background. But what shocked me more this time was the massive clouds of white smoke that appeared from different parts of the city from time to time.

“The mining areas run 24/7 and become the clock for Bor.

No matter where you are, you’d hear the bell indicating (day/night) shifting of duty of the miners. As to these chimneys, the processing of ores11,the%20valuable%20metals%20or%20minerals.,the%20valuable%20metals%20or%20minerals. could be roughly deduced from the gases emitted from them at different locations. The whole process is quite a routine. On windy days, you can tell time by the smell of smoke without even looking up.” While he was talking, the hunter pointed to the different chimneys to explain to me the smelting process of copper.12 He seemed extremely calm during the whole conversation. It was me, a visitor from one of the most polluted countries, who secretly regretted that I hadn’t brought a N95 mask13 with me. I learned from Deana Jovanović’s article that “Borski dim” (Bor’s smoke) was a specialty of Bor14Deana Jovanović (2016) Prosperous Pollutants: Bargaining with Risks and Forging Hopes in an Industrial Town in Eastern Serbia, Ethnos, 83:3, 489-504, DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2016.1169205. Local friends of hers suggested that “one should light a cigarette to ‘wash off the lungs’ with the cigarette smoke, which she usually did if she encountered the smoke in the streets.” Like K’s family, all those who live in Bor have some kind connection with the mining area. RTB and its peripheral industries function as the only source of livelihood for most people there. Hence, the implications of “smog”15 to this place are more complicated. Environmental issues have emerged in people’s conversations more frequently than before. But when Bor was initially established, and even today, “smog” remains an intuitive image of production / life ongoing.



The hunter suggested bringing me to take a look at the Bor River. Along the way we passed by the house of K’s grandma, which was located at a serene village no different from other Serbian villages I have visited, with a church in the center, surrounded by a school, a post and a Chinese cheap goods store. A brook beside the church merged into the Bor River not far away.

We parked by the brook, and the hunter brought out a thermo jug from the trunk, pouring me a cup of herbal tea he brewed in the morning. It was high noon with the warm sunshine of early spring, the fragrance of the hot tea effectively drove my doziness away. Walking alongside the brook, apart from the herbal fragrance, I also smelt bursts of unnatural sourness. I took a closer look: a weird touch of peacock blue could be perceived from within the gurgling brook.

As we approached the Bor River, we witnessed more unusual scenes. The hunter took me to a mire, where used to be his “pond” to catch wild ducks. There was indeed a pool of water here, but in unusually gorgeous color. By the side of it there were several branches continuously merging into the pond, which were in bright orange color. The middle part of the pond was in pure royal blue. And there were a few barren slopes nearby. It’s one of the disposal points of the tailings. As I’d guessed, it appeared in many sci-fi movies in the past few years. No single filter effect in my phone could create such a gorgeous palette. Appearing side by side with these “spectacles” were farmlands and village houses.

We kept walking southward, and climbed up a hill. At this point, we were far far away from the pit at the north. The forests around were the hunting area for K’s father. Since about twenty years ago, mining and exploration companies from Canada and the Netherlands came to detect the area, certainly not only for copper. “They found several points of extraction in the forests, for gold.” The hunter pointed into the distance and said.

Is this why Zijin took over RTB Mining Group? Will they further expand the extraction area in Bor? Will the forests disappear?

Perhaps it was because of the heavy wind on top of the hill, neither of us talked anymore.

(written by Hu Yun and translated by Wu Chenyun)

click to read chinese version






距离我第一次造访博尔(Bor, serbian town),也就过去了一年多,但近几个月在全球爆发的疫情, 重新定义了我对于“时间”的认识,而当现在正身处南半球的我,开始起笔整理过去一年中对博尔的这几次短暂拜时,忽然感觉自己在描述几段重复进出一个梦境的旅行。





与我同行的k来自博尔,是一位生活工作在首都的策展人。趁着我们下车时天还没完全黑,k把我带到了矿坑附近。这是自二十世纪初开始在博尔大规模开采的第一座露天铜矿。随着对周边地区的开采扩张以及向地下采矿的逐步转移,我眼前的这座矿坑早已经停止开采,并慢慢的被周边矿区的尾矿逐步回填。紧挨着矿坑南侧的一片平房大多建于开采初期,连同整片矿区及随之逐步成形的博尔镇,都由当初的法属采矿公司统一规划建设,而在其中搭桥牵线的,正是今天被印在塞尔维亚1000圆第纳尔纸币上的乔治·魏菲德(George Weifert[2],连接市区与矿区的主路也以他的名字命名),这份与法国人签订的租约期限是99年。这片开采区最初被当地人称作“Tilva Roš”(在当地弗拉赫语[3]意为“红山”),在40年代的彩色照片中还能看到这片富含矿物的红色山丘,而经过近一个多世纪的开采,除了将红山移平,还硬生生的挖出了一片山丘的负形。整座城市也是以矿区作为建设原点,慢慢向南扩展。
k熟门熟路的带着我在几处矿坑边的废弃房屋内穿行。放眼望去,偌大的矿坑周围没有设置任何防护设施,只要够大胆,任何人都能像电影《Tilva Roš》[4]开场时斯戴凡那样,坐在滑板上一溜到底。k还告诉我,只要是在博尔出生长大的人,或多或少都有一些与这个矿坑有关的回忆。矿坑的北侧靠近rtb矿区的一边,有一座观景平台,k记不清是哪年造的,但那个位置的确是一处重要的“聚点”,特别是夏天,只要不刮风(矿坑周围大风卷起的沙石威力巨大),大家都爱去那里玩。从观景台望开去,这幅人造景观在最后一抹夕阳下确实奇异。卡在我与对面那片城镇之间的,是一个巨大的坑洞,一片虚空。

无论是影片《祝你好运》[5](‘Good Luck’,Ben Russell,2017)中取景于矿坑边平房废墟里的乐队演奏(那片废墟现在依然保持原样),还是影片《纯白世界》[6](“beli beli svet”,white white world,2010 film)里在矿坑边拍摄的工人大合唱(现在的观景平台位置),这个被城镇包裹的矿坑犹如一个巨大的黑洞,把我们牢牢吸引着。

如果任何一座现代城镇都需要一座广场(public square),那博尔的广场就是这片矿坑,这片虚空连接着每一个生活在这里的人。




清晨站在城内的一处制高点,可以远眺整条绿色大道(Zeleni Bulevar,市内唯一一条贯通南北的主街道),矿坑依然占据着整个背景,但我注意到时不时从城市各处冒出的一团团白烟。‘24小时运作的矿区就是博尔的时钟,无论在哪个角落,都能听到矿工交接班的铃声(白/夜班)。还有这些烟囱,根据不同位置的烟囱所排出的气体,可以大概推断出对矿石的处理程序,整个过程基本不变,大风天气,甚至都不用抬头看,凭烟雾的气味就能知道时间’,一边说,猎人一边指着不同的烟囱向我讲解铜矿的冶炼程序。整个过程他都显得异常平静,反倒是我这个来自污染大国的访客,暗暗后悔没有随身带一个n95口罩。
“博尔雾”(Borski dim,Bor’s smoke)是我从狄安娜·约瓦诺维奇(Deana Jovanović)[9]的文章里读到的一种“博尔特产”,她的当地朋友甚至建议她每次闻到刺鼻的烟雾时,点一支烟,洗洗肺(‘wash off the lungs’)。像k的家庭一样,住在博尔的所有人,都与矿区有着直接或间接的联系,rtb矿区及其周边产业是大多数人生计的唯一源头。“烟雾”在这里的象征意义更为复杂,近年来环境问题确实越来越频繁地出现在当地人的讨论话题之中,但从博尔形成初期,直至今日,“烟雾”是生产在进行的直接表象,是生计。












[4] Roš





[9] Deana Jovanović (2016) Prosperous Pollutants: Bargaining with Risks and Forging Hopes in an Industrial Town in Eastern Serbia, Ethnos, 83:3, 489-504, DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2016.1169205


Hu Yun is an artist based in Melbourne.





[5] Roš





[10] The final agreement was signed in December 2018




[14] Deana Jovanović (2016) Prosperous Pollutants: Bargaining with Risks and Forging Hopes in an Industrial Town in Eastern Serbia, Ethnos, 83:3, 489-504, DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2016.1169205


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