“So many people and stories are lost in the river of time.”

Born 1984, Tangshan, Hebei

In 2006, Zhang Lidan was staying with relatives in rural China when she came across a pile of old clothes and other objects. She was told they had belonged to her aunt’s mother-in-law, Gao Suhua. Offering to sort through them, the artist pulled out a black jacket and a pair of black cotton pants—and was suddenly overcome by “the sadness of this woman’s life”. It was as if the spirit of “Old Lady Gao” was still present in the clothes she had worn and the things she had used. Haunted by the experience, Zhang Lidan set out to find out all she could about Gao Suhua, making regular trips back to the village and interviewing her relatives and acquaintances. The dead woman’s life had been filled with struggle and grief, but also with spirits and ghosts; many people regarded her as a shaman. Zhang Lidan set about trying to resurrect Old Lady Gao, recording the process in Return: The Resurrection of Old Lady Gao (2008) and The Return: Old Lady Gao Comes Home (2012). As giggling relatives try to say something meaningful about the dead woman and move her faceless effigy through her old haunts, every frame underlines the finality of Gao Suhua’s death.

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