I am almost halfway through the residency.
The first week was spent on orienting myself, familiarizing myself with the new landscape, a different way of life. I took extended walks, soaked my body in the town’s thermal pool (with a gorgeous vista of snow-capped mountains) and read my Norse Mythology books.
Because I had no planned project, initially I was anxious that I HAD NO PROJECT. The horror! The tranquility here taught me to unlearn my goals. Focus on the rolling hills, the pristine snow fields, the endless lupins, the crisp icy air, the misty horizon.
Focus on the present.
I was so set on doing a project on Norse Mythology that I took out books from the Hong Kong library and had my friend fedex two books from Vancouver (the cost of shipping was twice as much as that of the books!) Even after I arrived in Iceland, I kept researching yet couldn’t find an entry point from my perspective as an artist.
All the while I was amazed by the food here. I never had any allergy in Canada. In Hong Kong, I developed a food allergy (maybe for prawns) and went to the hospital a few times. I also stopped having milk because often my stomach would get sick. Mother refuses to buy fresh vegetables from wet markets for salads. She claims that even these stall owners know the vegetables are smothered in chemicals. I find often shiny and colourful greens and gourds are bland and tasteless.
The food in Iceland made such a strong impression on me. It tastes honest and direct (MSG is banned here.) The more I was enjoying the milk, the Skyr (Icelandic yogurt) the lamb chop and the fish, the more I started thinking about my relationship with food, and the human relationship with food by extension.
Being a rather adventurous foodie, I posted a photo of a whale burger on facebook. Having received upset comments, I began to research into whale hunting and other food production after the initial shock.
What makes something food and others not?
How do you determine what is okay to eat?
If I am an omnivore and cannot afford to eat organic meat all the time, am I a hypocrite to call myself an animal lover?
The more I read and thought about these issues, the more intrigued I became. Why are some people so against eating dogs? What makes an animal food or pet? Why would some people never touch pig liver, tripe or chicken feet? If we would eat an animal, wouldn’t it make more sense to eat all parts of the animal?
A missing link seems to be the contemporary food industry. While I have no objection to eating animals, it is the inhumane animal treatment and food wastage that is abhorring.
Since I felt so strongly about this topic, I decided to run with it and create animal portraits that are half animal and half food, often controversial food.
I am also using Chinese paint seriously for my work for the first time. I’m running into endless surprises (some happy, other not so much) experimenting with a new medium.
I’m spending more time in the studio. At the same time, I don’t want to forget how this rich environment contributes to my personal and creative growth, so I try to engage with the setting everyday with a long walk or a swim in the local thermal pool.
And of course eat. Nom nom nom.