FEAST, the body of work portrayed in this presentation, results from the rare opportunity I had to experience living and working in China for one-half year, December, 2005 to June, 2006.
The Chinese European Art Center Residency in Xiamen, Fujian Province, promised a place to live and absolute freedom to experience China’s compelling culture in whichever way I chose. In this, my sixth art-related stay in China, my only strategy was to arrive with no preconception of the work that I would accomplish within the six months.
China’s economic explosion is changing its urban skylines with blinding speed. But, each time I traveled into the countryside, my rural North Dakota background emerged, revealing an engaging sense of familiarity. My father, a bird hunter, kept our table supplied with wild goose, duck and grouse. Early memories include joining him on the hunt, and afterward, watching him dress the game at the kitchen table. He encouraged my curiosity by using these moments to educate me in anatomy and other captivating subjects such as what the duck had eaten that day. Therefore, it was not unusual that my expeditions to villages and towns in rural China repeatedly led me to local food markets – studies in the complex role that food plays in helping us define the human condition. Once again, I found my attention focused on the many levels of meaning invested in the meal, the banquet, the feast.
"Wet Markets" in China, offer their customers a variety of fresh food – much of it in the form of live mammals, fish, fowl, amphibians and crustaceans. In this part of the world, merchants are not obliged to camouflage the process by which animals become sustenance. These markets tend to bring death into its rightful place – integrated completely with life. I witnessed no demonstrations of cruelty or sentimentality – rather, an acceptance of the fact that life and death are congruent.
Each item in this current body of work was sold as cuisine in local marketplaces in China. Following a new purchase, I would retreat to my “studio by the sea,” (a bedroom which doubled as a small workplace) to make a mold of the object, from which I would cast and refine a maquette. Collaboration with skilled local craftspeople and artisans was a relevant next step for transforming these models into porcelain, stone, bronze and fiberglass.
As food does not originate in the marketplace, my rural travels became an ongoing search for the source. Consequently, on a small farm in the Dai Yun Mountains, I documented the predawn ritual by which a hog becomes dinner. This film, “Feast: Pig to Market”, completes the exhibition by bringing the process full circle.