The Richmond Art Gallery has just opened its new exhibition NOURISH, which aims to help people find connections to food and care. The exhibition features American poet and writer Jane Wong and Greater Vancouver artist duo Mizzonk (Wan-Yi Lin and Roger Chen).
Curator Nan Capogna says the exhibit is the culmination of nearly two years of planning, after the pandemic delayed her initial plans. However, the pandemic has also provided a new backdrop for this combination of Wong and Mizzonk’s works.
“We have created a new context to bring these two works together, and the issues of food and care seem to arise in (both). I felt they were very different, but there was also an alignment in terms of some of their themes,” Capogna explains.
“I hope that (people) are able to find connections to the work, the ideas in the work, (and) that there is a connection to their own life. I anticipate that people will be really very moved by the works because these are stories that are fairly common to everyone.
The art gallery is also offering public programming that accompanies the exhibition, which runs until April 3. To learn more, click here.
Sculpt with words
Wong began writing while growing up in New Jersey. She often spent time at her family’s restaurant or at the public library across the street.
“Many of the books I read at the public library never featured protagonists who looked like me or had my background,” she says. “It was really important for me as a young person to share my heritage and my own Chinese-American experience.”
Wong’s main piece on display at the Richmond Art Gallery is titled After Preparing the Altar, The Ghosts Feast Feverishly. To read the entire poem, people have to walk around the table and look at bowls containing fragments of the text.
“On the page, to some extent, a poem has to start and end somewhere,” Wong explains. “The fact that it’s now on the table as a sculpture, the poem literally doesn’t stop. Translating this into a sculpture gives another voice or breath of air to a poem.
She adds that her mother’s family can experience her work even though she does not have strong English skills. She appreciates being able to take her words off the page and give them a new shape.
Wong’s mother, a gifted storyteller whom she describes as the “center of the party”, is her main source of inspiration. But the cultural and sensory nature of food is also a source of ideas and motivation.
“During COVID and the early days of quarantine, I had a really hard time concentrating on writing anything. So I’ll just cook. So I (thought): this is a poem, maybe this soup is a poem,” Wong says.
She wants people to take away the contrasting ideas of gluttony and scarcity. The table poem also evokes the history of hunger in many Chinese families, dating back to the period before the Cultural Revolution, when millions of people starved to death. Wong says the voices of the bowls are those of his family members who did not survive, but who want to convey a message of celebration and sharing a meal.
“Even though it’s such a dark time, filled with grief and loss (with) a lot of trauma, I really wanted this poem to be joyful like a feast,” Wong says.
And in the accompanying video, Wong cuts the words of his poem out of rice paper, folds them into balls, and eats them. She’s grateful for the connection between folding dumplings — something she did in her family’s restaurant growing up — and the poetry that consumes her time now.
Inspired by open space
Mizzonk’s work, Six Acres, is named after the duo’s home, a similarly sized property. Wan-Yi Lin and Roger Chen have been collaborating since sharing a studio in Brooklyn, New York, and finding inspiration in the natural environment around them. Six Acres was born in 2019 when Lin first worked with watercolor paint.
“I think we’re both naturally very active people, so we like to explore possibilities through mediums,” Lin says. “In a natural setting like this, we’re very introspective and reflective and very interested in subjects of self-observation, so our place really laid the groundwork for our artistic practice.”
Lin and Chen left New York after the events of September 11. Chen explains that the tragedy made them realize that life can be fragile and short, in addition to impacting their architectural modeling business.
“We had the opportunity to reflect on what we really want to do with our lives and where we want to live, and it was very clear that we wanted the freedom to create rather than provide services to others. It has always been a dream of mine since I was a child to live in nature, so we followed our hearts and intuition and moved to a rural location,” says Chen.
The piece exhibited in Richmond is a video installation made by animating a series of watercolor drawings. This is the first time the animations will be shown, and Lin continues to work on more paintings for the series.
“Just trust your intuition a little bit and don’t underestimate what a walk in nature can do,” Lin says of the takeaways she hopes people will have.
“For us, nature really reminds us that we are connected to something bigger. The way we see humans and nature is that they are connected, not separate. So spending time in nature is like spending time with ourselves, that is, taking care of ourselves.