The lovely team at DegreeArt blog delve down to find out what I’ve been up to recently! Read on below or visit their site here.
We speak to artist and curator Nicola Anthony, who is currently based in Singapore and is part of the Edible Art Movement, affectionately referred to as ‘EAM’. The Edible Art Movement recently worked together to create an urban paddy field in the new art district of Singapore, consisting of 500 rice bowls making up this metropolitan field. The juxtaposition of such a common countryside sight in an urban setting sent Nicola on some fantastic research trips which have continued to inspire her. Here we find out more about EAM, rice and its cultural importance in Asia, and what Nicola will be working on next.
So tell us about the Edible Art Movement and its purpose?
Edible Art Movement members create spectacular experiences, participatory installations and art happenings to stimulate all five senses. We work from our lively studio (not from a kitchen), recently from gardens and green spaces in Singapore, and occasionally from a science lab. EAM is all about high quality contemporary art, but we also seek to create work that is playful, definitely not pretentious, and engages people both inside and outside of the art world. It is a platform for artists to collaborate, experiment, and try something outside of their usual practice. Food may seem like a simplistic theme initially, but when you delve deeper, it becomes clear that the edible realm is linked to culture, history, tradition, identity, family, language, society, community, science, environment, social norms, rituals, and more.
Your latest project is to create a rice paddy field in the city in Singapore, how did the idea come about?
EAM has always been interested in the ability of food to act as a stimulus to creativity, drawing people together in a celebratory atmosphere – not just around the dinner table but also throughout the growing, cultivating and harvesting process. Rice and Asia are deeply associated, and paddy fields in many cultures are the site of community gathering, singing, story-telling, spiritual and creative expression to mark particular points such as planting or harvest. This year the National Library Board are curating a festival about Asian book content, with a theme of Rice. When they invited EAM to create an art installation to complement the festival, and be placed in the Public Plaza in the middle of Singapore’s newly renovated art district, we decided it was a chance to explore this concept further by bringing the rural paddy field into the modern metropolis.
Tell us more about what to the outcome was?
We wanted to draw a subtle connection between the eating of rice, this simple grain that links all the countries of Asia (and the West too in fact), and its roots – especially the sense of creativity, cultivating & community behind it. So often we are disconnected from the earthy roots of life, especially in a contemporary city like Singapore – we wanted to bring this back into people’s lives through our artwork, and also make this green site a platform for art. We collected around 500 rice bowls from people all over Singapore (each with its own ‘story’ or history attached!). Within these, we transplanted the rice that our artists had grown from seed.
How were the artists involved in the project selected?
We first did an open call for a concept. Once we had selected artist Kanchana Gupta’s beautiful idea of actually growing the paddy field and using it as the sculptural material, our talent spotter, and ingredient sourcer, Jane Shishido approached other artists and creatives to join in collaboratively. We had several artists who took on a bigger creative role in the project – alongside Kanchana, EAM also worked with artist Stellah Lim Chii Cze, featured interactive and performative events from artists Jacquelyn Soo, Daniela Beltrani, Steven Low Thia Kwang and Ng Yang Ce, and also worked with designer Siva Kuma on structural & sculptural form. The EAM team guides and curates each project, but the real passion and direction comes from all the artists and volunteers involved, as a collaborative artwork – it’s really quite a perfect working process given the sense of connective working and community that is found within rice farming communities.
Will the rice be eaten once its sprouted?
Good question! Through our research we found that it actually takes a lot of rice plants to harvest a good amount of rice, so if we nurture the rice enough, we may get just enough for a team meal! However, we actually decided that it would be more fitting to continue the process of giving others insight into the ‘roots of rice’, by inviting the public to adopt a rice plant. Each of the 500 bowls containing plants will be given away on the last day of the exhibition. The added artistic twist to this is that one of our artists, Stellah Lim Chii Cze, has designed porcelain paint motifs onto around 30-50 bowls, creating subtle texts and images that relate to the farming villages and traditions. Just as these things are ‘out-of-mind’ when we tuck into a bowl of rice in a city restaurant, she has hidden the beautiful texts underneath the soil and rice plants. If you are lucky enough you may walk away with one of her pieces.
How did you research the project?
One of the reasons I set up a studio in Asia was to get back to my own roots, and to explore the wonderful cultures and traditions across the region. I have been travelling and researching cultural inspirations, and this project was the perfect excuse to visit some actual paddy fields with EAM on my research trips. I stayed in a wonderful village just outside of Jogjakarta (Indonesia), where I spoke with villagers and local families who all own a small paddy. Nestled together in large paddy clusters, they must work collaboratively with their neighbours to ensure that each family’s crop gets enough water and care. What was interesting was that most paddies were not for commercial use, but just owned by the families and used as food throughout the year. I also travelled to South India to visit some paddy fields and tea plantations in Wayanad, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.
How long will the project run for?
The initial showcase is launched during May-June, exhibited at Singapore’s Central National Library for a week, and then we will be tracking the progress of the rice as it gets adopted by our audience in the following months. Meanwhile we also have a writing and documentation platform being run by writer and curator Andrea Fam, so there will be creative content inspired by the rice coming through in other mediums too – just in the same way that EAM has seen many artworks throughout history which have been inspired by food, feasting or farming.
So what work are you currently working on aside from the rice paddy field?
In my own practice, I am focusing on weaving-artworks that take inspiration from the Native American dreamcatcher, as well as the symbolic use of thread in prayer, daily life and rituals in Asia where I am currently based. The work follows on from my larger, oversized dreamcatcher sculptures which were commissioned for large public sculptures in Singapore, 2013 and 2014. Each dreamcatcher shape encompasses a range of cross-cultural references to places, colours and meanings, which are inheritably linked to religion and traditional crafts from the countries through which I have been travelling.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Later this year I have been commissioned to make artwork for a travelling exhibition called ‘Field Trip’, which starts in Tokyo this August. The show looks at the effects of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, which devastated North Eastern Tohoku, Japan in 2011. The curators are also focusing the exhibition to become a disaster relief, humanitarian, community building, and international exchange project. For my work in this show I will be using a child’s school backpack, discarded after the Japanese government donated new backpacks and equipment to the schools. To me the backpack is symbolic – full of the history and sadness of the effects of this disaster, the discarded and ruined pasts, and highlighting the onward journey.
Visit www.edibleartmovement.com for more information.