This was done in remembrance of my grandmother who passed away last summer. I used to make these things with her together when I was little, really little. Every year, she made well enough of this Chinese New Year snack for every extended member of the family , so that everyone would have something sweet and crunchy to take home when they came to greet her in the first lunar month according to custom. And, she always remembered to hide away an extra batch of this snack for me. She knew too well that was my favorite New Year specialty. She was very busy...busy working to ensure every little detail was taken care of and every ritual was fulfilled so that the gods and deities would shower the family with blessings and prosperity. When I was little, I understood very little about these traditional festivals or what my grandmother was doing or intending. They were just all fun very fun: the preparations the rituals, the food, the stories, the colors, the inter-family visits, and the overall enthusiasm. But things started to change when my brothers and I began to gain height and weight, literally and symbolically; and when my parents' business began to take flight. My brothers and I learned from our schools new knowledge, new ways of seeing, and thus new ways of being: Those logos, perspectives, the individual... all different from what my grandmother held out to me unfolded. As for my parents, they also saw their achievements had nothing to do with blessings. So we all turned our back against her, telling her that:" don't be superstitious/silly" or that "we are busy" or simply no-show irrespectfully. As we did not see love, we reciprocated no love. To us, all colours that used to burn so brightly had lost their glory, and these dying traditions were of no match for things that were new, modern, logical and exciting. Despite our ungratefulness, she carried on many laborious traditions. She always dragged my unwilling mother on. For major festivals, a grant aunt or two would come along. These little lumps of flour deep-fried are called Chiem-Yuong in Cantonese, silkworm pupae in English. Now I realize that this snack is a symbolic remnant of security and prosperity of the old peasant society, where silk was a much counted on commodity. Through making these flour pupae, I crafted myself a space to come closer to my grandmother as well as women of her days. By repeating this process all by myself day after day, I experienced physical and emotional fatigue. A repetitive job done alone is tedious and makes one feel entrapped and alienated. Especially when one loses one's community. This is my response to this work of labour. Would this also be the experience and the discontent of my grandmother and the women of her time? Even if it was so, they might simply choose just to endure as women then were so driven to care. Like my grandmother, I also resorted to external help. At some point, some women friends came over to re-live with me the lost food-making community. Around a table, we told each other stories and gossiped slightly while our hands were busy. By working together, women of an earlier time, supported and informed each other, brought insight and healing to each other while they "exploited" their own feminine labour. I love the food. I kept eating them while I was making them. But at the same time, I also found contentions in these tasty snack. The vivid image of pouring hot water over silkworm cocoons haunts me constantly. The sight of those twisting and turning tiny white bodies that eventually give in to our desire for pleasure and luxury; And those gentle hands that raised the caterpillars could be the same hands that took their lives without mercy. And the eggs in the recipe... In my grandmother's time, eggs were largely from free-ranged hens... To better represent her time, especial effort had to be made to seek out what now has become an expensive option to the common factory-produced commodity. And yet, even with my most earnest heart, I know what I have done is just a representation of the impressions of the traditions that my grandmother left behind in me as memory.
This work was an installation with an audio component. It explored my relation with my grandmother as well as with the culture that buried with her as the place I called home modernized and westernized. The relation was recalled through a tedious process of making a Chinese New Year snack, Chiem Yuong — a tiny sugar coated fried dough that resembles a silk worm pupa.
My reflection of our relationship was captured in a softly spoken narrative, which would gently play into a dimly lit space when the motion sensor was activated. The deep-fried “pupae” were scattered all over the place, leaving only the rim as a foot-path. In the center, were the tools and materials for making these “pupae”.