Artist in Residence Keg de Souza has been working on a project entitled Appetite for Construction since September 10th of this year. She created a unique physical structure, inside an abandoned dim sum restaurant, in the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown, using found and collected items placed inside vacuum-sealed bags.
The items were submitted by members of the local community, and they range from discarded Starbucks cups to a dried octopus and take out menus. Together these objects create a collective exploration of themes of displacement and urban change in relation to food culture in the Chinatown area. All of these materials in some way mark or represent the urban and cultural reality of the area.
I arrived early to 544 Main St. on Saturday October 15th, excited to witness Keg’s process during one of her open workshop days, and I decided to walk around the block, to get a feel for the area. I found myself observing Vancouver’s Chinatown in a new light.
I noticed the differences between the older family owned stores and the newer food localities like Starbucks on busy Main Street. The presence of food permeated the architecture of the old buildings and the smells wafted from the piles of spices in shop entrances.
I was struck by the contrast between this feeling of a deeply rooted cultural presence around the block, and the hustle and bustle of Main Street shops selling tourist items like large Canadian flags.
As I assisted Keg in placing various items into vacuum-sealed bags, I was struck by the presence of discarded homeless signs that had been created and used to solicit money, and shelter pamphlets detailing food schedules for people in need. This experience was an important reminder that food culture also encompasses the lack of access to food that certain populations face. From the signs, to pamphlets and discarded materials, this network of items creates a unique visual map of the food culture of the area.
– Michele Davey
During my visit to artist Keg de Souza’s Appetite for Construction, I overheard various conversations surrounding her site-specific project. Some of the themes touched upon in these discussions were; the utility of artist spaces and the ways in which people interact with the local community at large and with public spaces.
In the middle of the room was a large map, without street names or landmarks, visitors were invited to identify locations and add personal stories and knowledge about the neighbourhood and food culture in Vancouver’s Chinatown and Downtown Eastside.
I was impressed by the ideas that Keg shared with visitors in the space. She often expressed her desire as an artist to explore the creation of spaces that give people the opportunity to discuss the realities they actively inhabit, and to visualize and think about this reality in new ways.
I also enjoyed hearing the thoughts of visitors as they examined and interacted with the work in progress. In my own conversation with a visitor, we reflected on how themes of class, gentrification, waste, politics of space and community engagement are present in Keg’s work.
One visitor pointed out the relationship between our perceived notions of “old” and “new” culture. He remarked that in many ways it seemed that the “old” and more traditional notions of culture in Chinatown were being represented in items that still have utility, such as dried animals that could be used for food, while “new” culture was represented in discarded items such as coffee cups. This comment highlighted the theme of human waste and our current relationship to food consumption as a society that throws many containers away.
I left feeling grateful to have witnessed the positive responses of community members to the project that Keg has created. One man remarked at how necessary these spaces are, and how important it is to support the efforts of artists creating them.
– Michele Davey
On Friday, November 4, Australian artist Keg de Souza presented the completed structure for her project Appetite for Construction at a public opening. This project began on September 10 and engaged various members of the community in and around Vancouver’s Chinatown neighbourhood.
I am happy to have witnessed the transformation of this structure. The collection of objects over the past two months culminated in a luminescent, transparent cube-like structure, inside of which people were able to gather around a table wrapped in a map of Vancouver. The map was covered in personal memories and notations about the local food culture in the area.
Inside the structure, visitors could enjoy hot tea and dim sum while taking in the various objects suspended inside the vacuum-sealed bags. Providing dim sum to guests was an especially nice nod to the previous reality of the location 544 Main Street having been a dim sum restaurant.
While at the exhibition I spent some time in conversation with the public and asked them to share with me some of their thoughts and reactions to the project and final exhibition. One person remarked that Keg’s structure is a mark of revitalization. Another person commented on the importance of having the chance to see the neighbourhood from a different point of view, reconstructing the familiar into something new. It was also noted that the structure renegotiates the urban, by bringing the street inside.
Further comments reflected on the elements of nostalgia and memory, that this project embodied. The structure was thought to have created a unique texture from different aspects of the community and with entry points for conversation spanning from food to consumption, waste, consumerism, and poverty.
The objects, illuminated and showcased within transparent bags, reminded me of evidence, the collection of which created a snapshot and mosaic that made space for the community to come together, recognize and reflect on themes of displacement, gentrification, and food culture.
– Michele Davey