The initial stages of concept development for Moveable Feast are difficult to pin down. As a project that grew largely out of intuition and feeling, I can only attest to its origins through scattered notes, manically highlighted pages and diary entries that are hard to read back, even for me. In lieu of hard facts, this project might be best understood as an ever-evolving culmination of seemingly disjointed life events, the Asian diasporic condition (particularly since the Coronavirus pandemic) and the practices we’ve exercised in a reclamation of this condition. It is both the symptom and the antidote to this particular crossroads of events. At this brainstorming stage, however, this was not apparent to me, and to insist on its developmental linearity as a project would be dishonest.
November to December 2021 was a period of finding meaning among the madness- compiling seemingly fragmented texts, feelings, and events in an attempt to establish a sense of cohesion. Whether this was Michelle Zauner’s memoir, Crying in H Mart, my scrappy compilations of text excerpts from the past few years, or the grief and resilience of Asian diasporic lived experience, there was a common thread of food discourse that ran throughout. That is, each text and experience, manifestly or otherwise, surveyed the deployment of food as a ‘bargaining chip’ in the contexts of disordered eating or cultural negotiation. This would only become apparent to me as I began consolidating my notes and emotions at the start of the London Project unit.
During the journalism unit from second year, I wrote an opinion piece on the Golden Globes' treatment of the film Minari in a climate of heightened anti-Asian violence. An excerpt:
I wrote this in May 2021, roughly a year ago. It was a time where the accumulative force of a threefold increase in anti-Asian violence, my physical and psychic estrangement from my family and disordered eating habits would overflow into everything I created. I could not grasp why the most innocuous of scenes- a grandma shopping at the Oriental market, a child being fed by mum- would elicit such visceral emotion in me. This period of personal hardship stripped me back to the bare essentials, the life force, the sustenance; I found that, even when the simplest of human tasks seemed unfeasible, my appetite never really waned. The body, it speaks- perhaps faster than the mind can keep up with. My body, in its ultimate state of abjection, nonetheless steered me toward the one thing in which I could locate respite, and later, resilience- food.
In the following weeks I returned to Michelle Zauner's memoir, Crying in H Mart. I wrote my second piece for the journalism unit, a review. The concluding paragraph read:
I like to think, with hindsight, that the process for my London Project commenced long before the unit itself did. Unbeknownst to me at the time of writing, I would prompt a personal project of reclamation that began with the very fundamentals of life. This particular excerpt from Crying in H Mart came to mind and stuck:
For me too, food bears a primal resonance that precedes the pull of culture. With poverty and low literacy rates in the preceding generations of my family, there are no richly documented histories or ancestral anecdotes that I could delve into. My access to my heritage, I realised, has long relied on that which cannot be spoken or read; it's through the food, its preparation, delivery and ingredients that I've sustained any kind of linkage to generations lost. I began thinking about the ways in which I could preserve these residual ways of loving, especially those expressed since I left home. During my research on archival methods, I stumbled across something I hadn't anticipated, an unusual mode of preservation. After the passing of his husband in 2020, curator Marvin Heiferman embarked on an ongoing project of communal grieving through photos shared via Instagram, what he describes as a "photographic shiva":
Sharing seemingly mundane tidbits of their life together, Heiferman makes visible the persistent ache of grief as well as the poignant moments of remembrance. It attests to the emotional grandeur of the little things that accrue into a life- a life that cannot be encapsulated in words. Inspired by Heiferman's project, I set about producing my own ever-growing archive- one of intangible acts of love, as conveyed in photos and messages. I began compiling the exchanges between myself and my family that revolved around food, nourishment and nostalgia- which was a lot of exchanges. At this stage, I clung onto the day-to-day minutiae of life as a mode of self-preservation, as the broader facts and statistics were not in my favour. Foraging Whatsapp for photos and text messages that offered this respite, I accumulated hundreds of exchanges, and found amongst this archival heap an undercurrent of love that I was only beginning to decipher. For as long as I can remember, I interpreted food as my mother's surrogate for love, or the lack thereof. Now, resuscitating a series of scattered memories, I'm beginning to see it as love in and of itself.