Fermentation and Decay
A common complaint from parents who immigrated to the United States is the constant worry that their children will lose the customs and traditions of the old country. My ethnic background is Korean, with my mother’s family from the North and my father’s family from the South.
Fermentation is a chemical change caused by bacteria in an organic item for the sake of preservation of that item. Decay is the natural process of break down and destruction of an organic material. Fermentation is a delicate process. Allowed to go for too long, fermentation can quickly turn into decay. I remember learning this one-day watching the T.V. show The Magic School Bus. It occurred to me that all of the food my mother was making was rotting food that had preserved before complete degeneration. Nearly all-Korean food is fermented.
At the beginning of my second semester at Cranbrook I started to work with rotting and fermenting food. This idea was inspired by the Fiber department’s trip to Cuba. Cuba was what I had expected. A tour guide who only showed us picturesque towns and things that were approved by the government took us around. Everything is rationed in Cuba. Rice and beans, which are very cheap and some of the most basic food items, were carefully monitored except to tourists at restaurants. As visitors we were given what felt like an almost endless supply of rice and beans.
Precious was the first work I made that was inspired by decay. I collected left over rice for over a month and allowed it to rot. The rice was formed into the phrase “Don’t make it so precious.” Rice, as cheap as it is in the United States, is a valuable universal commodity. While working on Precious, I discovered that some of the rice was not rotting but fermenting. The accidental fermentation of the rice made me think of my own culture and heritage.
I am interested in the fine line between fermentation and decay. At what point does self-preservation become destructive? At what point does it cross the line into decay? Legacy I, Legacy II, Sentiment, and It was Never Pristine, It was Never Pure. form a series of explorations into the ideas of preservation and self-destruction.
The smell of the work has added another line between food and waste with the odor of fermentation and decay. The scent of the rotting rice gives off a putrid smell that lingers and overwhelms the senses. It affects the space and causes psychological sensory strain. It permeates into memories and haunts through the sense of smell. The appearances of the work, in contrast to the smells, are delicate, ethereal, and subtle. They are minimal in color and use just two or three materials that are organic.
The fermented and decaying series are living pieces. They breathe, grow, and change with the weather just as our bodies do the same.