Hawaiʻi artist Gaye Chan is in the process of documenting her ongoing Free Store (an iteration of which was recently installed in HoMA’s Nano Gallery) and “Weeds Up Front” foraging/cooking projects through an in-depth video series. HoMA School Exhibitions Manager Marlene Siu asked Gaye more about her foraging project, and what has been inspiring her creativity during this time of shelter-in-place and social distancing.
Marlene Siu: How does this project relate to the Free Store and why is it important now?
Gaye Chan: Free Store and Weeds Up Front, like all of Eating in Public’s projects, reimagine and reinstate the Commons. The Commons is a place that allows for our survival and in turn we take care of it. The Commons has essentially been lost because the globe has been taken over either by Nation States (public) or privatized. Since the great majority of us have no experience of living in the Commons both the Free Store and Weeds Up Front are exercises in relearning how to live there. In contrast to capitalism which operates on the model of competition and scarcity, Free Store operates on abundance and mutuality. We enter the Commons through our labor. Not money, not status, nor blood ties.
Weeds Up Front is a prototype of a front yard garden where passerby can learn about edible weeds easily found in the neighborhood. They can get a close look, a free sample, learn a recipe, and maybe even some seeds or a seedling. It is very timely for the current moment. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, we have become very aware of our vulnerabilities. We see in stark terms how precarious our lives are when we are entirely dependent on global trade and supply chain. As the shortages of covid-19 tests and PPE (personal protective equipment) demonstrate, capitalism pits us against each other. Resources always go to the highest bidder. Capitalism is meant to turn everything into profit and has incrementally destroyed everything in its path. I think it is much better, much more sustainable, not to mention more fun, to be free from capitalism and take care of each other.
MS: How and why did you begin foraging?
GC: I became troubled by how the term ‘invasive species’ was increasingly applied to anything and everything not native to a space. It implies that the presence of anything non-native is necessarily destructive. Since this is patentedly untrue and it began my interest in edible weeds. The first artwork that came out of it is WE(ED)S, where I implemented pop-up cooking and tasting events demonstrating how to cook delicious food from weeds common to Hawai‘i. Learning about how to access resources also allows us more freedom from the market, not to mention teaches us to be more observant of our environment.
MS: Where do you forage?
GC: I am an urban forager. I basically forage near my home and place of employment. I mainly walk as my form of exercise so I observe daily what is growing where and what is in season. I take note of application of herbicide and insecticide so I can either avoid or talk the caretaker into stopping.
MS: What is your favorite weed and how do you prefer it prepared?
GC: My most favorite is ivy gourd shoots. I am a simple cook so I just stir fry it fresh from harvest, and have it with eggs over easy and rice for breakfast. My mom loves putting amaranth into her oatmeal.