藝術家馮捲雪參與阿拉斯加州 Island Institute 舉辦的駐留計劃 ，獲邀請到阿拉斯加州東南部進駐創作，並與一眾藝術家交流、探索自然、生活、文化與歷史。
星期三的表演在離市中心十分鐘車程的Saxmen Village Tribal House舉行，這和Wrangell的祭典所相類似。一連兩個晚上在別人的文化聖屋分享我們的故事，實在是一個難忘的經歷。今晚村長還親自上台領辭歡迎我們。在原住民的村落我學會時間的另類定義，節目應該在晚上七點開始，七點四十五分村長徐徐上台的時候，台下的觀眾肅然起敬，沒有絲毫不悅的神色，到節目進行得火熱的時候，我眼角掃一下觀眾席，似乎沒有人記得那四十五分鐘。
Invited by Island Institute in Alaska, Michelle Kuen Suet Fung participates in an overseas artist residency program in Northeast Alaska, to explore the nature and for cultural exchange with other artists.
About Michelle Kuen Suet Fung
4 – 10 April 2016
We started our nomadic lives in the second week. Our first stop Wrangell used to be a logging town. It used to house three thousand people, one sixth of which worked at the local mill. When the industry eventually dwindled, the mill closed down in the early 2000s. With the mill, went all the jobs and one third of the population. Today the town has two thousand people.
Many residents here have never left Wrangell and have no desire to. My host Chris shared with me that many college kids are so homesick after their first term away from home that they decide that staying home is more important than finishing college. Many of them, however, do graduate and then decide home is the best place to settle down.
We performed for this town on Tuesday at the Chief Shakes Tribal House just on the outskirt of downtown. It is no ordinary house—it is the Tlingit tribe’s ceremonial house where they hold all important rituals. The location also befits its importance. The house sits on a tiny island surrounded by an incredible harbour view. I stared at the living history dumbfounded. Having lived in Canada for so many years, why do I have such poor understanding of the North American native culture?
For me the climax of the evening was definitely the Tlingit music and dance performances. Well, I felt like they were greeting their guests (us the speakers and the audiences) more than putting on a show. This is their way of saying, welcome, we are happy to have you here. I had seen a Native American dance show once in the Washington State. I remember the salmon feast and the show—a mere spectacle and cultural tourism. The movements and melodies were devoid of meanings. It was solely a monetary transaction. I give you cash. You give me entertainment.
Our next stop was Ketchikan. Going from Sitka and Wrangell, Ketchikan is a large town (population 8000.) I heard when Alaska lost its mill industry, each town had their own strategy to deal with the crisis. Ketchikan’s was the cruise ships.
Like all towns in the Alaskan Southeast, Ketchikan is well-endowed with natural beauty. The whole town is basically built along the waterfront right by the mountains. It is still too early for the cruise ship season, so the long stretch of docks is eerily empty. My stroll downtown was equally spooky. I heard bars gave way to jewelry stores and they weren’t even open. I mean, ninety percent of downtown is closed before the cruise ships arrive! I was practically walking in a living ghost town!
Our Wednesday performance told place at the Saxmen Village Tribal House, ten minutes west of downtown Ketchikan. This house is similar to the one we had just performed in Wrangell twenty-four hours ago. I’m not sure if I can convey the solemnity and gratitude to present in sacred houses from another culture. Tonight the village chief came onto stage to greet us formally. Time seems to take on a different meaning in Native villages. The event was supposed to start at seven. At seven forty-five, the chief strolled onto the stage and the audiences hushed. During the show, I glanced at the audiences. Everyone was absorbed by the performance, and I seemed to be the only person remembering the forty-five minutes.
We arrived at Kake, a Native village of five hundred and fifty people, on Saturday. The Alaskan ferry system is sparse and far between. Many Native American villages have limited or no ferry services. This weekend is Kake’s 34th annual inter-village basketball tournament. Hours before the tournament, the locals played loud music in their houses and were clearly ready for the big party night.
I had a long conversation with an elder and was told that this village used to have over one thousand people. Many left for jobs. Death is another reason for the low population. Just last year, six people passed away, some old and some young. What did the young people die of? I couldn’t help asking. Alcohol.
I stopped asking. During the 17th century, the Europeans lusted after the precious fur the Native Americans hunted in the new world. In order to create a demand, the newcomers introduced whisky to the locals, much like how the British sold the Chinese opium for our silk, tealeaves and porcelain.
Kake is drop-dead gorgeous. Outside the town, it has trees as far as one can see and the ocean just steps away. Because of the remote location, everything imported is incredibly expensive. (Here, one bag of chips costs six US dollars.) Most locals here rely on a subsistence lifestyle, supplemented by store-bought food. They hunt, deer and moose. They gather, berries and shoots. They fish, salmon and octopus. They harvest, clams and gumboots. The elder told me one year a businesswoman heard about their berries and was willing to pay three US dollars per pound for their wild blueberries. They picked 13,000 pounds.
The journey is approaching the end of the second week. Fatigue is creeping onto my fellow travelers’ faces. As mentioned, the ferry service is nothing like what we are used it in Hong Kong. We often get up before the sun rises or in the middle of the night and are on the road constantly. I thought, we are already traveling in style. We first-world people are really really too spoiled.