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。
2016年3月28 – 4月3日
早來了幾天，為了省下之前租工作室的費用，一張四呎長的畫就打算在這幾天就地畫了。開始的時候還想可以畫幾張不同大小的，很快就發現根本是癡心妄想。Island Institute大佬Peter Bradley的家客廳像是歌德式教堂的尖塔，斜斜的牆上貼滿了從各方朋友得來的作品。我在想像，搭著女朋友肩膀躺在中間的沙發，聽著黑膠唱片（沒錯，他的家有一部播黑膠唱片的唱機），好有電影感！
星期五，是我們藝術家的重頭戲「表演」。同行的劇作家Chantal Bilodeau即場演讀她兩幕戲劇，在七十年代的挪威，是石油興盛的日子。籍著爸爸抱著孩子的喃喃細語，當中對未來慈祥美好的盼望，延伸至第二場孩子長大了的落差。我聽得好感動，戲劇本來就是應該反映人生。裝置藝術家Alison Warden還會rap，即場就把她本來一百分鐘的獨角戲抽演了一段，描述北極熊媽媽帶孩子游出浮冰，孩子卻在中途不支。Alison本身就高大，聲音和表演都是那麼的強而有力。相比起我分享了茫亡膠海的繪畫裝置，動畫以及寶綠達，安靜得多。這天晚上的答問環節非常踴躍，流連和藝術家交流的觀眾也是不少。全球暖化對於阿拉斯加來講是非常真實的問題，環境改變對於很多世代依賴大自然維生的居民，不是一個遙遠的未知之數。很多人一輩子只吃家人和朋友打的海魚，卻因為商業捕魚過量，以及海洋污染和暖化令他們近年獲魚量減少。自從七十年代起，阿拉斯加就沒有經濟的壓力，由於產油豐盛，這裏的省民沒有省級入息稅，每年政府還分紅，秋天每人都收到兩千美元的支票！近月油價急跌，本地的學校醫療等公共服務受到腰斬，本月底政府就要決定接下來的財政政策，是不是從此以後阿拉斯加居民就要跟以往美好的經濟揮永別之手。
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
28 March – 3 April 2016
I looked down from the plane. Yup, mountains everywhere and not a building in sight. Welcome to Alaska! Island Institute director Peter Bradley gave me a grand tour of Sitka after we picked up my bags from the airport. Isn’t this just like the small fishing village Olafsfjordur where I went on an artist residency three years ago? These islands both feature similar latitude and climate, and they are both small fishing towns!
Sitka is well-known for its beauty, even with the Alaskans who are seasoned connoisseurs of natural beauty. I had never seen anything like this, a smooth mirror-like water dotted with islands, large and small. I finally understood Island Institute’s logo and was equally taken by this place as everyone I have talked to.
It is my habit to stroll around on my first day of residency in a new place. In a feather-like drizzle, I sauntered on the rocky beach until my water-resistant coat was heavy with moisture. I stared out onto the grey sky decorated with ducks, seagulls and birds I couldn’t name. The Listhus Art Space was also a minute away from the shore in Olafsfjordur—I used to sit by the ocean in my favourite spot. Sometimes I went to think through a problem. Sometimes I just lost myself in the salty breeze, yet I always came back to the studio feeling more acute.
I arrived a few days before the official programme. In order to save myself from renting a studio before this trip, I decided to make a painting in these extra days. The painting of course took longer than I thought it would. It is accelerating to finish a large painting in such a short span of time.
The Island Institute’s director Peter Bradley has the most mind-boggling living room. Think gothic cathedral tower. The walls, decorated with artworks from his artistic friends all across the country, are slanted to meet at a point. I looked at the couch, the centrepiece furniture in the room, and thought of Pulp Fiction when I imagined Peter listening to his vinyl records with his girlfriend. Yes he has an extensive collection of vinyl records. Sorry no picture.
My disillusion of the similarities between Sitka and Olafsfjordur quickly disintegrated. Sitka may only have eight thousand people, but it is the fourth largest city in Alaska! For someone who has lived in metropolitans of over one million people all her life, needless to say, Sitka is a small town. It was funny that I became rapidly weary of “so many buildings” in town. In Olafsfjordur, we confined our activities to the studio, the swimming pool and the mountains. In that town of eight hundred people, there was one post office, one bank, one swimming pool, one restaurant and one supermarket.
For this residency, a dozen of us will tour nine different communities in Alaska, sharing with the local communities our works on climate change. I have two main goals—to come up with the architectural design of Polluta through workshops with students and to research for the series of monologues I am about to write.
Thursday was as warm as summer. Two thousand feet and six miles later, I was standing in the snow and understanding why Sitka deserves her reputation as a beautiful town. Before I did that, I had a most unforgettable experience with The Seers School. The school is operated by a lesbian couple, married for twenty years. Currently they have thirteen adopted children and are in the process of adopting the fourteenth. Their thirteenth child is twenty-two-month old and stays at the school during the day. Sometimes she would wander into the classroom and get all the attention a toddler would ever want. Having been prepped by a staff at the Institute, I was slightly worried about the age gap (aged six to nineteen?) on the one hand, yet I was also prepared to be pleasantly surprised. Well, I certainly did not expect to be blown away. These have got to be the most creative group of young artists I have ever taught. They came up with a kitty whose legs were washed away by the acid rain and a runway for the flying elephants.
Our focal point in each town is our “artist performance.” Playwright Chantal Bilodeau read from her play—In the 1970s Norway, a young father cradles his newborn and dreams of a good life with the oil boom. There is no more fishing in the ungodly weather. In the following act, we see the baby as an adult and the reality of that dream comes true. I looked at her on the stage and could see the daughter and her father. I was so touched. Drama IS supposed to reflect life. Rapper and installation artist Alison Warden acted a part of her 90-minute one-person theatre. A polar bear mother swims towards the ice with her two cubs who eventually doesn’t make it. Alison is not a petite person and her theatre was larger than life. I, along with the whole room, could not take our eyes off her. By comparison, my sharing of my drawing installation “Plastic, plastic, every where!”, animation-in-progress and performance work “Polluta, Floating Artist Colonies in the Sky” seemed much quieter.
It was a full house. The community asked us many intelligent questions and stayed behind to chat some more. Here, climate change is not in the distant unknown future. It is an immediate problem for these people. Many local fishermen have a pescetarian diet but pollution, overfishing and global warming is driving their food source away. Alaska has had a free ride on oil money since the 70s. Not only is there no state income tax, but each Alaskan would get an annual cheque from the oil dividend. With the recent plunge in oil prices. things are going to change. Alaskans are facing schools being shut down and medical budgets being cut. At the end of this month, the State will decide whether this is the point where Alaska will kiss goodbye to the good old days of strong economy and adjust to a new reality.
The first week drifted away like snow with traces in my mind so fresh yet so vivid. In only six days, I accomplished more than I can at home. I reminded myself of why artists should go onto artist residencies. First of all to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily lives and throw ourselves wholeheartedly to our work. Also, no art is an island. The interactions with other artists is as essential as creating the work. There IS a larger world out there, and the arts CAN transcend culture. We all got a giggle out of it when we discovered that all three of us, one white American Canadian, one American Iñupiaq and one Hong Kong Canadian, have used the Inuit ocean goddess Sedna in our work. After their sensations have been stimulated and hearts touched, the audiences are much more likely to open their hearts.
I study. I study the landscapes around me, study Alaskan literature and study the exquisite Native American art and philosophy with nature. I listen. I listen to the ideology of my fellow artists, listen to the frightening reality of these local communities and listen to the uninhibited imaginative world of children.
We are now on a ferry enjoying the snow-capped mountains fit for a postcard. I can’t wait. What surprises await us tomorrow?