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。
這是我第一次對於原住民的哲學開始有個人的深入接觸（原住民的部族繁多，我這次只接觸到Innupiaq和Tlingit兩族），捕獲一隻鹿，肉當然吃了，鮮肉吃不下的會燻掉以助保存，前小腿的骨頭會用來做刀以及針，而吃不下的經絡曬乾以後會做縫紉的線。我在Sheldon Jackson Museum裏聽到一個故事，在歐洲人剛開始和原住民接觸的時代，原住民很喜愛買麵粉。而又粗又耐用的麵粉麻布袋很受歡迎，會被手巧的原住民縫製成上衣，可是當時的交易一年就只有一兩次，家裏的媽媽往往要等兩年才儲到足夠的麻布縫製一件上衣。反觀當代人兩年已經消耗多少速食時裝，哪是對裝麵粉的麻布袋都珍而重之的心態？
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
19 – 28 April 2016
My Alaskan touring residency finally drew to an end. What happened a week ago seems very faraway and unimportant now. Of course, I will never forget our three-night crossing of the Gulf of Alaska, my encounter with the local Chinese residents at our Kodiak performance, me drenching wet during my whale-watching trip, eating three dozens of oysters in two days, and the grand finale of the Constellate conference organized by the Alaska State Councils for the Arts. These bits of memories will paint a three-dimensional portrait of Alaska for a long long time.
However, I would like to talk about the changes I have observed on me during this short month. One month is really not a long time in a lifetime. Our residency theme is climate change. For someone who has only been doing works on the changing environment for the past two years, I really don’t understand this issue nearly as well as I feel like I should. Right before the trip, I read almost a dozen books on climate change to stuff myself with emergency knowledge. Almost all perspectives I have read were international, metropolitan, as if the rural and remote areas matter not. However, these faraway locations such as Alaska experience more and faster impact than the rest of the developed world.
At home, we worry about being carnivore versus vegetarian, organic versus conventional or driving versus walking. Here in Alaska, they are concerned with the berries coming out one month sooner, the sea otters eating all their shellfish, and the disappearing snow. For the Alaskans, a subsistence lifestyle is not only a traditional way of life, but also out of necessity. The North American Natives crossed Siberia some 1,500 years ago to settle in the new world. They have always insisted on living with the natural world harmoniously. For them, even a blade of grass has spirit. They express immense gratitude for every life perished to sustain theirs.
This is my first personal in-depth encounter with the Native philosophy. (There are dozens of different native tribes. I only met Innupiaq and Tlingit culture on this trip.) Upon catching a deer, one would of course eat the meat. Whatever can’t be consumed fresh would be smoked. The bone in the front shin would be made into a knife and needle. The hard-to-digest sinew is carefully washed and used as precious sewing thread. I heard a story at the Sheldon Jackson Museum—when the Europeans first traded with the Natives, the Natives loved flour. They particularly found the canvas flour bag tough and durable, an ideal material for a top. However, due to the infrequent trading, one may have to wait two years to collect enough canvas materials to sew one top! Two years! Just imagine how much fast fashion we consume in two years!
One must be sensitive to the changing environment in Alaska. Most residents live a (semi-)subsistence lifestyle. They fish. They hunt. They gather. It is out of necessity and also out of respect for their way of life. Alaska is far from the rest of the world and not very suitable for farming. Therefore, all imported food has staggering price tags. Many adopted Alaskans move to this place wanting a closer connection to the land. They think this is their last frontier, the only place left where they can still live off the land. Let’s not discuss whether they have a romanticized notion of this place and this life. In reality though, they spend on average 30% of their time preparing their food.
It wasn’t until I had left Alaska did I realize the deep imprints this place has left on me. The day I arrived in Chicago from Anchorage, I found myself hyperventilating in a small stationary shop. The sensory stimulation was too much for me and I ran onto the street. I looked around and felt cheated. Where is my ocean? Where is my ocean that’s supposed to be five minutes walking away?
All around me were only zooming cars, hustling pedestrians and endless concrete streets. I began to understand why Alaska is so attractive to these immigrants. For a split second, I felt like I could move to Alaska. Life does not have to be like this. Life could be very simple. You could spend your time picking berries and making jam, instead of calculating every step in life.
At the end of the day, I began to feel at ease in the busy city. After all, I did grow up in the urban environment. I hope I will never be the snobbish urbanite looking down on small towns and rural villages, and also never romanticize their lives.