Tag Archives: Michelle Fung Suet Kuen

藝術家駐留週記《阿拉斯加》4

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。

關於馮捲雪

2016年4月19-28日

阿拉斯加遊歷的駐村終於成為過去式,一個星期以前發生的事情感覺已經很遙遠,而每天發生的一點一滴好像不太重要。當然,在海上過了三個晚上橫過阿拉斯加海峽,在Kodiak的表演上遇到華人,觀鯨淋雨變成一隻落湯雞,在Homer和Anchorage兩天之內吃了三打生蠔,以及最後參加阿拉斯加省藝術發展局兩年一度的研討會,大大小小的回憶為這個地方堆砌成立體的塑像。

反而我想說說的是在還沒有經過長時間的過濾之時,這個月對我的改變。這次我們的旅程之主題是氣候變化,我的作品開始對環境問題關注大概是兩三年前的光景,還是一個新人。其實我對許多環境變化問題一知半解,於是在出發前的一兩個月拼命惡補,讀了十本八本有關的書籍。可是我看的書角度都是偏向都市的,國際視野的,而阿拉斯加這種對地球暖化已經開始有切膚之痛的偏遠地方,他們的聲音總是比較少聽得見。

在此以前,想起保護環境,由自身出發的話,我總會想減廢,減碳排量,少消費,多吃本地食糧,多菜少肉。在阿拉斯加呢?吃本地食材是一種無庸置疑的生活習慣,也是出於必須。在北美的原住民從一千五百年前從希柏里亞走路過來北美洲後,一直和他們置身的環境和諧相處,他們認為身邊的一草一木都是有靈魂的,並對一切生命的消耗感恩。經過殖民時代的洗禮,原住民的文化經過一代人的真空,現在積極為自己的文化復興。

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?

在阿拉斯加的居民對環境改變很敏感。絕大部份的居民多多少少賴地而生,出海打魚,上山打獵,入林摘果,一是傳統,二是必須。阿拉斯加位置偏遠,而氣候也是不太適合耕種,在外地運來的食物的貴得驚人。而許多移居阿拉斯加的人也是想過和土地更接近的生活而過來的。他們認為,這還是一個我們能靠山吃山,依水吃水的好地方。先別論他們的想法是不是過於浪漫化,反正他們平均花百分之三十的時間準備他們的食物。

離開之後,我才發現阿拉斯加對我的烙印如此的深,在翌日芝加哥的一家小小的文具店,我受不了感官的過度刺激,逃跑了出來。在街上,我四處望,我的海洋呢?我那走五分鐘就到的海洋呢?可是視線以內的只有轟轟而過的車,匆匆忙忙的行人,以及無窮無盡的街道。我開始明白為什麼阿拉斯加對於這些移民為什麼那麼吸引。生活不一定要是這樣的。生活其實可以很簡單,時間可以花在摘藍莓釀果醬,而不是營營役役地在計算別人。

經過半天,我開始再適應都市煩囂的節奏,畢竟,我是在這種環境長大的。我希望我永遠不會高高在上的以城市人之角度看不起在小鎮生活的人,也希望我不會把他們的生活浪漫化。


 

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.

#tidelinesjourney

 

 

藝術家駐留週記《阿拉斯加》1

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。

關於馮捲雪

2016年3月28 – 4月3日

在飛機上向下望,雪山比高樓大廈多,是真的到了阿拉斯加了。下了飛機,在Sitka逛了一圈,第一個感覺是,好像三年前在冰島小鎮Olafsfjordur的駐村啊!緯度相若,氣候相像,也是一個捕魚的小鎮。

我沒有看過這樣的風景,平滑如鏡的水面上點綴大大小小的島嶼。藝術家看見新鮮風景,總是會為視覺思維帶來衝擊。就算在遍地好風光的阿拉斯加,Sitka的美貌也是薄有名氣的。

我很喜歡在駐村的第一天早上到處逛。在灰濛濛的毛雨下走石灘,一走就是兩個小時。不時遠眺群鳥,不時瞪著天色發呆。感覺越發和冰島的時候一樣,那時候我也是住和海邊距離一分鐘的路程,常常到我最喜歡的皇座想事情。有的時候是真的在想東西,更多的時候是看著海水出神發呆,不過回到工作室以後頭腦總是更加清晰。

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!

我很快就發現這個地方原來和冰島的小鎮根本不一樣,雖然人口只有八千人,這裏是卻是全省第四大城市!對於一輩子都住在人口百萬以上的城市人來講,當然是小鎮。不過,我居然很快就嫌棄這裏太多建築物。在冰島駐村的小鎮八百人口,是名副其實的小鎮。在那裏我們的活動範圍除了工作室以外,就是游泳池和四周的山。

這次的駐村是流動式的,我們一行十人將會探訪阿拉斯加東南部的九個社區,跟本地的居民分享我們關於氣候變化的作品。我自己這個月有兩個目的,首先和學生設計我作品寶綠達的建築,另外希望會為我的獨腳戲劇本帶來頭緒。

星期四是出奇的暖,早上我跑到了一間私立學校做分享,這是我見過最特別的學校。創辦的老師是一對結了婚二十年的女同性戀者,而她們現在有十三名助養的孩子,正在準備收養第十四個。她們第十三個孩子才二十二個月丁大,白天卻待在學校,不時跑出來課室,讓學生好不開心。這羣六歲到十九歲的學生,是我遇到最有創意的小藝術家。第一間學校就把標準定得那麼高,以後的學校實在很難跟上。

因為天氣如此的好,下午我不顧一切往山跑,直上了二千公尺。在山上的頂端還有未融化的雪。在山頂向下望,實在不難明白Sitka的風景為何有名。

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。

轉眼間第一個星期的駐村就過去了。短短的六天,卻比在家的幾個月要完成得多。我提醒自己藝術家為什麼要駐村,第一是離開平日的生活,毫無雜念地專心創作;另外,創作實在很難在一個孤島上,和其他想法相像的藝術家交流,會感覺世界如此的大,也提醒藝術本來就不應因為種族分隔。(碰巧我們三個的作品裡都有加拿大原住民神話裡的海洋女神Zedna!)而觀眾的感官和心靈受到衝擊以後,是特別容易打開心窗交流。

我在拼命地看,看四周的景致,看阿拉斯加的本地文學,看這裏不同原住民部族精緻的藝術以及他們與自然和諧的哲學;我也使勁地聽,聽同行藝術家的理念,聽居民擔心的現實,聽孩子沒被羈絆的幻想世界。

現在我們坐在輪船上,享受著兩旁像明信片一樣的雪山。我在想,在下一個小鎮,有什麼驚喜等著我們?


 

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?

#tidelinesjourney

 

 

 

藝術家駐留週記《阿拉斯加》3

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。

關於馮捲雪

2016年4月10-18日

Petersburg是一個人口三千的捕魚港。每年出口的魚量高達一億磅。閒聊之間,一位居民輕輕地說,這裏用大網打魚的漁民收入每年過百萬美金,雖然看起來他們和所有其他的漁民沒有分別。有賴這幾戶富裕的家庭,捐獻了許多社區的建設。

Petersburg的位置偏遠,我們這艘輪船到達的時間是凌晨兩點。阿拉斯加東南部的潮漲潮退非常明顯,會讓一大片海洋變成一片石灘。由於這個原因,輪船的班次也要遷就海潮。由於交通不便利,Petersburg和上星期的Ketchikan有很明顯的分別,前者靠捕魚吃飯,後者靠遊客。由於Petersburg基本上沒有旅遊業,它的海港都是極度實際,在碼頭,我找不到為遊客而設的觀景台。在岸邊看風景,要不是在停車場站在非常嘈吵的巨型雪櫃旁,就是有許多電線有礙景觀。

在這個人口和香港兩三棟高樓大廈的住戶人數相約的小鎮,參與我們表演的熱情的居然比所有之前的地方要濃烈,當晚不單座無虛席,問答時間,舉起的手更是此起彼落,問題的內容也是經過有深度的思考。

離開Petersburg後,我們來到了阿拉斯加的首都Juneau。人口三萬人來說,實在是一個大鎮。我們得到小道消息,可以在船上逗留至早上六點,怎知道在三點到達之後,我在睡夢中被不講人情的廣播叫醒,我們已經到達Juneau,請所有房間內的乘客離開。隨即便有工作人員來狠狠地拍門,生怕我們真的賴床。

我們睡眼惺忪地跑下船。在東方,日光在山頂的邊緣滲出一條銀線,慢慢染亮寶藍到發黑的的天空。這個時候,有人大叫北極光!我們向手指的方向望去,果然有一條綠色的色帶在西方從地面發射上空,並且迅速移動。我們在阿拉斯加東南大學的校園裏找到一個小亭子,視線不受街燈阻礙,我看著一個天空,有著白天與黑夜最美的景色,心想早上三點起床還是值得的。

驚喜卻不止於此。我們路過一個小小的森林到我們下榻的小屋,天色尚暗,我們需要用手電筒,一下子在十一點方向我們聽到竪竪之聲,我下意識趕望過去,聲音卻已經跑到九點鐘方向,是一隻箭豬!可憐它看見我們一行多人,早已嚇怕!我卻興奮得很,因為在此以前我只看過在動物園的箭豬!走到小屋,看見日出最盛的美景,藍色的夜景漸漸變成紫黃色,再發白。在海水和雪山的襯托下,這是我見過其中最美的日出。

Juneau貴為省都,文化氣息以及人民質素當然都是高的。在我們表演完畢,和觀眾在台下閒聊時,發覺這個地方的居民和美國其他省份的人一樣,忙得不得了,他們明天要坐飛機,後天要坐船,下星期要回東岸。這兩星期我們在小鎮遇到的居民當然也是忙,可是他們忙的是要摘梅子過冬,製作果醬,要打魚打鹿,再把魚肉冷藏入罐。在阿拉斯加他們常常會把自己省份和美國其餘四十八個省拿來對比,在這裡住了短短幾星期後,我也不難明白其原因。

Juneau讓我印象最深刻的是它的圖書館和冰川。市中心的圖書館高臨海岸,在一棟四層高的停車場的頂樓。在香港四層當然是低樓,不過在 Juneau來講,就一定是高樓。為了趕一些工作上的死線,我在這裏逗留了不短的時間。這裏背山面海,我想,風水一定很好。我坐在落地玻璃前,工作了兩個下午,心想,如果所有圖書館都能有這樣的景色,一定能培養居民的閱讀氣氛。臨行前我和圖書管理員搭訕,不忘讚美這裏難忘的風景。他微笑,是的,你來得正好,假如夏天來的話,整個窗都會被停泊的郵輪擋住,你就只能看到每個船艙裏的風光了。我離開圖書館後,心裏不斷在想阿拉斯加與郵輪旅遊業千絲萬瞜的關係。遊客無疑帶來巨大的金錢收益,然而本地居民卻對如狂風般的遊客又愛又恨。我在除了醉酒鬼以外就沒有其他人的市中心散步,幾乎全部商店在郵輪旺季以前都乾脆不開門,實在不難明白為什麼阿拉斯加人不願讓遊客牽著鼻子走。

Juneau附近的Mendenhall冰川離市中心只有十五分鐘車程。我們趕在上船之前匆匆一探冰山美人的真面目。美是不在話下的,讓我震驚的是,冰川比我相像中小。我想起十一歲是在看見的加拿大的Columbia Icefield,眼睛看到的都是白愷愷的雪,直到幾年前有一半都變成了啡色的石頭。同行的藝術家Teri Rofkar在阿拉斯加生活了一輩子,她說,去年,那塊圓圓的石頭還是埋在冰雪之中,今年已經露面了。不知道下次我能什麼時候來到Juneau,來的時候冰川還在嗎?


 

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

10 – 18 April 2016

Petersburg is a fishing town of three thousand people. Every year, they export 1,000,000 pounds of fish. In one of our casual chats, a local resident said, a few fishermen look the same as everyone else but make over a million American dollars a year. Owing to these families’ generosity, the town gets a lot of amenities.

Our ferry arrived at the ungodly hour of two in the morning. The Southeast Alaskan ferry system has to take the tide into account when they schedule ports. I have seen the tide transform a rocky beach into an ocean and vice versa. Petersburg is tugged inside a channel sitting on the north side of the Mitkof Island. It is not the easiest place to get to. As a result, tourism is virtually non-existent here. It is worlds apart from last week’s Ketchikan that makes its living more or less on tourism. Without the need to please the tourists, Petersburg’s harbour is as practical as it gets. Although it is as beautiful as the others with the fishing boats in the foreground and snow-capped mountains in the background, I could not find a viewpoint designated for photo-opt! The vintage points I found were either beside three cargo-sized (very) noisy refrigerators, or the view was obstructed by multiple wires.

Its population comparable to that of maybe two or three highrises in Hong Kong, Petersburg showed us its passion for culture. It was the most enthusiastic crowd we had seen on this trip. Not only did we have a full house, but the level of sophisticated questions blew me away. I thought to myself, the calibre of the speaker is often reflected in the Q&A session even more than the prepared speech.

After Petersburg, we arrived at the State capital Juneau, a big town of 30,000. On our ferry ride, we got wind of news that we may stay in bed until six in the morning! That may not sound like good news until the alternative is to get up three hours earlier. However, when the ferry arrived in  Juneau at 3am, a stern voice woke us up through the loudspeaker and told us to leave the boat. Shortly after, there was vigorous knocking at the door.

We escaped from the ferry as fast as we could. In the east, a silver lining was just emerging behind the mountains, staining the royal blue sky with light. This was when someone said, “The Northern Lights!” There it was! A ribbon of shifting green light shooting skyward. We quickly situated ourselves in a pavilion where we would not be disturbed by stray light. Watching two of the most beautiful natural phenomena in the same sky, waking up three hours earlier was definitely worth it.

That was not the end of our surprises though. To get to the cabin we were staying, we would walk through a small woods. It was still dark so everyone had a flashlight in their hands. All of a sudden, we heard some shuffling noise in the eleven o’clock direction. I looked and saw a small mammal scooting past. My first porcupine in the wild! Poor little porcupine must have been scared silly by our entourage and in a moment disappeared into the protective foliage. As we arrived, a most beautiful sunrise greeted us. The cold nightscape quietly merged into a purplish one and then turned white.

A state capital, Juneau is highly cultured. After our performances, we chitchatted with our audiences. I found that these people are as busy as the other Americans in the lower 48 states. They are either flying home or flying somewhere over the next few days. The locals we had met in small towns were busy, but they were busy picking berries and making them into jam for the winter, or they were busy fishing and then smoking and canning the fish.

However, the Juneau library and its glacier left the deepest impressions on me. The downtown library sits loftily on top of a four-storey parking lot. Four storeies are of course nothing in Hong Kong, but it definitely is a highrise in Juneau. To clear some work, I spent two afternoons there. I thought to myself, if all libraries have such million-dollar views, the people would of course be all nurtured into readers! The librarian told me, you picked a good time to visit the library. In the summer, your view would be blocked by a cruise ship. You can only look into he cabins. As I was walking downtown where I couldn’t see a soul except for drunken men on a Sunday afternoon, I was savouring the complex love affair between Alaska and its cruise industry. Of course tourism brings in huge profits. However, seeing all of downtown closed until the cruise season, I was beginning to taste the bad taste in the mouths of those Alaskans.

Mendenhall Glacier is only fifteen minutes away from Juneau. We made a mad dash for the glacier right before our ferry departure. Beautiful? Of course. Yet, I was stunned by how small the glacier was. When my eleven-year-old self first saw the Columbia Icefield in Canada, everything in sight was covered in snow! When I revisited a couple of years ago, half of that has become rocks. Fellow artist Teri Rofkar has lived all her life in Alaska and she commented that the round boulder on the right of the glacier was still submerged in the snow last year. And this year it has emerged clearly in front of the receding line. I don’t know when and if I will come back to Juneau. Will this glacier still be around?

#tidelinesjourney

 

 

藝術家駐留週記《阿拉斯加》2

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。

關於馮捲雪

2016年4月4-10日

第二個星期的駐村,我們開始到處漫遊。第一站Wrangell,這個以前是伐木的小鎮。在六十年代,Wrangell曾經興盛,居民有三千人,當中六分之一依賴木業維生。自千禧年代木廠倒閉以後,這裏的經濟開始衰落,現在居民剩下兩千餘。

許多居民一輩子沒有離開過這個鎮,不少離開家鄉上大學的孩子,因為思鄉情深,紛紛都選擇回家,有的是畢業後決定回家落地生根,有的是受不了外面的世界,乾脆回家。

星期二晚上是我們為這個小鎮表演。地點是在市中心邊緣的一個小島上的原住民祭典所,這棟有七十多年歷史的建築物,是Tlingit族人進行重要儀式的地方。小島的兩旁是美不勝收的海港,我看著這座活著的歷史,心想為什麼住了加拿大這麼多年,對北美原住民之文化認識少之又少?

對於我來說,當晚節目的高潮一定是原住民的歌舞表演,其實他們在迎賓多於表演,他們用自己的方式語言把我們包容在社區其中。我只在華盛頓省看過原住民歌舞表演一次,那是讓遊客嚐一嚐經過濾的原住民文化,是一個純經濟的交易。我付了鈔票,回報是娛樂性豐富的歡愉,不需要深入的了解,不需要跨文化的橋樑。

下一站是Ketchikan,人口八千,是我們目前為止來過最大規模的市鎮。我聽說當阿拉斯加失去它的木業時,每個地方以不同的方法活興經濟,而Ketchikan的策略是郵輪。這市基本上依山臨海而建,和許多阿拉斯加西南部的市鎮一樣都是得天獨厚。在市中心散步的時候,會看見長長的碼頭,預備天氣暖的時候每天四艘郵輪的遊客蜂擁而至。現在是四月,郵輪季節還未開始,市中心百分之九十的店乾脆休息,反正他們主要的收入來自夏天能花得起錢的客人,於是本來的酒吧都變成了珠寶店。

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。

離開Ketchikan,我們到達Kake,一條只有五百五十人的原住民村莊。阿拉斯加的輪船本來就稀少,許多原住民的村落更是沒有輪船服務。這個連酒店都沒有的地方,一星期只有一班船。剛剛這週末是他們一年一度的村際籃球比賽。球賽還沒開始,四周的房子已經傳來響亮的音樂,大家都在熱烈迎接這件盛事,以及晚上派對的狂歡。午飯時間,我和其一長老閒聊,從前這地方有一千多人,可是為了生計,不少年輕人都出外闖。除此以外,單是去年,便有六人去世,長老淡淡地說,有的是年老的,有的是年輕的。年輕的是死於什麼?我不禁問。酗酒。

我沒有再問。 酗酒和北美殖民歷史緊緊相勾,在十六世紀,來到新大陸的歐洲人為了想得到珍貴的皮草,開始教原住民喝威士忌,以培養他們對金錢的慾望,就像是十八世紀英國人為了中國茶葉、絲綢、瓷器把大量鴉片輸入中國一樣。

Kake這個地方非常非常美,依林環海。由於位置偏遠,百物騰貴。(這裏一包薯片要六塊美金。)居民主要吃的是都不是買的,春天割筍,夏天摘果,秋天出海,冬天打鹿,還有三文魚,八爪魚,海蜆鮑魚,非不得已才會在商店補充補充。長老說,有一年一個做生意的女人聽說這裏的藍莓是全國數一數二的,出價三塊美金一磅。長老對全村宣報,結果摘了一萬三千磅,可想這裏如何物資豐富。

旅程已經來到第二個星期的尾聲,大家開始有疲態。上文講過,阿拉斯加的輪船服務稀少,於是我們常常在清晨半夜時份啟程,也讓身體沒法長期適應一個地方。我在想,我們已經是以最舒適的方上路,現今的都市人實在都被寵壞了。


 

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.

#tidelinesjourney