Employing self-representation, I contemplate the physical and emotive weight of four foods, offering up the idea of the corporeal as place, as event, where things occur and dissipate (or linger). My body is the ground for performing marginally demanding gestures. It is a temporary dwelling that cradles the spiky durian fruit bearing down on my chest, or the ten kilograms of salt on my back, as it dissolves into brine. “While bodies do things,” Sara Ahmed writes, things might also “do bodies.” The food items, like the artist’s performances, are ephemeral in essence, and become contemplative objects instead of offering gratification or nourishment.
These works are my means of raising consciousness and honouring lived experience as the camera lens orbits home to the geography closest in—my own body. They draw profoundly and proudly on my feminist of colour politic, its historical roots, and on ancestral memory. What does it mean to exist in this body and on this particular land, bound up with its subjectivities and experiences as a Chinese-Canadian immigrant, a settler on unceded Coast Salish territories, and a woman of colour pulled between the shifting and competing tides of her diasporas, and to also be expecting a child? What is at stake, Abigail Solomon-Godeau compels, is always considering how “the historical past remains a shaping force in the historical present.”
The series title assumes its name from the old meaning of “wealth,” as in “well-being” or “welfare,” rather than the colonial use of “Commonwealth,” referring to the group of nations. My use of the term—written in lowercase and with a space, and consistently flagged for being incorrectly spelled—stems from my own contemplations around the individual and specific, always alongside the collective and universal, something I implore the viewer to do similarly.
Murmur in the flesh, 30 in x 40 in lightjet print, 2019
Following the renunciation of her Singapore citizenship and during a homecoming after eight years away, the durian that freely rests on Yow’s chest—swaying with each breath—collapses and pierces her skin off-camera. The fruit is emblematic of the nation and its conservative political climate, and its fall evokes the legal severing of ties with her homeland. Amidst the nostalgic yearning that Yow has always held for her motherland following immigrating to Canada, there is bitterness too. She recognizes how her acute overseas privilege allows her to be critical of the nanny-state and its exploitation of migrant labour, persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals, and romanticization of its colonial roots, all from afar.
How to become, remain, 30 in x 40 in lightjet print, 2019
Canadians want both and they can have both (take it with a grain of), 16 in x 24 in lightjet print
A luxury we cannot afford (are they worth their salt), 30 in x 40 in lightjet print, 2019
Crouching by the Salish Sea, Yow balances ten kilograms of salt, a nod to Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa’s pivotal 1981 anthology of radical women of colour writing, “This Bridge Called My Back.” Here, salt is significant for its ties to the climate crisis, oceans, bodies, preservation, purification, destruction, and above all, value. A violent pour of water eventually compresses the mound, adding further weight just as it drips off. Thinking much about people, worth, and resource extraction—including missing and murdered Indigenous women, water protectors, and the opioid crisis in this predatory economy and colonial nation-state of Canada—Yow questions what it might mean to care for others beyond one’s radius, and to recognize and challenge complicity and complacency in violence and oppression.
Screencap from A luxury we cannot afford (are they worth their salt), digital video (03:14), 2019
Slow to warm, 16 in x 24 in lightjet print, 2019
The long and sudden of it (bodily integrity is integrity of land and water), 30 in x 40 in lightjet print, 2019
At a park honouring the British monarch, the artist visually compiles years of thoughts around realizations of sexual violence, pregnancy endings, and the onslaught of pipelines and dams. Nestling a heap of natural and red-dyed eggs in her dress, before letting them fall, was her way of processing the distinct, compounding griefs. Chinese red eggs symbolize birth, happiness, and prosperity and commemorate a child’s first month following birth. For Yow, learning and performing the cultural act of hand-dying eggs—with sheets of red calligraphy paper—then breaking them, was a way to mourn and subvert this traditionally celebratory gesture.
In our national interest, 30 in x 40 in lightjet print, 2019
Screencap from A continuous passage, digital video (05:17), 2019
Wound and tear (how did you pronounce that), 16 in x 24 in lightjet print, 2019
Loss is most often invisible, and grief, so shapeless and brittle. Yow has been preoccupied with circular and organic forms, earthly mounds and hills, vessels that can be emptied and filled, notions of carrying and being carried. In thinking about the body and land as resource, she carelessly spills the contents of her bowl, letting it re-enter the earth. Milk—so culturally symbolic of life, wisdom, virtue, and as of late, white supremacy even—serves as a stand-in for oil, Canada’s gold. Its value has prompted the clearance of pipelines in the nation’s interest, despite much objection and without consensual reciprocity. In a related video, the liquid pours downhill as Yow attempts to soak it up with a towel. There is futility in cleaning up (and crying over) spilled milk, she asserts. Like an indelible stain, an oil spill can never be fully retrieved.