Little Donkey Farm, West of Houshajian Village, Sujiatuo Zhen, Haidian District, Beijing
April 16, 2011
To the North-West of Beijing just beyond the sixth ring road, approaching the mountains and the Great Wall, you find the Little Donkey Farm (LDF), a farm and community organisation promoting Community Supported Agriculture within China. LDF work with sustainable farming methods to grow and distribute healthy produce within the Beijing area. Artist Emi Uemura has been working with this organisation for the past year and April saw the fifth of their Country Fairs, initiated and co-organised by Uemura, an occasion where farmers and customers get together to buy and sell produce and share information. As was always planned by Uemura, Country Fair has now grown beyond her original artistic vision to become a broader platform for the social issues around food production.
There’s an Interesting edition of Contemporary Art & Investment out this month with, amongst other things, a feature on “Plants as a Kind of Art Relationshipology” (sic) for which I was asked to write a new piece about Emi Uemura and her work. This piece sits after a rather fine piece by Michael Eddy which gives a broader view of her practice.
Social Food: Emi Uemura
Through a number of discussions with Emi Uemura, alongside the more obvious subject matter, I’ve come to understand her work as dealing with a boundary between art and life that is forever friable and purposely undefined. I see her taking this position to prevent barriers either to the works’ appreciation or to the applicability of the work. Her subject matter highlights the raw materials of life—our food—and the processes of its production and delivery, but also the significance of our every-day decisions about it. Indeed “the every-day” may be seen as a consistent theme running through her work, an awareness of the unconscious, unremarked actions influenced by our environments and which are part of the bedrock of society. Although her works deal with “big” issues, the environment, organic food, etc. they deliberately try to stay small in scale and demonstrate a lightness of touch, keeping the effects on a personal level.
Artists organizing events around the disparate interests of people outside the art world proper can lead to some fascinating convergences of concerns. (Of course, a deft hand is needed to satisfy the demands of such varied constituencies). Emi Uemura’s “Country Fair,” initiated last year in Beijing with Vitamin Creative Space, is a successful example. A regular event bringing together farmers, community activists, and the public in a friendly, festive space, it shows what can grow from the sharing of information, experience and perhaps most importantly, food.
Faith in the quality of our food has become a major issue in China following the recent well-publicized food safety alerts. Many people are turning to organic foods as a reliable source of safe and healthy food, which are also good for the environment. Artist Emi Uemura is working with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms on the fringes of Beijing to promote awareness of organic principles and access to high quality foods in our city. Recently she launched an online map so you can find the nearest farm for all your organic needs.