Photo by Ruby Weatherall. Zine by Sam Yi Yao.

MUSEUM 2050 Dispatches

Live Cultures

Ruby Weatherall

A month ago, our office came together for an unusually themed pot luck: fermentation. After weeks of on-off home office, several colleagues have been swapping scobies and sharing their experiences of home-brewed kombucha. I recently gave it a go; I took home Fred The Second (a newly born scoby) and added him to a litre of black tea and sugar, before tucking them all away under my kitchen sink for two weeks. The process is demanding, rewarding, refreshing and tasty. Which has also been a welcome comfort in the office, my colleagues’ sweet and sour greetings in the mid-afternoon.

This renewed activity (between bacteria and humans) has reminded me of Hong Kong artist and activist Natalie Lo Lai Lai’s work Cold Fire, 2019. The installation included a live experiment in fermentation (of vegetables, fruits, yeast and microbes in undulating glass tubes), which she carefully tended to every four to nine days. Not only was she the artwork’s creator, but its ongoing and necessary caretaker.

All this talk – and taste – of fermentation, has in some ways helped me process the unprecedented status of the world. As with the ingredients in kombucha, many of us were confined to relatively small spaces during home office in Hong Kong. Compressed, but with continued and fervent activity. In fact, despite weeks of working from home, Asia Art Archive’s Learning & Participation and Programmes teams have launched some extremely exciting initiatives in response to the pandemic. This includes Artist Exercises, an online series of home-based, creative exercises for art educators that re-examine the role of art during moments of crisis in the contemporary world. And as part of AAA’s twentieth anniversary, Life Lessons, a new series of public programmes that enquire into models for education led by artists, has also been launched. Given the current health crisis, the world has been pushed to imagine new structures for education, community, and care. Therefore, this series offers online and offline conversations and workshops with artists, art collectives, and creative practitioners who teach at universities, build educational programmes at arts organisations, and run their own schools.

Government-sanctioned lockdowns have played out in many different iterations across the world, with disparate implications in different regions and for different groups of people. However, in some instances, perhaps they have facilitated a period of metaphorical fermentation; a moment of necessary boiling down, distilling, or exploding of ideas. I keep thinking back to an introduction to Natalie Lo Lai Lai’s piece, which described the process of fermentation as an active ‘conversation’: a delicate and volatile interaction which, unless handled with care, may give rise to an explosion. As we struggle to grapple with, or comprehend, our simultaneous (and separate) situations (or simulations), it seems more pressing than ever that we continue to check in with, check up on, and listen to each other.

About the Author:

Ruby Weatherall is a Development Assistant at Asia Art Archive. She is based in Hong Kong.

About the Series:

Museum 2050 has always been about bringing people together through our community’s shared passion for museums and institutional development. As the world slowly and carefully starts reopening, we are checking in weekly with various members of our broader network to share personal reflections, anecdotes and musings about how they and their institutions have been operating in the face of this pandemic. In these incredibly difficult times for all, we hope that these brief vignettes from around the world bring us closer together, and remind us that even when the world stops and museum doors close, we still persevere.