** feature image: "Wash your hands before dinner" (Cheung Yu-tsz / 2010)
– Cheung Yu-tsz
Searching through my childhood memories, besides roaming around with my buddy friends, I find dinner with my family leaving the strongest impressions. My mother, the housewife of the family, cooked every meal for me and my brother.
I especially like summer-night dinners. Dad was often gone for business. Mom would temporarily abandon the family dinner table, which was mostly used for visitors, and, instead, use the little table by the doorside where we did homework to serve dinner. Mom liked to leave the door to our flat open, and so brother and I sat around that little folding table, sensing the summer breeze from the corridor, smelling the food mom just brought out and ate happily……Those were to me moments of felicity.
Like the case in a traditional Chinese family, my parents treasured a lot about sitting together to have dinner. They tried to give us the perception that all members present at a fixed dinner time eating together is how a normal family should be, which is also a practice of showing care to family members.
My parents’ forcing upon us such “rituals” created certain pressure on me. I had doubts about the requirement of keeping this practice strictly especially when there were conflicts among my family. I felt quite rebellious. One time, I attempted to shift my rest and work time in order not to eat with them.
Soon, due to many reasons, my family went through a hard time of rough relationship. Whole-family dinner practice declined. It became a rare family activity that was very difficult to sustain, even on Chinese festival days.
I feel nostalgic for my childhood dinner time and pitiful for the failure of our dinner practice. This drives me to review what actually family dinner means in my generation. My visual ethnography on four housewives’ dinner preparation is the beginning of my long journey back to gain new understanding about this family ritual, my nostalgia, and the mixed feelings I have for its decline.
Wash your hands before eating 食飯前要洗手 — Part 1 of “It’s Dinner Time”
Mother played a major role as a cooking housewife in my childhood life. In this project, I found four mothers who have children around my age. I followed them as they picked up groceries for the preparation of their family dinner.
Video display plus the assemblage of photos from my field work shows these mothers’ journeys as they take time to complete their daily mission.
My video camera observes the process of the time and effort they spend on every meal and dinner. My photographs call attention to their obsession with the cooking utensils which they use skillfully and effectively.
When studying the processes and objects of their work through the camera, I was fascinated by the complex layers of grease and the accumulation of scars on the hands of these homemakers from chopping, slicing, and cutting on the wooden chopping board. Would my camera work be enough to call viewers’ attention the to drama of their hands working on food and make them see beyond? Would I be able to make viewers see the number of times they wash the food and the utensils, which is these mothers’ unique way of devotion to the family? Through the display setup, I would like to show the key moments that are mostly being ignored during the dinner time when everyone focuses only on the ritual of gathering.
These are some thoughts on the root of pressure that each dinner brings to me, and the actions I have taken in response. (Cheung Yu-tsz)
video 1: “the journey in the market” (45 minutes)
video 2: “the work station” (2 hours 17 minutes)