Chen Qiulin performs a tofu carving

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This article was published on 20, May, 2016. The infomation contained wihin may be out of date or inaccurate.

And brings the scents of Shepparton to SAM

On Saturday 4 June, Chen Quilin, one of China’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, will perform a tofu carving at Shepparton Art Museum (SAM) and imbue the gallery space with six scents evocative of Shepparton for the exhibition One Hundred Names.

For the carving, a tofu block the size of a large cushion (40x40x7cm) is being created especially for Chen by Richmond’s Tofu Shop International, into which she will carve the name of Ah Wong’, a Chinese immigrant who set up a market garden on the banks of the Goulburn River, and sold vegetable produce to Mooroopna and Shepparton residents.  Chinaman Garden Reserve is now on the site of his former vegetable garden. Visitors to the opening will witness Chen quietly carving the tofu, and be met with a potpourri of smells—pears, apples, wood smoke, eucalyptus, garlic and chilli—that she has identified as meaningful to Shepparton.

This performance complements Chen’s ongoing project One Hundred Surnames in Tofu (2004-), which presents the hundred most common Chinese family names carved in tofu. Presented in this career-survey exhibition, Chen uses a combination of photography, video installation, performance and other media to create large-scale immersive works. Her work is deeply concerned with migration, both geographic and internal, examining how displacement and urban development disrupt traditional ancestry, culture and way of life – concerns that deeply connect with Shepparton’s rich migrant history.

Fascinated by the way that our senses trigger memories of place, Chen has created a new work using six evocative smells that connect with Shepparton – apples, pears (90 per cent of Australian pears come from Shepparton), eucalyptus, wood-fire smoke (alluding to controlled burns for native forest and agricultural management, and the lingering trace of wood smoke that wafts over Shepparton in autumn), garlic (introduced by Chinese migrants during the Victorian gold rush) and chilli. Diffusers will be presented as part of an installation, on a stack of packing crates and fruit boxes gathered from local orchard producers. Each gently puffs out the specific scents selected by Chen for this particular context. SAM Director, Dr Rebecca Coates says, “Through her ongoing interest in food and scent, she reflects on the smaller things that remind us of ‘home’.”

Chen was born in Hubei Province, China, moving from the region when her family were displaced by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world. Today, Chen works in Chengdu, inspired by the socio-political issues affecting everyday life around her. This exhibition, developed in collaboration with 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney, offers a rare survey of over a decade of her work.

The opening will be followed by a Tofu Banquet Dinner, presented in partnership with the Goulburn Valley Chinese Association, at Mooroopna’s Yiche Restaurant. The meal will feature a specially designed Chinese hotpot alongside other tofu dishes developed together by Chen and Yiche’s chef in a celebration of regional culinary traditions. Bookings for the Tofu Banquet can be made online.

Image: Chen Qiulin, The Hundred Surnames in Tofu (Chen) (still), 2004 - 2014, video installation, ed.5, courtesy the artist and A Thousand Plateaus Art Space
Chengdu © the artist.