a fervid surfacing

September 14th, 2021 – October 24th, 2021

Joy Wong, a wet SCOBY skin on top of blue plastic netting, 2021.

a fervid surfacing by Joy Wong

Exhibition: September 14 – October 24, 2021

Join Joy for an artist talk and workshop on October 2nd at 2 PM!

Across cultures, time, and geographic borders, people have used methods of fermentation to make foods more digestible, delicious, and longer lasting. As the RBC Emerging Artist in Residence at the RMG, Joy Wong has been preoccupied with fermentation. Their new work adopts these practices as a framework for critiquing society’s reverence for purity and fear of contamination, and for asserting that bodies, borders, and cultures are porous, rather than impenetrable.

To create the work in a fervid surfacing, Wong turned to SCOBYs, the colonies of bacteria and yeast that transform sweetened tea into tart kombucha. The artist prepared several batches of kombucha in vessels of assorted shapes and sizes to grow and harvest the slippery, fleshy skins that form in the fermenting tea. Wong dried the SCOBYs on different surfaces, which have imprinted the skins with various textures; the woven pattern of nets reappears throughout the installation. Once drippy and flabby, many of the skins are now rigid and brittle. Others are distinctly gruesome in the way they drip and languish on copper supports. These (net)works and Wong’s embellishments in paint highlight the artist’s interest in origins and the factors that shape how people and places relate to one another. Visually, they challenge the idea that perfection or purity in culture, or in ourselves, is possible, let alone desirable.

Wong also uncovers metaphors for human migration and experiences of living away from one’s motherland. Like other fermented foods, kombucha relies on a starter and the exclusion of other bacteria in the culture. Commonly referred to as a mother, a starter SCOBY can yield numerous batches of kombucha, producing with each fermentation additional SCOBYs for yet more batches. Echoing the complexity of cultural inheritance, access to an original SCOBY eventually becomes impossible to trace. Wong is drawn to the way these processes shed light on the settlement of people in colonized lands, especially the structures that reinforce desirability and belonging for certain cultures while actively rejecting others. a fervid surfacing bears these realities and invites viewers to consider how we are each embedded in the fermentation space and what responsibilities that truth bestows.

The RBC Emerging Artist Residency Program is generously sponsored by the RBC Foundation and the RBC Emerging Artist Project.

The artist would like to thank the Ontario Arts Council for supporting this project.

Joy Wong (she/they) is an interdisciplinary artist based in Tkaronto, with Cantonese immigrant settler ancestry. She works in painting, print media, poetry, and sculpture. Their practice focuses on the intersections of disgust and beauty, decay and decadence, and connects material investigations with the shifting physicality of a queer and racialized body. She obtained her BFA from York University with a double major in Visual Arts and Creative Writing and her MFA from Western University where she received a SSHRC grant for her research. Wong was a finalist for the 2018 RBC Canadian Painting Competition and was the 2019 Pope Artist in Residence at NSCAD.

This exhibition is supported by the RBC Foundation and the RBC Emerging Artist Project.