It all starts with the soil. This is a refrain you hear from farmers, chefs, food activists and environmentalists. The premise is elementary: without good soil, you can’t grow good food. I’ve been spending some time exploring this issue by researching how to start my own farm someday.
It’s a dream of mine to have a place in the countryside that has a working organic farm with my own true farm-to-table restaurant. Phalanxes of jars containing ferments and pickles would line my kitchen shelves and the garden, and we would make our own soy sauce and fermented soybean pastes and grind our own dried chilli peppers. There would be huge tables where people can gather around inside and outside.
And in my dreams, there would even be room for a small ceramics studio where I can continue to make my little lopsided pots. Depending on the land, maybe there would even be rooms for people to stay, let’s see.
Last week, I was in Guangzhou, China, and I came across a special place that has inspired me to keep working on this little fantasy of mine. It can exist! And in Guangzhou of all places! This piece of inspiration is actually an art space outside of Guangzhou called the Mirrored Gardens, a project of renowned Vitamin Creative Space.
The Mirrored Gardens is a space built to combine the practices of contemporary art, everyday life and farm life. What does that even mean? Imagine an art space that’s situated in the countryside, features their own organic garden, and a beautiful kitchen that opens out onto the garden. They have shelves of fermenting pickles and baskets sitting in the sun to dry various herbs and flowers like osmanthus, all from their garden. I had never seen an art space like this before. My friends joked whether they should just leave me there. I wish they had.
The exhibit that they had on when we went was by Tarek Atoui, who recently showed at Tate Modern. A sound artist, his exhibit was called “The Ground” and took inspiration from the soil of the Pearl River Delta. His pieces created music from the traditional bricks of the walls, record players were constructed from stones, sticks and feathers collected on the grounds of the Mirrored Gardens. And the wonderful thing was that the records were made of clay by a local ceramics master.
Obviously, we had to go see the studio of this ceramics master. We drove deeper into the Panyu countryside to visit his studio, which actually was a collection of small studios and showrooms on a piece of land that also had their own organic garden.
No one told me that Guangzhou was heaven.
I wandered the master’s studio, peeking at his bisque-fired pieces ready to be glazed. In a special building reserved for tea ceremonies, dozens of his teapots lined the windowsills. His clay is of course from local soil.
From this studio, we went back to Guangzhou city to see another ceramics exhibition at 103store. This bijou space shows artisan exhibitions as well as holds crafts workshops. Right now, they were showing the work of young Hong Kong ceramicists Toki Nashiki, whose work I love love love.
103Store is hidden inside a charming residential enclave. My friend Josh told us that these days, these types of gated communities are increasingly popular places for young spaces like 103Store or the newest Nordic-style coffee shop. I would love to spend more time exploring these enclaves around Guangzhou. They seem to retain the old character of Guangzhou before shopping centres and grand, hectic boulevards took over.
It was really a perfect day, where I really felt like we got to experience the soul and soil of the area. From the Mirrored Gardens to Tarek Atoui to ceramics artists, both old and young, it all started and ended with soil. And I’ve come away with so much inspiration for the year to come. What a wonderful way to end 2017.
Happy holidays everyone!