by Alison Shea
Of all current Van Eyck participants Rain Wu is the one who has arrived most recently. Her residency at the academy began in January 2018. In January the Van Eyck also introduced its ‘Food-Lab’. This new lab enables one artist at a time to actively explore the meaning and relations of food. The first cook-artist-participant running this lab is Rain.
Rain is a Taiwanese, London-based architect and artist. Having graduated from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Architecture in 2013, her work takes a multidisciplinary approach. She, for example, uses food as a tool to explore narrative concepts and sensory perceptions. At the Van Eyck, the kitchen and café-restaurant function as the basis of the Food Lab. This is therefore the place where Rain can be found most often, serving and talking about food to staff members, participants, and guests. However, when I meet Rain to talk about her background, residency, and ambitions, she invites Federico and me to her studio. As all the other participants of the Van Eyck, Rain has a studio of her own. Participants use their studio to write proposals, work on their project and to investigate.
In Rain‘s studio there are sketches and paintings on the walls, tin cans with planted seeds on the window sill, and preparations for an installation on the floor. The completed installation will be shown during the upcoming ‘Open Studios’ event on the 8th, 9th and 10th of March, where everyone is invited to visit all studios, exhibition spaces, Labs, gardens, and other locations in and outside the academy building. In Rain’s studio we will see an edible installation entirely made from bread. This installation will present bread not only in the meaning of taste and flavors, but also in its embedded cultural meaning. Rain points out that bread is the oldest food invented and that it consists of the most basic ingredients. She finds the cultural importance particularly interesting because bread is the first kind of prepared food. This is due to our teeths and stomachs incapability to digest grains in their original form. Rain has experience working with food as art. Therefore, she considers it important to manage the expectations of viewers on how what they are experiencing is an art work. Only then do people not perceive it as if they were in a restaurant, but instead look at the work from different angles; finding different meanings and trying to figure out what the artist wants to say with it.
The Food Lab covers two areas: firstly, the functional serving of food as a café, and secondly, its more artistic and experimental side of using food as a medium and the kitchen as a workshop. For the first part Rain works in collaboration with the chef Marente van der Valk and is supported by the Van Eyck participant Alex Phillips. Marente has set up a day-to-day lunch system where there are always sandwiches, a salad, and soup, and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday even warm meals. The kitchen works with sustainable food that has been locally sourced, as well as with seasonal supplies. Since Rain is the cook-artist-participant she can use the facility of the kitchen as a workshop space, which reflects the experimental function of the Food Lab. While the functional serving of lunches can also be creative, the lab side is more experimental, and esthetically and narratively driven. With Rain’s background in architecture, her studio work tends to be spacial. Nevertheless, what is important in her art practice is creating an experience, which can be done both through architecture and through food.
Rain got interested in the Van Eyck’s new Food Lab participant position because of some of the previous food designs she has worked on. For example, she co-curated ‘Eataipei’, an experimental tasting menu of five dishes at the 2015 London Design Festival. Wanting to tell the story of Taipei through food, she decided to translate the city into five dishes according to its cultural history, its geography and landscape, its people, its lifestyle, and finally Taipei’s future. Over the course of five dishes people experienced a multi-sensational sense of Taipei. Rain lived in Tainan, Taiwan until the age of fifteen, and then moved to the UK. Having grown up in a region often called “the place where the best Taiwanese food is from”, food has always played a special role in Rain’s life. So, even though British ‘Bread & Butter Pudding’ is one of her favorite dishes, she especially loves Taiwanese dishes such as ‘Three Cup Chicken’.
When asked about her impression of the Van Eyck, Rain respondes what she likes most was: “This friendly and supporting environment in which things seem to almost be set up to make the participants’ lives as easy as possible so that we can all focus on our work”. Rain points out that she also gets a lot of input from lectures and events, as well as from weekly presentations and dinners. Coming from London where it can be such a fight for artists to make enough income to be able to support the studio, Rain appreciates the many aspects that make the Van Eyck a nice environment for artists to produce work. The fact that her commute from home to work is now all of a sudden only a seven minute walk definitely adds to this.
Pictures by Federico Castoldi
For further information about Rain’s work: www.rainwu.net
For further information about the Van Eyck and the Open Studios: www.janvaneyck.nl