Goji Berry Teahouse

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • Can the goji 枸杞, a Chinese heritage plant, co-exist in the community ecology of Edmonton?
    This question was first raised when I gathered goji branches at Grandma Lau’s house to memorialize Edmonton’s abandoned Chinatown Harbin Gate in 2019 before the start of my MFA studies. During the next years of research creation, I mapped local wild gojis—straggly at the edges of asphalt and gravel beds near Hotel Macdonald, flourishing in the River Valley, cultivated in neighbour’s yards. Wherever they grow they are easily identifiable for their red raindrop-shaped berries and drooping boughs. I sought out Chinese elders to listen to their stories of immigration to Canada, and how the goji plant migrated along with them or with their own elders from as early as the 1890s. The enduring importance of the plant to a sense of self
    and community prompted me to propagate and share the plant in an urban goji-berry adoption program in 2021, to expand and build that community through this health-giving plant (often consumed in tea), and to reflect more broadly on the place of the goji in the city. Trans-species
    engagement through composting, book publication, educational workshops on local sustainability with knowledge keepers and herbalists, sociologists and scientists, as well as more interviews and community engagement followed. All have a place in my MFA thesis
    exhibition Goji Berry Teahouse at Fort Edmonton Park.
    The themes of my MFA Intermedia Thesis exhibition, then, have to do with home. What is home? A home is something that is constantly changing. It’s not a house. It’s more abstract. It’s a feeling, a sense of belonging, comfort, security, and it always involves others. For most immigrants like me, home could be a fragmented idea because home is not a permanent place, it’s on the move. The most difficult part of finding home has to do with political-historical settlercolonialism, when a group is not being treated fairly.
    In the main room of Goji Berry Teahouse, large-scale photographs of the people I interviewed line the walls chronologically to follow the path of the project, creating a visual context for it. A video entitled “The Living History of Goji in Edmonton” gave voice to the figures in the photographs, as did the audio recordings in Cantonese echoing from teapots. In one, Chinese elder Grandma Lau shares the story that when she immigrated from Hong Kong to Edmonton in 1972, she arrived with a cutting stuffed in her coat pocket. The other is by a Chinese elder about the goji in the Shaw Conference Centre area, which used to be a weekend destination in the 70s for Chinatown residents to pick gojis, eat food at local restaurants, and socialize. He talks about Chinatown now, and the challenges it faces as it, too, moves and morphs.

    My multimedia installation entitled China Room was in a side room which houses Fort Edmonton's collection of colonial Chinaware. A large-scale worm composting video is projected on the ceiling of the China room, in which the visitors cannot avoid eye contact of the lowly creatures. As part
    of my MFA research, I have been investigating everyday domestic consumption, trying to transform waste into new materials/energy for the goji plant through collaborating with red wiggler composting worms who are active waste-to-energy-producers.These incomparable builders constantly turn and aerate the soil to produce rich compost (new soil). I see making soil with the humble worms as a form of activism to restore biodiversity. I am
    fascinated with worm composting with red wigglers (another migrant from Europe) and created two compost lamp installations for the exhibition. One compost lamp is installed in the porcelain room that embodies Edmonton’s settler colonial history; it composts that history.
    As a researcher committed to participatory art, I hosted weekly tea conversation at Reeds’, where guests have been invited to reflect on their own idea of “home”, in this time of mass migration. They are casual conversations with participants while we drink tea that I prepare from local goji berries and pure tea leaves that my family brought from China, when I immigrated to Edmonton 16 years ago. A daily activity of planting goji seeds with the guests and the goji adoption program continues during the exhibition. Collaboration with Fort Edmonton Park has been very exciting as I brought in goji shrubs from my goji adoption program as the first element of the new Chinese Garden on-site, in which their Asian History Interpreters share the history of goji berries, referencing my research. The collaboration ensures physical space and representation of Asian cultures in Edmonton’s history: a political act to raise awareness of the Chinese Canadian Community who have faced discrimination and displacement since their first arrival in Canada.
    In conclusion, local goji co-exists in the community ecology of Edmonton. As a hardy perennial who migrated to Canada a century ago, local goji lives side-by-side with our Indigenous species in the River Valley and “reborn” every year to serve our local ecosystem of humans and wildlife. There is
    no place in Canada that grows naturalised wild gojis as well as Edmonton.

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  • Type of Item
    Research Material
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  • License
    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International