Salt gets sprinkled on food to add flavour, and on May 31 a dash of salt will be added to art in Randy Lee Cutler’s video screening of her Salt Walks project.
Savouring knowledge: food-focused art
As both an artist and professor at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Randy Lee Cutler focuses her interests in producing works around food and food politics through the media of video, 2D art and writing. Cutler is a vegetarian and seeks to challenge conventional ideas about food in her artwork. Cutler is interested in how health products are marketed, and her attention has shifted to salt and its nutritional value.
Cutler says the Chinese were the first to harvest salt and it was also used as a form of currency for trade purposes. Cutler attempted to engage strangers on history and culture behind salt by walking around in a custom-made white outfit with test tubes full of salt. However, the response was not positive. In her second attempt, she decided to conduct Salt Walks curated by the Access Gallery.
“I use salt as a way of telling a story about food or survival,” says Cutler.
The Salt Walks are an example of a new form of art, called social practice, in which artists work with communities to create an experience and interact with the public.
Chinatown was chosen as the location for the Salt Walks since Cutler lives near the area, and it is also the location of the Access Gallery, where the walks start. Three walks were organized last year and each had a different theme: herbal medicine, food preservation and crystal structures. Each walk was limited to 12 participants and involved discussions on the history and usage of salt.
“It was fun to see how people respond to it [the walks],” says Cutler. “It was also very intimate.”
Cutler says participants included people from the Chinatown area as well as foodies who were interested in salt.
Edward Guiterrez, a local Chinatown shopkeeper, participated as a guest in Cutler’s walks. Guiterrez owns a crystal shop, and he explained the properties of crystals to participants with a show-and-tell.
“Amethyst is a quartz, and is good for minor aches and pains,” says Guiterrez. “It’s relaxing and calms the mind.”
He also introduced participants to salt lamps, which radiate energy and negative ions when heated. According to Guiterrez, salt lamps clean the air, and the clean air affects one’s mood and energy levels.
Almost a year later, Cutler has put together a video of what she calls an experimental documentary of the walks.
“It makes the project accessible to people who couldn’t attend,” says Cutler.
She considers the 21-minute video a separate piece of artwork. It can be used to encourage others to learn more about salt, Chinatown and public art projects.
“Lots of people see contemporary artists as intimidating,” she says.
Cooking with salt
Along with the video screening, there will also be another salt tasting similar to the one accompanying the salt walks.
Eric Pateman, owner of Edible Canada and Sea to Sky Seasonings, says salt should have a clean and clear flavour. He also offered some advice on cooking with salt.
“The biggest thing about cooking things in salted water (vegetables, seafood, etc.) is that you want to put a significant amount so that it tastes like sea water,” says Pateman, who is a chef by training. “The quality of the food is immensely better.”
He adds that since salt tends to dissipate during the cooking process, you should always use it as a finishing agent, and it will add a great texture and flavour profile.
“The best part is we all eat and we all have an immediate relationship with and understanding of salt,” says Cutler.
The video screening event will be approximately two hours long and will take place at Sun Yat-Sen Garden on May 31. For more information, please visit www.vancouverchinesegarden.com/events