IN TOUCH - A Bite That Takes Me Home

Yixuan Zhu's IN TOUCH Arts Commission work A Bite That Takes Me Home is a playful exploration of the role food plays in Chinese culture. The work celebrates Chinese customs and art forms and is presented in the format of a traditional scroll on which calligraphy is written. In this article we talk to Yixuan about the work and the important role food can play in reaching across cultures and connecting people.

Can you describe A Bite That Takes Me Home?

‘A Bite That Takes Me Home’ is a motion piece that showcases Chinese food culture, and the traditions we preserve through festival celebrations.

The tone of the work is made to be unique and lively with a consistent colour palette of saturated reds, bright blue, dark green, golden yellow, and cyan. Inspired by kaleidoscopes it’s composed of various semiotics from ancient Chinese folk art, such as paper cutting, embroidery, woodcarving, ink painting, etc.

Can you explain the importance of food in Chinese culture?

Food is the most important topic for an agricultural country like China and food practices are strongly associated with the seasons. For example, sacred ancestor worshipping in spring, the rice dumplings wrapped with lotus leaves in summer, the mooncakes and family folk tales in autumn, and the endless feast and new year’s fireworks in winter. 

Food is a medium for people to learn about nature, memorialise the deceased, and connect with the whole community.

Can you describe why the festivals and food depicted in the work are important/significant to you personally?

The illustrations are rooted in those childhood memories back in my hometown. Each window, each roof, and even door handles are created by hand and heart.

The hand-drawn texture can add warmth to the objects, which is also aligned with the values of Chinese craftsmanship and imperfection in nature. Finally, I animated all the scenes to turn the still images into a lively flowing story.

A portrait photo of artist Yixuan Zhu

Yixuan: "Food is a medium for people to learn about nature, memorialise the deceased, and connect with the whole community."

Why do you think food and art can reach across cultures and connect people?

Being an Asian living in New Zealand, I noticed how much people are willing to try dishes from other cultures.

The various way of cooking seems like physical differences, but behind these practices are the climate, natural resources, religions, and even superstitious beliefs which help us to learn more about various cultures and people.

Also, the second or third-generation Asian immigrants who grew up here may find that they lost that environment of family culture and end up experiencing an identity crisis. Therefore, I want to encourage them to reunite with their home culture, by showcasing my experiences through illustration and bringing the inside story out.

How do you hope people will react/respond to the work?

hope everyone can get cheered by the joyful vibe from it and be proud of their home culture. To be curious about what kinds of food I’ve included in the video and start to search for them and try them out, I’d find that really rewarding.

About YiXuan Zhu

Yixuan is a digital illustrator and motion designer based in Auckland. She worked as a TV director of children's programmes in China before moving to New Zealand in 2016. Yixuan finished her graduate diploma in creative technology at Media Design School in 2021.