A Cooking Lesson of Making Steam Hot Crossbuns

Two channel HD video. 10'02''

Images: videostills of Steam Hot Crossbuns. 2016.

In the home cooking lesson of the hot cross bun, Australian culture is suggested, by the backyard image of the Twelve Apostles, as the main culture outside of the backyard. The Twelve Apostles is known as a famous tourist site in Victoria, Australia. Conventionally, the backdrop creates a visual illusion of another place, and in the context of the cooking lesson it might suggest a better, more suitable and appropriate environment than the actual site. It implies which culture the presented dish ‘authentically’ belongs to. Through cooking, this culture is desired, approached and touched.

However, this imagined Australian culture is subverted in the depicted teaching activity of cooking Chinese hot cross buns. The activity of cooking Chinese hot cross buns echoes the negating activity that Bhabha analyses in introducing the idea of the unhomeliness. By cooking hot cross buns, my father declares that he is not only here–the backyard/Australia, but also be somewhere else and for something else–the public space/China. He, as a recalcitrant character, shows his recognition of the main culture and demands a reciprocal recognition of his existence from the main culture. Such negation 

‘captures something of estranging sense of the relocation of the home and the world – the unhomeliness – that is the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiations.’[1]

In the video, my father is not only talking to the camera, but also to his imagined future audiences. By carrying out this lesson, he brings a sense of world into home and gives the future world an aspect of a home.

At borderline place of the backyard, the cultural displacement entails the dislocation of home and the world. Various cultural elements are repeatedly challenged, broken and rebuilt in the socio-political freedom that is offered at the backyard. Meanwhile, the private views and acts seep out from the backyard and affect public life and the formation of culture. If this featured event posits the liminal social position of the backyard and highlights its capacity of articulating the condition of ‘extra-territory’, the wide camera frame suggests another middle place between the actual location and the imagined site: the backyard that is partially hidden behind the backdrop. In a wide frame, the video montages the images of two locations, the backyard and the Twelve Apostles. Although the cooking event takes place in front of the backdrop, conceptually it is positioned in between these two locations.

In addition, the fragmented view of the backyard reveals so little information about the place that it can be read as a ‘non-place’. The lack of characters and history in the presentation of the backyard evokes a discontinuity of the past and emphases the happening in situ. Although my father shows his accumulated knowledge and skills of cooking in the instructions, his past self remains mysterious and unreadable in the introduction of the invented food. The interrupted tradition is continuously shown in the scene of the kitchen. The mix of cultural elements captured in the video–the Chinese furniture, a jar of jam, Vegemite, Chinese tea set and Chinese hot cross buns, intervene the depiction and presentation of a tradition. The history of individual items is faintly referred to and used for the random domestic activities. Bhabha argues that the domestic life is adjusted and understood in an in-between temporality through which the division between the opposed spheres of life is questioned by the hybridity and a different ‘within’.[2] In this case, the dialogue in-between the past and the present takes place on a personal and domestic side.

1,  Bhabha, The Location of Culture , 13.

2,  Bhabha, The Location of Culture , 14.

Images: The installation view of Steam Hot Crossbuns at the VCA Master graduation exhibition 2017. Photography by Janelle Low.

Using Format