Teaching Materials

Learning at Home | Our Distance from Nature (Pandemic Edition)

This series of home-based, creative exercises reexamines the role of art during moments of crisis in the contemporary world.

In light of class suspensions in Hong Kong during the coronavirus outbreak in spring 2020, AAA has invited local artists to design a range of educational activities for teachers to help students carry out at home. These exercises encourage teachers and students to reflect upon their experience of the virus outbreak, relevant social issues, and the purpose of art in times of emergency.

Hong Kong artist Lo Lai Lai introduces a series of home farming activities, guiding students to contemplate their eating habits and relationship with nature. 

Teachers are invited to share the process and result of students practising these exercises on Learning & Participation's Facebook group: Contemporary Art in Asia: Teachers’ Community.

Image: Our ancestral wisdom tells us that food should be eaten according to its season. In Hong Kong, beans and melons, such as the sponge gourds shown here, are seasonal in summer.
Image: Our ancestral wisdom tells us that food should be eaten according to its season. In Hong Kong, beans and melons, such as the sponge gourds shown here, are seasonal in summer.

 

1. Discussion

Opening with news coverage on the pandemic, the teacher can lead a discussion on life in Hong Kong or around the world during a pandemic. Take note of the distance between humans and nature by observing the changes in our eating habits and other daily activities. The scenes of empty shelves in supermarkets, panic buying of vegetables due to rocketing prices, and overcrowded country parks may provide food for thought.

Suggested reading:

The teacher should initiate the discussion by encouraging students to share their personal experiences and insights into their own (and society’s) relationship with land and nature throughout history and in today’s world. This could lead into topics including food self-sufficiency, natural resource crises, global warming, and green consumption.

 

2. Warm-up Exercise

Invite students to document their recent observations about daily life through words, photos, or video clips, with a focus on the following questions:

  • Do you or your family cook often? Has this changed because of the pandemic?
  • If you’re cooking at home more often these days, do you use fresh ingredients? Where do you buy them from? The fresh market, street-side stalls, supermarket, or farmers?
  • What have you been eating during the pandemic, fresh produce or frozen food? Have you noticed any price fluctuations? Any guesses why?
  • Is the land in Hong Kong suitable for farming?

Instead of expressing an explicit stance on morality, ethics, or health issues—such as favouring small vendors or local organic produce—teachers should encourage students to share their own observation and anecdotes. From there, teachers can guide them through a process of reflection on the possible social and environmental issues that arise from the ongoing crisis. 

 

3. Exercise to “Get Closer”: Home Farming

Following the initial discussion, the teacher can point out how food, politics, the economy, and the environment are closely related, and how COVID-19 invokes a sense of helplessness by exposing the deep-rooted problems beneath the surface.

We may not be able to fix all the problems in society on our own, but if we can draw ourselves closer to nature, we might be able to make a difference.

Home Farming Exercise: Observe the Growth of Plants

1. Look for fresh ingredients at home: lettuce, carrot, radish, beetroot, green onion, garlic, coriander, etc. Plant one by following the instructions below:

  • You can grow the top of a lettuce, carrot, radish, and beetroot in water. Place it on a sunlit windowsill, change the water every day, and it will begin to sprout soon. The edible sprouts can be used as salad ingredients. You can plant it in the soil when leaves and roots start to grow; alternatively, you can keep it in water.
  • Green onion: Cut the onions 3–4 cm above the roots and place them in a glass with just enough water to cover the roots. Put the glass in a well-lit room to let it grow. If you grow the bulbs in soil, be sure to leave two-to-three shoots unharvested so they can regrow.
  • Sprouted garlics: You can grow them in water and use the sprouts for cooking.

2. Document the growth of plants with at least two photos a day (preferably taken from the same angle with the same composition to produce a time-lapse video. To do so, you can set up a fixed photo spot).

3. Keep a written or audio record of their growth as well as the changes of the surroundings and your mood every two days.

Then ask yourself:

  • How did you feel during the home farming activity? Relaxed or stressed?
  • Did the plants manage to grow? Did you use them for cooking? How did they taste?
  • What else did you observe during the activity that does not have anything to do with the plants’ growth itself?

 

4. Video Production

The teacher should encourage students to document the home farming activity with words, photos, and video clips. The materials can be made into a 1- to 3-minute short film (such as a time-lapse video). 

The teacher can also suggest that participating students use their favourite songs for the soundtrack, with an emphasis on the lyrics and emotional response. Do the lyrics reflect what the students were thinking during the pandemic? Do the students identify with the thriving plants?

 

5. Films and Artworks for Reference

1. Artspiration: Interview with Lo Lai Lai Natalie (10 minutes)

In this clip, the artist discusses how her personal experiences informed her artistic practice and provided materials for art-making. She also introduces her video and written works, thus revealing her creative processes.

 

2. Extracts from Lo Lai Lai’s Works:

Rice Flowers (3 minutes)

We tend to the paddy field every year, but that does not mean it will always yield a good harvest.

Lo Lai Lai, <i>Rice Flowers</i>, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
Lo Lai Lai, Rice Flowers, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Excerpt of Weather Girl (7 minutes)

Opening with a natural phenomenon relating to daisy shrubs, the video discusses our distance from nature. The work uses images and words to express the fluidity of thoughts and time through a non-linear narrative.

Lo Lai Lai, <i>Weather Girl</i>, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.
Lo Lai Lai, Weather Girl, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Excerpt of Deep Flight (10 minutes)

Amidst a deep flight in nature, she never turns anyone down and delivers all sorts of things over the years—including desire.

Lo Lai Lai, <i>Deep Flight</i>, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.
Lo Lai Lai, Deep Flight, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

 

6. Notes to Teachers: From the Personal to the Universal

Some say climate change is the root of all social problems. 

The teacher should introduce this notion to the discussion with students, citing examples such as the plight of Indian farmers, food crises, wealth gap, and land shortage, all of which can be traced to the discord between human society and nature.

The home farming exercise demonstrates how personal choice and action can be part of social participation. However, for their actions to be genuine, students should first establish an amicable relationship with nature.

These supplementary questions place the lesson within the context of Hong Kong, so students can discuss issues that are closer to home. Students may already know the essential elements for plant growth, but teachers can take it one step further and guide them down a discussion of our daily life and the shortage of land in Hong Kong.

Water – What are hydroponic vegetables? As a farmer, what would you do under Typhoon Signal No. 8?

Sun – Do all plants love sunlight? How does photosynthesis benefit the earth?

Air – Can plants purify the air? Does humidity affect pest outbreak?

Temperature – What does it mean for vegetables to be “in season”? Is Hong Kong a suitable place for year-round farming?

Soil – Can you name the nutrients in soil? What is “soil restoration”? Does Hong Kong have sufficient land supply?

 

Video Reference: I Feed You & You Feed Me, 2015

Hong Kong’s first agriculture-themed animation film jointly produced by Glocal Care, Our Food From Our Soil, and HK Potato.

Image: Mapopo Community Farm was founded in the summer of 2010, with a focus on sustainable farming, farmers’ markets, and guided tours. In early February, Mapopo’s farmers’ market was packed with visitors; locally-grown vegetables were in high demand, and local farming was the talk of the town. What makes locally-grown vegetables a better choice?
Image: Mapopo Community Farm was founded in the summer of 2010, with a focus on sustainable farming, farmers’ markets, and guided tours. In early February, Mapopo’s farmers’ market was packed with visitors; locally-grown vegetables were in high demand, and local farming was the talk of the town. What makes locally-grown vegetables a better choice?

 

About the Artist

Lo Lai Lai Natalie is a former travel journalist with a focus on art that concerns the environment. She is a student at the collective organic farm Sangwoodgoon in Hong Kong where she explores the lifestyle of “half-farming, half-X,” a mode of living that has allowed her to question the meaning of alternative lifestyles, and her identity and independence as an artist and Hong Konger. Lai Lai founded the Slow-so TV channel, which studies food, farming, fermentation, slow-driving, surveillance, and meditation. Her artworks are mainly moving images, photography, mixed media, and installation.

 

Publishing date: 5 May 2020

 

The AAA Learning and Participation Programme is supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited.