Yes We Can    

FAIRBANKS-DELTA JCT.-ANCHORAGE, AK                                              << back


A Work-in-Progress Collaborative Installation

Since fall 2011 Sveta Yamin-Pasternak and I have been working on an ethnographic study with the recent immigrants from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, who now live near the Delta Junction area in interior Alaska.  The winter and summer temperature differences in the Delta region are among the greatest in the state, ranging on average from 60F below zero to 90F above.  The settlement pattern of our study population is characterized by clusters of extended kin, living in large nuclear family households, each 2-3 acres of land in the boreal forest, partially cleared to cultivate vegetable gardens and raise livestock.  What attracts the settlers coming from temperate agricultural regions of the former Soviet Union to this subarctic environment?  To ponder this question we have been listening closely to the life stories of our fellow expatriates while employing the ethnographic method of participant observation.  The main research focus is on the everyday aesthetics of their lived environment. 

Time and again during our fieldwork, while giving a tour of their homes (built or in the process of being built by the inhabitants), our hosts offered to show their root cellars or basements. Upon entering these subterranean spaces we immediately felt besotted by the teeming kaleidoscope of jars, preserving the yield from the most recent season of gardening, foraging, hunting, and fishing.  A masterwork of color and form, the jars embody numerous niches of expertise in culinary and ecological fields, and are a monument to the family’s cooperation and labor.  The contrast between the public quarters of the house, made with generic prefabricated décor and standard construction materials, and the immaculate custom crafted reserves in the underground vaults worked only to accentuate the beauty of these hidden treasures.   The combination of a long Alaskan winter and the need to nourish a large family, sharing the value for eating foods that is locally harvested or homegrown, creates demand for an especially copious supply. 

We recently began working toward a collaborative exhibit centered on the food preservation practices of our Delta hosts.  Our installation proposal to the International Gallery of Contemporary Art in Anchorage, Alaska, has been approved and the show is scheduled to open October 3, 2014.  We are grateful to our Delta collaborators for their generosity and enthusiasm and to the National Science Foundation Program of Arctic Social Sciences for supporting our research.

 

 

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