Yes We Can

  Yes We Can is an artist-led collaboration that explores home pickling from an aesthetic perspective. The show developed in the course of an ongoing ethnographic study that focuses on the history and culture of settlers from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus living around Delta Junction, Alaska. Residents of this emerging community usually refer to themselves as “Delta Russians.” Experienced agriculturalists from rural areas and temperate climates, they swiftly learn about cultivating vegetables in northern latitudes. They make vast winter reserves of their foraging and farming products.
  During our field research we found ourselves becoming more and more enthused by the fulfillment that Delta Russians draw from various food production activities. Many of our visits involved descending into a home’s storage space – a cellar or a basement – from which our hosts would select a jar or two to open for the upcoming meal. Upon entering these subterranean spaces we were immediately besotted by the teeming kaleidoscope of jars. Otherwise always fast-paced and working, coming face-to-face with the jars our Delta Russian hosts tend to pause, displaying a visible awe of the beauty they created. During such contemplative moments, their facial expressions resemble those of a roused gallery visitor. With Yes We Can, we strive to extend this experience to the public. This body of work is testimony to the laborious process behind these jars, valued by their makers for their aesthetic qualities and utility. The show incorporates all formal elements of art while celebrating the commonplace processes of growing, harvesting, and preserving food. It raises the fundamental questions of where we find beauty and what is art.
  Valentina Kilimnik, originally from the Vinnitsa region in Ukraine, is our primary community collaborator. Her aesthetic decisions, coordination of efforts by other Delta Russian contributors, and many hours of canning resulted in the jars displayed in this show. Woodwork artisan Ryan Tinsley, of Fairbanks, led the construction of the shelves for the installation. Research in Delta Junction is supported through an award from the National Science Foundation Arctic Social Sciences Program. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Northern Engineering facilitates the administrative support for our work.