Digesting Memory is a self-exploration, focusing on my experience of an immigrant, situating my identity within a mix of cultures, involving Taiwan, the UK and Japan.
We cannot examine identity without considering memory. And when we experience memory, it is often the sensory qualities that are most notable. Since one of my most profound connections with my past is through taste, I have chosen Heilun – a Taiwanese stew – as my focal point of investigation into identity.
The project investigates both my own relationship with this dish and the historic associations attached to it. Heilun is a variation of Oden, a Japanese stew that came into Taiwanese culture when Japan colonised and occupied Taiwan from 1895 to 1945. In making this project, I interviewed my grandmother, asking about her memories of this period of occupation, the war, and the enduring influence of this occupation. This interview was then compiled together with both my grandmother’s version of the stew using Taiwanese ingredients, and my own version of the stew made from British ingredients; Britain being the Country I have now, myself, immigrated to.
The process of making Digesting Memory was an exploration to discover whether the resulting dish will be a form of “collage”, where there is a clear distinction between the two cultures, or a form of fusion, where the two sides are merged to form a new dish. The subjectivity of using taste as the indicator can be reflected on the malleable and shifting nature of memory, personal identity, and national identity.
Through considering personal and national histories through my grandmother’s memories and my own, my project presents an understanding of personal identity as constructed out of fragments, able to be assembled and reassembled.