Si Jie Loo’s wall installation, Privilege of Taste, consists of ceramic cups and sourced coffee powders that sit on two contrasting shelves. Through her work, she visualizes the complicated relationship...
Si Jie Loo’s wall installation, Privilege of Taste, consists of ceramic cups and sourced coffee powders that sit on two contrasting shelves. Through her work, she visualizes the complicated relationship between choice and the illusion or lack of choice and points to the unbalanced power between labor and consumption in our society. The Malaysian coffee that Loo grew up drinking is sweet tasting and light brown. It is made from a lower grade coffee powder mixed with hot water and condensed milk. There was no comparison between tasting the powdery coffee like residue and the “fair trade” coffee, grown in exotic African countries, served by gourmet coffee shops in developed economies. During colonial times, the British took the best quality coffee for exporting. The remnant of imperial power embodied in today’s global economy continues to enable the sale of higher-end Arabica coffee so that it can be enjoyed in the UK and other powerful and developed markets. Similarly, Malaysia exports higher-grade oil and gas and imports a lower grade from abroad for local use. The majority of people in her father’s village earned their living by rubber tapping - a process that involves collecting latex from a rubber tree. When Loo was a child, her grandparents and neighbors were asleep by 8pm and were up for work at 2 am so that they could collect rubber milk for processing. Although developing nations like Malaysia are known for supplying some of the best natural resources to the developed markets, the lives of the vast majority of laborers are nowhere close to the luxurious lifestyle of the people who benefit from their labor. Today, Loo is an artist living in the western world producing what is considered to be a luxury good. While making art is laborious and sometimes soul-baring, consuming art usually takes place in a clean, pristine, and often sterile white box by a privileged minority of wealthy clients. To Loo, how we taste coffee serves as a metaphor for the profound difference between the elitist contemporary art connoisseurship and the cultural producers who supply it.
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