Joyce Lau, Canada

Residency Period: 1 November 2016 - 30 April 2017


Joyce Lau is an artist from Toronto, Canada. She received her BFA in photography, and primarily works with paper, photography and installation. Her art practice revolves around questions about culture, history, identity, and perceived ideas. The diversity and inquisitive nature of Lau’s work is a reflection of her living and working experiences. After traveling to England and working in Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy in London, Lau spent a year in New York City, where she balanced time between work in the studio of the Starn Twins and in a Manhattan nightclub. For three months, Lau lived with 15 artists at Flux Factory (a non-profit art space then in Williamsburg, Brooklyn). In Toronto, Lau has worked as the exhibition co-ordinator for Ryerson Gallery, a gallery assistant at the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, and was involved in a featured installation for Nuit Blanche 2007. She is currently the Treasurer on the Board of Directors at A Space Gallery, an artist run centre in Toronto. In 2009, she was commissioned to make 3 pieces for a show concerning genocide by The International Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies. In 2011, Lau was invited to The Hague, The Netherlands as an artist-in-residence. She completed a residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point in March 2015. Lau has received multiple grants from the Ontario Arts Council, and has exhibited in Canada, the USA, and Europe.

On-hiatus Proposal Summary

For years, Joyce worked at many part-time jobs to make time for her art practice, without a thorough consideration of a path that would lead to a career. Feeling she is no longer a spring chicken, thoughts and concerns for the future have become a real and persistent influence in her motivation.

Working in bars and slinging beers has been one such job she has enjoyed, embracing the fact that she could make a lot of money in a short amount of time, allowing a flexible schedule while not confined to a monotonous daily trudge. As she entered into a new era of her life, she has become more drawn to the creation and the science surrounding the delicate details of the actual product that she has been serving for years. She has since studied craft beer and completed several programmes that have resulted in certificates as beer sommelier. She has expanded this interest into kombucha and has begun working as a brewer at a local kombucha brewery.

During her residency at RFAOH, she will further explore and document fermentation and brewing microbiology through experimentations in home brewing kombucha and beer, to better understand the nuanced effects different bacteria and yeast strains have on the final product. She plans to re-enter the arena of home brewing beer with renewed vigor, using comprehensive research, detailed monitoring and record keeping during the brewing process, to evaluate what works and what could be a problematic area.

As Joyce’s art practice has slowed under the demands of work and life in recent years, she has faced sense of immense guilt and self-doubt. Her artworks are very time consuming, and she often feels rushed, or unable to begin larger pieces for fear it would be left dangling unfinished for an extended period of time. She hopes the time involved in fermentation will teach her to slow down in life and re-learn to appreciate the beauty in the process itself, to allow her to think, consider new options, problem solve and use her hands, all leading to a wonderful end result. In addition, she feels that becoming more knowledgeable about and experienced in brewing and microbiology will be beneficial to her work career and hopefully lead to a promising future where she can afford to work less, and have more time to focus on her artistic practice.

Final Report

Prior to my residency, I had questions and ideas about certain brewing experiments, but never made the time to pursue those projects. I let work get in the way. I let my fear of failure get in the way. I also felt that any free time I had should be spent on making art. This residency allowed me to feel less pressure about creating art, freeing my mind from a build-up of guilt and anxiety, and helped me realize that it is okay to take a break. Take a breath. However, unfortunately, I feel that I thrive on anxiety. Haha. And, not Haha.

I feel proud of myself for investing the time and energy to learn increasingly more about brewing ingredients, procedures, equipment, etc. And not just learn, but actually getting my hands dirty and then opening my mind to another world of possibilities with every new experiment and every new discovery. I am ecstatic about my upcoming course and can't wait to dig even deeper into all the things that I just started to unravel. In particular, I am super stoked to be able to use lab equipment to see what is happening on a microscopic level. In the perfect world, I would have unlimited resources and have all this fancy equipment at home, AND I would have an ocean of time to spend making leaps forward as well as far too many mistakes --and making those mistakes would be absolutely a-ok.

This residency got me thinking about school, work, and the art world. When something piques my interest, I give it my all, but I then let self-doubt and my shyness take command of my actions. I look at those who are considered successful and it is often those who like being in the spotlight or are excellent speakers. Poor public speakers are viewed as less intelligent only because their delivery isn't as potent. When I used to show more frequently, I loved the power that I felt in creating a space of ideas and fresh perspectives, but I dreaded the opening reception. Can introversion and success be compatible allies? In an odd example, let me bring up Survivor (yes, that reality show -- I LOOOOVE it). There was a season where the theme was "Brawn. Brains. Beauty" which placed contestants into those categories and used it as a social experiment to see which "type" would prevail. All I could think of was how introverts would never be represented to show their stuff, because they would never apply. School can teach you some art techniques and some business paperwork knowhow, but school does not teach you how to schmooze or how to make the right decisions. I sometimes regret art decisions that I've made in the past... and I wonder what would have come if I stayed on a different path...

In my proposal, I stated that I wanted to learn to slow down, but I haven't been entirely successful in that regard. I am still working on practicing and allotting time for methods of self-care... but one step forward is that I have chosen to surround myself with people who believe in me. Nothing comes without sacrifice, and I want to believe in the archaic idea that hard work pays off (I'm vehemently trying to ignore and refute the notion that it is a naive belief) because I pride myself on my work ethic. Slowly, I am reaching towards what my soul actually needs.

I have enrolled in a Brewing Microbiology course at Oregon State University, and will be travelling there in June. This program will teach me lab practices and give me hands-on experience with various standard QA/QC procedures. I am entertaining entering into that field. I enjoy the tactile qualities of brewing, but my old bones are telling me to give them a break.

Art-wise, I have a giant wood panel sitting in my studio that is screaming at me. I plan to step away from my previous techniques and let myself just have a go at it with whatever feels right. Thematically, I definitely want to utilize my brewing background. My RFAOH project allowed me to make science my art. Now, I want to further blend art and science together in atomic harmony.

It was a wonderful experience participating in RFAOH -- what a lovely and supportive community! Thank-you to everyone for sharing your thoughts, adventures, and creativity :)




recent comments

Drumroll please…

At long last, let’s drink some beers — err…or… kombucha beers!

The first glass on the left is a souvenir from Beaverton Brewery in London, England. They make some really great beers and the owner is the son of Robert Plant! In that glass is my final product from combining Wort + Kombucha + Ale yeast (approx 3:1 ratio of wort:sour kombucha). This one tastes very hoppy with long lingering bitterness. The citra hop is known for its tropical fruit and citrus aromas, especially grapefruit, melon, lime, and passion fruit. Definitely one of my favourite hops. Though the earthiness is nice, the bitterness could be a more subtle. Note to reduce early boil hops in future brew. There is good balance between sweetness from the wort and sugar with the tartness and funk of the kombucha. Upon further tasting, lovely grassy notes also pop up. My friends who like hoppy beers really dig this one. Wonderful bright beer-kombucha.

The glass on the right is from Muskoka Brewery. My friend who owns a bar gave me six of these! I created this concoction from Wort + Ale yeast fermented for one week, then blended with fresh kombucha (tart, but not overly sour) for a 3 week secondary fermentation. Wort to kombucha ratio of approx 1:1 (to be exact, it would be 13:10). This brew is very, very dry, and surprisingly not that sour, nor that hoppy. Since this is close to a 50/50 blend of wort + kombucha, stronger characteristic were tamed, and tartness was also milder as fresher kombucha was used in this brew. I noticed that there was strong yeast activity when the kombucha was introduced for secondary fermentation. This blend tastes like a dry white wine with a touch of dry cider. I would like to try to make this kombucha-beer again with saison yeast. Saison yeast brings out some spicy and lemony characteristics and would work nicely with the kombucha.

The glass in the centre is from Bellwoods Brewery. I love their beers! This glass holds my Kombucha + Ale yeast brew. I wanted to elevate my kombucha to an adult drink, so I figure I should give it an adult glass. Ha. Everything also tastes better in a stem glass. This one is the most sour of the three. It’s generally an alcoholic version of kombucha. It tastes like a sour white wine, with a dose of lemony apple cider, and some funky notes. My boyfriend raved about this one, saying that I could get rich with this brew by reaching out to celiacs and health practitioners alike with an alcoholic kombucha. Hmmm… maybe?


I still have yet to mention my Wort + Scoby and Wort + Kombucha + Scoby experiments. I sampled both brews, and though they were both very sour from the scoby, they just didn’t taste finished. The scoby’s yeast and bacteria is meant to digest and work with more simple sugars rather than the complex sugars found in wort. Even though both brews don’t need to be any more sour, I want to age them both a bit longer. So, I removed the scobys and closed up the fermentation vessels. I also feel they need something else as well to make them more interesting. I just picked up the ingredients on Friday — hush hush, it’s a secret until my next entry 😉

Leave a Comment (5)

Wayne Lim wrote on Jan 21:

I just had my first kombucha two weeks ago! And it was really nice; taste sweet but actually not thaaaat sweet, rather nectarous I remember!

Joyce Lau wrote on Jan 18:

It’s been fun experimenting! Wish I had a microscope to see what’s happening inside the liquid. I’m getting super dorky thinking about the microbiology involved in fermentation ?

Lee Churchill wrote on Jan 16:

Hmm, cool. I don't like beer. But I do like kombucha, so I wonder would I like these? :-) It seems very exciting.

co-director (s) wrote on Jan 16:

Yay! Congratulations on your first tasting session!! Sounds amazing and this makes me feel like a total ignorant but I'll be honest, I really had no idea what that strange name thing, Kambucha? that people seem to be talking about in the world was --until you came on board! (I still really don't until I taste it) Nor Robert Plant's son runs a brewery. I do agree, with your BF, even without tasting the one, that you could get rich! This whole process and endeavour feels so worth that. (then support artists on hiatus ^^)

co-director (m) wrote on Jan 16:

I'd like to try all these! The look so delicious!
Learning so much from your posts Joyce. Thanks.