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

Into the woods…

Well, not quite into the woods, but as much as I possibly can in the winter without a car 🙂 Introducing my secret ingredient: oak cubes/chips! To the left are American Oak cubes and to the right are French oak chips. These are the homebrewer’s answer to achieving similar aromas to barrel-aging. I decided to use the American Oak cubes for my latest experiment. I soaked the oak cubes in Bombay Sapphire gin for 1 day to infuse some flavour as well as to sterilize the wood, then proceeded to soak the cubes in red wine (2015 Chianti to be exact) for 3 days. 

I then added the oak cubes to my Wort + Scoby and Wort + Kombucha + Scoby experiments. I’m planning to let the oak cubes do their magic for three weeks, then add priming sugar and bottle the kombucha-beers from there. The three weeks will be up next week but it will take an additional week to carbonate and then taste test time! Finally!!

Leave a Comment (4)

Joyce Lau wrote on Feb 13:

Hi Marisa,
Thanks for all your kind words :) My basic kombucha is standard black tea and sugar. You can definitely use other teas such as green and oolong for your brew, but the scoby thrives on the nitrogen found in black tea and grows most strongly with black tea. And yes, scoby is the kombucha mother. Scoby stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. The scoby can be "trained" to digest different sugars, if you introduce a little bit at a time, say use mostly sugar, but add a couple of tablespoons of honey. There's a similar drink called "jun" that is fermented green tea and honey and has a scoby that is specifically conditioned for those ingredients. But I've also read in one of Sandor Katz's books (he's a fermentation specialist) that a friend of his likes to ferment Mountain Dew with scobys :)
You can add whatever flavours that your heart desires! It is suggested to add flavours after the scoby has been removed though so that the scoby doesn't alter its properties. But, if you have many scobys to work with, you should experiment! But make sure that you have an untainted mother so that you can keep going with your regular brew. Happy brewing!

marisa wrote on Feb 11:

Hello Joyce,
I'm impressed with your inventive brewing.
As a novice kombucha nurturer
(I've made a few dozen batches over the past few years)
I've been wondering if it's possible to alter the recipe.
Have you been using the standard black tea & sugar concoction for fermenting? As an expert, do you know if it is possible to use other teas? other sweetners? (would honey make a more mead-type kombucha?)
I've added sliced ginger post-fermentation, and really like the almost-ginger ale taste. But is kombucha more versatile? Can I add other things to alter the flavor?
(I usually mix kombucha into suntea before drinking, but store it pure or with ginger to keep it from getting funky.)
You seem to be going in whole new directions,
and have really opened my eyes to the possibilities.
Very cool.

And one last question, is Scoby the kombucha mother?
Thanks so much!

Joyce Lau wrote on Feb 4:

Oh cool! I just checked it out now and it looks amazing!! I definitely love how many on-hiatus projects overlap :)

co-director (s) wrote on Feb 4:

Joyce, did you read our recent FB post about our ex-resident Ryan Ringer qualifying for some cocktail making competition? HIs drink called "Lucky 13" had some fancy Kombucha in it and I thought about you -- I'm secretly dreaming of the day that our residents collaborate on some overlapping sections of their on-hiatus projects... (; (Like Joyce Lau's Kombucha served at Ryan Ringer's Grey Tiger - why not??)