Chicken Rice in the Border


Installation with drawings, artist book, handmade ceramic plates, single-channel video, photographs and food.


The sense of taste is one almost universally associated with pleasure and worldly indulgence. It is thus easy to forget that taste is also a highly cultivated and culturally contingent sense. With relentless migration over generations, cultures evolve, and with it, our foods and tastes develop and are cultivated afresh, slowly but surely. Indeed, food and taste have as much a colourful and integral relationship with history, heritage and identity, as language and ethnicity do. 

In this work, Bùi Công Khánh investigates the provenance of Hội An Chicken Rice, originally brought to Hội An by Chinese immigrants as Hainanese Chicken Rice, before adaptation and assimilation into Vietnamese food culture resulted in a uniquely local dish. Khánh – whose family comes from Hội An, the province with the largest Chinese community in Vietnam – documents and illustrates the evolution of this singular dish with an interactive installation, which includes an actual food-tasting component at the Food for Thought café.* 

The artist chose the title phrase “in the border” because for him, the border is an active site – a place where multiple tensions and expressions co-exist and mingle, and generate new meanings – and his hometown of Hội An can be considered such a place. By exploring a much beloved dish whose variations can taste at once familiar and foreign, Khánh engages with the cultural and historical memory, as well as the legacy, that resides deep within our taste buds and tongue. 

Text by curator Rachel Ng, Sensorium 360° exhibition, Singapore Art Museum, 2014. 

* Food For Thought is located at SAM at 8Q. A rendition of Hoi An Chicken Rice was on the menu throughout the duration of the Sensorium 360° exhibition.