I recently came a cross Chinese artist Ying Xu and her series Swiss Icon. I absolutely love this series, both from an artistic point of view, and because it’s such a great idea to get people from different cultures closer together. Not to mention that I fell in love with China when my husband and I traveled through vast areas of the country a few years ago. Whenever I meet foreigners living in Switzerland, I’m most curious about the food they grew up with and what they think of Swiss food. Ying has agreed to an interview with Little Zurich Kitchen, and here it is! – Thank you so much Ying!
Ying, tell us about yourself
Hi, my name is Ying Xu, I was born in Shanghai and grew up in Beijing, China. Currently I am living in Schaffhausen, Switzerland with my family. I was an art teacher in China for 12 years, and now I work as a freelance artist (painter) while taking care of my two lovely kids.
You’re the creator of the series Swiss Icon which is gaining popularity both in Switzerland and China. What is it about and why did you create it?
“Swiss Icon” is my major painting project these years about the culturally representative items that come from Switzerland, about which usually people say: typical Swiss, combined with linguistic interpretation in another culture. Well, I started the Swiss Icon series few years ago, I would say it’s a very organic project which is growing along my life. At the beginning, I spent most of my time for my other series, and Swiss Icon is like an art diary, as a mixed-culture family my life is surrounded by all the interesting discussions with my family and my friends, about the difference of languages, culture and mentality… Meanwhile, like every newcomer who comes to a new country, many things around are so very novel to me and I want to know their origins. Also living in Switzerland provides me more time than tourists in general to touch, feel and understand its nature, food, people, culture, etc. I constantly carry out day-to-day observations and have collected all those points that are fresh and ‘Swiss’ for me. Inspired by teaching my children Chinese, especially the popular game we usually play during our childhood: 看图说话 (Reading the Image Card), I gradually developed my own way, that’s today’s Swiss Icon.
China is an incredibly exciting place for anyone who loves food. What Chinese comfort dishes do you think of when you think of your childhood?
For me is Beijing hot pot, dumplings and glutinous rice cake.
Can you tell us about a special food-related memory from your childhood?
My mother is native from BaoDing (a city nearby Beijing) in Hebei province, and my father is from Shanghai, so the food-related memories from my childhood are mixed. To name two here: 饺子 dumplings from northern China and an original Beijing food. 八宝饭 is a famous traditional banquet dessert. Usually it contains eight kinds of dried candied fruits that represent eight precious stones.
When you came first to Switzerland, what surprised you most about Swiss food?
The rich variety of cheeses.
What are your favourite Swiss dishes and food products?
Raclette, Luxemburgerli, Meringue, Ovomaltine, Gruyere cheese, Sbrinz cheese, Appenzeller cheese, Rivella, Flauder, Bündnerfleisch, Landjäger.
Did you struggle with the European way of cooking, is it very different to Chinese cooking?
I wouldn’t say I struggle with the European way of cooking, and in some way, European cooking methods are very scientific and healthy. But yes, it’s quite different.
As an artist, in what way does Switzerland, or the cultural differences in general, inspire you for your work?
In many ways I can find the interoperability and complementarity of the two cultures. The way how the Swiss function with their efficiency, professionalism, precognition and act as quiet achievers impressed me the most.
The Chinese and Swiss ways of thinking and living are very different. In what way do you think food unites us?
I think the main point is “sharing”, the pleasure of sharing nice food with people you love and care, it’s about human relations.
Will the Swiss Icons series continue?
Yes, the Swiss Icon is an on going project, and the more I learn the more I can’t see its end!