Peak Pegasus, a 229-meter long bulk container ship carrying 70,000+ tons of soybeans worth more than $20 million, first arrived off the coast of China on July 6, 2018. However, the ship had been drifting aimlessly in the Pacific Ocean for a month before finally docking in China after paying a $6 million tariff.
I was intrigued by this event, which occurred as a result of the escalating trade war between Beijing and Washington, especially curious as to why a small soybean could become the reluctant symbol of this tit-for-tat trade war. I began to imagine the story as a modern realism story that weaves together several dramatic elements: lingering uncertainty over the cargo’s fate, the stark contrast between a tiny soybean and the gigantic economic cost, the sounds of an unpredictable sea, other dark freighters carrying thousands of tons of soybeans waiting to be consumed by humans and animals, and the infinite landscapes of green plants continuously growing this protein-rich commodity.
Behind the narrative painted above is an even greater global context: soybeans are produced by farmers living in the Midwestern U.S.; goods are owned by Louis Dreyfus Company, a French agricultural conglomerate that began its world business in 1851; and those soybeans that will be cooked daily for rural Chinese families’ dinner tables.
I would begin by visualizing this modern myth in a video project. Video synthesizes my narrative—the flow of soybean production and export, and the many global events contributed by various organizations and societies. In other words, this project seeks to understand and interpret the dramatic, yet fleeting, characteristics of our times.
I initiated the project this June by doing field research. I was granted an opportunity to participate in the Lakeside Lab Artist Residency program in Milford, Iowa. I was introduced to local farmers connected by the Iowa Soybean Association.