Michiko Suzuki packages dreams and secrets into Hope Chests exhibit

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Fabric tents with image of girl by Michiko Suzuki seen here explaining about her art.

When I was a kid, my childhood friend Phyllis gave me a Japanese doll in a tiny glass case. It was a small plastic woman with a white plastic face, not even brown skinned, wearing a typical silk kimono. I can’t recall now what colour the kimono was. I think it was red. It was probably made in China even though the gift was given in the 1960s. The case stood about six inches tall. A mirror on the inside back of the display case highlighted the back of the kimono. And there was that little knapsack-styled bulge on the back of the kimono, the name of which I had to look up and have now discovered is divided into many segments: Senui. Obiyama. Otaiko. Tare.

I kept that case on my dresser for years. It sat in an esteemed place where I could look inside it every day. And there was something symbolic about part of my white face, looming in comparison to the doll’s, reflecting back at me from behind the little figurine.

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The top of the flat, wooden hope chest with the girl’s name, the artist’s name on top.

Finally, and I don’t even recall when, after so many moves, I finally let it go. It might have been in my 30s or 40s.  I do recall the outside plastic was beginning to peel away and brown stains were forming on the back of the little silver box and that contributed to my decision. When it comes to stuff, I’m pretty good at letting go, too good in fact, inevitably as an afterthought years later wishing I could examine specific things long gone just one more time.

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The collage of photography and fabric and printmaking that folds into the bottom of the box.

Phyllis used to tell me that I was more Japanese than she was, my interest in all things Japanese greater than hers at the time. I’m not sure what it was exactly that appealed to me so much. Was it just viva la difference? Was it how everything in Japanese culture seems to be done with such pristine consideration and exactness and that way of being is so opposite to my somewhat fractured, spontaneous dabbling? Was it that secrets and privacy dot Japanese culture and who doesn’t love a secret, not in the form of gossip, but in the form of hiding places? Spaces that beckons us with the promise of mystery across a divide. The folds in origami. The aromatic and culinary delights lying in wait inside bento boxes? The fine manipulations of rolls to create sushi with the delectable tastes snugly molded into seaweed rugs.

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Peering inside, the image of a girl on the fabric tent and the bottom of the hope chest with the art inside.

So when I heard about this exhibit called Hope Chests at the Burnaby Art Gallery, I knew I wanted to go. Saturday afternoon, the artist Michiko Suzuki was there. A small group gathered round and she spoke in Japanese dropping in English phrases  doing her best to explain through an interpreter about this unique work.  We followed her from one fabric tent to the next as she explained a little about each girl she had chosen and the rationale for the colours of the girls’ hope chests and their interests.

There was something so delightful in the gentle pulling back of the panels on the white fabric tents, each girl’s image on the front, and peering inside to where the bottom part of the hope chests lay. A collage of images and fabric represented what the artist had learned about each adolescent girl, eight girls in total.

The project began from a much sadder place. The artist was thinking of young girls in the sex trade in S.E. Asia (Cambodia specifically) whose hopes for their futures have been so darkened and dashed and of the girls in Fukushima whose exposure to radiation has impacted their futures through others’ perceptions of them, almost as if they may be Japan’s untouchables.

If you live nearby, it’s definitely worth a visit to June 12th, 2016.  Michiko Suzuki is a well known print maker in Japan. Her husband,  Wayne Eastcott, also a printmaker, is originally from Trail, B.C. They split their time between Vancouver and Tokyo where the exhibit will go next.

Diverse/City exhibit at Anvil Centre

DiverseCity posterThis is the poster for the community art exhibit I’m involved in with the opening night set for April 15th, 5-7pm, at Anvil Centre in New Westminster.

From a 200 word excerpt (185 words in my case) taken from a much longer story that I wrote,  visual artist Eryne Bea Donahue dove into the project, interpreting and conceptualizing my words through visual art.

I was allowed a preview, not the completed piece, and Eryne has created a very interesting interpretation that in the process of her conceptualizing, creating, and producing the art, touches upon the diversity of spaces – geographical, physical, psychological – that run through my longer story, a 2,500 word piece of narrative non fiction.

Looks like there are nine written pieces accompanied by nine visual art conceptualizations.

Consider this your invitation: Anvil Centre. April 15th, 2016. Everyone welcome! 5-7 pm. And afterwards, there’s always that fabulous new Mexican place down the street, El Santo, to go for a drink.

Check out the blog post I wrote after I first met Eryne.

Energizing writing into art via collaboration

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Reece’s peanut butter cups – The ultimate collaboration?

I met up with the artist Eryne Donahue who is going to visually bring to life her representation of my words for the community exhibit space in the Anvil Centre in the not too distant future.

I met her at the Waves Coffee shop on Columbia in New West and when we met you would think we were mother and daughter or old friends, but not two strangers who had never met before. We even had the same hair colour, relatively speaking.

We slipped into conversation without delay. I feel like Eryne and her newly emerging family represent the best of the evolving New West. People who have come from elsewhere. Young, dynamic, engaged and wanting to shape their lives in a community that they can raise their new families in. She is originally from Ottawa and moved to New West with her husband a couple years ago after being renovicted (“get out, we’re renovating and raising the rent”) from East Van where they’d lived for 9 years.

She has a little two year old daughter whose name, Ourigan, is spelled after a Chinook place name that she and her husband picked after they were reading a book together about the explorer David Thompson, “the greatest explorer who ever lived.” According to Google, Thompson mapped 3.9 million sq. kilometres and who, not so cool nowadays, married a 13 year old Metis child who remained married to him for 58 years

Eryne and her husband decided to follow some of Thompson’s route through Oregon, Washington State and B.C., camping as they went.Her husband works for an environmental consulting firm and travels around the province doing work related to water conservation and community education.

They have another baby, also a girl, on the way, due in May and they have chosen a wonderful name that begins with a Q. I’m not sure I should share it here so I won’t. Both names are gender neutral.

Eryne also works for herself as a graphic artist and arts educator with aspirations to do something related to community engagement and art, something she’s already been quite active in. At the moment, motherhood is kind of at the top of the priority ladder.

It was exciting to hear another person’s take on a piece of writing and to hear what she, as an artist, was drawn to in the piece in terms of how she was conceptualizing her representation of it.

It was surprising for me to recognize that her take on the term “diversity” was not as literal as I thought it might be, but instead, what stood out for her was the diversity of the spaces I describe within it, and then, as we met, the psychological space some of which was represented on the page but some only picked up via additional information I shared during our face to face meeting.

She is thinking of focusing on that aspect of diversity, an aspect I had not thought of at all, and that may help me improve the story’s ending. Therein lies the beauty of collaboration. How words on a page can engage another imagination, expanding upon the original creativity to present a completely new direction.

I’m excited to see what the final piece looks like and really happy to have made her acquaintance.

Visit Eryne’s website to learn more about her art and community engagement projects.

Sound like you’ve never experienced it

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I went to a talk last night by a young guy from Montreal named Adam Basanta. He describes himself as a sound artist, composer and performer of experimental music and he has an installation in New West’s New Media Gallery on the third floor of Anvil Centre.

I read the other day in the local community newspaper, The Royal City Record, that the curators of this new space in Anvil Centre actually used to work at the Tate Modern. Wow! Talk about having the crème de la crème of experience.

It was a small turnout, maybe 35 people, and Basanta, who is one of four sound artists in the exhibit, began to speak about his work related to experimental sound with a particular emphasis in his piece on feedback, but not in the way we’re all used to; not that unexpected siren from a microphone that rises like a banshee in a deafening way.

BasantaexhibitHis installation is part of OTIC: Systems of Sound. His emphasis on feedback had to do with space and tones and how humans’ presence in a space can change feedback and how he played with feedback to bring to our attention our experience in the world and of the sounds around us.

He had this really cool project, Positive Vibes, in Finland where he used a recorded voice of women saying “I love you all very, very much.” He tied that to a bunch of helium balloons and then floated it near people in public spaces and watched as they reacted to this disembodied recording telling them they were loved. I love weird projects like that.

As he spoke I was both challenged by the topic in terms of its weirdness and a foreign way of thinking about sound, and then I was really heartened that in Canada, there’s still some money, apparently, to be found to encourage those who are approaching the arts in a way that calls on all their courage and expertise to interpret and reinterpret and challenge their own boundaries in order to challenge that of any audience.

It’s worth the exercise to be open enough to expose yourselves to others’ far out ways of approaching their passions.

I realized as I was listening to him,  my own personal resistance to weirdness, to foreign and difficult approaches, was rising. Being able to be aware of that, acknowledge it, and then let it wash over me and feel it lessen, is perhaps really getting closer to the essence of the kind of curiosity required to accept others’ interpretation of all the shared worlds that exist on the planet.

The exhibit, which will undoubtedly be richer if you have someone to interpret it as we did last night, runs at Anvil Centre to March 20, 2016.