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.

Putting the Phabulous into Photography in Vancouver

The other night I went to this photography event as part of the Capture Photography Festival. Organized by CAPIC, it was a survey of some photographers working in Vancouver, many of whom had apparently graduated from Langara in the past, and it was really interesting not only to hear their eight minute talks but to see the projects they were focused on. Literally!

David Duchemin

http://davidduchemin.com/

Spoke about recent findings of mirror neurons in the brain and how that means just seeing a photograph, not being there in person, may be enough to enable us to find a “string of empathy” to engage our compassionate hearts and to think about what justice might look like for other people. What might justice look like for all people, especially those we appear to be most unlike on the surface, finding a way to recognize that all humans, at the core of their humanity, are similar.

Angela Fama

http://angelafama.com/

To me this project was the most interesting of the evening. It was a project where she asked people how they were as she photographed them at a car-free event on Commercial Drive.  “No, really, how are you?” Then she captured their expression while she asked them to really think about that question and answer it honestly. And she spoke about building community and a cross country trip she’s about to embark on as part of a wabisabibutterfly.com project.

Vince Hemingson

http://www.hemingsonphotography.com/

In his own words, he didn’t really want to be there that night, which (editorial comment) is a less than ideal way to present oneself at an event.  Regardless, he showed his Nude in the Landscape photographs which he said was focused on form in landscape. I was intrigued by how fluidly he fit them into the landscape and I personally was fascinated by the detail of how he’d position a finger or a toe, slotted into a piece of driftwood in such an exquisite manner. I’m sure others will find these photographs enticing for their own reasons. Not sure why they had to be beautiful women only (as defined by mainstream impossible standards of beauty) if the point truly was just about the forms and shapes but take a look. Read the artist statement.

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

http://www.alexwaterhousehayward.com/

He had an old camera around his neck and I enjoyed the way he just put up his photos and let them communicate. There seemed to be an inordinate number of people in the audience who had a problem with silence that lasts more than 30 seconds. I don’t get that. Embrace it!

Katie Huisman

http://www.katiehuisman.com/

Interesting personal discussion while dropped into a project to photograph sex trade workers in Uruguay. She realized she was putting a fashion filter (her normal bread and butter photography) on these women in this environment that was foreign to her and it wasn’t until she started to photograph the rooms without the women in them, that she was really able to capture their realities, to find a way to let their experience, stark and human, reveal itself through the empty rooms.

Pooya Nabei

http://www.pooyanabei.com/

A fashion photographer, relatively new to the field, who’s into the night scene and some interesting images that portray the interesting clubbing types he spends his time with.

Ross Den Otter

http://www.nuovofresco.com/home.html

Documenting development signs and how streetscapes have changed and continue to change focused on capturing those places in the city that we take for granted and putting boundaries around the parameters of where he’s choosing to shoot that which is near Main and Hastings.

There was the beginning of a little energized discussion around photographs on the web and stock photography and how it has impacted the industry with the typical dividing line between those who got it, accepted it and have capitalized on the “new reality” and those who are still fighting it.

I really loved experiencing the range of photographs and personalities that were there that night. I was struck by how much these photographers were the image-related version of  The SFU Writer’s Studio, each trying to promote connection as they defined that.

Fishing for Steveston’s Abstracts

I was out wandering on a stunning day last week in Steveston which gave me the chance to snap a few pics of my favourite subject: reflections. Like many people, I love what happens to reflections in water.  I think my favourite is this first one. It could look great blown up really big in a bright space on a dark wall.

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This was taken looking back at the beautiful walkway that runs along the waterfront from the village to the re-created Japanese Heritage fishing village.

 

 

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A bunch of Asian fishermen were casting their lines off the dock that this ramp leads down to. I don’t think they caught anything but in the spirit of all those Japanese fishermen who fished out of here, lived here, and worked so hard in the past, it was nice to see the tradition continuing.

 

This gull enjoying the sunshine like the rest of us.

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This is frozen water. The red comes from the red house on the shore that sits above it. I love the texture of this and the way the light hits it emphasizing the patterns.

 

 

 

 

 

This reflection, underneath, is once again picking up what’s on the shoreline and the condo developments reflecting into the water. I think the colours work really well in this one. Its the inspiration for a new Tartan perhaps, urban style.

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I like the softness of these plants (wish I knew what they were called) against the backdrop of the blue/sandy-coloured water. netsinStevestonOf course, it’s not a fishing village, no matter how far it has come from those original roots, without some nets.

Choose a lifestyle, intentionally

DSC_0111This is Ruckle Farm, my touchstone, not Stowel Lake

Two weeks ago I spent time back on Salt Spring visiting the idyllic Stowel Lake Organic Farm, Community and Retreat Centre to write a story for Aqua magazine. Three families make up the core of the residents who have made a conscious decision to live together on a large piece of property (115 acres), to farm organically, and to offer weekly classes and longer retreats related to personal and spiritual development. Twenty-two adults and 10 children, one Au Pair, a lead farmer and undoubtedly others who have roles in what some would call an intentional community, but they would be unlikely to refer to in that way, live there.

The property was originally purchased back in 1973 by a leading lady and mother  to one of the younger generation. In 1996, she received an inheritance which I’m just guessing was relatively substantial. I’m guessing that it’s unlikely that these 12 adults and their children could all live off the profits of growing vegetables or hosting retreats. One of the husband’s runs his own company – Guayaki-brand Yerba Mate, the other works at Vancouver island University. The third works full time on the farm. It’s a safe bet to state that the interpersonal and economic realities of these Thirty-somethings and their children would be significantly leaner without each other and without the elder who decided that sharing her life with this younger generation was a smart idea.

I walked away that day with two main thoughts. The first was that it’s totally within the realm of possibility for every one of us to think a lot more consciously about lifestyle, about how and where we choose to live in an attempt to achieve a lifestyle that is surely going to bring us closer to self actualization. My second thought was Holy Shit, look at how I’m living. I’m single, middle aged, and living in an apartment that  does not provide me with any of the things that typically lead to wellness.  It feels like that movie Groundhog Day. I am back exactly where I was before I left to live on Salt Spring, except this time with the knowledge and experience of a different lifestyle; the one I had there that seemed to suit me better where career and the material were secondary to lifestyle, except even then, income, the ability to generate enough money, always the ultimate dictator of choice it would seem.

One of the things I am desperately missing about Salt Spring is how much I was able to wander, in my own company, with my camera and be intimately connected to the natural world on a daily basis. I had no idea how much that mattered to me.  Now that I don’t have that and don’t do it, I realize what a significant a part of my life that was. It wasn’t just about getting outside into a forest or along a shoreline. It was about what it allowed for me, mentally, emotionally, spiritually; a relationship I got to have with myself that was a direct consequence of my immersion in a place that was green and quiet and where I could go to places that had very few others around.

Now, I’m more likely to be surrounded by concrete, where the view is of other apartments right outside my windows or too much time spent on the Skytrain going back and forth to Vancouver to socialize. Sure, I could drive 20 minutes to some trail for a walk but the thing is, here, that’s always accompanied by so many other people and for me, for some reason, being alone in a natural environment, to be able to wander, to really look at things and take it all in without having other people around was, I’m now realizing, the crux of the experience for me.

When I moved to Salt Spring in 2008, I couldn’t articulate it then but my emotional well being was pushing me towards a lifestyle that my creative self needed.  Now, full circle, I’m wondering how I’m ever going to re-create that for myself in the city with the subtext of another life running interference.

Up Close on Cambodia’s Sangkae River

The long wooden river boat was jammed. Me the Canuck, seven Brits, a Tasmanian, two Americans, our Cambodian guide and oh look, I note with a quick glance upward, just six life jackets. Let’s not even mention the “happy place” or toilet, just a bucket.

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We head north on a narrow stream that dwindles to make river travel impassable in the dry season.

“Hello. Hello.” Naked, dark-brown children dart forward on the riverbank. Squat men wading waist deep, check their nets. A woman slaps wet clothes against a flat boulder on the shoreline as we glide past shack after bamboo shack on stilts.manwadingsmall

We’re leaving Battambang, Cambodia’s second largest city, moving down the intestinal-like stream of the khaki brown Sangkae River that drains into the Tonlé Sap, the largest fresh water lake in S.E. sia.Markonboatsmall

We’re on our way to Siem Reap, home of the world’s oldest Hindu temples and the UNESCO World Heritage site: Angkor Wat.

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smallelephanttuktukforwebAngkor Thom and the Bayon Temple are also on the day’s itinerary as is the dramatic Ta Prohm under seige, it seems, by the roots of Spung trees. Angeline Jolie filmed Tomb Raider there, and then my favourite, Banteay Srei, or ‘Citadel of Women’, pink sandstone structures glowing more vibrant in the late afternoon sun.

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Later, we head north to Sambor Prei Kuk, a  pre-Angkorian complex, 30 km past Kampong Thom; crumbling standstone monuments a mirror suggestion of their former glory, looted during civil war, and the destination of our overnight homestay to see how the locals really live.

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At the halfway mark, pulling into a floating corner store to grab lunch,  I bite down  into a baguette I’d bought from a street vendor the day before. On the second bite, I look more closely at the black dots I mistook for poppy seeds. Why are they undulating? Ants. Pfhaff! Very busy ones.  Amy, the Tasmanian yells at me like a mother. “Spit it out. Spit it out.” I react like an obedient child, scooping the chewed sludge from my mouth and after a minute, “Just ants,” I say. “Tiny ones.”deckinriversmall

What’s a little ant in a country where, out of necessity, desperate, starving families ate tarantulas, crickets, June bugs and whatever they could get to survive during Pol Pot’s barbaric regime (1975-79). In contrast, throughout the trip, we’d dine on local favourites: Fish Amok, (a coconut curry), Morning glory and Lok Lak (stir-fried marinated, cubed beef served with fresh red onions on lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes dipped in lime juice, sea salt and black Kampot pepper). An expensive meal set me back $3-5 US.

Culinary extremists, if you must, drop by Skuon on Hwy 6. Vendors, seated beside the hole- in-the-wall lunch stop offer crispy black tarantulas spooning in foot-high piles that look eerily similar to the eggshell-coloured human skulls piled high at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields memorial 17 kms from Phnom Penh.  Killingfields-small

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We’d put Cambodia’s unhappy history behind us on day one starting at Tuol Sleng or S-21, the high school turned torture chambers. A War Crimes Tribunal has crept along, frought with delay, as the former Khmer Rouge leaders have escaped with death from old age with only two elderly alleged war criminals potentially able to experience justice. Or Not.

Standing in front of a large white wooden board in the courtyard,  large black and white photos of the former leaders and in front of them, under shade, the oldest survivor,  artist Bou Meng, signs books about his experience. Our guide looked around nervously while he explained the trial.  “If you have any political questions, don’t ask them in public,” he warned on the bus before we arrived. “There’s an election coming up in the spring but we already know the outcome.”