Sitting Between Heaven and Earth

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It started as a chair for my mother who is no longer on earth. I thought she would have liked this view on a hill overlooking the ocean. I wished she were still here to talk to. I have new questions for her, ones I wasn’t pondering before. I have new understandings I didn’t have before. I always wanted us to be peers, to be able to speak woman to woman. Now it can only happen between worlds.

May this seat hold me between heaven and earth as I face new challenges. May the earth and sky be my allies. May I have conversations with my mother as I look out to the infinite sea.

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Creating kimonos by hand, day one

I’ve spent a couple of years deconstructing kimonos. I wondered what it would be like to make a kimono. I found the perfect class at the Workshop Residence in San Francisco. These photos are from the first day of the four day workshop.

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Tsuyo Onodera has devoted fifty years of her life to the art of kimono making in Japan, having trained hundreds of students to become licensed kimono makers during five year long apprenticeships at her school in Sendai, Japan. She serves as the president of Miyagi Kimono Association, and in 1982 invented Mai Yamato, a pre-tied kimono and obi system.

Collaborating in Onodera’s Workshop Residence project is her daughter, Sonoma based artist Maki Aizawa. Maki grew up in her mother’s kimono making school surrounded by creativity, studying floral arranging, calligraphy and studying the musical instrument the Koto.

Shintani’s Ancestor Chimes featured in Seattle Weekly

“Working lighter on the land means being fragile and vulnerable. For that reason, my favorite work here hangs almost unnoticed from fir branches near a picnic area facing the bay. Judy Shintani‘s gently ringing Ancestor Chimes are partly narrative, with text on oyster shell….”, writes Brian Miller

It’s great to get some press and I’m especially pleased that a photo from my Ancestor Chimes and positive feedback on the installation is in the Seattle Weekly. Carkeek Park has been a challenging venue for many of the artists and my heart goes out to them. Please read the review of the Rootbound Heaven and Earth Exhibition below:

http://www.seattleweekly.com/2012-08-22/arts/visual-arts-a-carkeek-park-art-safari/

New cutting

New cutting

It sometimes takes me a while to make the first cut into a kimono, but once I start, the piece takes on a life on its own, transforming and releasing what it once held.

To see some of the finished deconstructed kimonos click here.

Many steps and helpers to create Ancestor Chimes land art

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Photos by MalPina Chan and Judy Shintani

I’m always interested in the back story of how a piece is developed and created, so I’m going to talk about the process of making my Ancestor Chimes installation.

Concepting

The theme of the Center of Contemporary Seattle exhibition: Rootbound, Heaven and Earth, drew me in since a lot of my work is about family history, stories, and culture. Because my father’s family settled in the Puget Sound area and raised oysters, I thought that my work could tie into this show nicely. I created and photographed a prototype and hung them in a tree near my studio. I uploaded the photo and a write-up of my idea for the submission. It was accepted and I had a few weeks to get the piece completed and installed in Carkeek Park in Seattle.

My artist statement
My father’s family settled here in America and raised oysters in the Puget Sound. I honor these family members, some of whom have passed on. On the oyster shells you will find stories about their time here. Some of the ink may fade over time just as memories do. The tree is a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth, so it is holds up my family’s tales. The shells dangle and move and our legacy travels to reach ancestors via the wind. I imagine they are pleased to be remembered in this beautiful place they once inhabited.

Gathering Materials
The Ancestor Chimes is made primarily of oyster shells. This is not a new media for me. I have used them in performances and in assemblages. They represent my father’s family, hope, and nostalgia. They also represent loss and secrets. I see the oyster as a symbol of the deep feminine.

The gathering of the materials I’m using in a piece is done with a lot of intention and caring. I want to be conscious of what is used, how it is used and handled, because this infuses my work with energy.

Photo by A. Meyer

I originally wanted to create the piece using Washington oyster shells. Due to the short creation time, I came up with a different solution. My partner and I drove to Drakes Bay Oyster Farm near Pt Reyes. This was a family road trip destination when I was a child. There they have mountains of oyster shells I could pick from. I looked for flat, clean ones with mostly white surfaces to write on. I had to carefully select shells of the right thickness for drilling.

In the best circumstances I would have liked to have ingested all the oysters to create the piece. I like the process of sharing the delicacy with friends and family – in that way honoring community and the oysters. I symbolically was able to add some shells from oysters that were eaten by my partner and I at the Pt Reyes Station House Cafe. I also gathered friends and family in Seattle at Chinook’s to help me eat some oysters so I had some Washington shells to use my installation. That was a very special intersection of family, old friends, and new friends.

Other materials gathered:
– Brass wire that will hold up best in the weather and over 4 months.
– Bells gifted to me that had been hanging outside on my studio door for years.
– Florist wire covered by rope found at Alena Jean’s Nursery  a few blocks from my studio.
– Matte acrylic medium
-Metallic acrylic paint
– Sharpe metallic paint pen
– Tools: drill, wire cutters, brushes

The Making
I wrote out the stories before hand on paper and then figured out how many shells I needed and how many chimes I would create. It came out to seven strands of chimes and I thought that was an auspicious number.

I assembled about half of the chimes in my Half Moon Bay, California studio. I cleaned, drilled, and wrote family stories on shells and then used a brass wire to connect the chime parts. I used a jewelry method of wire connection, incorporating a way for the shells to swivel and turn with the wind and make it easier for viewers to read the shells.

COCA provided me with studio space at their Georgetown gallery so I could add in the Washington shells from the Chinook gathering.  I went through the process of cleaning, drilling, writing, wiring, and adding a coat of matte acrylic medium to protect the writing.

I did a final couple of hours of wiring in Suze Woolf’s studio. A fellow Rootbound artist, she was also kind enough to provide me lodging while I was in Seattle for three nights.

Scouting Location
Upon arriving in Seattle from California, I went with David Francis the curator for the exhibition, to see the spot he selected for my installation. My placement criteria: near the Sound and a tree to hang the chimes so that they could be seen and read by viewers.

We hiked up the North trail path that bordered the sound and could not find a tree that had low enough or sturdy enough branches for the installation. As we walked back towards the picnic area, David mentioned a spot near the entrance of the trail as a possibility, only thing was that it had a chain link fence with barbed wire. Bingo! Part of my family story was that they had to leave the area due to the Japanese American incarceration. This was the perfect location to support the bittersweet side of the ancestor story.

Installing
I was fortunate enough to hook up with fellow JFKU alumni and dear friend Leah Libow who helped me install the Ancestor Chimes. Borrowing a raincoat from Suze’s daughter Boo, we trudged out to the park in the rain wearing boots and hats. This was not just a light rain, there were big drops coming down. I stood on the very top of little stepladder on uneven muddy ground holding up strands of chimes, trying to figure out which branches to hang them on and how high. Some branches we could reach, others we threw the rope wire over the branch. This all took about 2 hours and we were pretty wet, but exhilarated by the conclusion of the installation.

On Display
The Ancestor Chimes are on display in the Land Art Exhibition at Carkeek Park until October 31, 2012. I’m lucky that so many of my Washington friends have gone to see it and also many California friends are vacationing in the area and are checking it out too. Here is the link to find out more and download a map. http://www.cocaseattle.org/h+e/ If you click on the photos on the map you can find out more about each piece. I’m number 8.

Thanks
I’ve had a lot of support in making this installation happen and I want to thank: COCA Seattle, David Francis, Ray C. Freeman III, Suze Woolf, Ander Meyer, Alena Whiting Barragan, Judith van Praag, Linda Ando, Leah Libow, Janice Ono, Damon Ono, Stacy Ono Avara, MalPina Chan, June Sekiguchi, Melanie Corey-Ferrini.

Cutting away

I’ve become a cutting fiend over the last few weeks. Using small scissors, I’m removing the flowers printed on an old silk kimono. It is a strange and satisfying feeling. So many emotions and thoughts float through my brain as I continue with my obsession.

This all started as a piece about the loss of my ancestors and my disconnection with my culture. Now it has become much more and the messages keep unfolding.

Sometimes I feel like the crane woman who plucked her feathers in the night to weave them into wondrous fabric, but instead of making something, I am taking it apart.

Other times I can’t help but think about the Yoko Ono performance. She presented herself to an audience to cut away pieces of her garment as she wore it.

My goal is to have four deconstructed kimonos completed for a show at Enso Gallery in Half Moon Bay in August…I’ve got a lot of work to do!

If you would like to find out about the first deconstructed kimono click here.

Creating the Deconstructed Kimono

I want to write about the process I went through to create one of my newest pieces, the Deconstructed Kimono.

Since I’ve belonged the ARTTAG group, a subset of the NCWCA (Northern California Women’s Artist Caucus), I’ve been motivated to work with different materials and to branch out and experiment. The ARTTAG process allows each artist to be the inspiration for another artist. Working with a theme, we create a piece and then mail it to an artist to be their jumping off point to create their own work to send to another artist. A game of ‘telephone’ of sorts. After three rounds the artists gather for a sharing of food and art revealing and discussion. Often it is surprising how many threads tie the works together, even though there has been no written or verbal crosstalk during the creation process.

A theme we recently explored was Presence/Absence. I received a jacket embellished with photographs of a lifetime from another artist. Each photo had writing identifying the people and sometimes some background on what was happening at the time. This art piece was a poignant and beautiful tribute to the full lives of the artist and family members and friends, and their connection to the person who once wore this garment.

As I sat with the art piece in my studio for a couple of weeks, I decided to challenge myself to still focus on a garment, but to do the opposite of embellishment for my response art piece. I wanted to see if I could remove parts of a garment as a way to express memory and connection.

I opened my cedar trunk to pull out a kimono that was given to me by a friend who got it at a used clothing store. I have received a few kimonos from people who thought maybe I could do something with them. I also have family kimonos that I treasure and want to keep intact. These other kimonos I do not have a tie to, I have no idea who wore them or what their history is. So I decided to take this very culturally symbolic garment and experiment with it.

The first cut into the kimono was a difficult one. I felt as if I was violating a sacred article of clothing. I even talked to a fellow NCWCA member who grew up in Japan and she said something like ‘no problem, do it.’ So I proceeded to cut all the embellishment out of the kimono. I cut and cut and cut the orange flowers out of the fabric for 3 days. And it felt great. It was meditative to sit with this task and only this task for hours. I got into a rhythm, not unlike when one sews or knits.

While I was deconstructing this kimono I had many thoughts. Who was this woman who wore this? Was she alive? How did she feel when she wore it?

Memories came up. I had been dressed up in a kimono for Obon Odori a few times as a child. This is a special festival to honor ancestors who have passed on. People, mostly women dance in a circle with fans and umbrellas and rhythmic hand instruments. As I found out, kimonos are not comfortable to wear. They are very restrictive for walking and breathing. I recall sucking in my breath while being bound around my waist and chest with beautiful ornate thick fabric (an obi) wound around and around me. The obis were cinched so I could only walk with very short small steps. I felt beautiful but not very pleasant in my exotic garb. At 10 years old I already knew this wasn’t something I wanted to wear daily.

So while I was cutting away the beautiful flowers from the kimono, I had nostalgic thoughts. The kimono for me was a tie to my Japanese culture that is so easily slipping away from me. I no longer live with anyone who speaks Japanese and I of course do not know the language. I rarely cook the cuisine, let alone make gohan (rice) and tofu for every meal like we used to eat as children. My family elders are passing away. This cutting ritual became an honoring of my cultural loss and memories.

I left a few orange flowers on the band that goes around the kimono neck and the rest of what was left was just the creamy ivory skeleton. It had a web like quality. I had transformed this cultural icon into something new. The removed flowers now lay at the feet of the kimono. The piece resembled a tree that had lost its leaves. The remaining kimono still held it’s simple yet strong shape – it would never lose its beauty and it’s form.

Recently the ‘Deconstructed Kimono’ was installed in the San Francisco Foundation Boardroom, curated by APICC, Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center.

Happenings at Kitsune Community Art Studio, March/April

Kitsune Community Studio had a bit of a break, but things are getting rolling again.
I am expanding to conduct some talks and classes in other locations. So I hope to see you in some of these venues too. I’m planning an open studio evening in April and I’ll keep you posted!

Book Club Alive and Kicking! It’s the one year birthday of our club! This has been truly inspirational in getting many of us reading again.

Our next meeting is 3/10, 7pm in Half Moon Bay
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
“Instead of celebrating the mystical side of “sensitives,” the people who travel England’s contemporary psychic “fayre” circuit, Mantel (A Change of Climate, etc.) concentrates on the potential banality of spiritualism in her latest novel, a no-nonsense exploration of the world of public and private clairvoyance. Mantel’s portraits of the two leading characters as well as those of the supporting cast—both on and off this mortal coil—
are sharply drawn. This witty, matter-of-fact look at the psychic milieu reveals a supernatural world that can be as mundane as the world of carpet salesmen and shopkeepers.” – review from Amazon

Please join us, for discussion and snacks. Contact me at judyshintani@yahoo.com for more info.

Family Censorship Talk, 3/16, Oakland
Your Aunt Doesn’t Want Your Art Exhibited in Seattle, Now What?

Sometimes the ones you love are your toughest art critics or maybe they just don’t say anything about your work. But what do you do when they call at midnight and ask you to pull out of an art exhibit that is opening in a week? Come hear me talk about family censorship and how I dealt with it. We have a hunch others have stories about this touchy issue and want to hear your experiences too.

Wednesday, March 16, 7-9pm
Sponsored by Northern California Women’s Caucus for the Arts
free and open to public
Judy Johnson-Williams’ studio
347 Lewis St (2 blocks from West Oakland BART)
Oakland, Ca 94607

RSVP to Judy Johnson-Williams at judy_j-w@ix.netcom

Wellbeing Mandala Workshop, 3/26, Three Rivers, CA

Almost everyone is concerned about his or her health, but how often do we create art to honor our wellbeing?

In this workshop you will have the opportunity to focus on your health using meditation, writing, art making, and sharing. Artists can choose to give attention to on an issue or to honor their body. For example participants may choose their hands challenged by carp tunnel, or their heart due to sadness, or pay tribute to their strong legs that have carried them throughout their lives. We will explore and discuss the power of intention, and learnings that arise out of artistic concentration. Examples will be shown of how different cultures and artists have used art and symbology for healing, health, and expression. A variety of materials will be provided for artists to pick and choose and they may also bring their own media.

Three Rivers Art Center
3/26 10-4pm
Click here for more info: http://www.artsthreerivers.org/workshops/shintani.html

Book Making Classes, 3/28 and 4/25, Half Moon Bay
I’m teaching these two classes with the Senior Coastsiders at Ted Adcock Community Center. Seniors 60+ get first signups, but the class is open to others too. There is a very reduced fee for the class. Great way to get your feet wet making books and experience taking a class with me too.

Book Making 1, March 28th 10-11:30am
Learn how to make softbound books that can be used for journaling and make nice gifts too. Learn how to do pamphlet stitch binding, and decorate the covers with paint, and collaging.

Book Making 2, April 25 10-11:30am
Learn how to make an accordion book and embellish and collage the pages and cover.

Contact Vicki Cormack to sign up at: 650-726-9056

Thank you for your continued interest in Kitsune Community Art Studio! Contact me for more info on events and if you have an idea or need a venue.

The artist’s secrets, creating the Pearls Left Behind installation

My process of creating still surprises me even after a few years of art making. This year I have taken another route – proposing work to galleries before creating it.  This is an interesting and more collaborative way of working with curators. I propose ideas and get feedback from them on fit with the theme and other work going into the show, taking into consideration the site for the exhibition.

Most recently I created an installation for the Re-Claim Exhibition for the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center. I proposed 2 different directions and they selected the idea of expanding the Remembrance Shrine I created 3 years ago.

The newly created Pearls Left Behind installation is a collection of reactions to memories of Japanese American Internees featured on the Remembrance Shrine Over three years viewers wrote their responses on white strips of paper and tied them to the shrine at seven exhibitions throughout the Bay Area and in the Pacific Northwest.

I had not looked at the reactions until 2 months ago. As I removed them from the hanging raffia on the bottom of the shrine, I counted 133 responses. I was very moved by these thoughts about the “camps”, peace, apologies, war, and shame. A discussion about this painful time in US history does not often happen and here were 133 people who had something to say about it. I could see each written expression as a pearl of wisdom, as gifts to be shared.

I transcribed all the handwritten reactions, typing them into my computer. I felt almost as if they were prayers and confessions and wishes to convey to the internees. I selected 1/3 of the writings to feature in the new installation. By the time I completed the piece the actual number of “pearls” I ended up with was 41, apropos since the war started in 1941.

I knew I was going to incorporate cardboard pizza rounds into the installation but I had not exactly figured out how. I started playing around with cutting the circles. I knew I did not want to just write on them as they were. I began hand cutting the circles into rings, getting 3 rings out of each flat. Next I applied tracing paper to each ring. The translucency took on some of the same quality as the Shrine’s rice paper and Noguchi’s lanterns that were an inspiration.

I thought I was going to transfer the typed text by using adhesive lettering. When I spoke to the signage company they were not able to work with the thinness of the font. As a result I ended up tracing printouts of the text, using different thicknesses of sharpie pens.

Some people asked me why I did so much handwork instead of using laser cutting for the rings and getting the text printed on large architectural printers. In my prior occupation, I directed retail merchandising campaigns, creating banners, store displays, and signage. I did not want to use mechanical production methods with this installation. An organic treatment was applied to the material to give a handmade look to the original machine punched out cardboard pizza rounds. The hand cutting, painting, and handwriting of these selected 41 responses became my meditation for the last two months. I really wanted the making process to be part of the honoring of the viewers’ thoughts. I added gold paint to the rings, allowing some of the cardboard to still peek through. I used simple hemp string to join the circles together. The honesty of the materials was something I did not want to cover up.

The final part of the installation was the structure from which the pearls or thought bubbles would hang. I knew I wanted to incorporate the mulberry branches pruned from the tree in my childhood backyard in Lodi. We drove around with these on top of our van for a couple of weeks and everyone thought our car was a moving installation. Perfect since I named the old ‘80s van Babar after the storybook elephant. My partner came up with the idea of wrapping the branches with barbed wire and how we came upon a bunch of it rusted to the right color is another story.

There were 3 meanings to the title Pearls Left Behind. Pearls were selected because of the saying “pearls of wisdom”, because of the shapes of the circles, and also as a tip of the hat to my father’s family, who lost their oyster farm in Washington when they were interned.

It is my hope that some internees may see these words on the installation and find them healing. May they see that there is some understanding about what happened, and that what they experienced still matters. We must not forget because unfortunately some one else may be on the hot seat of persecution next time.

High School Students Honor Gifts of their Family

I was honored to teach a workshop to youth at the Asian Counseling Resource Services up in Seattle in February. Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) is the largest multiservice organization serving all the different Asian Pacific American communities – immigrants, refugees and American born – in the Pacific Northwest. Their mission is to promote social justice and the wellbeing and empowerment of Asian Pacific American individuals, families and communities – including immigrants, refugees and native born – by developing, providing and advocating for innovative community-based multilingual and multicultural services.

The Gifts of our Family workshop was 3.5 hours and offered to youth involved in ACRS’s student community advocate program. They came equipped with photocopies of family members they wanted to focus on in the workshop. Different loved ones were honored including uncles, mothers, nephews, cousins, sisters, and brothers.

I began by showing a slideshow of how I create art of my family using found objects, photographs, and writing. I then conducted a short visual meditation to get them in tune with details and memories of their loved one. They did some writing of memories, words, descriptions of their family member.

Next I demonstrated painting a background using acrylic paints. The students really enjoyed this part of the lesson and some did many layers of paint, using a blow dryer between colors.

It was time to add the photographs and writing. I appreciated the camaraderie which developed among the students, as they told stories about the family members they were focusing on. Many of the youth had not met before.

Lastly they embellished their pieces by gluing materials like shells, flowers, sticks. Some of the students used needle and thread to accent their pieces. The sewing reminded them of an activity they did with their mother. Two girls added string weavings, another memory of something they did as children.

We originally started out with the idea of cutting out a circular shape for the completed pieces, but some students used the whole paper for their creations so we decided to keep those intact.

At the end of the workshop each student stood up and proudly showed their art. Each of them got a round of applause from their fellow artists.

The pieces are currently displayed at ACRS. Below are some of the pieces which were made in the workshop.