Working with deep and wounded history

seeingSometimes it gets to me – working with the deep and wounded history of my ancestors. Today I had a good breakfast conversation with a friend. She understands the work I am doing about the Japanese Internment Camps in New Mexico at the Santa Fe Art Institute. She’s lived here in New Mexico long enough to know that there is rich tapestry of different cultures and communities and that makes researching and making art about the history of the camps even more complicated. Peeling the layers back can be raw, and seeing the crisscrossing histories of: the vets who were in the Bhataan death march and experienced the brutality of the Japanese army, the injustice of the American concentration camps imprisoning innocent people of Japanese ancestry, and the Los Alamos creation of the bomb that killed so many in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’m wrapping my head around it after a month of research.

My friend said, “you are a flag bearer who makes sure people know the history so things don’t happen again.” Yet I find it so discouraging to see the Central American immigrant families being imprisoned right now.

Keeping my heart open is what sustains me. I hope to bring light and witnessing to stories of injustice and imprisonment for all kinds of people. My ritual performance will invite anyone to participate. More info to come soon.

Forest books mushroom


Image @ T. Folkerts

Instead of going into landfill, why not take once loved books and make them into walls?
The decaying pages make homes for mushrooms and insects and moss. Who knows, maybe mice and birds may enjoy the material too. Read more about this art installation by clicking here.

Many steps and helpers to create Ancestor Chimes land art

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.


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.

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. If you click on the photos on the map you can find out more about each piece. I’m number 8.

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.

Art in our harbor?

While researching info on the artists in the “Bay Area Now 5″at Yerba Buena I came across this article:

Donald Fortescue and Lawrence LaBianca’s “Bay Area Now 5” work — jokingly referred to earlier this month as the “Top Secret Oyster Project” — is not just about the creation of a well-crafted object. The piece also deals with the current state of San Francisco Bay’s wildlife, tides, and geography. So the two artists decided to let the physical environment affect the work — literally.

After putting in plentiful research, studying ocean survey charts, and talking with local environmental authorities on the work’s impact of their piece, the pair hired a diver to install the steel-table form they built — a muscled-up version of traditional cabriole or animal-legged furniture, as Fortescue describes it — on the floor of Tomales Bay, where it was designed to sit for several months. During the installation, however, their diver told them that the conditions weren’t the best for the hoped-for weathering and oyster- and barnacle-encrusting process, so the table was relocated to Pillar Point.

So my question is, has anyone seen it?? I’m going to take a look this week and report back.

Read more about their project by clicking here.

Toy soldiers battle in YBCA’s 5th Triennial

The opening night for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 5th Triennial (San Francisco) was a couple of week’s ago. I imagine it must be difficult to put together a show like this – a survey of what is happening in the Bay Area. So I applaud the hard work of the curators and the artists for putting it all together.

It was challenging to find the flow in the exhibit. Was the main connection location? These selected artists represent the Bay Area and perhaps that was the point – we have a varied eclectic group here, and I guess that is good!

One of the most profound pieces was by Brian Conely. His soldier installation with game pieces and strategy was intriguing. It included larger than life photo blow ups (no pun intended) of melted plastic army men heads which was humorous and sobering at the same time. Tied into the installation was looped news video of US forces bombing and bursting into Iraqi homes. I found this initially playful piece to be horrifying.

Searchinig around the YBCA site I found more info about his piece:

At Games Expo in Las Vegas on March 19–21, 2007, I asked a group of gamers to “play”/fight three battles from the war in Iraq, using recent information from Western and Iraqi news sites, and real-time reports from Iraqi bloggers. The gamers built a diorama that was used to represent a town in the Zarga region near Najaf for the first two games, and a neighborhood in Baghdad for the third. An onsite research team investigated and selected the scenarios.

The first game restaged an attack by a group called Soldiers of the Sky on a police barricade, on January 28, 2007, during the Ashura pilgrimage from Najaf to Karbala. This game was based on reports from Western news sources. The second game restaged the same event as seen through the eyes of civilians whose clan, the Hawatim, was involved. The last event followed a live hostage crisis that had begun in February, 2007, when Hannelore Kadhim and her son Sinan were kidnapped from their Baghdad home by a group called the Arrows of Righteousness.

I think the Triennial is worth checking out, but do not expect to be wowed. Read more about it here: