I popped by 3331 Arts Chiyoda yesterday to see the work of one of their current artists in residence, Joani Tremblay. A few weeks ago I had mistakenly thought her work was on view but in reality Tremblay had just arrived and had yet to make some artwork. Why did I go back? I had to show support for my fellow Canadian artist of course! She is from Montreal and currently also working on her Masters of Fine Arts at Concordia University. It takes bravery to leave your family and responsibilities to do a month-long residence in another country. Like me, she also had a background in printmaking but had been primarily working on drawings recently.
Once a printmaker, always a printmaker. As you can see, she has the eye for detail and the love of paper that many printmakers never lose even when they work in different media. It becomes a part of you.
I Don’t Know About My Dreams Anymore is a large work on paper. She mixed ink drawing with embroidery and she punctured the paper with her needle. Stiff paper is really difficult to embroider! It is not pliable and can crack as you bend it to push the needle in and out. She also had to roll the edges of the paper while she worked on the middle. The marks look so simple but take so long to make. She purposefully hung the drawing, so viewers could see the thread in the back and realize how much of it was actually embroidered. Doesn’t the front remind you of Julie Mehretu‘s work and the back of Cy Twombly‘s drawings?
While in Japan, she naturally wanted to play around with washi, Japanese paper. She looped some coated mizukihiki cords used to make traditional decorations, liked that shape, and then embroidered more white loops on bluish-black washi. The cool tones of the blues and the loops of the white net remind one of the ocean and how cool it feels on a hot summer day. Tremblay used those colours before she came to Japan so she was not familiar with how blues can be seen almost everywhere in Japan during the hot summers as a way to mentally cool oneself.
The residency gave her a chance to play around in a large studio for a few weeks. She played with the new types of paper and tried some new marks, such as the hanging loops in this drawing. One month is not a long time to finish large, labour-intensive pieces! With no familiar faces around to distract around her, she managed to get quite a bit of work done. Hmmm, maybe that os what I need to do. Tokyo would be too close for me though. Maybe I should check if there any opportunities in Korea? Or somewhere tropical like Guam?
She and I chatted a bit about the differences between Japan and Canada. Although 3331 Arts Chiyoda is an artist-run space in a renovated elementary school and tries to include an educational program for the local community, most places in Japan are not like that. She was surprised to learn that artists in Japan usually have to pay to have a show in a gallery, and I remember having that same shock when I first came to Japan. It is the reverse in Canada; Canadian galleries pay artists to have shows. Canada has CARFAC is a non-profit organization that represents the interests of artists throughout the country. Think of it as an artists union. I do not think Japan has anything like that. Canada has mentoring systems i place throughout the country; Japan tends to work on a sempai–kohei system where teachers or older members nurture their students or others who are younger and went to the same class or school or belong to the same group of artists. Those relationships can be quite formal, and respect must be paid to those who came before you regardless of talent or likability. Most say they do not like those traditional systems but yet those relationships are the ones that continue to ease the way in contemporary Japan. Things are slowly changing…
Electric Butterflies is an installation constructed by an American artist who uses the pseudonym Koubou Deanna while doing a residency at Shiro Oni Studios in the town of Onishi in Gunma, Japan.
Koubou Deanna has been working primarily in textiles while in Japan since she cannot use the torches and other equipment needed to work in metal while living in rental housing. Take advantage of what you got, right? She can crochet just about anything from what I have seen.
For Electric Butterflies, she started with a broken computer and began to wonder what happened to the computer when disposed and what happened to all of the bits and bytes of our lives that have been stored there or as she says, “exploring the demise [and] disposal of the electronic personality…What happens when our computer dies? What happens to the electronic personality upon our death?”
The electric butterflies hand-crocheted with neon yarn carry away the bits and bytes of the computer’s electronic personality in both a figurative and literal way. Some of the butterflies morphed into abstract shapes to better support the weight of the larger frames. She took a very cute idea and made a surprisingly powerful image.
The circular frame that she found at a recycle shop anchored the piece and created an environment that viewers could insert their own imagery into. Was it a spider’s web? Was it for a web crawler or a web spider on a network or on the Internet?
Even this spiral frame was crocheted! All of it was covered in black yarn with bits of yellow neon, which gave it a heavier presence than the luminescent butterflies. It seemed to have a heavier gravitational field, so the butterflies had to try harder to fly away. Tubes of light also rimmed the spiral, so it could be seen at night.
This was a great piece for an art project in a small town where the primary audience will of course be the local residents who support the artists and make them feel at home. This gentleman actually has the Chinese character for butterfly on his happi coat, which is his uniform for the local festival on July 12 and 13.
She used techniques that were familiar with imagery that could be understand although the combination was something that only those with artistic minds would come up with. The average person finds it hard to enter a studio with an artist in residence, because he or she does not want to intrude and feels like they will not understand whatever it is that is being made. Even young girls and boys enjoyed this installation. In their festival outfits, they were as colourful and as beautiful as the butterflies! Who knows? Perhaps those young children will fly away from their rural town and become famous artists.
Other people may have been inspired that weekend to dress up as insects. Maybe the future generation will be ladybugs and destroy nasty, aphid-like invaders to protect the environment.
If you looked carefully, you might have seen flowers decorating poles on the street as well as Gabia’s crocheted piece outside the studio.