Each month a member of the art.earth Board of Directors selects a member to feature, to become our Artist of the Month. What follows is a response from that artist to some questions and a discussion, together with some examples of their work.
This month (June 2021) our featured artist is Haruko Joyce Okano, selected by Richard Povall.
‘I am a 75-year-old Japanese-Canadian, interdisciplinary artist. I was born in the last year of WWII to a single mother, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She passed away when I was 9 years old at which point, I became a permanent ward of the Provincial Children’s Aid Society. I’ve had a near death experience in my mid-twenties. Loss in its’ various forms is something I am familiar with. But I am here, alive and am as curious about life as I am about death and loss. I have just completed a course to begin training as a Death Doula. I have received training in reiki, all the levels into a teacher’s degree with Harue Kanamitsu and Phyllis Victory. I am a practitioner of Chi Gung, having trained for 12 years with Sifu Tchong Ta Chen who died when he was 92. As much as I am involved in holistic energy healing modalities, I continue to be involved with human rights, anti-racism and other forms of advocacy based on my continued learning about indigenous protocols of engagement both in Canada and South America. I am a member of the Gesturing Towards a Decolonial Futures Collective and Primary Colours, the Vancouver based team developing new metrics for bringing indigenous artists and their practices to the forefront of Candian Art. I am just completing a 2 year artist residency working alongside 4 other invite artsts and have just been accepted for a 4 month artist residency for 2021.’
These more recent projects are evident of a growing change in the intent and time line of project development. The significant time line change is evident with Homing Pidgin, which became an open ended duration that allows for changes in content and in deepening my understanding of relationality beyond the original priority of recording Japanese Canadian pidgin. It expands to encompass a range of diversity culturally and collaboratively as evident in the Cradle project, that may help with mending the separation between the individual and the collective, the gap between humanity, the earth and other living entities for whom earth is home. Combined with the training as a death doula these are the impedus behind starting the T(end)ing Time labs that will take 7 months to a year to set the framework for taking these labls out into the public.
T(end)ing Time Iterative experiential labs 2021-05-17
As the project initiator and participating artist T(end)ing Time has a core group of 4 artists. Two of us were born in Canada, the other two artists are young adults one from Columbia the other from Indonesia and the Philippines. We are experimenting with Creative process as a catalyst for developing alternative embodied experiential methods for working with others around human destructive habits of being in the world as we know it.
All of us have gone through the Death Doula course offered by Douglas College so part of developing alternatives this training helps us build the skills to walk alongside participants who will be experiencing the exercises the core group is developing. The initial preliminary phase is for the four core group artists learning from each other’s experience as artists, educators and learners.
The focus of the exercises we are developing is to help people understand their/our relationship to the earth, other people, other non-humans. The earth is not an extension of us but the other way around. We with all other living beings are an extension of the earth.
Some of the things we are looking into that are colonial habits of being that we have identified are: individuality (the I and me), authorship/validation, possession/property, consumption/exploitation, progression as expansion and linear development.
Understand that the methodologies we are seeking to develop are based in embodied knowing as a primary form of informing, recalibrating habits of being …accessing the heart wisdom that has been pushed aside. These exercises are not therapy or meant to fix the crisis we/the world is facing but which may help build the stamina and skill to generatively carry the grief, loss and our complicity in the harm and violence that has been done to the earth and others (non- humans and humans).
The images provided here, are part of the beginning processes I am leading because of the way I work with natural materials, nature and the intent that is emerging through my art work. It is not the product of making that is important but what changes in behaviour while in the process of creating. I continue to learn from the four strands of my personal training in Chi Kung, Reiki, Buddhism and as a Sundancer with the Nahan Otosi Sundance in Southern Alberta, Canada. It is these embodied experiences that guide the use of creative process as a catalyst for changing habits of being in the world.
Homing Pigeon | Homing Pidgin
Homing Pidgin is a project that uses the Carrier Pigeon as its symbol. Starting at six weeks of age, the young bird is trained to return to its home loft. Scientists have experimented with the birds, trying to determine how they locate home over unfamiliar terrain. They have stuffed their nostrils, blindfolded them, spun them around and in the dark, released them hundreds of miles from their roost and still it remains a mystery.
I believe that language is a living cultural and historical marker of a people as they interact with other cultures. Language migrates from the mother tongue through pidgin into creole, rap and patois forms. Pidgin marks cultural linguistic boundaries, and is mother to a covey of mixed languages — slang from other cultures, mother tongues in transition and morphemes.
Japanese Canadians during the 1800s into the mid 1900s developed a form of pidgin regionally, unique that changed as it was carried into the prairies and on into Quebec. History attached a stigma to the continued use and progression of this pidgin into a creole form that might have survived into modern use. As a result there is no official records and many of those who were fluent speakers have passed away. In 1996, I began interviewing elders and inviting those who remembered, to contribute to my growing list of words and phrases. Our pidgin on the west coast, incorporated snippets from Chinese, South Asian, French, and Chinook wau wau woven in with portmanteaus or Janglish (a fusion of Japanese and English). I had hoped that perhaps the yonsei (4th. generation)artists, in our community would begin incorporating our pidgin into their poetry and music so that it would again fly and not be lost forever.
The pidgin that I had collected took flight in my art practice flying down two streams of viewer-interactive pathways. High(bridi)Tea, a collaborative installation and performance with Fred Wah began in 1998 at a Banff Centre for the Arts residency and continued to be performed into 2001. Homing Pidgin began in 2006 through a collaborative exhibition with Judy Chartrand and Wayde Compton at Access Artist Run Centre, in Vancouver, BC.
High(bridi)Tea is a tongue in cheek reference to the high tea ritual of Britain. Because my formative years were spent in the Canadian foster care system, I consider myself a cultural hybrid while Fred Wah is part Danish and part Chinese. I developed the form of the installation processing Kombucha into napkins and stenciling text onto white bread. In the performance at the Or Gallery, (Vancouver, 1998),participants could collect their own copy of 26 pidgin poems I had created. A sample is available at the Open Space gallery exhibition.
Homing Pidgin like High(bridi)Tea similarly gifts its audience. Homing Pidgin has a time lapse element added to it. As viewers select from the wall,The language context changes and the colour of the installation varies as this process continues.
Magnetic messages left by participants at the table component change as well over the period of the exhibition. Homing Pidgin also contains a Chinook wau wau conversation between two Squamish women and it is my hope that this will inspire additions of other languages
The Cradle Project (2019)