In Conversation: Cindy Mochizuki, and Makiko Hara on the new work 105 Chrysanthemums for Wakayama Art Gallery (originally published for the Wakayama Museum)
This interview took place in the garden of Cindy Mochizuki’s childhood house in Vancouver, B.C. where Mochizuki and her partner live with Mochizuki’s mother. (1)
Makiko Hara (MH): Cindy, tell me about the new project that you are working on, called 105 Chrysanthemums which will open at the Wakayama Art Gallery in Tokyo this September?
Cindy Mochizuki (CM): The work is based on a dream. Which I sometimes imagine as a form of cinema, at least that is how I remember it. Before my grandmother (2) passed away in 2003 at the age of 91, I was taking care of her after she had a fall. She was bedridden but I remember, in the year prior to her death, she shared an intimate story with me about a dream she had.
In the dream, she said that she was walking towards our backyard (which has always been lled with an abundance of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Even cactus, African violets, succulent plants.) She describes swinging open our screen door and being greeted by a bright light and that our childhood porch was lled with beautiful chrysanthemums as if they were calling out to her. She was astounded by its beauty.
MH: Why did you select a dream for this particular exhibition?
CM: Since last year or so I have felt been very aware of daily ritual in everyday life. As you know, as an artist who is always interested in experimentation, chance, magic and ritual – I’m almost always more interested in things that are invisible in the everyday. They make up the stories and gestures that I often bring into my art practice. I have also felt I inherited my father’s garden and though it is my mother who looks after the yard I took a good look at what had been planted and deeply considered a flower’s meaning or, more importantly I wondered about “Can an individual leave deeper meanings into something that they have tended to for years and years like a garden? “And “Can the plants and trees speak? Do they have a spirit?
One interesting memory I have was that in 2014 when you had invited me to the Koganecho Bazaar Artist in Residency (3). I remember walking every day to the studio and walking past rows of concrete and some old buildings and then suddenly coming across a small section where a woman had carefully curated some really interesting plants in pots and bowls. It was a landscape that I was familiar with and it reminded me of my grandparents and father’s gardening practice. I made the connection there about the kinds of plants that they raised in Canada as having some kind of deep connection to Japan. Then I thought about the question, “ Can a garden hold deep meaning across the pacific?” and them, “what does it mean when it is passed to me or someone with no real connection to this place?” When I came back to Vancouver, I thought about the garden in our childhood which I never really looked at, but then I remembered things that my father planted a fruit bearing tree for each child that was born in the household. I had read that to plant a fruit tree like a peach or plum tree was to create abundance, good luck, and good health. This is connected to the work I am making for Wakayama because the concept of talisman and chlorite is about bringing in good wishes and good luck.
What I have made is 105 hand-built porcelain talismans. They are sprinkled with chlorite and glazed. Some says that chlorite have properties of good luck. Also they are bound by the embroidery threads that my grandmother left behind in an old box. The threads are the last bits of pieces that she worked on from her own thread painting canvases. I received assistance from ceramic artist Maggie Boyd who advised on the ring and the glazing. I have never worked in porcelain before so it was a learning curve. I have always been interested in the power and meaning of objects. I usually work with objects from the archive as I find them. But in this case I have recreated the actual chrysanthemums from memory. Can an object of luck transform a space? That is the artwork.
MH: (to Cindy’s mother, Tazuko) do you believe in magic?
Tazuko Mochizuki (TM): I believe in that or maybe I believe in intuition or gut feelings. Like I have sense that I shouldn’t go out now when I sense that something is wrong. It’s like Mushi No Shirase.
MH: What about you Cindy? How does it work in your art practice?
CM: I think the idea of “invisible” is a big aspect of my work. From works like Mörkö (4) (Interdisciplinary performance, held at Russian Hall in 2012) to Confections (5) (installation held as a part of group exhibition at Centre A in 2012) and even my most current works with the children’s book and exhibition Things On the Shoreline (6) (Access Gallery, 2016) - it is evident that my investigations are in things we can’t see. I love working with complex objects in everyday life that are puzzling at first but they do call me. Something will definitely call me and then I being there and I think with that it requires you to listen and be very present to something working on a very magical level. The project Rock, Paper, Scissors (7) (AIR 475, 2014-2016) is also one that I feel it works in the same way – when you had invited me to create a site-specific work for AIR 475 in Yonago, Tottori in 2014, I decided to create an audio work that is one chapter of a trilogy of shorts that connect Canada to Japan especially the early 1900’s migration from Tottori to Mayne Island and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia in Canada. We have spoken about this before and it seems when you and I make create projects especially Rock, Paper, Scissors, an instantaneous calling of research material, stories, ephemera came up. Our materials materialize before our eyes, but it’s as if they were once asleep. This is how I felt when I first went to Japan actually. That aspects of myself were asleep and until I was in Japan and immersed in the culture I started to see the importance of things my grandparents and parents taught me. I started to see also what aesthetic and cultural influences I had on my practice and everyday life that were otherwise invisible in Canada. I am thinking this is the experience of being Japanese Canadian, you are not necessarily tied to one country or one place. But that understanding is complex and changes with time and geography.
MH: So we can say that because of your experiences exhibiting work in Koganecho, AIR 475 and now here at Wakayama Gallery, that you are even learning about aspects of Japanese Canadians in Japan?
CM: Especially with a project that I am researching in AIR 475 I am digging into early Japanese pioneer histories and often times these stories get lost because I would say the ‘story’ and memories that often takes precedence is around the Japanese Canadian internment. So in this way I’ve been interested in learning and finding out the first points of where these pioneers came from and the hardships that they made to take that risk to immigrate to Canada during that time. They were subjected to racism and had hard lives but many of them took a chance and left families and communities to start new lives. And many of them succeeded in doing so, but in 1942 during WWII they lost a lot of their hopes and dreams and were interned in the camps. I think if we trace back to the root of my work it really starts with history – it starts with this complex history that is both Canada and Japan and I’m just starting to build with it. And as much as there is trauma or hardship there, I’m also very drawn to the idea of hope or possibility.
My grandmother was a gardener, in fact, they had a strawberry farm like many other Japanese Canadian farmers and this was confiscated from them by the government. I remember that when I was in Japan in 2009 I interviewed my great aunt who lived in Shizuoka and she had said she knew through letters that they got the elds just right so that they can successfully get a good crop of berries. Berries are a di cult fruit to grow – you really have to intuit the land, the weather such as frost, etc.
MH: (to Tazuko) What do you think of your daughter’s process of making contemporary art through the integration of these memories and stories belonging to others?
TM: I think it’s interesting because for me it’s something I overlooked or didn’t see. Sometimes it’s information that was not shared to me. For example, when Cindy created the work Shiro Yagi (8) which is a lm using my father’s poetry and music. I remember Cindy asked her friend to play the piano score and I had not heard the music before in my life. When I heard the music.
CM: She said ‘Oh this was what my father was like.” She didn’t know who he was until he heard the music. Not all my work is about this synthesis. But I think there are many aspects that play with the unseen. I think the audience experience of the work is also very big part of the meaning making, without that aspect I think the magic cannot happen.
Translated by Makiko Hara
1. (1) Tazuko Mochizuki was born in Osaka, and raised in Yokohama, moved to Vancouver to marry Toshi Mochizuki (Cindy’s father who was sansei)
2. (2) Frances Fumiye Mochizuki, Cindy’s father’s mother was born in Eburne, British Columbia. nisei Canadian. Before the Second Word War, she was working on a strawberry farm with her husband (Cindy’s grandfather), but the house and the farm was confiscated in 1942,
and sent to internment camps until 1946. After the internment camp, they were repatriated to Japan, then she returned to Vancouver in 1963 with her husband. She passed away in 2003 at the age of 91.
3. (3) Cindy Mochizuki participated 2014 Koganecho Bazaar Artist in Residency: Fictive Communities Asia (Curated by Makiko Hara), and stayed in Yokohama for 3 months from June to the end of August. She produced site speci c art projects: Fortune House、Port of Dream, Loch.
4. (4) Mörkö, 2012
5. (5) Confections, 2012
6. (6) Things On the Shoreline, 2015
7. (7) Rock, Paper, Scissors, 2014-
8. (8) Shiro Yagi, 2012
Please refer to Cindy Mochizuki’s website for details. www.cindymochizuki.com