Unchanging and changing and changing, a new solo exhibition and live performance by artist Alexa Kumiko Hatanaka, offers audiences an intimate engagement with the ancient art of washi, handmade Japanese paper. The exhibition features wearable washi artworks that are imbued with the life of the performers alongside the histories of craft and place that inform them.
“The historical craft of washi that I use could very well disappear. Washi is 100% environmentally sustainable and versatile in its possible uses, and it is for everyone. It is both affected by climate change and can be a response to it, yet it is marginalized as globalization has ensued. Washi is challenged by the same problems that devastate our environment, that results in homogenization and pollution, and so on. Therefore, as much as this exhibition is personal and poetic, there is also an urgent motivation to highlight: that washi and the way of living that is required to support the continuity of the washi, living reciprocally with nature, is endangered. Having performers wear my washi artwork is expressing one part of its amazing capabilities,” says Hatanaka.
A video gives viewers a glimpse into her process of making the exhibition at a residency with seventh-generation papermakers at Kashiki Seishi in Japan, who create the specific washi she has used for over a decade now.
“This exhibition is a response to aftershocks from tsunamis, both real and metaphorical. There were literal earthquakes/tsunamis that spurred my family’s immigration to Canada in 1923, and later the Tōhoku Disaster in 2011. There are responses to impacts from personal earthquakes/tsunamis: inherited grief, strengthening from and liberating myself from toxicity, isolation and disintegration of self, and all interrelated to a near life-long struggle with mental health. Seeking answers and change, and through working with washi I have grown more capacity to embrace joy and expression, and that is embodied in the actual fun I’ve had with friends and collaborators bringing my wearable artwork to life.”
The work in this exhibition and the live performance integrates her formative childhood experiences in dance at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC).
This year, the JCCC is celebrating 60 years since its founding. Called “kanreki,” this anniversary is especially important in Japanese culture as it represents the beginning of a new life cycle that is synonymous with rebirth. To mark this milestone anniversary, the JCCC has planned a number of events that celebrate its rich history as one of the largest and most vibrant Japanese cultural centres in the world.
“The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre was established as a means to welcome all Canadians with the motto, “Friendship through culture” and to introduce Japanese Canadian heritage to a wider audience,” says Chris Hope, Board Chair and President of the JCCC. “We’ve also had the great pleasure of being a resource for second and third and fourth generations like Alexa, who have fostered their curiosity about Japanese culture through the many wonderful programs we continue to offer.”
Opening night begins with musicians Benja and Peach Luffe performing in custom washi wearables by Hatanaka.
Following the music, Unchanging and changing and changing is a performance that expresses the themes of the exhibition, and brings together Taiko drumming, Nihon Buyo (dance) and washi techniques used for costuming. These three Japanese expressions are combined in the spirit of celebrating the potential of hybrid, personal and contemporary interpretations of historical practices. Developed collaboratively with Hatanaka, the performance features drummers Jody Chan & Wy Joung Kou and a mother and daughter dance duo, Katherine Yamashita & Danielle Yamashita, the latter of whom Hatanaka danced with as a child.