Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Emma Nishimura " Reckoning with Memories "

Queen Sonja Print Award
The Queen Sonja Print Award is the world’s leading award for graphic art, and is presented every two years. Originally a Nordic prize, the prize became international in 2016. The winner receives a cash prize of NOK 400,000 and a residency at the Atelje Larsen art studio in Helsingborg, Sweden.

Curators, museum directors and fellow artists from all over the world nominated forty-two artists for the 2018 Award. The nominees reflect the breadth of contemporary printmaking today, ranging from traditional forms to new approaches involving installation, collage and performance.

In 2018, The Queen Sonja Print Award was given to Emma Nishimura, from Canada.

Emma Nishimura (b.1982) lives and works in Toronto, Canada. Her work ranges from traditional etchings, archival pigment prints, drawings, and audio pieces to art installations. Her work is in public and private collections and has been exhibited nationally and internationally.
The artist explores notions of memory and how history is interpreted and re-negotiated, through a varied use of traditional and contemporary printmaking techniques. Her body of work is exquisite and consistent – exhibiting an exceptional thoroughness of aesthetic. Nishimura bridges the boundaries between mediums. Her works incorporate traditional prints, sculptural objects, installations, audio pieces, photogravures, drawings and writing.

The following is from an interview with Nishimura after receiving the award:

How did your work become so rooted in your own family history?
I got a grant from the Ontario government for a project in which I investigated my heritage and being mixed race. So I went to my mum’s basement, rummaged around, looking for old photos and I came across this box that said “Baachan’s Sewing Patterns”. [Baachan meaning grandmother in Japanese] I open it up and inside there was about 200 miniature paper garments of beautiful craftsmanship. To match all of those clothing patterns were five books of drawings – she had taken a drafting course in 1941 in Vancouver. Inside one of those books was a sheaf of notebook pages dated 1943. It was just Japanese names and measurements. In 1943, she was interned in the camps, she was making clothes in the camps. So, I found this box and I thought how do I talk about her work and her journey? How do I make my own work about all of these stories?

Why choose printmaking?

I’ve always loved working with my hands. And I sewed a lot. I’ve always been very physical with work and manipulated things. I discovered printmaking in high school and then really focused on it in university.

You have incorporated various types of papers – from photographs and written testimonies to maps – in your works. What potency do you think documents have?

It’s how do you make sense of them and what you do with them. I have these amazing photos but then they stay in this album. And there’s something incredibly special about sharing them. I’ve found my way to meeting people who my grandparents knew. But then everything stays tucked away in these boxes, or on the shelf or relegated to a basement. That has been a push in my work, how do I make these accessible.
Thinking about the weight of memory and the stories that are passed down from one generation to the next (and the stories that are lost as well), this body of work explores the idea of what it might look like to package and archive memory. An extension of the Collected Stories series, this work is part of an ongoing installation project that focuses on the narratives surrounding the Japanese Canadian internment.

The series consists of hundreds of small bundled forms, known as furoshiki. This Japanese wrapping technique can be used to both store and protect. It may wrap a gift or be purely utilitarian. Working with photo-intaglio and sculptural papermaking processes, the bundles appear to contain an assortment of objects and have varying illusions of physical weight. However, all of the bundles are empty - mere shells that bear only the traces of what they once held. Many of the forms reveal elements of photographic imagery, small moments that link and connect with different stories and memories. All of the photographs have been archived from family albums, my own, as well as others. I will continue to make more bundles, as I complete further interviews and collect photographs from different storytellers.

Your work looks at the telling and retelling of stories. What interests you about that ongoing process?

Initially when I was doing the research I was talking to my mum and talking to my aunt, realizing that they have very different versions of the same story. All of these gaps. And I went back and reread this novel that I read as a kid and all of a sudden I discovered that what I had concocted as my grandmother’s experience was really that of the main character in the novel. There is this beautiful way that memory conflates. We don’t really know what the real version is.

Do you think there are parallels between the act of printmaking and that of revising and adapting tales?

Absolutely. Everything is endlessly reworked. I can make a finished piece but then I cut it up and reassemble it. Print affords you a bit of a structure but then there are so many steps along the way for different paths to appear.

You have turned prints into three-dimensional sculptural works using photographs and texts relating to the period of the internment. Was that always the plan?

No, I had no idea. I took sculpture early on and thought I don’t know if this is really for me. And now it’s a lot of how I think. With the sculptural pieces, the next step is to really grow that installation. I’ve made 350 and the goal is to make 1,000, for viewers to be really immersed in those stories and those memories.