March to December
By Cindy Mochizuki (Curator)
The Ito family donated their father’s archive with an award for someone to do research and to create a public presentation of Roy Ito’s work. I was the recipient of this award proposing an online interactive project that would house three new works in response to an item within his archive. I selected the artists Kyo Maclear, Baco Ohama and Julie Tamiko Manning as they each have done work in and around issues of history and memory; and in one way or another work with writing as a medium within their artistic practices. I was already drawn to the war journal when I went to the Museum to have a look at the items in the Ito Collections. Ito’s collection reveals his interest in writing and research, he was one of the editors of the New Canadian and as well a writer/historian himself of social science and history books on Nisei Soldiers/JC history, so the types of things collected from him were textual—Newspaper clippings, writings, articles, and notebooks etc. There was a fair bit on the Redress movement as he was following that as well; especially what was happening in Toronto. But I chose to delve into an area that I wasn’t too familiar with and the item that gravitated to me was in fact this war journal. The war journal was something Ito had with him while he served in the Canadian Intelligence Corps through the British Army. The Canadian government was not enlisting JC soldiers after Japan declared war in WWII and because they didn’t have the franchise. Only on January 1, 1945 did the Canadian government remove these restrictions but again it was only because they British Army wanted translators and interrogators of Japanese POWs.
Of the many things in the archive that we could have worked with, the artists all expressed interest in the war journal as well, when I gave out the list of items in the archive to each of the artists (via email as they all reside in other regions of Canada and US) before we were all going to meet for a ‘creative and research based think tank’ that was happening in Vancouver at the JCNM in I believe last June of 2008. We flew the artists in and they stayed with the archives and the journal for about three or four days, a short time. They had never worked together in this capacity before, some had never even met. So it was a creative risk but this particular combination of artists just worked and interestingly, they come from different disciplines. Julie is a playwright and an actress, Baco, an interdisciplinary artist and Kyo, a writer. As part of the process, I also gave each artist a particular layer of the journal that I thought might interest the artist based on ideas that I thought they might like to work with.
There was so much in that little journal that I can never really quite articulate, I could sense and feel from his writing that it was a difficult and complex act for him to be serving in the war; that he was very aware of the contradictions and the position he was in as a JC interrogating a Japanese POW while at the same time knowing that the country he is fighting for was interning his community on the west coast. There was a lot happening before his eyes that he was recording and going through; the journal speaks to these moments and speaks to the things we often don’t read about and hear in official history.
During the artistic think tank the artists picked up on some of these complexities and sensitively worked through the material with great respect and care. We worked long days at the Museum and all of them basically left back to their homes with an idea of what they were going to create. Of course they took with them a copy of the war journal. By the end of fall, the artists had finished their works and that is what you see online in each of the individual windows that I created. The overall look of the site was already predetermined in the summer and the artists had left knowing where their works would be housed. We worked a lot together on email back and forth getting it to be just so.