Shako Club (or ‘social club’) is a two month long residency project with Vancouver-based artist Cindy Mochizuki and members from Tonari Gumi who will work together over the course of two months to create a social club setting where she will engage with these members in a process of creative exchange through a series of free workshops in the Tonari Gumi kitchen. Mochizuki will work with participants around concepts of wellness, care and food where they will construct culinary “sculptures” incorporating aspects of their own stories, ideas and wellness philosophies. These personal compositions will then be incorporated into the form of the bento box – a traditional Japanese meal set of various plates and dishes. Playing with the form of the bento, participants will work to create a unique “edition” of boxes that incorporate the personal stories gleaned from the workshops, as well as specific recipes and sweets created in the kitchen.
For the final three weeks, the general public can request a limited edition, edible lunch box, in exchange for a “gift” for the seniors who made them. Through this simple—yet deeply collaborative—system of exchange, the notion of caring community gently extends, through food and sociability, into the wider community.
Shako club is a project initiated by the grunt gallery working in collaboration with Tonari Gumi (Vancouver’s Japanese Community Volunteer Association) and the Asian Canadian Studies Society. For more information visit www.shakoclub.com
An In-Conversation with Vanessa Kwan, grunt gallery’s Curator of Community Engagement, and Cindy Mochizuki
CM: Vanessa, firstly let’s talk about your curatorial practice and your interests in projects like Shako Club and how it connects to the kinds of programming your are doing at the grunt.
VK: At grunt I’ve been working on a few different projects – all to do with the 30th anniversary of the gallery this year. To celebrate our anniversary, we’ve turned our attention to the community and neighbourhood that surrounds us – and are producing projects that explore how we– the gallery– and art practices in general can relate to and engage people in various ways. Shako Club is part of this series of projects.
VK: How did this idea come into being?
CM: Shako Club or projects similar to its scope, where I am working with non-artist groups or individuals to make artwork, has been on my mind for some time. I’ve been involved in several kinds of projects that consider these ways of working in the community but also questioning what is possible within projects that explore social practices. In 2012, curator Makiko Hara had invited me to be part of a group exhibition called To/From BC Electric Railway 100 Years at Centre A that looked at the gallery’s former space which was the historic Electric Railway building as a departure point for the neighborhood and its histories. For the exhibition I produced a work called Confections, where I worked with elders from TG and the Nikkei Centre auxiliary team to learn and to make confectionary treats similar to the kinds found in the Powell Street area before the war. The treats were made available at the gallery through a makeshift confectionary stand.
If we imagine an artwork to have a front and back, I was more interested in what gets done at the back end of things that is sometimes unseen. It was about bringing the process to the front. So Shako Club, though it has an end point, is really about what goes on in the ‘kitchen’ metaphorically and literally.
VK: You have a diverse practice, involving sculptural installation, drawing, as well as more community-engaged aspects. Do you see all of these as related practices?
CM: They are definitely all inter-related. I think that my practice is quite wide – it’s interdisciplinary and though it may seem disparate on the outside (I’m consistently moving through different mediums performance, drawing, installation, audio work, fiction, collaboration, etc) I think there’s a through-line that is deliberate and consistent in my work.
VK: Can you talk a bit about the workshops – how does coming together as a social club lead to making art?
CM: I prepare a workshop that is often food-based and gets the participants cooking right away in the kitchen. We have been using the 3 elements that make up a bento (Mountain, Land, Water) and using this framework while we experiment and try out meals. We also build ideas sometimes through drawing-based assignments, just to get the participants engaged in the making of the wooden bento box or even how we will move from ‘questionnaire’ to bento creations etc. There are several levels of thinking and making in Shako Club. I want the participants to engage in all levels of meaning-making. It’s also a social club, as you mentioned, so it’s also about getting together and spending time in the space of the kitchen, cooking, making meals – there’s a great element of care that goes into it. Which is part of it too. In the next few weeks, we are going to gather up some recipes from our family kitchens and bring them back into Shako Club. In the mid 1980’s there used to be a recipe column by Fumiko Greenaway in The Bulletin called Community Kitchen – I was a teen at that time, but I distinctly remember it. So I’m going to spend some time digging through the old Bulletins and possibly bringing some of these famous recipes into our kitchen.
VK: This is a collaboration between Tonari Gumi, grunt gallery, and the Asian Canadian Studies Society. Is collaboration something you are used to in your practice?
CM: I have worked collaboratively for many years with other artists and groups from a range of disciplines. A lot of my work also involves, as I had mentioned earlier, individuals like family members who are non-artists. I’m for the most part a social creature. I like bouncing ideas of people and often work well in a situation where there is a team of people working together.
VK: And what about the collaboration with the members of Tonari Gumi? How do you see you all working together?
CM: It’s been a really positive experience; the members are all very open and generous in terms of the environment I’ve created to make these limited edition ‘artworks’. They know that the project is in the context of a community-engaged art practice; they know that it’s something more than a cooking class. They are open to see where it will all go. We have a framework in place and some end goals, but it’s a group that is willing to go with the flow. Which is absolutely rewarding in terms of creative process.
VK: What do you hope comes out of this project? Do you have expectations?
CM: Every Thursday morning, I walk into the room and I have an idea of what to expect but I’m starting to become more interested in the unexpected things that arise from creating a collaborative situation like Shako Club. Sure, there is the end product – the 60 limited edition bentos, but a project like this is also about what’s happening presently in the room and the simple things we sometimes overlook that arise – the conversations and stories that are sparked and the other kinds of effects that this project has just in terms of our everyday lives.
VK: You’ve mentioned the idea of wellness in talking about the project before. Can you explain this idea?
CM: It’s about the kinds of things that sustain us. Whether it be telling stories, making food, spending time together. And about how these inter-connected elements feed us – give us life. At Tonari Gumi they have it in their mandate to create programs that keep the elders mentally and physically fit so that they may lead long healthy lives. I think it’s a simple way of thinking about life that can be applied to any kind of practice and its something that I hope has been extended into Shako Club.