Beginning May 3 and continuing until June 15, Workman Arts presents Fault Lines, a feature exhibition co-presented by Tangled Art + Disability, as part of the 2019 CONTACT Photography Festival.

Created by artists Leala Hewak and Laura Shintani, Fault Lines explores our acceptance of change and change through acceptance, the insight and growth gained from conditions of challenge and disruption. Using altered photographs, video, fabricated materials, and immersive installations, Hewak and Shintani effectively challenge some of the problematic and commonly accepted ideas about disability and aesthetics, while exploring ways to reframe our notions of recovery, adjustment, and adaptation.

We caught up with Shintani to learn a little more about the show.

SDTC: What does recovery mean to you?

LS: For me, recovery is not something that necessarily passes from betterment to betterment, as this might suggest false hopes and, at worst, relapse. I prefer to keep a modest perspective on the notion of recovery in knowing there are a whole range of comforts and discomforts. These passages are all human and ordinary. 

How would you describe “reclaiming trauma” for someone who has never considered that idea?

The idea of “reclaiming trauma” could be something that comes out of recognizing the need to acknowledge some kind of act of courage, or personal ownership, or a breach of territory.

First, I have learned that we might frame something as traumatic because the event has such an impact that the trauma doesn’t fit with day-to-day life after the trauma has long past. Someone might say, “Just get over it. It is in the past,” but what even a well-meaning person might not realize is that a reaction to such an encounter that was dramatically outside of everyday life was indeed survival. To reclaim trauma then, is to say, “I give myself the highest order of bravery that I survived,” and in doing so, this helps to reconnect yourself to yourself.

On a neurobiological front, perhaps by reclaiming trauma, the heavily trod synapses for hyper-vigilance can be slowly calmed and pruned and put into perspective. As a Japanese-Canadian, this kind of thinking is not only embodied within me but is carried through my artistic practice. This artistic concern can be witnessed in Bodywashi! in its suggestions of a contemporary act of purification rituals and in my current group show “Being Japanese Canadian: Reflections on a Broken World,” a major show at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Can you share with us what you set out to explore with this exhibition?

This two-person show, Fault Lines, at Tangled Arts + Disability (curated for the first time in co-ordination with two forward-thinking persons, Claudette Adams, Curator of Workman Arts and Sean Lee, Director of Programming) has made an adventure into the land of “What Happens If?”

It has been a lot of fun and I thank them for making this opportunity possible. Meeting and talking with Leala Hewak, who has created her photograph, Clone, has also been a very enlivening experience. For me, as with any exhibit, it’s not really about the work itself, it is about what comes out of the interactions of working with other people.

Before I forget, I really need to thank the whole team! Yay! Installations take a lot of work, and sometimes I fear I might have been sulking, wondering if the vision in my head for the piece will come together! Ha! A good spirit and being able to laugh is so important.

More specifically in direct relationship to the work, I was thinking [about the] given title of the show on this earth: there are many geologic fault lines, and if we were to extend this to act as a surrogate for ourselves, our ability to break a thousand times over and the potential of resilience and strength shows itself and we become stronger. A Japanese aesthetic treatment called kinsugi, addresses this transformation directly; this art form takes broken faults in a ceramic to be repaired in gold and it becomes more strong, valuable and more beautiful.

In this way, Bodywashi! firstly is a play on words: body and wash, body wash, washi (the Japanese word for paper), the exclamation point is an imperative to do something. To decisively take action. Essentially, Bodywashi! is a human washer. Did I ever tell you l love the car wash? I love the funny rotating brushes and flappy, wriggling rags. The whole process is splendid. The car goes from filthy to clean. I wanted to explore this idea of cleansing, layering ourselves with everything to overstate the ordinary state of the body.

Please, don’t get me wrong: hygiene is welcome, but to excess it has pushed humans to do silly things, such as invent a wonky thing called a car wash. In Japanese culture, bathing is a highly sought-after activity as can be seen in the numerous elaborate onsens. I wanted to put into question so-called normative and non-normative practices of thinking and doing and what is our relationship to how we may position ourselves in this framework.

While making the art, what did you think about a lot?

With autism, I get overstimulated; I receive all sensory channels at once. So I was wondering about how I might be able to express to others how navigating the world can be topsy-turvy for me. I thought about environments that are both controlled and yet somehow chaotic. I really love the car wash; I could spend all day passing through that! I was thinking I’d like people to allow that their dream state might just be completely plausible, it just happens to be another dimension of reality. I thought about how people really ought to acquaint themselves with alternate universes, or spheres of existence. They are all around us, and that is the next step to our ability to adapt and communicate more effectively with ourselves and the unknown.

What discovery did you make through the process of making this art for Fault Lines?

I discovered, figuratively speaking, I am always very blind, in my relationship between the concept and the realization of the work and myself. There are all these gaps that need to be filled and repaired for a installation to hang together. Even though my mind wants to move faster, there is a mist, like the prismatic ribbons in Bodywashi!, that force me to walk slower and take care that my core vision is maintained.

I had to quickly grab hold of a lot of hands, some familiar, some not, and it was as if we were all an untested human-chain to make an imagined reality a tangible one. I mean, this is not really a discovery; it is a given for anyone who is trying anything new. I had to let people in on my story—my truth—even when I thought I would be better off by not saying anything. This is vulnerability, and you would think that by working with the super people at Workman Arts or Tangled Arts + Disability this would be easier, but finding the ability to express your voice is always tricky. I am thankful for those who help me pull my truth out of me—ouch! Thank you, I feel much better…lol.

How does creating art help you?

Thank goodness, I can create art; otherwise, I don’t know what else I would do! I feel as if I am a part of a much larger whole. In saying this, I guess I have always felt excluded. As a kid, I moved around a lot and I was always seen as a bit of a curious person. So, art is a constant, a true friend…and well, I must admit an admirable foe. I am a type of person who hyper-focuses and enjoys world-making. With art I can indulge wildly.

What conversations would you like Fault Lines to inspire?

I really wish for people that they can be their own best friend. I wish that we didn’t have to look so heavily on so-called outward perfections. In Japanese philosophy, the oft quoted wabi-sabi is the idea that imperfection holds the site of beauty. In reference to disability, it is worthwhile to stop staring at a perceived fault and start looking at all the super strengths.

What are essential things for your own mental health and well-being?

Not ignoring those who love you and want to help you the most. At times, I think I am invincible and my art can rule the world! LOL. For me, sometimes it is difficult to see who those people might be, but it is by witnessing their actions and my actions that somehow a lot of really neat things can happen (though at times there might be resistance to trust that process because it just seems way simpler to be a semi-self-protective-hermit). When humanity fails me, I turn to my animal friends, and wherever I can find it, I find solace in soaking up nature and eating childhood favourite foodstuffs such as Swedish berries, blueberry toaster waffles and, oh, oatmeal.

Faults Lines, a co-presentation by Tangled Art + Disability and Workman Arts, takes place May 3 to June 15 at Tangled Art + Disability (401 Richmond St W., Ste 122).