Haunting and enticing, the Stride Gallery’s latest exhibition is an array of the minute, surreal and ephemeral.
Entering the gallery space, two aspects of the environment immediately stand out — firstly, the quiet, rhythmic sounds, reminiscent of what you’d hear in a forest; secondly, the miniature town consisting of seemingly identical black shacks, perfectly gridded and stretching across the floor. The exhibition, as a whole, contains a further variety of miniatures as well as three life-sized installation pieces. Through his use of varying scale, Steven Nunoda creates Ghostown, a world that the viewer is at once removed from, yet part of.
Through his interpretation of the stories he gathered from his family and from other research, Nunoda’s Ghostown is, directly, a commentary on the experiences of Japanese-Canadians interned during the Second World War. Indirectly, it’s a commentary on immigrant experiences, issues of human rights, displaced populations, racism and overcoming struggles. The works create a focus for remembrance, sharing the experiences of interned Japanese-Canadians while further examining the effect of this period on subsequent generations.
“The title for the show comes from a term that was used by Japanese-Canadians of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation to talk about their internment experience,” explains Nunoda. “The camps themselves, a lot of them, were built on the sites of old mining towns in Interior B.C.... Some of them actually were ghost towns, and they were sort of rebuilt for the internment.”
Nunoda says the need to tackle this subject is pressing. “The generations that went through the internment are aging, and part of my fear is that there will be no one to tell these stories anymore — part of our function as artists is to be storytellers.”
“Ghostown,” the title piece of the exhibition, consists of a series of 110 fragile and dream-like tiny shacks made of black tar paper, which represent the 22,000 people who were interned at the camps. Each piece has clearly been crafted with meticulous care. You can peer through one window of “Rosebery Single” — a scale reproduction of Nunoda’s mother’s shack, precariously standing several feet off of the ground — and out the other. Looking through these vacant, miniscule dwellings creates feelings of voyeurism and displacement. The use of projections and sounds throughout the space adds to the surreal quality.
“The reason why they’re tar paper,” explains Nunoda, “is because [the shacks in the camps] were built from green lumber, and the lumber shrank. The wind would actually blow through these shacks, so many people clad the interiors with insulation paper. But, of course, you would use what you had, which in some cases was just tar paper. You can imagine the smell of the place.”
Nunoda’s mother told him of her father covering the interior of their shack in this manner. Though he draws on specific recollections such as this in his work, Nunoda embeds further levels of metaphor as well.
“In the tar-paper shacks there’s a reference to origami,” he says. “There’s a tradition of folding a thousand cranes as a devotional act — you might give someone a thousand cranes who is very ill in the hospital, or you could give someone a thousand cranes for their wedding. Cranes stand for longevity.”
“Ladder to the Moon,” a larger installation piece, overcomes its haunting mood to suggest aspirations and achievement. Comprised of a nine-foot orchard ladder topped with a rice-paper globe, the piece embraces the viewer in a way that the miniatures cannot. The phases of the moon are projected onto it, each day condensed into a minute as the moon swells and wanes while viewers explore, marking the passing of each moment.
While each piece in Ghostown is formed through a cross-generational translation of the recollections of interned Japanese-Canadians, Nunoda’s works are not limited by this. The contemplative metaphors within the exhibition speak not only to specific aspirations and struggles, but offer a reflection of each viewer’s own history.