Portland Playhouse Performances Portland Oregon Events

Loss, Memory & Connection at The Reser

The Beaverton arts center's exhibitions "Invisibilia" and "1,000 Moons" explore Asian heritage and the legacy of Japanese American incarceration camps.

|

Emily Jung Miller’s “1,000 Moons” at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts.

THIS YEAR MARKS the 80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066. Signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in February 1942, just two months after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the order called for the immediate relocation of over 100,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry. Forced from their homes and businesses, they were first moved to assembly centers, such as the Pacific International Livestock Exposition building in north Portland, now known as the Portland Expo Center.

Nearly 3,700 people were temporarily housed at that site alone in buildings that had been previously used for livestock, before they were moved to remote internment camps at Heart Mountain, Minidoka, Tule Lake, and others across the country. Internees were required to pin government-issued tags to their clothes, on which read their names, where they were from, their final camp destination, and a 5- to 6- digit family identification number. One of the greatest violations of human civil rights in our country’s history, this mass incarceration still resonates, through intergenerational trauma and loss, with Japanese Americans today.

Artist Sandra Honda, talking about her work at The Reser. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Entering the Art Gallery at Beaverton’s Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, viewers are met by a wall lined with tags representing those identification tags worn by Japanese American families during their forced internment. “Camp Trauma (We Endure),” a multimedia collaboration between visual artist Sandra Honda and sound artist Mei-Ling Lee, incorporates light, voice, and electronic sound to highlight the individual tags and the stories of internees. Drawings on the tags were adapted from the photographs that War Relocation Authority photographers, including Dorothea Lange, took at the camps.

Honda, whose own family was among those incarcerated, painstakingly made linocuts by hand and then pieced the printed segments together to create the barbed wire fencing that accompanies “Camp Trauma” and other works in the exhibit.

Sandra Honda’s “Camp Trauma (We Endure).” Photo: Joe Cantrell
Messages in the sand: past and present meet in Honda’s work. Photo: Joe Cantrell

The work is a fitting introduction to the two exhibits on view at the Reser through August 13. Invisibilia, a haunting multimedia exhibit featuring the work of Honda, Lee, and Jefferson Goolsby, explores the historical trauma and generational grief of descendants of those interned and the personal elements of racism, identity, and connection for Asian Americans today. 1,000 Moons, an installation by Chinese-American artist Emily Jung Miller on the upper level of the Reser, is a breathtaking visual testament to loss and memories. Both exhibits are curated by Karen De Benedetti, Gallery Coordinator.

Search for Connection

Across the gallery from “Camp Trauma” is “See Me, Know Me,” also a multimedia collaboration between Honda and Lee. A self-portrait by Honda is accompanied by an audio recording of the artist talking about her desire for viewers to make a connection with her and come to know her as an individual. Lee’s evocative recording of Honda’s voice pulls the viewer into the digital, abstract portrait. “Sit down with me and I can have a conversation with you,” explains Honda. “How can we connect and make things happen? Through conversation.” A QR code on the wall allows the viewer to explore a deeper connection with the self-portrait, a tool used by the artists elsewhere in the exhibit to further viewer interaction and engagement with the works.

“See Me, Know Me” is one of three pieces by Honda in the exhibition that were funded by the Oregon Arts Commission.

Themes of identity, social engagement, and connection run throughout the exhibit. “All of the work, mine and that of Mei-Ling and Jeff, fall under the concepts of how we are in the world with others and ourselves,” said Honda.

A native of Chicago, Honda left her career as a speechwriter and scientist in Washington, D.C. in 2018 and moved to Eugene to pursue her work as an artist. As a Japanese American visual artist, her intent is to “build shared understandings of the past as present and future. My hope is that these understandings in some small way help make us better choices going forward.”

Sandra Honda, “This V.” Photo: Joe Cantrell

Honda’s recent series of ink paintings on birch panel and paper, titled “This,” focuses on the artist’s fingerprints as a continuation of her identity-based work. Each mark, made by a thumb or a finger, or multiple fingers, was made in the moment. Each individual ink mark demanded the artist’s immediate presence, the repetition marking the passage of time. “I worked without really thinking what was coming next,” said Honda, “just going to my intuitive, primal instinct. I don’t even see it as a series of marks, but as a whole.”

Sandra Honda, “This,” I-IV. Photo: Joe Cantrell

On the back wall of the gallery, Honda’s mixed media installation “Grief (We Remember)” reprises the imagery of the identification tags assigned to people during their internment. More than 240 individual tags were each flooded with ink. Then, while the tags were still wet, Honda used her fingers to rub off the surface. The result represents the collective grief of the individual internees.

On a pedestal nearby the “Grief” wall sits “Mottainai (Memories),” a mixed-media installation featuring a small bowl made of woven flax. Within the bowl lie the “ashes” left from the creation of the tags on the wall. In the Buddhist tradition, white ashes pay homage to the departed dead, as these ashes pay homage to those from the camps who have passed. “Mottainai is often translated from the Japanese as ‘don’t waste’,” said Honda. “This also means cherishing memories and showing gratitude towards things we might be tempted to discard.”

Sandra Honda, “Grief Wall.” Photo: Joe Cantrell
Sandra Honda, “Mottanai.” Photo: Joe Cantrell

Presence

ADJACENT TO HONDA’S WORKS is “Presence,” a visual display by Jeff Goolsby featuring individual photographs taken in various locations during a year he spent circumnavigating the globe. He worked with Gallery Assistant Nee Anuskewicz, who suggested an idea to make the display interactive for the viewers. Each photo is mounted on a magnet, allowing the viewer to move the images individually and to consider their connection to the person in the photograph. “I wanted to encourage the visitor to pause and slow down,” says Goolsby. “One of my intentions is for people to step in and feel like they’re making a connection to the images and the people in them, even though they’re very different from the typical environment that the viewers find themselves in. I’ve just wanted people to feel a connection to people from such different places and living such different lives from the life of the Northwest.”

Jeff Goolsby, “Presence.”

Trilogy

Goolsby also collaborated with his wife, sound artist Mei-Ling Lee, on a series of videos, collectively entitled “Trilogy,” on view in a small studio at the back of the gallery. Goolsby is an intermedia artist working in photography, film/video, interactivity, performance, sound design, and written and spoken word. Lee is a Taiwanese-born musician, composer, and performer working in cross-cultural forms using electronic music and instruments as the medium.

“Trilogy” features three videos, each approximately 11 minutes long. The work is a true family affair, as not only did Lee and Goolsby collaborate on the stories, the video, and the sound, but their two daughters, Jayling and Jayshing, are featured in the three pieces.

Sponsor
Bag & Baggage Theater Productions Shakespeare Hillsboro Oregon

The works began with Goolsby’s stories, then the couple collaborated, passing their words, video, and sound back and forth until they had completed the piece to their mutual satisfaction. 

“The Lighted Windows” was inspired by their daughter’s question of what happens inside people’s lighted windows at night. “I just thought that was such a wonderful reminder of that curiosity,” said Goolsby, “that she wished she could learn more. And so it becomes, of course, something of a fantastical journey in each of the stories. The protagonist in each gets to find out more about what they’re thinking about.”

Jeff Goolsby and Mei-Ling Lee, still from “The Ocean Thief.”

“The Lighted Windows,” “The Ocean Thief,” and “The Beautiful Feather” tell the story of people finding their voices. “The protagonists each suffer a bit of trauma and they’re all having these challenging, difficult experiences and persisting with their vision, not letting themselves be dissuaded from the way moving forward, even as their view of the world changes from their lived experiences.”

Lee’s sound composition provides an essential element in the storytelling. “To me, I always feel like I don’t want my music to be a complement, because that means it’s not really that important,” she explained. “Whenever I am adding some sound or adding notes, or anything I am adding, I always ask if it’s really necessary. I will try to use my music to interpret the way I think will make the story more complete. That’s why all three stories I looked at as a complete kind of intertwine with each other.”

1,000 Moons

Emily Jung Miller with her installation “1,000 Moons.” Photo © Chris Goldthorpe

ON THE SECOND FLOOR of the Reser, hundreds of paper moons hang along a corridor, gently turning as viewers pass along them. “I’ve realized how responsive they are to human presence,” says artist Emily Jung Miller. “They react to you being there. One of my friends said it’s like they’re alive.”

Life and death, memories and the passage of time are central to Miller’s installation, 1,000 Moons. When Miller lost her beloved grandparents to Covid in 2021, in her grief she struggled with her sense of time. “I started trying to reconnect with the natural cycles, the cycles of the moon, in particular.” It was January here in Oregon and, for the first full moon after Miller’s grandmother died, the skies were clear. “I saw the full moon rising and it felt like a really strong sort of grounding point in time for me. My thought was that this was the first full moon that I’ve seen in my life that she hasn’t been here to see, too. Then I figured out, after a while, how many full moons she had seen in her 94 years of life and it became a sort of way for me to relate to both of my grandparents and the full span of what 94 years looks like. And it allowed me personally to reground myself back into the present moment in a way that was healing for me.”

Closeup views of Emily Jung Miller’s “1,000 Moons.” Photos: Joe Cantrell

Through her process of mourning her grandparents, Miller, a mixed-race Chinese American whose mother was hesitant to share her Chinese heritage with her, has found herself leaning more into being a Chinese person and understanding what that means in America today. “We couldn’t do the normal things to mourn because of Covid,” she pointed out. “But also, there’s just not a lot of that space available in our American culture.” She has begun actively learning about her Chinese heritage and believes that, as in Japan, there is strong connection to ancestors and honoring them is deeply embraced.

Miller has worked with natural and reclaimed materials for over 20 years in a wide range of mediums, including watercolor and encaustic painting, functional porcelain ware, and interactive installation art. In addition to 1,000 Moons, her recent practice has also centered on Ghost Net Landscape, a collaborative community installation transforming reclaimed fishing gear into art.

Creating Moons

She began cutting moons from pieces of handmade paper she had brought with her from Kauai, from which she had relocated in 2014. Later she started making more sheets using materials from her grandparents’ history, including sheet music that her grandmother had played and kelp from the shore near her grandparents’ home on Deer Isle, Maine. Miller covered one full sheet of paper with handwritten stream-of-consciousness memories, knowing it would be fragmented into much smaller circles for final display.

The “1,000 Moons” papermaking process. Photo © Emily Jung Miller

She then stitched each circle together to form hanging rows of moons, working closely with curator De Benedetti on the installation at the Reser. “If you’re talking about the flow of your time and the flow of the ocean in relation to how the moons and waxing and waning and how that affects the tides, then stand in the gallery and feel that ocean,” said De Benedetti.

“I think she really understood where I was trying to go with this,” added Miller. “She knew the space and had a lot of ideas that made sense, like leaving gaps, rather than filling the entire space as much as I could.” The result is a mesmerizing corridor of moons floating gently from above. Full sheets of Miller’s paper also hang on the gallery walls, accompanying the strings of moons.

De Benedetti also recommended that Miller explore a use for the little triangles of paper that were left after cutting each moon. Affixed to the gallery wall at the end of the exhibit, the tiny pieces of paper lead the viewer off in an organic flow, much like, as De Benedetti suggests, a murmuration of starlings.

For Miller, the triangles are a visual representation of her own movement forward into the future. “This project isn’t finished, but I needed to do something to continue the process and to have some aspects of closure,” she reflected. “I’ve thought about how to include this present time in my life, after the end of my grandparents’ lives. The triangles are an exploration of what time has looked like for me, and for them, since their deaths.”

“1000 Moons” video still from Maine installation. Photo © Tate Yoder

Miller recently returned from an artists’ residency at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, which happens to be on Deer Isle, Maine, just three miles from where her late grandparents had lived and died. The trip allowed her to continue to collect additional materials from the area, but also to explore new mediums in which to continue her project. “I took the moons with me to Maine and hung them in the forest and floated them in the ocean. I’m still editing footage from videos I have, including an immersive walkthrough of the installation in the forest, as well as in the water.” She plans to screen an early cut of the videos at her artist’s talk on July 20 at the Reser.

***

Artists Talks

Reser Gallery Coordinator Karen De Benedetti, who curated the exhibits, in the gallery with a copy of Julie Otsuka’s book “When the Emperor Was Divine,” which artist Sandra Honda will discuss in a talk on July 29. Photo: Joe Cantrell

6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 20

Emily Jung Miller – 1,000 Moons Artist Talk & Grief Gathering
Hybrid in-person and Zoom event
Free, but RSVP required at gallery@thereser.org

After her grandparents’ deaths from COVID, artist Emily Jung Miller found her understanding of time becoming distorted and unreal. Miller shares her artistic process of grief and healing in 1,000 Moons, a mixed-media pathway visualizing her grandmother’s 94 years of life. The talk includes a short film screening of 1,000 Moons from an artist residency near her grandparents’ former home, and exploration of Miller’s identity as a mixed-race Chinese American. Following the artist talk, an optional grief session will be facilitated, inviting anyone who has experienced loss and grief to share their stories and journeys of healing.

***

5-10 p.m. Saturday, July 23 and Saturday, August 13

Sandra Honda and Emily Jung Miller Artists Talks

The artists will be at the Art Gallery at the Reser, talking about their work and their process, during the Beaverton Night Markets.

***

2 p.m. Friday, July 29

Sandra Honda –  Invisibilia Book Club Artist Talk & Discussion
Free, but RSVP required at gallery@thereser.org

Artist Sandra Honda creates artwork of personal and cultural histories of incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II. Extensively reading and researching, Honda discovered the novel When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka. Otsuka takes readers into the lives of Japanese Americans incarcerated in “relocation centers” and asks why and how families got moved to these “camps” and describes what life was like behind barbed wire. The artist will discuss her artwork in the context of this novel, as well as relating her work and the novel to her own family’s incarceration experiences.

***

Invisibilia and 1,000 Moons are on view through August 13 at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, 12625, S.W. Crescent Street, Beaverton.

Beth Sorensen has worked in communications in the arts and higher education since 1990 and has, as a generalist, written about a wide range of creative forms. Having lived throughout the state of Oregon over the years, she is particularly interested in sharing the stories of the artists who live and work around our region, discovering what inspires them and how they make their creative process a part of their daily lives. She currently lives in Southeast Portland with her husband and three rescue terriers.

Share:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.