Arts·The world of

Look at what Vancouver's Cindy Mochizuki and her fourth- and fifth-grade collaborators made

Cindy Mochizuki spends much of her time building complex multimedia art projects. But the Vancouver artist’s world is also crawling with what she calls “inky creatures” that remind her to slow down and let go.

Vancouver artist steps outside normal practice with tiny inky creatures

Cindy Mochizuki spends much of her time building complex multimedia art projects. But the Vancouver artist's world is also crawling with what she calls "inky creatures" that remind her to slow down and let go.

When I'm stuck — when I cannot push forward — I'll just throw ink down.- Cindy Mochizuki, artist

​Mochizuki's latest exhibition, Things on the Shoreline, at Vancouver's Access Gallery, is a delicate pop-up paper jungle inhabited by whimsical ink-blot drawings produced by fourth and fifth grade students during a series of workshops she facilitated at two Vancouver schools last fall.

The premise of the workshops was simple. Mochizuki told the kids to imagine wandering along a barren shoreline. After a long wait, strange creatures start to emerge from the water. She says the story represents the artistic process, from the slow emergence of inspiration to the gradual unfolding of a creative project.

In fact, making inky creatures — dribbling Payne's Gray ink onto wet paper, sprinkling it with salt and then adding features to turn the splotches into creaturely things — is a tool that Mochizuki uses herself to bust through artistic roadblocks.

"When I'm stuck — when I cannot push forward — I'll just throw ink down, look for something, just play. I think we forget to play sometimes," she says.

Vancouver artist Cindy Mochizuki (Cindy Mochizuki)

Much of Mochizuki's work is solitary. She spends hours in archives or poring over family histories, transforming research and contemplation into layered installations that touch on themes of displacement, migration and family trauma. Mochizuki won the Vancouver Mayor's Arts Award for Film and New Media last year for a body of work that's been screened and exhibited in Hungary, Holland, Korea and Japan as well as across Canada and in the U.S.

Playing with ink provides Mochizuki with some relief from the intensity of her multimedia practice, as do community-engaged projects such as this one. She's worked with groups that range in age from children to senior citizens.

"I crave being in a social situation and feeling challenged," she says. "And as somebody who creates stories about life and people, I think it's important to be present with other people and be able to just listen and hear things." 

With Things on the Shoreline, Mochizuki and gallery director/curator Kimberly Phillips want to get people talking about kids and the art world.

"We wanted to think about who engages with the gallery space and who is granted permission to make work in a gallery. And oftentimes children are overlooked," she says.

"I thought it would be interesting to give the children agency to build, to create, and then to have that work be in the gallery."

The gallery exhibition brings the creatures and their habitats together with soundscapes and video storytelling. But it's only the beginning of the project. The workshops inspired Mochizuki to produce a fresh horde of "inky things" herself, which will fill a hardbound children's storybook to be published by Access Gallery in April.

Mochizuki has also created a Things on the Shoreline teacher's guide that's available as a free PDF download from the gallery's website. And the project has inspired a potential iPad app, too — the gallery is in discussions with interactive design company Rival Schools about developing a virtual version of the ink-drop art technique.

Although Mochizuki is interested in seeing these physical results of her project, it's ultimately the unpredictable moments of collective art-creation that she loves best.

"The thing that stays with me is the relationship with this group. We wouldn't have met unless I'd said 'I'm going to work with a group of you and we're going to create together.' With that comes a lot of responsibility but also, there's just stuff I'm not able to control," she says.

"It's all about putting something into action and just being able to trust that it'll happen."

Cindy Mochizuki: Things on the Shoreline. In partnership with Lord Strathcona Elementary and the Vancouver Japanese Language School. Feb 13-Apr 16. Access Gallery, 222 East Georgia, Vancouver, B.C. 604-689-2907.