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Creating tangible memories


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POSTED: Sunday, March 29, 2009

Memory, storytelling and a love of home all mesh in a winning way in “;Discovering Buffalo,”; Corinne Kamiya's contribution to the “;20 Going on 21”; exhibit at the Contemporary Museum.

Kamiya's paper and glass installation earned her the museum's first Ellen Choy Craig Award “;for her outstanding work and promise,”; says Georgianna Lagoria, museum executive director.

The artist based her work on a personal story about how she grew up in Hawaii believing that bison were extinct. Then, at age 23 while living in California, Kamiya visited Golden Gate Park and saw a bison field.

“;I thought, 'WHAT?' It was like seeing a unicorn or something,”; she recalls. “;I really loved that story, and I told it over and over to everyone I knew.”;

Since then, Kamiya, now 28, has moved to Boston to attend the Massachusetts College of Art for a master's degree. Boston was the first place she'd moved to where she didn't know a soul.

“;I was completely alone, and the story became more detached because anyone I told it to had not shared in my life in any real way. And after a while, the story felt like a myth rather than something that happened to me. And I realized that memory is a really fragile thing.”;

To express that fragility, Kamiya employs the fragile media of paper and glass, assembling dozens of glass vials, each encasing a cutout paper tree, into a “;bison forest.”;

A second facet of “;Discovering Buffalo”; explores the concept of gift-giving. Kamiya utilizes leftover paper from the tree cutouts to document fragments of her bison story. Each piece is put in a red gift box and piled one atop the other on a fragile shelf. The shelf sags with the weight of the gifts, and boxes eventually fall to the ground, revealing a part of her story. Those pieces are offered as gifts for visitors to take home.

For Kamiya, gift-giving relates directly to Hawaii culture.

“;Hawaii has such a generous spirit. There's a lot of gift-giving in this culture. It's how we tie ourselves to our community in a tangible way,”; she says.

Kamiya says that when she installed a similar show in Boston, people reacted with discomfort to the idea of taking a gift.

“;In Massachusetts the gift culture is ambiguous. ... People feel a gift comes with obligation, and they don't want to take things. They want to 'pay their own way.'

“;You know how you go out with friends in Hawaii and someone pays, and you say, 'Get you next time'? I didn't know that was a Hawaii thing. But it's that spirit of 'Get you next time' that makes us so tight as a community. So I've been interested in the concept of gift-giving as a way to reach out.”;

Kamiya says her moves from Hawaii have taught her more about home.

“;I feel like for a long time, I couldn't see what Hawaii is. But Boston is the furthest I've gone, and now I can say, 'I wanna live here!' Whenever my Hawaii friends and I talk (they also have moved to the mainland), we talk of Hawaii as home. Other people don't do that. Home is wherever they live.”;

Kamiya eventually plans a move to Jersey City—“;I have a boyfriend there and it's near New York”;—but her background continues to shape her art.

“;The process of making something is really important to me. It's about trying to create muscle memory, to know it so well the hands know how to do it. The labor aspect is what interests me,”; she says.

“;I think art has the potential to make us see our humanity. I grew up on a farm, and we always worked together. So the artwork I love is all about labor.”;

Kamiya was especially touched that the fruits of her labor were honored at the Contemporary Museum.

“;I saw art for the first time there, when I was 16 or 17, so it's amazing to be able to be in a show there. I couldn't believe it was real.”;