Memories From Mio, My Grandmother’s Village

Miho McLaughlin

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Award Recipient

Renée Van Halm + Pietro Widmer Graduation Award for Visual Arts 

“Memories from Mio, my Grandmother’s Village” is a series of work exploring the multigenerational connections between the small village of Mio, Japan and Canada. Utilizing silk screen printmaking and sculptural ceramics, the project highlights important memories I have accumulated over the course of many years. Mio is a small seaside village located in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. This rural village where my grandmother is from has deep ties to Canada, and though the population is very small, over several generations a huge number of its residents decided to move to BC in hopes for work and a new life, my Grandmother included. The number of residents who immigrated was so high, the small village has been nicknamed “America Mura” (America Village) due to the connection with North America, and specifically British Columbia. In this small rural village a western style house was converted into Canada Museum. The first time I went to Mio with my sister and Grandparents we visited the museum. Among the exhibits was a picture of me as a baby and my older sister in a group photo of Japanese Canadians whose families are from Mio and now reside in Canada. I remember thinking how amazing it is to be part of the history of the people from Mio and through this project I am hoping to share my fond memories and the connections I have continued to make over the years.

This piece from the series is a silkscreen print based off of my Grandmother’s house in Mio. The house is home to many memories for me and my family and the house remains in our family to this day. It is a larger house than some would expect since most Japanese people live in such small homes; the relatively larger size is due to the fact that this area of Japan is very much in the countryside. There are bigger houses and a smaller population than other areas of Japan.

Another piece in the series is a postcard and package inspired by all of the thoughtful things my sister sent to me when she was living in Mio’s neighbouring town of Mihama. My sister decided to go back to the countryside where my Grandmother is from to teach and live there for three years. In this time I also went to live with her for a period of time and was fortunate to once again experience the place where my family comes from.

This portion of the piece was created by using silk screen printmaking on ceramics. The original postcard I used as reference holds this message written by my sister; it was part of one of the last packages sent before she came back to Canada.

The ceramic pieces make up my memory of receiving packages from my sister and sharing the connection family can have even when apart. The postage stamp reads “Gobo” which is the small city that is closest to the villages of Mio and Mihama. Gobo is the only place for the residents living in the countryside to go for groceries and essentials and of course to send out mail. My memory of the small city from when I was younger was much different than when I returned as an adult. As a young girl this city seemed really big and exciting compared to Mio and there was even a shopping centre. I remember as an adult celebrating my 25th birthday in the area with my sister. There was nothing too exciting to do, but we went to the store and celebrated with ice cream and my sister bought me earrings. I realized that even though life in the countryside can seem less exciting to some, there are also so many beautiful small moments that will become great memories forever. I will never forget my 25th birthday in Japan.

My sister would continue to send me packages and buy earrings from a local artisan in the Gobo shopping centre. I always looked forward to it. She would also make the most of the small shopping centre and grocery and see if she could find some new kit-kat flavour or treats for me to try. I wanted to represent the simplicity of what she was able to send from the area, yet how colourful and exciting it was to open and get the opportunity to maintain the connection with this area of Japan.

Creating the pieces in ceramic was important to me as the medium itself is permanent yet fragile. The majority of the items sent would be consumed and the packages disposed of. I wanted to create a lasting memory of the experience one gets when receiving a package from a loved one.

This ceramic sculpture represents one of my favourite memories of Mio, which is going for long walks through the village and stumbling across one of my favourite things to do: getting a cold drink from the vending machine. Urban Japan has an abundance of these machines conveniently placed at every turn. However, in Mio there are only a few by the water. Going for a long walk and stumbling across something new as a young girl was was always fun. The vending machine felt like a sign of modernization, connection to the bigger cities, and convenience that the residents of Mio only get in small quantities. A trip to the vending machine highlighted the more important natural environment around me consisting of rice fields, vegetable farms, the sea, and the generous Japanese people.

I hope to expand the project in the near future and provide art to the Canada Museum in Mio. I also plan on exploring both ceramics and print media to share my stories.

Below are photos of my grandparents in Mio, Japan.

Miho McLaughlin

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Miho McLaughlin is an interdisciplinary artist who resides in both Vancouver and Chemainus, BC. Focusing on ceramics and print media for her practice, she hopes to find creative ways to share personal stories and memories in both mediums. Her recent work is inspired by her personal research of her family’s ancestry. Miho hopes to combine ceramics and print media in her work to further explore reference and memory-based pieces. Being a student at Emily Carr University has inspired and motivated her to continue pursuing these ideas after graduation.

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