Video artist’s Victoria show a movement of memory

What: Hiraki Sawa: Under the Box, Beyond the Bounds

Where: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

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When: Opening Friday at 8 p.m. Free artist’s talk at Camosun College, Saturday at 7 p.m. Show continues through Jan. 11

Tickets: Free opening. Regular gallery admission: $13 adults, $11 seniors and students, $2.50 youth, children and members free. (Admission for youth free while B.C. schools remain closed).


The camera shifts between rooms in an unoccupied apartment, in the piece of video art that first drew attention to Hiraki Sawa.

But in the mundane spaces — among them a bathtub, an unmade bed and a narrow hallway — is something fantastical. Miniature passenger flights take off from the carpet, float through doorways and land on table tops.

Dwellings is simple, and there are many interpretations.

But video artist Sawa said the typical feedback from audiences who see the piece is that it reminds them of what it was like to have an active imagination as a child. And memory, it turns out, is a theme that ties many of Sawa’s works together in a new exhibition at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Organized by chief curator Michelle Jacques, it is the first comprehensive Canadian exhibition of Sawa’s work, according to the gallery.

Sawa, 37, was born in Japan, but moved to London, England, to attend art school. He studied sculpture at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but began creating video art during grad school. His sculpture experience has affected the way he presents the shows, he said — he imagines the gallery space in three dimensions as part of the installation.

His video work — often quiet, sometimes dark and sometimes magical — covers a wide variety of themes from psychology to migration and sense of time and place.

If there’s a theme to the show, Sawa said it might be memory.

“The reason I started having an interest in memory is because people would come up to be saying … that [Dwellings] was like a child-like dream, things you used to imagine,” he said.

“So I started thinking about what memory does to people.”

His inspiration for Dwellings, which he created in 2002, came from his own childhood memories. His grandmother instilled a love of airplanes in him by taking him to the airport to watch planes take off.

But an event in 2007 made him consider memory directly and shifted his artistic focus. A friend from Japan who also lived in London experienced unexplained amnesia.

“He suddenly got amnesia. Went to sleep for 20 minutes or so and woke up with nothing,” Sawa said.

The friend had taken a nap during work and his co-workers thought he was joking.

“He said: ‘Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing here?’”

Doctors have not identified what caused the amnesia, Sawa said. But his memory has yet to return. For the past few years, Sawa has continued to visit him — a surreal experience when he has a decade of history with the friend.

“We’ve been friends for over 10 years, but for him I’m a new friend,” Sawa said.

The experience sparked a collection of works called Figment. In Lineament (2012), a man moves through a worn apartment.

“Like the intricate clock-like mechanisms that appear before and around him, his memories unravel and snap back together. The grooves of an LP record uncoil to become a line, then travel around in this liberated but perhaps indecipherable form,” says a description from the James Cohan Gallery, which represents Sawa in New York City.

Sawa said the works are open to interpretation.

“It’s not really specific. I just want people to come see the show and I’m hoping people enjoy it.”

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