In October 2014, Artistic Directors Yamamoto and Long travelled to Mannheim, Germany to deliver the keynote address at the IterKultur Heimaten Bewegen conference on cultural diversity and policy-making in the arts.
By James Long & Maiko Yamamoto
MAIKO (M:) Hello. My name is Maiko Yamamoto and this is James Long.
JAMIE (J:) Hi.
M: Thank you very much to Thomas Krauss from the Mannheim Rheine-Neckar Culture Office for connecting us to this conference on the Notion of Heimaten, or Home as we would say in English.
And apologies for our German, which does not exist.
I do believe you have a translated synopsis provided to you. Thanks to Karen Witthuhn for helping us with that. Be warned however that we continued working on this MANNifesto, after handing over the synopsis for translation, so there may be some discrepancies. We will be making an online version of the full presentation available soon.
So what you are about to hear is the result of an ongoing conversation Jamie and I have been having through emails, over coffee, and at our office. We kept talking about this very engaging topic right up until we arrived in Mannheim and now we have recorded parts of it onto our iPods — so we are stuck with it — and we will speak these parts now, as part of this performance. This will be exactly 26 minutes and 55 seconds.
They push play on their iPods.
J: So Maiko, congratulations on being Canadian.
M: Pardon me?
J: According to a document that was sent to us from this conference, in Germany, Canada is seen as a perfect role model of a culturally diverse society.
M: Yes I saw that. A bit of stretch to say perfect I think.
J: We are not doing too bad. We still get along after 18 years of working together.
M: We do.
J: Yes we do. We are like the poster children for the diversity movement in Canada. The Benetton AD for artistic integration. Like an egg, you being the yolk—
M: That’s enough.
J: Also, congratulations on recently completing your masters.
M: Oh, thanks. I’m not done yet though. I defend in seven days. Keep you posted.
J: It looked like a ton of work.
M: It was.
J: You mind if I ask you about it a bit?
M: Honestly it’s the last thing I feel like talking more about at this point, but I get where you’re going, so sure.
J: Good. For your final project you created a sculpture/installation piece that was comprised of a stack of 41 bags of Kokuho Rose—
M: Ko-ku-ho. Equal stress on each syllable.
J: Kokuho…Rose rice sitting beside a rice cooker on a stand. The rice cooker was operational and I wasn’t there to see it, but I think you sat in the piece for a couple hours a day. A piece that to me pointed directly to this notion of Heimaten* or Home that this conference is considering.
It also reminded me of Warhol’s Brillo boxes ‘cause the bags look really nice, but that I think is whatever…
Maybe Allen’s apple juice?
How would you frame that piece in light of this conversation on post-migrantism.
M: Ok, I guess you could call it a post-migrant work, if I understand the terminology correctly. That is, it’s not so much a work that is speaking about or pointing to a culturally or ethnically specific idea, but it’s more addressing personal history and aesthetic desire. Of course it’s attached to interpretations of otherness and labour and consumerism but mostly it’s about my own intimate relationship to Kokuho Rose rice in particular. It’s the rice I ate growing up and it’s the rice I still eat today. I feed it to my kids. So as an artwork, I feel it speaks more about me than to larger ideas of post-migrantism.
J: OK. It’s rice. It’s you. It’s in a gallery. You say personal history. Well…It’s a post-migrant work.
M: Ok, fine then let’s consider how the work is related to this idea of Heimaten. So, in the rhetoric of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, it’s looking at ideas of home as metaphors for humanity.
Through the processing of the installation, as I occupied it and cooked and ate the rice, the body became the site or place to be moved from and into; a home that is more readily identified with simply because of this physical common denominator.
So if post-migrantism is about addressing both broad ideas and specific ideas at the same time, then yes, sure. Post-migrant it is.
I find it interesting and sort of cool that you look to your own sense of ethnicity in comparison, and try to find an equivalent. The potatoes. But this kind of brings up a tension between you referencing your heritage and me referencing my own, especially in this context of post-migrantism. The thing is, you probably don’t recall your migration. Or it’s not so immediate for you, would you say?
J: My migration?
J: My ancestors arrived from Ireland sometime in the 1830’s. 30 some years before Canada was considered a country. So a migrant? Yes in terms of there were people in Canada previous – we should talk about that.
M: The First Nations.
J: Yes the Indians, Aboriginals, Natives. Canada has a lot of words for something we have a hard time navigating our relationship to.
M: Whoa Jamie. OUR relationship?
J: Yes OUR.
Anyway, my ancestors migrated to Canada almost 200 years ago. I would be lying to say I consider myself a migrant. Settler yes. Colonizer – if forced.
M: But technically you are a migrant. The difference is, I lived through my migration. And it has never been too far removed from who I am. I lived in the country I migrated from, I spoke the language of that country first, I started school there, and I’m culturally more linked to being Japanese than Japanese Canadian. So my position within this idea of Heimaten is much different to yours.
And this is what’s reflected in the art we make together. It’s actually the reality of our relationships to Heimaten — and I’m not sure I’m pronouncing that word correctly — that makes our art “good” or more specifically, that makes our work “mulit-kulti do gooder” art.
Take for example our latest work, Kate Bowie. While it doesn’t get too ethnically specific, it’s certainly talking about ideas of otherness as well as difference and sameness in ways that can be broadly identified. But it also invites the multi-perspective perspective because at the same time the nature of who we are is irremovable from the piece. Man, woman. Asian, white. The specifics. And we can just keep getting more specific from here.
So, in considering all this, here’s my question Jamie:
What’s the difference between you and me?
J: Many and none.
But to stay in the parameters of this conversation about migrantism I’d say a primary difference can be tied to this notion of home. Your concept of home is cultural and based in a responsibility to blood, to family and to uphold traditions. You may be post migrant but only by the thinnest of margins.
There is no migrant in me. What’s the opposite of a migrant?
M: I think it’s —
M: Yeah. Native.
J: Anyway, identity is a non-issue for me. I am what I am what I am and I haven’t even attached that to my children. We gave them my wife’s last name. My baggage is not blood.
At your wedding your wore a traditional Japanese garment, your husband, a MacDuff but many generations Canadian, wore a Scottish kilt.
Do you recall what I wore at my wedding?
M: I think the correct answer is that I wasn’t invited.
J: Chill out. No one was other than my wife’s immediate family. Certainly not my family. They didn’t even know it was happening. I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to organize all that dysfunction.
I wore a pair of unfortunate capri pants by the way and a blue shirt I had kicking around. We gave each other rings we had bought out of a candy machine.
You bought and live in the same house as your twin. I imagine you talk to your other sister nearly every day. I speak to my brothers once every couple of years. My mother, I’ve been trying to speak to once a month lately. Have you missed even one of your father’s birthdays ever?
M: Just a couple, one of which I really regret. Dad’s birthday is on New Year’s, which as you know is an even bigger deal in Japanese culture.
J: This is migrantism. To take shelter and rely on your own.
M: “Take shelter?” Why don’t you just say what you mean Jamie.
J: Ok enclaving. Its an enclave.
M: We’re a family.
J: Yes but it is still enclavey behaviour. Its nothing to be ashamed off.
M: I don’t think people who enclave are ashamed of enclaving.
J: Slow down we just said enclave like 14 times.
An enclave is a community of an ethnic group inside an area in which another ethnic group predominates. A little Italy, Chinatowns, Kreuzberg in Berlin before the hipsters took over.
My point is that enclaving is a totally natural survival technique for migrants to surround and support each other and I think this is true of your continued behaviour with your own family. You enclave with your family — the people you trust. I don’t do that.
M: We’re a family, Jamie.
J: Yeah, it’s weird. You’re weird Maiko.
No correction. You’re a lovely, kind, wonderful, closed system to most folk. I doubt that is how you behave at home. It takes a long time for you to reveal any darkness to people who are not family.
By comparison I take a strange pleasure in being an open wound with everyone. So that’s a difference.
Kay, here is another thing. Think about your alienation concerns. And maybe this is old news but I’ve heard you re-mention it recently. Your worry that you may or may not be being alienated at any given time.
It’s a recurring theme in your work. it was certainly the most concrete of them of this 2007 work of ours.
YUFO — a show wherein you played a lost, potentially alien, Japanese woman in pursuit of the Vancouver Olympics. I played a slow food farmer trying to grow a peach in an incompatible climate. I found you on the side of the road.
Maiko why the feeling of alienation?
M: Good question. I have both a broad and specific answer.
Broadly speaking, it’s exactly what you would expect by looking at me and so not so interesting to either of us, or this conversation.
M: It’s not.
Let’s get specific though. As you just described, you are more alienated than I am.
J: But I’m not.
M: You are if Heimaten is about the people and community around you.
J: Then I am. But its cool for me to be alienated.
M: Well good for you Jamie. It’s true I’m super tight with my family. Even at our most dysfunctional we all know we will see each other within the week. When we first came to Canada we didn’t know anyone else. We didn’t have any family here. We didn’t have friends. It was just the five of us. And we had all the usual migrant challenges. Language, for a start, which was a huge one. But all these things just made us tighter as a family.
I do talk to my older sister, who recently moved back to Vancouver from Costa Rica after nine years — a fact that made me selfishly happy — about every other day. And I can’t imagine moving away from where my parents live. Yes, I do share a house with my other sister, which is 5 minutes away from said parents house, and to make matters worse, as you pointed out, she’s my twin, so arguably I don’t even know what it is to be alone.
I also have wonderful friends — you included — who make it impossible for me to feel too alienated. Considering all this, I have such a stable notion of Heimaten that it’s a bit sickening, even to myself.
And maybe it’s precisely because of this that alienation is a good subject for me. I think alienation is a fantastic theme, artistically speaking. It just so happens I can’t talk about it without it being attached to all my broad connotations. Just like at my wedding, I wasn’t actually wearing a traditional garment. It was more Lord of the Rings than Japanese, but interesting that you remember it that way.
Isn’t Winners and Losers, the show you made with your good friend Marcus Youssef, a show all about identity and alienation?
M: Which doesn’t exclude identity and alienation.
J: No, but…
M: These filters could certainly be applied. But let’s get back to our open wounds. It seems to me that one of your artistic themes is this ‘settler/colonizer baggage’ that you bring up. And I think you’re right, we should try and talk about the very first migrants to our country — the First Nations. Although I feel like I shouldn’t really be the one to talk about it. From a post-migrant perspective, it seems in general we Canadians haven’t quite figured out how to move this discussion forward. Or move it at all.
So how should we talk about it?
M: How should we talk about it?
J: Sorry, I’m trying to think where ‘settler/colonizer baggage’ has come up as a recurring theme in my work?
From The Greatest Cities in the World, 2010
What was the question?
M: How should we talk about the First Nations in light of this post-migrant conversation?
J: Well first I assume you’re calling them the first migrants to North America to be a little tongue in cheek.
M: A little.
J: Their ancestors arrived at least 12,000 years ago. First Nation mythology has them originating in North America itself. Sorry Maiko, they get to be more than post-migrant.
J: Regardless, they do remain Canada’s great historical embarrassment that we do not discuss. Read about the residential schools if you want to know more about exactly how we migrant-settlers-colonizers dealt with that troublesome multiplicity.
So how to address First Nations inequity? The same with how we have been dealing with migrant and post migrant inequity. Do what our government has done. Make it policy. You provide special funding for diverse programming. You create quotas for the juries handing out the funding so diverse people are present in deciding where the money goes. You pay people to make diverse work. And hopefully its good.
M: Or after a while it gets good.
J: So whats good?
M: Good question. The problem with good is its based on what’s considered cool or contemporary and as we know that’s based on European traditions and training systems and structures and migrant work doesn’t follow those rules, and can be dismissed for it.
J: Is it the responsibility of post-migrants to try and fuse traditions? Traditional and contemporary? That’s not a fair responsibility to put on anybody.
M: So let’s get back to the policy makers.
J: So in Canada, what we’ve been doing is providing extra funding and special opportunities to diverse organizations and artists so that they have the same opportunities as the dominant white culture benefiting from all the white run institutions.
For context the Canada Council for the Arts is our federal funding agency. Inside the Canada Council is the Equity office. The goal of the Equity office over the last 15 years was to provide additional funding to diverse or multicultural organizations to build their administrative capacity.
They stopped it two years ago after recognizing a new priority: the deaf and disabled….
M: The bigger gap.
J: The words gap and priority are key terms they use.
GAP, or Lücke in German.
M: A gap makes a priority.
Priority, or Priorität in German
J: Yes. They recognize these gaps, and then they make the gaps priorities.
For some comparative numbers from the most recent available on the Canada Council website.
In 2011 just under $3,000,000 was given out as both by the equity office to Migrant and Post Migrant work.
People like us and People like African dance societies and Chinese opera groups etc.
In 2012 only $250,000 was given out. And only to the migrant groups.
The post-migrant is no longer a gap in Canada.
The post migrants are now left to fight it out with the rest of them.
M: So do you think policy worked?
J: For who?
M: For us?
J: Two things worked. 1. We were given 30,000 a year for 6 years and during that time, our company stabilized and 2. We made work like BIOBOXES, a multilingual, multicultural verbatim work that captured the immigrant experience.
M: That show was as much about language as it was diversity.
J: But it came a time when our funders were rewarding us for discussing diversity. Paying us to do it. The grants we were writing were covered in the word diversity. Our funders told us diversity was paramount. Diversity was the frame. Diversity might not have felt cool. But it was. And it sure was lucrative. And it was a good thing for a white fellow like me.
Without all the attention paid to diversity I doubt I would have specifically written an Asian woman into a play I was commissioned to write.
M: And then have her played by a dark haired white woman?
J: That wasn’t my decision, and she had to speak French.
M: At least they didn’t tape her eyes.
J: I wonder if we would be receiving operating money now without that extra support and attention.
I wonder if I we would have been programmed at our national festivals so much.
I wonder about a bunch of things.
And Maiko, while wondering is normally good for people like us, it is rife with problems for a guy like me because the wondering can also discount the artistry, ideas and work of all the diverse artists involved.
Artistic gestures no longer exist by themselves but they remained attached to the broad. if i may use your term, migrant and post migrant discussion.
That’s what policy accomplishes. Policy is about accountability.
I worry about accountability.
I worry about policy.
I worry about how good I am at bending to policy.
I worry that we walk around thinking we are changing the world when we really are just… policy.
M: That’s a whole lot of wondering and worrying Jamie.
J: But this is our generation’s role. To embody the policy of multi-culturalism. The Canadian Multi-Cultural Act was passed in 1971 right around when we were born.
M: And according to our research, the German government didn’t even acknowledge multiculturalism until the late 90s. We’ve learned some new German words as part of our research, words like:
M: Both essentially words to describe a temporary situation. In your own home.
J: And we are not pointing fingers. Perfect little Canada closed its last residential school in 1994. Residential schools were institutions where First Nations children were placed to be assimilated after being taken from their parents. We’ve also recently enacted our own Temporary Foreign Workers Act and you should see how we treat our Filipina nannies.
So, is Canada perfect? Absolutely not. Is there any kind of real diversity present in high up decision making offices?
But I have to assume there will be. It just takes a generation for us to push out the old guard. An old guard mind you, that recognized the issues and built these policies.
M: What’s the difference between us and them (points to Germans)?
J: Well I think we just pointed out a couple. So…
And that’s a hell of a loaded question.
So much of this conversation about diversity and Heimaten etc is about baggage and guilt and how one—
M: Half of the conversation.
J: Yes half of the conversation. The other half is about equity and opportunity. Thank you.
M: You’re welcome.
So…. Big difference between us and them?
The State Theatre system for one. So much bureaucracy. So slow to change.
Two …. Canada is ahead on Multicultural issue by a few decades for sure. But we are a nation of migrants. Its how we define ourselves.
The term cultural mosaic, a term we used to describe our society was first used in 1937. Its our thing — and one of the things we cling to to differentiate ourselves from the US melting pot model.
But its a bit of a lie. See as a multigenerational anglo saxon Canadian I am both a migrant and of the dominant culture. This creates a split sense of home in relation to both the First Nations and to the constant wave of migrants to Canada. I stole my privilege — or at least my ancestors did.
So how does this compare to the German experience? Does a notion of indigeniety or nativeness currently fit into their sense of nationhood? What is a German?
Who gets to be German?
For example, when did Angela Merkel drop her post-migrantism, considering her grandfather is Polish. Or are the Polish considered migrants in light of the historically shifting borders of this part of the world…. Is a Pole the same as a german?
Is a Pole even a low funding priority in Germany?
M: They would not be in Canada.
J: Only visible minorities get to be funding priorities in Canada.
J: That is the policy. Check the website. But it’s kind of worrying for me talk about this, so I think I will stop before I get into trouble.
M: So if migrantism and post-migrantism are visible minority issues, would you consider yourself a priority because you work with me?
J: By association? No. It doesn’t transfer.
Do you still consider yourself to be a priority? A gap?
M: I think I have to say yes. For the policy makers I think that’s going to be the most useful. Yes yes, I understand how we got here — let’s call it progress — but if I am no longer a priority then am I denying that there are still inequities due to all my broad associations? I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that, nor do I think it’s entirely true. It’s more specific than policy can represent. So maybe I’m not as big a gap as the gaps they are addressing now, but I’m still a gap.
And if I never get to be a dominant, than you should never get to be a post-migrant.
J: I don’t want to be.
M: So you just take the money?
J: Yes, I take the money, but I didn’t start this collaborative relationship for this diversity money. This pairing wasn’t strategic.
And quite honestly I’m not convinced that you ever needed this multi-kulti money. I don’t think you PERSONALLY were ever a priority-gap. But we won’t ever be able to know that for sure.
M: Because it’s not cool to be a priority-gap.
J: It’s not cool if it seems charitable. It discounts what you’ve done.
And I don’t think many of our multi-kulti colleagues, who are now highly successful, would have needed extra help to get where they are.
M: Maybe they did. Maybe because they got that extra help they became successful.
J: Maybe. Or maybe they would have been just fine.
M: The bottom line is I don’t even want to think about this anymore.
J: I know, that’s why you keep using the word broad instead of cultural. Is it embarrassing to have benefitted from being a gap?
M: No. I’ve totally owned it.
J: And because of the last 15 years of multi-kulti do gooderism, we can.
So based on this, in 15 years at the next Heimeten Conference will they be listening to a blind PAINTER from VANCOUVER talking about her experiences in the Canadian funding system?
M: Possibly. And I would come, but I’ll be too busy running the National Theatre in Ottawa.
J: And I’ll be wondering what the next funding gap will be, and looking to hire a new creative partner.
M: An environmental refugee?
J: Thats a good one. I’ll look into that.
M: Just make sure she’s deaf and Indonesian.
M: Its OK Jamie. I’m allowed to say stuff like that.