Since 2013 we, Shinobu Akimoto and Matthew Evans have acted as co-directors of Residency for Artists on Hiatus (RFAOH) – a virtual (online) yet functioning residency for artists currently not making or presenting art. Since its inception, we have hosted 19 artists from around the world who have used the time away from their respective art practices to invest in other pursuits that, if no less creative, they did not consider within the scope of their work, or to re-examine notions and their expectations of “art career” and see if it’s worth continuing. Some example endeavours included group meditation, organic gardening, home brewing, or reshaping a college art program as a department head.
Stemming from our own personal queries into the relationship between art and life as well as the institutional parameters around “artist” identity, RFAOH has highlighted the precarious space many artists find themselves in throughout their careers, and how they perceive or negotiate such times and conditions. Since our last residency term in 2017, we have – with a few hiatuses of our own – been working on a publication [RFAOH annual report] to document this project, while quietly hoping some major art institution will come around to fund us so that we can start a new residency term.
In some ways, this project foreshadowed the current world condition imposed by the pandemic where many of us have involuntarily entered into a kind of hiatus from normal life, sequestered in our homes, away from our communities. To this predicament, we can offer the idea that non-production or waiting/anticipation constitutes a conceptual limbo space of unknowable possibility, and that language and rhetoric as imperfect containers for meaning can lend a plasticity in interpreting or negotiating our unpredictable world. We also have an intuitive faith in nonsense as an arena where important questions may freely emerge in ways that can break down hierarchies, or foster new modes of understanding and ultimately, empathy. What will be the limits and liminalities of future professional practice, our economies or fundamental human interactions? What is the potential of rhetoric in shaping these things and our individual predicaments?
For us personally, the whole “new normal” had already started in 2019, when circumstances required Shinobu to relocate and establish a RFAOH “satellite office” in Japan while Matt has remained at “RFAOH headquarters” in Canada. Since then, a good percentage of our own interaction has moved to the virtual space of online. Responding to the invitation from OBIEG for the “right to idleness” issue, we share snippets of our daily dialogues and (non)activities from June 2020 – our “non-production” production.
What has changed for artists and artists on hiatus?
S: Hey it’s a different background.
M: It’s a different background?
M: Is it? — it’s the same.
S: Yeah, I’m sitting on an angle.
I’m sitting usually like this,
...but today I’m sitting like, on this angle.
M: Oh, I thought you were talking
about my background.
Relevancy of (art)making and/or
Meaning of non-production, non-participation
S: But anyway, I’m right in the middle
of production, See...?
M: Oh, the berries from
S: I know, it’s quite a...like...so the seeds, are pretty tough,
unlike raspberries and other berries
you don’t want to have them so I’m removing all of them,
but it’s kind of impossible so I decided to blend it first,
and then I’m, what do you call it... sieving it
M: Sieving it, Straining it
S: Yeah... and then, after this I have to cook it again,
and oh my goodness I started with 700 grams of berries
but then it’s only going to be like 5 jars or something.
M: Oh, that’s pretty good though.
Is the rest of the world catching up with us, artists?
Or is it drowning us out?
M: Hey Chiko. Meow meow meow meow meow meow,
Chiko: Nya~~ Nya~~
S: She answered, did you hear?
M: She says “hey!”
What’s going on, you rascal?
S: Gohan aruyo~ hora, douzo douzo,
Hai, takusan tabete.
She was like, “Man what was that??”
M: She sounds genki
S: No, she just came in.
M: She just came in?
(Measures of) Success, happiness in multiple realities
M: But know what happened?
The baby birds are trying to fly
now right? And they do
that shaky thing they do.
S: Yeah that’s so cute
M: And that big tree that’s just in front of the balcony,
I was out there last evening just playing some guitar
and this one baby came up and watched and
was going peep peep peep making this song.
So I tried to mimic it on the guitar and then three more
came and they were like this little audience on the branch
while I kept trying to make these bird noises and they
were answering me like we were having this back and forth.
S: That’s cute but I know exactly what you mean
because I do it with crows from the roof.
Virtual science, Virtual art, Virtual existence
(Pseudo science, pseudo art, pseudo existence)
S: Would there be anyone inventing a type of Zoom
where everyone can talk all at once?
M: I don’t know, that’s funny though
they should do it just to encourage chaos.
S: Yeah. Wouldn’t that be..., I mean I’m sure people
are looking into it though, if this has to go on for a while,
its tedious to just have to sit and listen,
I think people want this everyone talking
at the same time to make it as natural as possible.
S: I’m sure someone is looking into it.
M: Like what happens now is whoever is talking
it just switches to who has the loudest signal, so..
S: But wouldn’t that be neat if someone
came up with that though?
M: Yeah maybe.
S: Then we really don’t have to go anywhere.
M: But then you would need to be able
to pair off or create groups in
a separate window or something.
S: Well, they can put the limit on the number, like,
“Yeah, we came up with this simultaneous-talk
chat system but we can only have
10 people in the room.”
M: So people can argue in real time,
and talk over each other.
S: Oh that would be fun.
Abnomalized normal and normalized abnormal
S: So Saturday is a good radio day,
but I can’t even remember what Peter Barakan played.
S: I don’t know what happened, this is crazy,
my memory totally dropped. Do you think I have a condition?
Like seriously? ‘Cause it’s really hard to remember.
I mean I did go out to the yard during that time.
It’s a nice time in the morning, and I look at all the flowers
and all that. But still um.... I don’t know what happened.
S: Wow. This is so creepy. I think I’m losing...
I’m having some condition Matt.
M: It sounds like you were out and
distracted with something else.
S: But for 4 hours? That’s a little crazy though.
I think I was mostly in the yard
but it’s a little...disconcerting.
S: I just don’t know what I was doing,
I can’t remember anything.
Are you not worried?
S: I am a little bit.
M: I think it’s normal to every once
in a while get that.
I guess because I’m always like that.
Mental Aikido and Institution in your head
M: How was your day?
S: Well the first thing I have to tell you, is last night,
uh, I went to bed at one maybe, and then around 3 o’clock
I felt this, like sharp, uh, something pain, um.. not even pain,
it’s like.. when a cat...you know how it exactly felt is like
you know how a cat, say Chiko scratched me but with one...
M: Yeah, like pricks you..
S: Like “キッ” pretty hard, on my.. one of my , um... toes.
Like exactly... on one toe kind of thing..
Anyway it totally woke me up, I was like “what was that??
Did Chiko do that?” and I woke up and oh my goodness,
I knew already, like what it was, right? I mean,
I didn’t know but I knew there was something right,
because Chiko wasn’t there doing that.
And I turned the light on and I’m looking
and saw just the snippet of that, here you go,
I knew, I knew. Before anything I had to come to the kitchen
to grab those tongs, the special tongs, and then
so I went back and I was just like, peeling the futon,
and man, it was HUUGE!
M: Really? That’s scary
S: Oh may goodness, like
I haven’t seen such a huge thing in a while –
S: Anyway, yesterday, it was like., OK,
a thickness of a centimetre.
And the length of ten.
M: Wow! I don’t wanna
visit Japan when I hear that.
S: It wasn’t right in the futon or anything,
it did’t really attack me or anything.
That’s not their purpose.
M: Yeah, they are just protecting themselves.
S: Probably, I just moved or touched
or something like that, so it went really lightly
or touched accidentally something like that
but it was really a sharp feeling.
M: Yeah, they have big teeth
S: So I grabbed it and went to the back
and threw it over the cliff – and can you believe,
it was so big it made noise.
M: When it landed?
I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep.
S: I felt traumatized and I actually sat there
for a while. I didn’t know how to process it.
M: You probably moved really quickly
before it could get a good bite.
S: No, no no, no I don’t think so,
why is everyone, like you know
all the people have that perception though?
This is the thing, it tells how the world works, –
“oh those are bad guys, they do that kind of thing” –
It’s not that, they don’t do it Matt,
they’d rather avoid a fight, right?
They are not that aggressive,
They don’t attack unless they are attacked –
M: No but I meant it must have moved quickly
out of the way. You were lucky then.
S: but it was a huge deal. I felt totally lost
M: I’d be wetting the bed after that
Luck, privilege, circumstance, lifestyle, creativity, empathy, all for survival
S: Is there anything coming back though?
M: Well the little one on the, um...
S: ...the balcony.
M: ...on the balcony has some sprouts
but I’m not sure if they’re weeds
or if they’re flowers.
S: Well you should just let them be
because you don’t know.
Or you can take a photo and show me
because I can tell you.
M: And the tomato one is just dead,
just these branches sticking out
from last year
S: Well sometimes tomatoes
come back though.
M: These ones don’t look like
they’re coming anywhere.
And I’m really bummed my coriander
that was doing great all winter
has suddenly given up and I don’t know why.
It’s just suddenly decided it’s not...
S: Corianders are not
coriander you harvest the seeds
and then put them in.
M: Anyways it’s not looking too good,
but it lasted all winter,
I was impressed.
S: That’s crazy,
corianders die after the summer.
M: Not these ones,
they lasted right up until two weeks ago
S: Are you sure they’re coriander
or are you talking about Thai basil?
M: Or maybe it’s the Thai basil ones.
S: Yeah Corianders don’t...
M: No, the Thai basil ones,
I know the Thai Basil ones...
or is it mint
S: Yeah, whatever I...
M: I don’t have the horticultural expertise...
S: I don’t trust anything you’re saying
because you have no idea.
Corianders never last through the winter.
And in Canada? That’s a miracle.
Maybe it was a coriander looking weed
and Ive been eating weed all winter.
S: And you can’t even taste the difference
from Thai basil or a weed?
You do still have the Covid.
A native of Japan, Shinobu Akimoto started living and working in Canada in the early 1990’s and became known as a visual artist through national and international presentations of her “project-based” installations. Preoccupied with the concept of artmaking as lifestyle, her projects have explored the intersection between lifestyle and creativity in such a way that begs the question of what, if anything, demarcates art apart from all other types of creative endeavours, or artists from other creative individuals. Currently
dividing her time between Canada and stuck in Japan, she contemplates on alternative strategies for engaging in contemporary art through extended means and pathways, while continuing to use artmaking as a way to follow the lifestyle she wants to live.
Matthew Evans is a Canadian artist and medical illustrator
based stuck in Montreal, whose projects explore a fluid understanding of context and its relationship with the creative process. Waiting or killing time as a conceptual sphere where everything and nothing conceivably and simultaneously happens, is a theme he has repeatedly returned to. He also spends probably too much time playing guitar.
Akimoto and Evans have collaborated at various times in the past. At other times, both artists have gone on hiatus from their artistic practices.