Kae Sasaki | 2023 Riding Mountain Artists’ Residency

Photo: Untitled Floor Globe by Kae Sasaki, 2021. 

The Riding Mountain Artists’ Residency provides professional Manitoba artists with time to focus on their work in the beautiful natural setting of Riding Mountain National Park, housed in the historic Deep Bay Cabin.

The next artist-in-residence for 2023 is Kae Sasaki. Ahead of her time in the historic Deep Bay Cabin, Kae answered a few of our questions about her art, her connection to the park, and how she’ll be spending her residency.

MAC: Tell us a little about yourself as an artist and your practice.

Kae Sasaki: I am a Japanese-born settler and visual artist who immigrated to Canada from Tokyo in 2000.

I grew up having a full access to high quality Japanese-made beads my mother and grandmother collected for occasional small projects and also having countless numbers of beaded bags around that complimented kimono, but it was only around 2015 when I first acquired my first vintage beaded bag and started paying attention to the craftmanship in beaded bags manufactured in Japan.

After reading about the declining beads industry, I began to collect old beaded bags in used markets across Canada and USA (which are not made as well as ones circulated within Japan; often they had simple patterns on only one side of the purses, while the beads are of the same quality), and during the onset of the Pandemic I felt justified to harvest the beads from old, damaged beaded bags and began using them for my own work.

My intention is to reclaim what was made in my country for exports after WWII and breathe a new life into materials while making it clear my work is to serve as a vessel for future generations that may wish to repeat the process.

Tell us about your project — what will you be working on in the Deep Bay Cabin? 

During the residency, I plan to create a new work out of reclaimed vintage Japanese beads by first disassembling beads from vintage Japanese beaded bags that I have collected (ones that are deemed no longer usable due to missing beads, stains and damages), then weave them into a sheet of beaded “towel” that is approximately 9.5” by 25” and install it into a found metal paper towel holder.

This is my first time attempting beading on a loom, as my past work usually were supported on the fabric base. I have gained some experience on beading without fabric support when I created beadwork over a globe, but this new piece will be entirely held only by the thread, which will give me an opportunity to learn a whole new set of skills in beadwork, and I hope I can expand on the method after successfully completing the piece.

What is your relationship with the park?

The first time I visited Riding Mountain National Park was in 2018 when I stayed in a yurt with my family for Thanksgiving weekend and experienced winter camping in the snow. I remember filling out my residency application shortly after the trip in hopes of returning to the park in the future. In summer 2019 I had the pleasure of spending two productive weeks at the Deep Bay Cabin at the Riding Mountain National Park as an artist-in-residence to work on a beaded kimono piece. As my studio practice is predominantly in representational painting, I was grateful to be awarded an opportunity to develop work in a completely new medium. This experience gave me the confidence and capacity to create two additional pieces over several months during the pandemic when I was confined to my home.

How do you hope the park will influence or inspire your project or practice?

I am most looking forward to having long summer days and natural light to work with, and being extremely productive during the residency away from home and responsibilities in order to accomplish as much beading as I can in two weeks. I also look forward to being mere steps away from a body of water, as well as engaging with the vibrant Clear Lake community during my stay.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers and the Riding Mountain National Park community?

Beadwork appeared in Japan after the 4th century during the Kofun Era and was used for decorating objects and amulets for women, and more than hundreds of thousands of glass beads are housed in the Shosoin temple as historical artifacts. By the 9th century beads completely vanished from Japanese culture for the next 700 years, partly due to the fact heavy beadwork didn’t compliment the new style of layered kimono. European trades brought back glass beads in the 16th century and beads were incorporated into bags and accessories; the technology of making glass beads was brought to Japan from Venice or from the Netherlands through Dutch and Chinese traders in the Edo period. Beads in that time were called “Dutch balls” or “foreign balls” and were used for decorating hair accessories, glassware, and figurines. After WWII, Japan started manufacturing high quality beads on their own and became one of the most prominent manufacturers of glass beads along with Czech Republic today.

The Riding Mountain Artists’ Residency is offered in partnership by the Manitoba Arts Council and Riding Mountain National Park.

Interested in the staying in the Deep Bay cabin? Find out how to apply to the Riding Mountain Artists Residency through the Learn – Residencies grant stream. Apply by November 1, 2022 for a residency in the summer of 2023.