Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

We Are Woven Through with Strangers and Strangeness

Richard Heikkilä-Sawan | Deborah Kisiel | Bianca Lee | Ceri Richards | Risa Yokoi
Curated by Alex Cu Unjieng

June 4 – July 4, 2015
Opening reception: Thursday, June 4, 2015 | 7pm
Gallery hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm

We Are Woven Through with Strangers and Strangeness
is a group exhibition highlighting the works of five emerging artists chosen from this year’s graduating exhibitions of Emily Carr University of Art + Design (Richard Heikkilä-Sawan, Deborah Kisiel, Bianca Lee) and the University of British Columbia (Ceri Richards, Risa Yokoi). The exhibition also marks the first curatorial project for Centre A’s exhibitions intern, Alex Cu Unjieng, and is part of Centre A’s commitment to young and promising artists.

The title takes its name from a line in L’Intrus, an essay by philosopher Jean Luc Nancy which suggests a view of our own bodies as strange even to us, questioning where the ‘outside’ ends and the self begins, considering where identity is found, and to what extent it is tangled up in the world our bodies inhabit. Through the works of this exhibition we see these concerns along with notions of identity politics, labor, and different ways of seeing come together in a manner that tackles questions of ambiguity, identity, community, and the body.  Among these works a space is created where we may explore the ways in which our lives are, as Nancy puts it, “woven through with strangers and strangeness.” The strangeness of inhabiting a body; of the simultaneous necessity and impossibility of communicating the experience of that body; of the process of coming to know one’s self and one’s relation to others; and the strangeness of certain identities being automatically deemed ‘normal’ while others must continuously fight to attain the same status.

In creating a platform for the exploration of these ideas, the show seeks to sustain a vision that expects differences of sex, skin, desire, and knowledge, while being invigorated by the ability of these differences to threaten, through their perceived strangeness, powers that organize the ordinary. ‘Strangeness’ then becomes a productive tool for questioning the systems of norms that created the term to begin with; a way to shift our angle of vision and find other ways of understanding.

 The works featured in this exhibition include Deborah Kisiel’s wall-mounted ceramic text piece written in shorthand, an interactive installation of an unravelled thrift store sweater by Risa Yokoi, an organically sprawling soft sculpture by Ceri Richards, Bianca Lee’s blanket of bright pink faux fur on which rest folded reddish-brown clay forms drizzled with glaze, and a rainbow-dyed buffalo hide flag by Richard Heikkilä-Sawan. Through its public programming, this exhibition will seek to act as a space for cultural producers to meet and explore their own and each other’s practices.

Richard Heikkilä-Sawan is an artist born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a recent graduate of Emily Carr University of Art + Design. His biological mother is of Finnish descent and his biological father is Cree/Mohawk. He grew up in Abbotsford, BC. His practice draws from his Finnish and Aboriginal biological roots as both a catalyst and context for his diverse creative practices. Adopted at two months by a Mennonite couple, he was not raised within his culture and only discovered his First Nations ancestry at the age of thirty-two. This unique personal narrative allows him to approach Aboriginal issues from a binary perspective. He also recently ‘came out’ as gay to his kids, family, friends and colleagues—a personal milestone that greatly informs his artistic practice as a member of a double minority. Richard draws upon recollections of his rich experiences when grappling with cultural signifiers of utopia/dystopia, violence/compassion, and dissimilarity/identity, and his art practice speaks to the human condition within these themes.

Deborah Kisiel is a Vancouver-born artist. She is an alumni of the Fine Arts program at Langara College and a recent graduate from Emily Carr University of Art + Design, where she attained a BFA in Visual Arts. Her practice is driven by the urge to discover and experiment with new material techniques coupled with the pleasure of learning new forms and systems of visual language. Her more recent projects are text works written in ceramic renditions of shorthand and are a means to explore written language taken from a 2-dimensional line into a 3-dimensional space. The works attempt to navigate the human and social condition through the motivation/demotivational quotes and original stories that make up the pieces and are an act of recording her own journey of self-improvement and growth through visual art.

Bianca Lee is a South Korean artist working and living in Vancouver, BC. As a recent graduate from Emily Carr University of Art + Design, her current practice focuses on ceramics in relation to human body and identity. Prior to attending Emily Carr, Bianca had lived in Toronto, ON and Chicago, IL, where she went to School of Art Institute of Chicago for a year. Born and raised in Daegu, South Korea with her family, Bianca spent her teenage years living independently in Canada. Bianca’s artistic practice has developed from an interest in painting to one focused on ceramics and mixed-media. She first started working with clay in 2012 and fell in love with the intimate experience of manipulating the medium. Her practice aims to invite and encourage a similarly intimate relationship between viewer and object. Her recent work explores ideas of sexuality, eroticism, desire, repression, and her own confliciting identities.

Ceri Richards is an artist born in Aberdeen, Scotland and now based in Vancouver, BC, where she is developing her sculpture and printmaking practice.  She has recently graduated from the University of British Columbia with a major in Visual Art and a minor in Commerce. Focusing on repetition and manipulation, her work explores the different ways organic matter and the human body are perceived or understood.  Her work often utilizes laborious, time-consuming processes as a means of exploring the interactions between artistic labour and biological formations.  She finds inspiration from such artists as Yayoi Kusama and Sarah Lucas.

Risa Yokoi is an artist currently based in Vancouver, where she recently graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BA in Visual Arts and Psychology. She was born in Aichi, Japan but was raised in Turkey, Yemen, Zambia, Japan and Bangladesh until recently moving to Canada. Her practice utilizes drawing, sewing, and print media in conjunction with strategies of repetition and intricacy to explore the material potential of mundane, everyday objects and to create spaces where these objects may come to life and tell their stories. This has often resulted in interactive installations meant to encourage viewers to engage with the space and material. Her most recent works contemplate the materiality of fabric and consider the global textile industry and its issues of alienated and anonymous labor, as well as identity and memory woven within our interaction with textile.


The curator would like to acknowledge with great thanks the support and assistance she received from Centre A’s Natalie Tan, Tyler Russell, and Julia Dahee Hong, as well as Anton Cu Unjieng and Nelson Tully.



Open Call Artist Talks
Saturdays, June 13 & 20 | 2-4pm
Centre A | Free Admission

Artists, curators, and other cultural producers are invited to sign up to give a 5-10 minute artist talk at Centre A. To apply for a spot, email [email protected]. Due to time constraints, talks will be limited to 10 per session and spots will be given at a first come, first serve basis. Everyone is invited to come by and participate in the lively and interesting conversations that are sure to emerge! Tea will be served.


Workshop: Being an Artist and Everything Else
Saturday, July 4 | 2-4pm
Centre A | Free Admission
Led by Jade Yumang

This two-hour workshop is designed for emerging artists who recently graduated from their formal training and are considering a long-term career in the visual arts. There is no clear or one path in becoming an artist, but there are steps involved in maintaining an exciting and enriching career. As emerging artists you have to be creative, not just in your work, but in practical life. The workshop is designed to be both formal and informal. You will have a solid artist “package” (statement, proposal, and portfolio) that you can modify for funding, exhibition submissions, residencies, and maybe even getting into other programs. And you will have an intimate conversation with a working artist in how to maintain a practice, be disciplined with your methodology, and be part of an artistic community.

Jade Yumang was named after his mother’s beauty salon and from an earlier age has been obsessed with beautiful, yet slightly off things. His work primarily focuses on the concept of queer form through sculptural abstraction, installation, and performance. He received his MFA at Parsons The New School for Design with Departmental Honors in 2012 and his BFA Honors in University of British Columbia as the top graduate in 2008. He was born in Quezon City, Philippines, grew up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, immigrated to Vancouver, BC, Canada, and based in Brooklyn, NY, and Vancouver, BC. He is currently a sessional instructor at the University of British Columbia, a contributing writer for ArtFile Magazine, and part of a New York-based collaborative duo, Tatlo, with Sara Jimenez.



“When buffalo hide meets hydrogen peroxide”, Two Spirit Journal, June 6, 2015.
“Exhibitions looks at the strangeness between identities and bodies”The Vancouver Sun, Kevin Griffin, June 18, 2015.
“Centre A: Discovering identity through strangeness”The Ubyssey, Momoko Hirano, July 4, 2015.
“BLOG: ‘Being an Artist and Everything Else’ | A Workshop Review and Summary”, CARFAC BC, Jessica Mol?an, July 23, 2015.


Centre A would like to thank the community sponsors for this exhibition, Dickie’s Ginger and Kitsilano Liquor Store.