For the first time in its 20 year history, the BMO 1st Art! national prize has been awarded to a student from the Yukon School of Visual Arts.
The BMO Financial Group announced its national and regional winners for 2022 on Sept. 28, naming Shizuka Yoshimura, from the Yukon School of Visual Arts (SOVA) as the national winner for her hanging art piece entitled Transient Shine.
Sabrina Jin, another student at the Dawson school, was named the territory’s winner for her hanging knot work piece titled Kink.
The annual competition invites deans and instructors from 110 undergraduate art programs across the country to nominate three students from each of their studio specialties to submit one recent work.
This year saw a panel of jurors select the national winner and 11 regional winners from a record 345 submissions.
On the selection committee were artist and educator Emily Falencki; Sequoia Miller, chief curator at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art; Michelle Jacques, head of exhibitions and collections and chief curator at Remai Modern; and Anne-Marie St-Jean Aubre, curator of contemporary art at Musée d’art de Joliette.
Yoshimura said she was very surprised when she learned her piece had been selected as the national winner.
“BMO 1st Art! is a sought-after award and I am honoured to be the first-ever national winner from Yukon. This award has encouraged me to move forward and make more art,” said Yoshimura said. “As an immigrant, the award feels like an acknowledgement of my acceptance into Canadian society. Transient Shine is a special art piece for me as it represents a connection to my hometown and childhood memories of snow falling from the grey sky of Nagaoka.”
Yoshimura’s piece features hanging artwork made of wood, hemp, steel, copper and glass.
Having moved to Dawson in 2021, she said was taken by the beauty of the community and area. Through the winter, she found the ice and snow interesting, spending much of her time observing the beauty and uniqueness of the Dawson winter.
Looking for a way to capture that, while still allowing for the snow and ice to move through its natural melting process, she began creating amulets to hold the snow and ice, with each piece featuring a hole in the bottom that would allow the snow to naturally melt.
That concept became her final project for the SOVA program and ultimately Transient Shine, a piece she completed over a period of a month and a half.
When people view her piece, she’s hopeful they will keep in mind the unique natural moments that show each person is part of the larger natural world, she said.
After finishing the SOVA program, Yoshimura has continued to hone her skills by taking part in a mentorship program through the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture over the summer. She is also doing some travelling throughout the country and back to her home country of Japan to visit family.
Meanwhile, Jin’s piece is described as “a physical representation of the artist’s attempts to connect with ancestral tradition in the 21st Century diaspora.”
Jin said the piece evolved over time, beginning when she noticed a bright red Jié (knot) on a door she would pass on the way to a friend’s place. She wondered if the person living there was Chinese as well and realized how much she missed her Chinese culture she grew with in Ontario.
At SOVA, students did a unit where they were prompted to explore weaving traditions they were connected to. After some brainstorming Jin said she decided to explore Chinese knots, beginning that exploration with research and continuing until she had completed her first iteration of Kink.
“I showed knots at different stages, made with different materials,” Jin said. “The piece was both about my attempt to connect to a culture I felt I had been largely ‘whitewashed’ from and a reflection on greed and ‘modernity’. That’s why you’ll see oxygen masks with double coin knots (meant to bring wealth and success) tied creating kinks that cut off what would be the flow of air. Our greed is killing us.”
Jin had to actually remake the piece for display after it had been selected as the regional winner after she learned it had been thrown out. It was a stressful situation given that she had taken on a number of jobs through the summer and had to add that to her load.
“With time I learned new knots, did some more research and created a brand-spanking-new Kink revolving around the same premise; how do we go about accessing culture in the face of disconnect,” she said. “The knots are all made from electronic wires which represent the way in which this practice was accessed and how traditions evolve in ‘modernity’ and diaspora.”
Despite having to make the artwork again, Jin said being named as the regional winner for the art prize was met with “glee and gratitude” followed by feelings of guilt and self-doubt that come as she still struggles with confidence in her artwork.
She also struggled with representing the Yukon as regional winner given that she had moved to Dawson from the Toronto area to attend the school, though once she noted other applicants in the competition were as new to the territory as she was she became more comfortable with it.
It’s her hope that Kink will contribute to a dismantling labeling that’s often given to artwork such as knotted pieces. She noted her hope that people who practise similar mediums labelled as craft/folk art are able to see such work celebrated as fine art and participate in that side of the art world, should they choose to with space in galleries and possibilities of art awards for it.
“This is not to say that gallery spaces are what every artist should aspire towards; simply that those guarded spaces should be accessible to all creators,” Jin said. “I would say my practice is rather crafty so this award means a lot for me in that regard.”
Jin also hopes her piece will prompt viewers to reflect on the avenues they have to connect with their culture and if they feel fulfilled by those avenues.
After finishing the one-year program at the school, Jin said she will be moving south for the winter and taking some time to recharge and explore, perhaps working on photography and videos.
Along with cash prizes of $7,500 to each of the regional winners and $15,000 to Yoshimura as the national winner, an exhibit featuring each of the pieces will be displayed at the University of Toronto Art Museum’s Justina M. Barnicke Gallery from Oct. 26 to Nov. 19. They can also be viewed online at https://1start.bmo.com/2022-winners.html
This marks the first time in two years the winning pieces from the competition are being publicly exhibited in addition to the online showcase. In 2020 and 2021, the exhibits were only available online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year we are delighted to welcome everyone back to the gallery to see these extraordinary works of art,” Dawn Cain, curator of the BMO Art Collection, said. “Since the first exhibition in 2003, BMO 1st Art! has been a showcase of unique projects by exceptional undergraduate students across Canada. The level of talent this competition draws involves some difficult decisions for our judges.”
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com