CHROMA ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: REI DUNCAN AND CAINE CHOW
Rei Duncan is the artist behind Sachi&Jun. Described as fiber art, Sachi&Jun specializes in macramé and modern woven tapestries. Rei is self-taught, drawing inspiration from landscapes and the cultures she has been immersed in throughout her life. An elementary school teacher by day, Rei has recently relocated to Calgary from Melbourne, Australia.
Caine Chow is a visual artist that specializes in the Japanese planting styles of kokedama, “moss ball plants", and wabikusa. She explores the connection people have with nature and how interacting with nature has profound power and influence on us individually and as communities.
For #CHROMAYYC, Duncan and Chow collaborated on two murals — San·go and Mori. We wanted to learn more about the meaning behind these pieces as well as the process of creating them, so we sat down for a conversation with both artists.
What inspired you to create these pieces and is there a connection between them?
“San·go speaks to the dichotomy between the strength and fragility of our natural world. Like the natural world, this piece came to life and evolved over time. It began as a reflection of the places I have lived, been, and miss, but as San·go came to life I found myself drawing inspiration from the rugged, expansive coastline and bushland of eastern Australia. The colours, textures, shapes and sensory stimuli of the native flora and fauna all informed and inspired me. Striving for shape, depth, and flow, San·go seeks to reflect the beauty of the natural world and how it connects us all.” - Rei
“Mori is inspired by the forest. I grew up in Calgary, so I’ve spent a lot of time in Banff and the mountains. The concept between the two pieces is when you are stand in between the walls, you have the ocean on one side and the forest on the other. It represents the connection that Rei and I both have, as people, with nature and how nature has this deep effect on us.” - Caine
How did the murals go from concept to reality and what was it like collaborating together?
“This is my first large-scale installation. Initially I wasn’t sure where to begin. I knew I wanted to tell a story about corals but that was about it! After a number of draft designs and sketches, I cleared out my living room and drew the design to scale. My design changed several more times from there and my living room quickly turned into a studio/workshop. A key element in the design was factoring in the placement of the kokedama. Caine and I wanted our two mediums and the elements of our wall to flow together. I used the latch hooking technique to craft the corals into canvas grids, mixing colours, textures, and styles (pompoms, weaving, loose fringes and loop fringes). Latch hooking is a time consuming, labor intensive technique, but the final result speaks for itself.” - Rei
“We explored a lot of different concepts but we ended up with an idea that really spoke to what inspires both of our work. I really love that sort of exploratory creating. We had envisioned it and sketched it, but we didn’t really understand how it would feel when we combined everything into the final piece. It was amazing to see it start to come together because the whole was definitely more than the sum of the parts. This isn’t our first time working together, we did a market together once, but creating these pieces has been a very different experience. We want someone who is standing in the middle of the murals to feel what we feel for nature.” - Caine
What environment has the most impact on how you get inspired to make art?
“I take inspiration from the natural world — landscapes, seasons, flora and fauna. I find myself blending these inspirations with personal memories, feelings and emotions.” - Rei
“The mountains and forests. I like being in spaces that are wild. There is so much beauty and growth and decay happening all at the same time. There is this sort of power that forests have. Like a perfect chaos.” - Caine
What is your daily routine when you are working on an art piece?
“I’m a teacher by day, so my days are full! During the week I seem to find inspiration when I should be winding down for the night. On weekends, I love taking advantage of the days while working in the sunlight. When I’m not working on a large piece I tend to have multiple projects on the go. This keeps things fresh and gives me the opportunity to work on commissions and personal interest pieces.I’m fortunate to live by the river, so exploring the banks looking for driftwood to use in pieces is an important part of my process. These walks also provide me with a sense of calm and inspiration.” - Rei
How has your work evolved over the years?
“When I started it felt like more of a hobby. I had been working in software development for sixteen years before I discovered kokedama. I wanted to be a bonsai person but Calgary isn’t really the place for it and it is very intimidating, but with kokedama you can use cheap or expensive plants and there aren’t a lot of rules. I started off by experimenting solely with single plants and now I create more immersive experiences with multiple plants. For the last two and a half years I have been working on kokedama full-time. My ideas are more conceptual and I have really focused on strengthening my craft.” - Caine
Do political and social events in the world ever play a role in how you approach your work?
“I am passionate about our natural world. It gives us so much and I fear that we take much more than we give. I worry about our ecological footprint and our daily consumption of natural resources and the impact this is having on climate change. I spend my days working with children, and I often find myself wondering what kind of world we will be leaving them.” - Rei
“Yes, as of more recently they have. I’m trans, and I followed our recent election very closely especially in regards to queer rights and GSAs. It’s gotten me thinking about a piece focused on perspective. I’m playing around with different concepts but haven’t really executed any of them yet. But it’s all focused on this idea that although we all grow up differently and with different perspective we need to see and feel things from others’ points of views. Conservatives have a specific view as do Liberals and we need to take all of it into consideration. I’m working on it with another artist. We are still building out the concept but hopefully we can start pitching it to a space soon.” - Caine
Regarding your creative process, how do you make the leap from idea to reality?
“My ideas change frequently! The execution of a plan changes daily as well. I don’t often draw up my plans when creating smaller macramé and woven textile pieces. I normally go with the flow and take it as it comes. I make sure to take breaks, walk away from my work so that I come back with fresh eyes and possibly a new perspective on the design.” - Rei
“I’ll take an idea and I will just go to all the crazy places in my mind. I’ll let my mind explore all the what-ifs. What if we could hang things? What if the kokadme was huge or tiny? I love playing with scale and theme. I also consider I want people to feel, and how can I make them feel a feeling that they normally wouldn’t feel. Then I’ll take all of that and sort of distill it down to into the core elements of a larger concept. The concept also depends on the space, so I’ll massage the idea and play with how the space functions.” - Caine
All Photos by Kelly Hofer