Cave to Dream: An intimate experience of ritual and tradition

Photo by Cindy Mochizuki

Vancouver artist Cindy Mochizuki contemplates cyclic temporalities, the power of dreams, and the transience of human existence in her multi-media body of work, Cave to Dream – currently on display until Nov. 17 at the Richmond Art Gallery.

Mochizuki’s hand-drawn animation and live-action storytelling conceal both her human and non-human figures within a cave, where characters explore ethereal dreamscapes and psychic spaces to share the four fictional narratives of Onyx, Salt, Shadow, and Snow.

“As an artist, I’m really interested in storytelling as an experience and considering how a story can become a gift,” says Mochizuki. “I’m interested in story transformation from person to person. After I tell a story, how do you take it and how does it become something different for you, the receiver?”

Onyx, Salt, Shadow, and Snow parallel the four seasons, tracking the passage of time to depict the cyclic nature of human existence from life to death, and the influence of these phases on individual experiences.

Bringing stories to life

Page from Onyx. | Photo by Cindy Mochizuki

Mochizuki’s installation will become the theatrical space for a Nov. 16 live-action performance. The performance expands the exhibit beyond the confines of the screens of the four films and instead into three-dimensional space as contemporary dancers, ornamented in costumes and masks dually resembling the Japanese demon Namagage and snow spirit Yuki Onna, guide audiences through interactive tales of magic, ritual, and tradition – layering meaning and combining the childish and playful with the resultant discomfort of confronting realistic, often subconscious, fears.

The cave, the site of the four films and the live performance, not only draws inspiration from the igloo-esque snow domes of Japanese Kamakura festivals but also embodies the innately warm and comforting yet eerily dark nature of the human soul.

While determining the architectural structure of her installation, Mochizuki also considered philosophies of the cave as an environment in which the real and fictional are blurred.

“I was thinking of Plato’s philosophy around the cave and how the cave’s prisoners, while watching shadow puppetry, thought the shadows were real because they had never left the cave,” says Mochizuki. “I’m interested in this idea of what is real and what is not real.”

Mochizuki’s innovative blend of speculative fiction with magical realism via experimental cinema and theatrical performances arose from the artist’s 2017 visit to Akita-ten, Japan where she researched the region’s traditional folklore. Primarily attractive to Mochizuki and the key influence of Cave to Dream was the annual New Year’s Eve visit of the Namahage demon, a ritual in which young, spouseless men frightfully dressed in straw capes and masks make door-to-door visits, determining inhabitants’ yearly moral virtues and warding off bad luck.

However, Mochizuki gives these rituals a twist of her own in Cave to Dream. By contextualizing Japanese traditions and stories within a Western, modern framework, Mochizuki subverts archaic, heavily patriarchal, cultural limitations to question the relationship between gender and performance. The installation’s live-action performance consists of an entirely female ensemble of dancers.

Mochizuki makes it clear that she has no intentions of directly replicating historical or cultural traditions in her work, but rather hopes to place them within new frameworks and thus allow viewers to access and personally connect with traditional stories.

“I wasn’t interested in re-representing the rituals but rather tapping into the stories from the view of someone who is of a diaspora,” explains Mochizuki, who has a Japanese mother and a Canadian-Japanese father.

Mochizuki’s animations themselves transcend temporal boundaries through her diverse choice of media. Digital animation brings the artist’s ink-and-wash drawings to life while her hand-crafted masks, costumes, and porcelain game pieces allow audience members to physically interact with her art. Through embodiment, expression, and observing, Cave to Dream allows audience members to appreciate tradition while also preserving the individual need to experience and understand otherworldly realms.

For more information on Cave to Dream, visit

For more information on Cindy Mochizuki’s work, visit