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Reflecting with Writer and Multidisciplary Artist Jasmine Reiko on Spa Culture, Hawai'i, and the Pursuit of Serenity
NCO 103

N: Jasmine, it's a pleasure to speak with you again! I still remember meeting you for the first time at Dragon Club in Tokyo in 2018.. I think ? As we're approaching the end of 2023, could you share some personal highlights or significant transformations you've experienced this year? If any!

J: A major return to nature and cooking. I found myself coming back to hiking and absorbing green, blue. I feel optimistic thinking about hiking because the concept of walking “a great distance” with no end in sight is sublime and childlike to me.

I get into a flow where I become very good at jumping and climbing rocks via the game of “don’t get your shoes muddy” and that is the only thing I think about.

Touching moss, learning names of the things around me, feeling indebted to my environment. I am continuously learning, open, and receptive to change.

N: To kick off, I'd like to delve into SPA, your new zine you co-created, which represents an extension of your namesake exhibition at Aupuni Space. In the zine you visually explore the glamorization and ritualistic aspect of self-care.

Self-care has emerged as a prominent trend of late, notably among Gen Z. While on one hand I think that this is the expression of an increased mental health awareness, on the other I think that self-care nowadays seems always to be linked to the purchase of specific products, be it skincare or organic food. Can you share your perspective on this interplay between self-care, consumption, and money?

J: My first interaction with SPA was an advertisement.

SPA began as a personal archive of less noticed, peeling, awkwardly lit-up spa and beauty displays throughout Honolulu that I grew up around and later developed into a larger apparatus of ideas.

I isolate “source” and “fantasy” in regard to wellness, beauty, class, and the massive chasm between purity and the dirty which is an oft-Western binary employed to isolate the ethereal from the profane.

Self-care as it is understood by the mindfulness and wellness industries is uprooted from its sense of place. The basic facet is to take care of yourself. There is this added secondary part: let me show you exactly how, trust me I care. Mindfulness apps are all part of the self-care workscape. The context that belongs to an object and/or a place is not taken into consideration when performing acts of western techniques of mindfulness. Instead, it takes away the power of a place and posits a new object in its place, somewhat co-opting the experience of belonging to that area, making a sort of fetish out of it.

Most wellness commodities are bought for their unique background of self-care that anyone can demo, which is usually an appropriated story from its gendered and/or ethnic roots. You can have anything from anywhere and it diminishes and tears the healer from their sacred ground, the story from its grounding myth.

There is no sacred ritual under capitalism that is wholly your own if it does not belong to the culture you are from because all these things came from somewhere and someone before you. Having a sense of ownership over the feeling of bliss or wellness is a conditioned thing, it’s like, you don’t even own your wellness.

The majority of people’s sociopolitical status does not offer the time and energy to manifest those fantasies in the spa or beauty advertisements, which is what makes it so funny and absurd to me. It looks like heaven because it is and this heaven can be bought for a price.

However, there is something cross-cultural, intergenerational, and interesting about contemporary self-care discourse that started with obsessive green-washing and 12-step Korean skincare routines and now ends with experiences both therapeutic and all-encompassing and sensational like going to get a lomi lomi massage, all of which started with someone else for a specific purpose and is being used by others out of context.

I think it came with people talking more loudly about where they are from in continental North America. This exchange existed f-o-r-e-v-e-r in Hawai’i tho and continental America is just catching up. Inspired by our grounds of multiculturalism, talking a lot about roots without maybe considering the motherlands, there created something “new.”

Regardless of how self-consumptive the act of caring for yourself became, I revel in the moments where my friends and I talk story about what they do with their hair, their skin, how they feel after a swim, the experiences that help maintain us rather than accumulate product.

It’s all in all such an intimate experience with yourself. Rinsing your hair with cold water. Exfoliating your body with a rough brush. Kukui nut oil on dry skin. Wrapping your hair before going to bed. Self-preservation.

N: There also seems to be an undeniable aesthetic element to self-care, almost like a form of self-voyeurism where individuals relish in the act of pampering themselves. Do you believe that as society has become less religious, we've redirected our ritualistic adoration from a deity to ourselves? How do you see the relationship between self-care rituals and religious practices, particularly in the context of 'belief', which seems to be a fundamental ingredient of both?

J: SPA acts out maximalist gestures like rest, relax, repent, redeem by channeling some of the spa and beauty industry’s beloved visual motifs: the woman lying down in bliss, the woman looking back at you with a smile. “Sometimes self-care is self-harm” is what my co-writer, pecorino, wrote in one of their poems. The idea of self-harm through too much self-care... An over-indulgence in self-care that reaps discontent and wandering malaise. The belief that one will buy in or become “relaxed” enough ends up making a fetish out of the present. Belief becomes a technology that creates change.

Self-care imagines a sense of place and then houses a body pampering themselves in that imagined place. There is a projection of your body in bliss after this is all over: repaired, and redeemed by this experience. I feel this borrows imagery and scaffolding from theological concepts of heaven and paradise, something I consider a lot living on the islands where our everything has been touched by Western colonialism. The process itself is also the product, becoming pure is a series of actions you enlist your whole life. I feel this got co-opted time and time again. The current trend is being online, ageless, and digital. Beaches non-polluted, sand that keeps filling itself back up. In order for this fantasy to exist comes belief.

Belief is so interesting to me. I feel like belief is a kind of attitude, a perspective. Belief is what makes you purchase seven different toners and moisturizers with the tongue-in-cheek expectation of immortality, skin like a star’s.

I believe in skincare because moisture is so important… anyway, with the decline of religion comes the need for belief. You need to believe in yourself and yourself in paradise. And if you don’t, you are not caring for yourself let alone worshiping yourself. Belief is a motivating force of fantasy, belief is what constitutes the core.

I like the way you say ‘relish in pampering themselves’ because that’s exactly what it looks like. Values and imaginations of dirt and revolution are all washed out when beautification is centered on mechanical self-care discourse. I love massages tho..

N: Your life's journey has led you from Hawai'i to New York City, and then back to your roots. What is one facet of your life in Hawai'i that you especially cherish? Could you also share some insights about the creative landscape of Hawai'i? Are there any overlooked treasures that deserve more recognition?

J: In Hawai’i we are all connected by this place. The context is the medium.

When people make art and are not from here, it sticks out like a sore thumb and there’s a specific market that isn’t necessarily supporting local and kanaka art-making.

I honor my histories that have brought me in context within the diasporic, māhu, transformative identities and spirits that make up the Pacific which includes the Hawaiian islands. I am a settler on the island, and people that are not from Hawai’i have no idea about the triangulation of Native Hawaiian, Settler, and then the Haole starting since pre- “statehood.” I am inspired by the recent Hawai’i Triennial which states, “Hawai’i is a center.” Not off the map to the left of America, but a real center of foreign affairs as a literal in-between entity where American trade with Asia is growing stronger than its history.

The creative is in response to the realities here. Red Hill is a neglected and illegal water aquifer occupied by the US military poisoning our water supply. Most major things like highways and monuments being built here are to support the pre-existing US military occupation.

The reality is that the culture that makes up Hawai’i is left to fend for itself while being completely stolen and fetishized in front of our eyes. I look around and remember that everything happening right now is happening on straight-up stolen land and I don’t think most foreigners even understand/know what annexation means.

People ask me what it means to be a good tourist and I usually cite Haunani Kay Trask who said, “Tourist, stay home.” In the mind of health and wellness, there is a desire to search outside of yourself. This can be OK, but honestly, it is also destructive and careless. Also so boring…ok you vacationed in Hawai’i, so what? Want me to be excited for you, and share aloha with a stranger? Seriously rude. Perhaps social media and technology make it so that it doesn’t feel like we’re 3,000 miles away from California, but we are. North America and North American tourists definitely don’t act like they’re in America either when they come here.

N: I want to hear your thoughts on the concept of "isolation". Beyond the trite cliche of artists seeking solitude or a peaceful respite from society to fuel creativity, what are your thoughts on how Hawai'i's geographical seclusion may influence the artistic community's creativity and practices? Moreover, how do you think this sense of isolation shapes the collective psyche of Hawai'i's inhabitants?

J: If the Western idea of paradise is isolation fetishized and sponsored by capitalism I want none of it!!! I feel we all participate in this united concept of “world” together that makes living on an island a vast experience. We have a condensed place of kanaka, immigrants, settlers, foreigners, and the military. It’s the world on an island.

After living in NYC for years, adjusting was a little difficult because all I wanted was to maintain a sense of anonymity and detachment. I felt like something was stolen from me when I was recognized and perceived by others. It took a lot of vulnerability to start going out and participating in “outside.”

A part of this is maintaining cycles of love and trust falling, also being selective and intentional with your time and energy. It’s a tight community when you live in Honolulu, and that’s considered the city amongst all the other towns spanning the pae ʻāina. I think creating and making space for new strategies of practice have been revelatory in terms of my being here and being happy.

And you’re right, the need for solitude is trite. It’s giving Virginia Woolf’s “room of one’s own” or Walden’s house in the middle of the woods. Like, solitude is extremely important to have to yourself, but when you enlist solitude to the point of owning 10000 acres of stolen land as a tech CEO, I question your necessity for solitude. I require a productive yet peaceful, balanced place to write and make my paintings. I am also deeply inspired by the people around me. We exist nowhere else but here, I actually challenge people to get offline and find themselves in everything directly surrounding them. And I am inspired by all these intersections that make up others. It’s a miracle we can interact at all.

My sense of community may come from my grandmother who I consider the social network of Kaimuki during her time.

You can trace a line from the Long’s cashiers to randoms in the Times parking lot to Tony Romas to walking to the post office on Koko Head Avenue to organizing gatherings with her friends everywhere in-between to finally feeding the pigeons at K-Park before going home up 16th. There is a sense of circulation you get used to and it starts to feel like the air hitting your face once you accept that everyone deserves their own orbit, their own planetary space. I believe in how vast this place is, and how massive the space in between others is for anything to happen. I feel like on this island it's easy to position yourself as small, but I think everyone is soooo multiple all the time. No such thing as a straight arrow.

N: The image of Hawai'i is often tied to notions of paradise, tranquility, and joy. Given this, I'm curious to know how your understanding of happiness has evolved over the recent years. Have you uncovered any new insights?

J: Where I am born in Honolulu, Hawai’i, everything is an unraveling of natural and contorting abundance often misinterpreted by tourists and foreigners for their personal paradise fantasy mod or an unprecedented place of residence.

The Pacific Ocean is the huge, blue continent I have the privilege of calling my birthplace. I am transforming into an entity that experiences every day individually, feeling ancient by the time I go to bed. It is as though happiness is realistically unachievable, maybe not the most prioritized goal to have since happiness is fueled by circumstance, environment, and emotion — all of which changes at any moment.

Being back home has taught me to revel in change, find processes that work through failure, and enjoy systems that you create rather than feeling consumed by them.

Tranquility is a system, paradise is contextual, and joy is a perspective of abundance rather than scarcity.

All Images Courtesy of Jasmine Reiko

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