Ka­gan Goh’s break­out sea­son

Van­cou­ver artist con­nects with au­di­ences through film, spo­ken word

Vancouver Sun - - ARTS & LIFE - TOM SAND­BORN

My goal as an artist is to in­spire ex­cite­ment, fun and play. I also value the power of art to heal.



“I see an es­ca­la­tor de­scend­ing and as­cend­ing from heaven. The cog­wheels turn and churn in a mad­ness of pro­duc­tiv­ity. And I am not rid­ing on it! And I am not rid­ing on it! The cast iron heart of the city pounds: CACHUNK! CACHUNK! CACHUNK! Driv­ing a mil­lion iron nails into my head as the day grinds away obliv­i­ous to my ex­is­tence.”

— From The Day My Cat Saved My Life, by Ka­gan Goh

Ka­gan Goh is hav­ing a good sea­son. The Sin­ga­pore- born, Ry­er­son­trained film­maker, per­for­mance poet and prose stylist will see two of his doc­u­men­tary films, Stolen Mem­o­ries, and Break­ing the Si­lence fea­tured in a dou­ble bill May 17 at the Bri­tan­nia Ship­yards Na­tional His­toric Site in Rich­mond. Both films deal with the in­tern­ment of Ja­panese Cana­di­ans dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. The topic is close to Goh’s heart.

In a work called Aki’s Poem, about the rebel Ja­panese in­ternee who is the pro­tag­o­nist of Break­ing the Si­lence, Goh writes: “He was not a crim­i­nal but he was treated like one/ His fam­ily con­sid­ered him a black sheep/ The com­mu­nity was ashamed of him/ When he died lonely of a bro­ken heart, the com­mu­nity buried him and hoped their shame would be buried with him.”

Fes­ti­val Ac­cess Asie in Mon­treal will be screen­ing Stolen Mem­o­ries on May 15.

Goh, a soft- spo­ken man in his early 40s, has been hon­ing his set of creative tal­ents for decades, since his ar­rival in Van­cou­ver in 1986. He has made provoca­tive films on the prover­bial shoe­string bud­get, per­formed his sig­na­ture brand of coura­geous, mov­ing spo­ken word po­etry at small venues and found ad­ven­tur­ous pub­lish­ers for his writ­ten work.

“My goal as an artist is to in­spire ex­cite­ment, fun and play,” he said in a re­cent con­ver­sa­tion in a west side cof­fee shop. “I also value the power of art to heal.”

Goh was di­ag­nosed with manic de­pres­sion at the age of 23. The con­di­tion — which he chooses not to call an ill­ness — has in­formed much of his work.

He comes from a fam­ily of artists. His fa­ther Goh Poh Seng was a writer and arts im­pre­sario in Sin­ga­pore, and his mother a painter. One of his broth­ers is a vis­ual artist and another is a suc­cess­ful ar­chi­tect.

Last year, Goh read at an event spon­sored by a writ­ers’ pro­gram at Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity where he came on stage to per­form The Day My Cat Saved My Life. He was the hit of the evening.

In per­for­mance, Goh is a liv­ing vor­tex of en­ergy and bright, propul­sive lan­guage — like be­ing close to a fire­works show.

In a few short min­utes at the SFU read­ing, he took his au­di­ence vividly in­side a manic episode. Po­etry may, as Au­den con­tentiously wrote, make noth­ing hap­pen. But that night at SFU, Goh seemed to have touched the hearts of every­one and in­stilled a deep but un­sen­ti­men­tal re­gard for the ra­di­ant ag­o­nies and ex­cite­ments of the bipo­lar con­di­tion.

The prose poem ends ten­derly with these lines about his cat: “I pick her up and hug her fiercely. I am a bal­loon flap­ping in the wind. She is my an­chor. I can feel her heart beat­ing as I turn and walk back home. She’s hold­ing onto me and won’t let me go.”

Ask around town and you are likely to re­ceive rave re­views of Goh both as an artist and as a per­son.

Jill Ine­son, who worked with Goh on a peer sup­port and ed­u­ca­tion project for peo­ple liv­ing with men­tal health is­sues, said she was im­me­di­ately struck by her co- worker’s “depth of un­der­stand­ing and com­pas­sion.”

Goh said he of­ten has the ex­pe­ri­ence — af­ter per­form­ing one of his po­ems that touch on men­tal health is­sues — of peo­ple com­ing out of the au­di­ence to tell him how much his po­etry re­flects their own strug­gles with the bipo­lar con­di­tion and how moved they are by his work.

“I live for those mo­ments,” Goh says.

Noted Van­cou­ver spo­ken word per­former C. R. Avery said he first met Goh at the “great gar­den par­ties” hosted by Goh’s fa­ther. Goh Poh Seng, a pioneer in English lan­guage po­etry and fic­tion in Sin­ga­pore, be­came a much loved host and con­vener of lo­cal arts com­mu­nity events. Avery calls Ka­gan Goh, like his fa­ther, a “man of the arts,” ex­press­ing par­tic­u­lar praise for Stolen Mem­o­ries.

Jamie Reid, a poet sur­vivor from Goh Poh Seng’s gen­er­a­tion, also has praise for Ka­gan’s films, and com­mented on the younger Goh’s skills as a so­cial or­ga­nizer. Reid said Ka­gan is “per­sis­tent at what­ever he does.”

The only ques­tion about Ka­gan’s fu­ture, Reid said, is which of the many irons he has in the fire will be the most pro­duc­tive.

It seems clear, based on his im­pres­sive per­for­mances in many me­dia so far, that what­ever arts project Goh turns his hand to next will be high en­ergy, shapely and in­fused with com­pas­sion. Ka­gan Goh is a tal­ent to watch.


Film­maker/ poet/ artist Ka­gan Goh will be show­ing his two new films — re­lated to Ja­panese- Cana­dian in­tern­ment dur­ing the war — on May 17 at the Bri­tan­nia Ship­yards in Richmond.

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