Creator to Creator: Jaycee Tu

I always love delving into the minds of curators and hearing about their thought process behind an art curation—how an idea joins together with conversations, experiences, stories, theories, and ultimately art to create an intentional space. After following Jaycee’s digital exhibition Virtual(ity) on LooseLeaf, then seeing her recent playful Recess at Xpace, I realized the notion of blurring boundaries moved across both spaces, even though they had very different themes, and I became curious about Jaycee’s curatorial practice and wanted to poke into her mind.

Read below as Jaycee talks about how her process “happens in everyday life”, what it was like curating her first digital exhibition, and how ASL informs her practice, plus who her “favourite” (and very cool) Deaf POC Queer artist is! -Mirae.

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Mirae: Share a bit about your creative practice. When did you become interested in curation?

Jaycee: I’ve studied art for as long as I can remember. As a child I was enrolled in music and dance lessons, then moved onto visual arts as a teen. A teacher noticed my passion for it and created an independent study assignment especially for me, asking me to curate a fantasy art exhibition. Personal experiences from my childhood influenced me to curate my fantasy exhibition around bereavement and stages of grief. Curating became a way for me to not only process my experiences, emotions and curiosities—it also became a way for me to step outside of myself and consider how these ideas relate to a wider landscape of art, culture and community. Since then, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to organize art and culture-centered spaces that bring the community together. 

Cristine Yunyk from Recess (2019) at Xpace. Photo by Polina Teif

Both of your recent exhibitions Virtual(ity) and Recess are very different in theme, yet very similar in their core interests on breaking down boundaries in human relationships, whether that is with machines or within ourselves and the positions we take (artist vs. visitor). I’m curious where you curation usually begins (i.e. inspiration). How would you describe your curatorial process? 

It’s very difficult for me to put my finger down and say, “this is exactly where my process begins.” The process can begin years before the actual exhibition. Sometimes I’ll be inspired by something I’ve read or researched—for example, Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto inspired the initial concept for Virtual(ity). But sometimes a random thought will come from what seems like thin air. Maybe it was something someone said to me in passing one day, or maybe it was something that had happened to me when I was a child (it was notions of childhood and childhood nostalgia that sparked the ideas surrounding Recess). Sometimes ideas will sit in my mind for years, incubating in the back of my mind, then evolving into something else entirely before being implemented into a project.

As for my curatorial process I like there to be a constant flux and exchange of ideas between myself, the artists and anyone else I might consult with during the curatorial process. The exchange happens both between my research and the artists’ research, and in-person between myself and the artists. It also happens between the exhibition itself and those who pay a visit. One thing I like to do during the exhibition process is meet with the artists and anyone else involved in the exhibition—over coffee, dinner or drinks—as a means to get everyone acquainted and to open up opportunities for exchange even more. I find that a lot of the process happens in everyday life, not just in the research alone.

Virtual(ity) (2018) for LooseLeaf’s Curatorial Series

Virtual(ity) was very interesting as it lived on a digital space, while explicitly examining that space. What were some unique challenges you faced when “putting on” this show? Do you think the exhibition would have been different if shown in a brick and mortar space?

Virtual(ity) was my first experience curating an online exhibition—and there were a lot of challenges that I really enjoyed working through. This exhibition would have definitely been different if it were installed in your typical white cube gallery space. Zinnia Naqvi’s Veena, for example, was initially a physical installation intended for a gallery space. For Virtual(ity) we installed a video she had taken of a past gallery installation of Veena. That transition from 3D to 2D to suit the exhibition was interesting to consider. We also made the work more accessible for Deaf and HoH (hard of hearing) folks by including subtitles.

Similarly, a performance called Resist/Coexist by Kathak dancer Mushtari Afroz, drummer Ahilan Kathirgamathamby and Flamenco dancer Tamar Ilana was performed at 187 Augusta as part of the exhibition. What we decided to do is to stream it live and install a video of the performance in the online exhibition space. I also introduced the performance in both English and ASL. Having the opportunity to include a live performance in an online exhibition was really fruitful for me, because it opened up ideas about how to make live performances more accessible to wider audiences.

As a freelance arts educator, you work with children and youth, and currently study American Sign Language. How do these experiences inform your curatorial practice? 

Both working with children and having five Deaf relatives heavily impacts how I consider accessibility in art spaces. It’s important for me that the exhibitions I organize are accessible to my family, students and the community at large. I not only want these spaces to be physically accessible to them, but I want them to be able to connect to the context of the exhibitions as well—to feel like they belong in art spaces. 

I also do my best to hire interpreters or any other requested services and ensure that I am optimizing the accessibility in the spaces I exhibit. And being multilingual sometimes allows me to break down linguistic barriers between the exhibition and its visitors.

Lina Wu, Treasure (2019) from Recess (2019) at Xpace. Photo by Polina Teif

Which artists, writers, academics, curators, and other creative thinkers have influenced your curatorial practice?

I think every artist, writer, etc. I’ve ever met has influenced my practice in some way. But a few creatives I think about a lot at the moment are Christine Sun Kim, Karen Tam and Henry Heng Lu.

Recently, what themes or questions have you been pondering about?

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the precarity of working in the arts. I’ve been asking myself what I can do as a curator and arts organizer to not only lessen the precarity of my own practice, but other artists in Toronto as well. How can we build a foundation that supports and sustains our community of artists and creatives?

What’s coming up next for you in your creative career?

One thing is that I would like to take the time to make more art. I started out as a practicing artist, once upon a time, and I forget that because I’ve been so zoned in on organizing and curating over these past few years.

Lastly, what does being a part of the Canadian art scene mean to you?

It’s a great privilege and responsibility to be a part of the Canadian art scene. It means that a little bit of space gets allocated to me every so often, and I try to do a bit of good with it every time. I love that each exhibition is an opportunity to highlight and support local and talented artists.

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Get to know more about Jessica’s work here, and Jaycee’s work here.

New Creator to Creator feature every other Thursday!

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