Creator to Creator: Mirae Lee

As the creator of this series, Mirae had always been the one asking questions and helping to tell stories of other amazing creatives. This time we are delighted to hear her thoughts and stories too. As an interdisciplinary artist who engages with different cultural spaces, I am curious about how she navigates around different identities and what it’s like to collaborate with different artists.

Read below as Mirae shares her processes behind her multidisciplinary practice, how she views her role as a community arts organizer, and her exciting plans moving forward! – Jing

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Photo by Jing Tey

Jing: Tell us about your creative practice! How does your work as a community arts organizer inform your practice as a creator? 

Mirae: I currently define myself as an emerging cultural producer and an interdisciplinary artist. My main creative language is a collage of bilingual prose and illustrations, but I predominantly work as an organizer and administrator for not-for-profit arts organizations.

My work/self as an arts organizer exists separate from my work/self as a creator, if a creator is defined synonymous to an “artist”. What I do as an organizer is being attuned to the external — the discussions, thoughts and ideas that are happening within the community I am a part of and the wider society; whereas what I do as a creator is being more attuned to the internal — the feelings and words I am itchy to explore, which are often responses or related to what’s happening externally.

When I read your “jigeum.zine” as well as your recent piece “Words I’ve Written to Myself” in LooseLeaf Vol.8, I sense the different layers of self that you present through a combination of fragmented bilingual thoughts, song lyrics, and illustrations. How does music and your grasp of different languages influence your process of creation?

지금(jigeum).ZINE 01 “How is your weather today?”

Language is an important part of my being — how I navigate this world and my body. I often think bilingually simultaneously so my words come out fragmented because grammar structures are different and expressions don’t translate. This state of confusion (because I’m thinking Korean words when speaking in English and vice versa) has really heightened in the last couple of years as I began to actively read and write in Korean (and more attuned to hanja). I truly believe I can’t speak any one language properly, but two languages together perfectly.

English is the more fluent one, particularly verbally, and provides words for critical analysis, since I’ve done my entire educational system in this language (kindergarten doesn’t count). Korean is the more intimate one, the trusted one, where words are more nuanced, hence, honest to what I’m feeling. It allows for poetics and metaphors, but also immediate human connections. I think Korean is a more diverse, malleable language than English. Language also holds particular sociocultural backgrounds of its origin, which influences what situation I would feel more comfortable speaking Korean or English. All this to say, multiple aesthetics and ideas are occuring in my mind all the time, so I feel my work requires bilingualism.

Music has always filled my solitude, which I had quite a lot of since I was young; so I’m naturally interested in song lyrics. I mostly listen to Korean music in a wide spectrum of mainstream to indie to underground, hip hop to ballads to folk. They provide ways for me to express myself better. Music is always in the background of all of my work.

“Wear We Came From” Exhibition at Crimson Teas. Photo by Jing Tey

At the “Wear We Came From” Exhibition, I was intrigued by how the community interacted with the visual and auditory experience, and how diverse the group of people who came was. Can you tell us about the process of collaboration, and the importance of such collaborative processes in creating spaces to hold intimate stories of culture and identity?

Seeing a diverse range of age groups and cultural backgrounds that gathered at the opening of “Wear We Came From” surprised me as well, but then again, the theme isn’t bound to one demographic but relatable to a variety. 

Collaborative process allows for collaborative results. With “Wear We Came From”, I supported Stephanie (photographer) and Izzy (multimedia journalist) in organizing and creating the project, and to make this project possible, we worked with ten people who kindly shared their stories and posed for photos. As a group of folks came together, it allowed the output of the project to be collaborative — ideas, stories, visions, questions, ponderings of each person coming together. I think that process helps to reach a wider audience as well. For difficult topics such as migration, familial and cultural histories, I believe talking about them together and lending a listening ear to each other are important for us to move forward.

“burden(some)” Exhibition at 187 Augusta

How have you changed since joining Project 40?

When I joined Project 40, I was still in university studying cultural anthropology and art history. Before I got involved with Project 40, I was very oblivious to grassroots methodologies and organization. My focus in the arts was mainstream institutions, places where I was working during that time, and I also had an ambitious academic career ideals.

As I took an active part in Project 40, including facilitating programming, collaborating with not-for-profit arts organizations, and meeting a variety of folks practicing or interested in the arts, I discovered a different arts sector where art was being created around important conversations by and for the everyday people; no longer seen as an elitist culture and commodity. I also learned about the power of shared vulnerability and storytelling which connects people within a space/time. From the month-long workshop series “burden(some)“, that I facilitated with Abby, I learned to prioritize our experiences, shared space, and the process, rather than the final result. I definitely grew, personally, creatively, and experientially in ways I didn’t imagine or knew. 

What are questions or themes you’ve been thinking about lately?

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the word “정 ” (jung), loosely translated as affection, compassion, connection. I’ve been thinking about how we build relationships and think about relationships. How we live in a society that prioritizes oneself rather than each other. I’ve been thinking about cultural differences of “정”. How attachment is immediately felt and generosity is possible. How we create boundaries with even those we say we care about. I’ve been thinking about community care — do we actually care? I’ve also been thinking about how language influences the dynamic of relationships. What nuances can be articulated with one language over another. 

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

I’m moving to Singapore in a few days to pursue a Masters in Arts and Cultural Leadership at LASALLE College of the Arts. It’s also an excuse to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself in a totally new country, to learn and be part of the Asian arts scene, and to be closer to my family. 

On a project level, I’m finishing up my second jigeum.zine dedicated to 2019 (I’ll probably just make very few limited print copies). But most excitingly, I’m working on launching a digital magazine on diasporic Korean womxn with Harriet Kim with the first issue possibly featuring a firefighter and mokgyoktang — so stay tuned.

“Personal Belongings” Workshop for CONVENIENCE Exhibition, in partnership with Myseum and 187 Augusta

As the creator of these CTC blog series, how do you feel about the completion of the project? Did these conversations and connections formed fulfill the intentions that you had set out and answer the questions you wanted to address?

In total, I’ve featured 27 Asian.Canadian artists — many I’ve never met in-person but gushed over their work at exhibitions or on Instagram; some who I know but never had the chance to talk deeply about their practice. Additionally, I’ve second-hand featured 27 Asian artists through the handwritten questionnaires. 

I’m grateful for everyone who took the time to share. I’m excited about all these incredible Asian.Canadian artists who are practicing in an incredible array of creative forms and exploring a range of topics, while simultaneously collaborating with other forms or mixing genres. My intentions for this project was to do exactly this — showcase the diversity within the Asian.Canadian diaspora and break the artistic “silos”. I hope Creator to Creator can be a contribution to the community that is flourishing and strengthening. 

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

Acknowledging: Who am I. Who are the people. Who is this community. What is this community. Who has the privilege. What kind of privilege exists. What kind of privilege do I have. Where do I stand. Whose land do I stand. What histories does it carry. What histories do I carry. Where am I from. Why am I here. How do I navigate this world.

I think identity, belonging, and place-making are very much Canadian, or at least Toronto concepts of scrutiny, and as I meet people or hear stories from outside of this city, I am reminded how the conversations we’re having are not happening outside of here, that we have to recognize that bigger changes cannot happen when we’re living in the bubble.

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Check out HUNJIYA’s music here. And learn more about Mirae’s work here.

Thank you to everyone for following Creator to Creator 2!

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