Q&A

Q. What was your trajectory from your fourth year thesis at Ryerson until where you are now?

A. After graduating, I accepted a three-month contract at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in the Aboriginal Studies department as their curatorial assistant right out of the gate—in fact, I wasn’t even in Toronto during graduation. By the end of the summer I was coming home from this contract position feeling immensely thankful for the opportunity to have worked with such incredible people and having learned so much, but I was heading back without a job secured in place. The next four months were a bit difficult as I struggled to find work in my field while also experiencing a handful of frustrating and chronic symptoms with no clear idea of what was happening to my physical health. As trying as autumn 2018 was, I certainly learned a lot about myself, my perception of labour, and how it wound me up in the state I was in. Alongside all this, I was still steadily applying for jobs and exhibitions. Continuously reaching out to others allowed me opportunities to work with many young creatives who are taking the initiative to start businesses, publications, and artist platforms. During this slow period I started working on a new body of work, I wrote some editorial pieces, and I performed some poetry in public for the first time. Now I am in the position of beginning another contract at an artist-run centre in Toronto, I’ve had my first solo show up at the Ryerson Image Centre, and I have another group show in Toronto this June. Sometimes the trajectory seems muddy, and often there are major setbacks or slow periods; but if you can look at them face-on, they can be treated as opportunities for growth—albeit sometimes it is a painful transformation.
About Her Work:

Q. What is your mandate or purpose for your own personal work?

A. The purpose of my personal work is for pleasure and discovery. I enjoy learning new things and making process-based work. I think it is important as an artist to be constantly pushing the boundaries of the status quo, to be uprooting archaic and oppressive systems, and/or to be making things that connect people to one another and to the work. I am just beginning a contract at Gallery 44, which is incredibly lucky because I have always admired G44’s mandate and the curatorial choices they make. I believe that they are a very important space in Toronto for exciting lens-based work.

Q. What kind of special training and skills do you apply to your practice? What are the primary responsibilities of your job?

A. I prefer to shoot on film and enjoy developing my rolls whenever possible. I have a very preliminary knowledge of Adobe Premiere, which is what I use to edit performance videos shot with any digital camera I can get ahold of. Otherwise, my work isn’t especially technical. I am more interested in what the work says, rather than wowing viewers with technical prowess. That being said, I love to learn new skills, and so often I find myself trying to build things or working with people who use different media and trying to think about how to add that into my own practice. As a job, I manage the facilities and memberships at Gallery 44, so it is a mix of administrative duties and troubleshooting the equipment that Gallery 44 has to offer its members. As I have just begun at Gallery 44, I haven’t yet garnered enough experience to give much advice for working at a gallery. Up until now, I have worked in the service industry or pieced together freelance gigs in writing and photography. I also work once a week at a screen-printing shop, which is an exciting and creative environment as well.

Q. What are the different components of your practice? For example, do you do other things to make your bread and butter, and can you situate your art practice in relation to the other things you do? Why are these various components significant to your success?

A. Currently, my artistic practice isn’t what pays the bills. So, the reality is that I have to work many different jobs in order to make ends meet. After over a decade working in cafés, restaurants, bars, and clubs, I have moved into a different field. Working in the service industry is a fabulous way to make a good amount of money relatively quickly: this was crucial during my BFA at Ryerson. However, this line of work can be hard on your body, and I found myself often feeling incredibly burnt out on my days off and being unable or unwilling to use that time to work on my practice. Now, I try to work contracts in the heritage and arts institutions, and when those are hard to come by I supplement with freelance photography and writing, working for a local screen-printing shop, and working door at a live music venue. A major positive of having worked in the service industry for so long is that I know many incredibly kind and generous people who I can lean on for work if I am feeling a financial squeeze.

Q. In terms of modes and methods of display, what are some of the challenges you faced when working through the process of your thesis project—from final critique to being shown in the RIC student gallery? And how is the success of the display method critical to the way in which the viewer interprets the work?

A. I believe that display methods used are crucial to conveying the work to the audience. I don’t believe that every image has to be framed—nor would I encourage a young artist to shell out inordinate amounts of money for displaying their work: this might just ultimately hurt their budget more than improve their work. However, that being said, taking your work seriously and taking pride in it can only be done by the artist themselves. I have made (and so have many of my peers whom I admire) display items like plinths, bookstands, and tables. This way, you can build them to a custom size and also use cheaper, more accessible materials (depending on the weight or fragility of the work). Installing at the RIC was a marvellous experience for me because I had the opportunity to listen and learn from seasoned professionals who helped me elevate my thesis work to something that I couldn’t have dreamed of. The custom bookshelf that houses my accordion bookwork made me nearly leap for joy. After struggling to build and transport two long plinths for my thesis, it was so nice to work with Eric at the RIC. Having the support and input of a professional gallery team is truly magical, and I highly suggest applying to show at the RIC Student Gallery.

Reflection on Fehn’s Practice:

Q. In reflecting on your time at Ryerson, what are the multiple different entry points into “successful art,” in your opinion, and how do you harness this and utilize it in your art?

A. This question can be answered in many different ways, and I suppose it depends on an individual’s definition of success. I’m not a huge fan of the rhetoric around production, labour, and final output in a capitalist structure. I think many people (to a degree, myself included) drive themselves towards a complete breakdown either physically or mentally in pursuit of a certain type of success. I think that taste plays a huge role in what can be deemed as successful art—and also, intention is important for me. How you want an artistic practice to be a part of your life is what makes it successful. Continuously growing and improving as not just an artist but also a human being is the greatest success there is: and yes, that’s unbearably cheesy, but we live in a very upsetting time in regard to hate, violence, and the impending climate catastrophe, so thinking about our impact on one another and the environment should be the ultimate universal goal, in my opinion—artistic or otherwise.

Q. What was the biggest learning curve you’ve encountered after graduating university, and what was something you learned in the field that you did not encounter in school?

A. I think, for me, this was the validity of “slowness.” I have always worked multiple jobs, paid for my education, and tried to get as many things done in a day as possible—regardless of the toll it could (and did) take on my body. The biggest learning curve that I have had to face this past year is in regard to listening to my body, choosing to create pockets of stillness in my schedule, and not to define my worth simply by the amount that I produce. We live in a highly anxious time, and that certainly has been the hardest thing for me to deal with. Now, I feel like I can continue forward with an art practice that is more nuanced, humble, and empathetic. To me, this is success.

Q. In reflecting on your time at Ryerson, what are the multiple different entry points into “successful art,” in your opinion, and how do you harness this and utilize it in your art?

A. This question can be answered in many different ways, and I suppose it depends on an individual’s definition of success. I’m not a huge fan of the rhetoric around production, labour, and final output in a capitalist structure. I think many people (to a degree, myself included) drive themselves towards a complete breakdown either physically or mentally in pursuit of a certain type of success. I think that taste plays a huge role in what can be deemed as successful art—and also, intention is important for me. How you want an artistic practice to be a part of your life is what makes it successful. Continuously growing and improving as not just an artist but also a human being is the greatest success there is: and yes, that’s unbearably cheesy, but we live in a very upsetting time in regard to hate, violence, and the impending climate catastrophe, so thinking about our impact on one another and the environment should be the ultimate universal goal, in my opinion—artistic or otherwise.

Q. What was the biggest learning curve you’ve encountered after graduating university, and what was something you learned in the field that you did not encounter in school?

A. I think, for me, this was the validity of “slowness.” I have always worked multiple jobs, paid for my education, and tried to get as many things done in a day as possible—regardless of the toll it could (and did) take on my body. The biggest learning curve that I have had to face this past year is in regard to listening to my body, choosing to create pockets of stillness in my schedule, and not to define my worth simply by the amount that I produce. We live in a highly anxious time, and that certainly has been the hardest thing for me to deal with. Now, I feel like I can continue forward with an art practice that is more nuanced, humble, and empathetic. To me, this is success.