Abby is a visual artist, the artistic director of Project 40 Collective, and a managing editor at LooseLeaf Magazine. Her artistic career has been shaped by collaboration and community, and it’s in evolution it has created space for unheard voices to speak.
Now, wrapping up her last year of programs with Project 40 Collective, she has shifted to working on personal projects as well as ones tied to her artistic partnership called ‘jabs’.
What type of art do you create?
I am a visual artist who works primarily with the materiality of paper, whether that be paper-making, cutting, painting, or building sculptural forms. It is process-based, consisting of layered paper to reveal micro-macro effects. By taking away certain sections or enhancing specific areas, the final work can be viewed as a whole or through independent elements.
Thematically, my main interest is in the gaps between physical spaces and intangible desires. I like to think of my work as visualizing alternative scapes where those desires can exist in material form. I start by considering where physically, I feel certain emotions. Or if there’s a particular shape or line in my head, what it would take to create it and build it up. Typically, in my head, it’s a full-body movement. In actuality, I’m usually hunched over a table.
What is Project 40 Collective and how did it come to be?
Project 40 is an interdisciplinary pan-Asian.Canadian artist collective. It began in 2015 when the founder, Jasmine Gui and I talked about the similarities and differences in our creative fields. There was a mutual feeling of being disconnected from the Toronto arts scene. We decided we wanted to build a platform for diverse perspectives and voices who need space to speak, imagine, and create critically. Since then, the ball has continued to roll, and we’ve met, worked with, and befriended many other talented creatives in various fields. We’ve hosted many Col.lab Incubator projects, published eight LooseLeaf volumes, held workshops, events, ran a mini-conference and a month-long incubator – Diasporasian Futures.
Four years later, we’re still at it with a much larger community with the same intentions and goals as when we first started. Currently, we’re in our Inheritance Year, where we have decided to close after five fruitful years with the last of the programs we want to hold.
What accomplishment are you most proud of as an artist?
I’m most proud of Twenty-Five, a solo exhibition I had with my artist partner, Jasmine Gui this year in April. The work itself featured 25 hand-cut and watercolour prints on handmade paper and an accompanying zine with vignette meditations. Each print featured a sentence Jasmine wrote to herself when she turned twenty-five, and each phrase was symbolically paired with a plant.
It was a process-based meditation on healing and labour, and how those two things circulate and are intertwined when considering self-love. What I loved most about it was how intentional the whole process of creating and programming was. In and of itself, it went from a personal journey of healing and labour to working with another artist in figuring out the form, to an interdisciplinary communal invitation with workshops, a music night, and an artist talk.
How did you first connect with Art Starts?
I first connected with Art Starts through the Platform A micro-grants. Project 40 Collective received this grant twice, once in 2016 and 2017. The first went to curating an exhibition alongside our LooseLeaf Volume 2 Launch titled, Hui and the second went towards holding a workshop series titled, Diasporasian Mythologies. We’ve also been fortunate to be part of the Arowana Training Project, where we hosted burden(some) – a workshop program.
In a way, Art Starts also helped Jasmine and I start creatively collaborating as we exhibited a piece at Art Starts’ Evolution exhibition. From there, we started identifying ourselves as the artistic duo, jabs, and that piece eventually turned into our first zine together.
None of this would have been possible without Julian Carvajal, and I’m grateful for his thoughtfulness and support.
What does ‘community’ mean to you and how have you incorporated this into your projects?
When I think of the word ‘community,’ I immediately think of two hands cupped together in the act of receiving and pouring. ‘Community’ for me means trust; it is built on relationships where there are mutual acceptance and love. It is a reciprocal relationship, where, when poured into, you can pay it forward to others as well. I like to think, to be part of a community is the most fertile grounds for personal and collective growth and creativity.
In terms of incorporating ‘community’ into my projects, I think community art happens in tandem with self-actualization. I think you need to invest in yourself first before you can invest in your community. When I’m creating work (whether personally, collaboratively, or in programming), I continually remind myself who I’m creating it for.
Community often happens in witnessing other people’s work or stories, collaborating, skill and resource sharing, or just showing up to be part of the process.
What advice would you give to emerging artists wanting to make a career out of their art?
To emerging artists starting out, I would say trust your gut! Your body already knows the stories you want to creatively express. Art-making is similar to putting together a puzzle, you’ll know (or your gut will tell you via butterflies and other emotions) that the piece works for you and is ‘right.’ Don’t be afraid of going through the process because it is always worth it to simply try.
When you feel uncertain, reach out to others in the community. Whether that be spending time with people who inspire you or connecting to other amazing community organizations like Art Starts, Paperhouse Outreach Collective, MOEG, Xpace, Tea Base, the list goes on. Sometimes you don’t have to be in the act of creative output to be in the process of ideating. All your experiences will come together, and your reflexivity to that will create your best work.
What are you currently working on and what can we expect to see in the future?
Currently, I’m working on some larger paper-cuts. I’ve been ideating around the words: grief, homecoming, monuments, and imagining geometric mazes. I use to draw a lot with charcoal so I would like to see how papercutting reacts with the immediacy and smudgy nature of this mark-making tool.
jabs also has some exciting projects in the works that will hopefully be done by the end of the year. Please keep a lookout for us!
Abby’s artwork is powerful in its message of self-actualization, and her affinity for collaboration is inspiring. We are honoured to have worked with her on multiple projects, maintain a relationship through Project 40 Collective, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.