Abby Ho is an emerging Asian Canadian artist based in Toronto (photo by James Lai). Her process-based practice works with the materiality of paper, exploring the interrelationship between herself and the environment.
Her latest project ‘Transference’ – as part of the artistic duo, ‘jabs’ – uses paper as a medium in conversation. This project is being carried out under an artist residency at Art Starts.
We’ve spoken with Abby before regarding her practice, but this time we dig a little deeper on what it means to be an artist during these difficult times.
How has Covid affected your artistic practice?
As an artist who works mostly with paper cutting and painting, most of my material can be easily packed or rolled up. I adapted to working remotely or socially distanced in the studio I share with some friends at 187 Augusta.
The silver lining from the pandemic may be that being at home consistently allowed me to focus more on looking for and applying to different artistic opportunities. I was also given new opportunities to use my artistic skills to support folks looking to create zines or graphics. Some folks developed community projects in response to the racism during COVID, and I was able to help visualize their ideas.
How have you adapted?
I’m currently in the ruminating stage for new ideas. Earlier on, I decided to eliminate the pressures of needing to complete projects and instead use this time to build new skills, such as digital illustration or finding new conceptual interests.
When everything moved online, I found myself staring at screens all day, with a general inability to focus and was consistently distracted or scattered. Now, when I reach for paper or paint, it is to remind myself of slow, meticulous processes that allow me to focus on one thing rather than the precarity and grief felt from our current contexts.
Returning to working with my hands has become a more ritualistic approach to slowing down and becoming more mindful.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently not working on any formal personal projects but have dabbled with new installation techniques for my papercut work.
jabs, the artistic duo I’m part of with multidisciplinary artist Jasmine Gui, is currently the Artists In Residence at Art Starts. We are exploring interdisciplinary paper arts processes through the frame of “Transference.” We are interested in putting paper as a medium in conversation with other mediums and questioning how mark-making transfers depending on the material. Newest explorations include painting and collaging on a large canvas and creating imprints on clay.
How can the arts help people with the isolation and uncertainty they are feeling right now?
For me, creative practices have always been about grounding myself in slow practices and a physical method to process my thoughts. Returning to tangible ways of work can allow for alleviating stress or visualizing burdens. There are also many online offerings of art.
I find engaging with others’ creative work or attending panels or screenings has been helpful in recognizing I’m not as isolated as my four walls.
Of course, knowing when to step away and distance from the virtual world is also vital—hence returning to the first point of working with your hands.
As a community arts facilitator, how can you use arts to spark conversations?
Collective creative endeavours can mean gathering spaces for conversations, mediating for reflexivity, or building platforms for further activations. It all depends on the type of art facilitation, which must answer who the act is serving and why.
For anyone wanting to experiment with art and creative expression, what is one project they could start with?
At the beginning of the pandemic, a couple of friends and I would have drawing sessions over zoom. We would each pick a word and have to create a representation of those three words together. The outcomes can be incredibly bizarre and diverse, but it is a fun way to interact with each other even when distanced, have an activity to do while catching up, and avoid zoom fatigue.
I’ve also become penpals some friends and acquaintances. Sending snail mail or writing letters filled with doodles has been a way for me to show care while creatively expressing myself.
Lastly in November, I attended artist Rebecca Sweet’s live-guided exploration, discussion, and immersive experience in Habbo Hotel called, Through the Virtual Aether. Rebecca would lead the group through different Habbo rooms and facilitate conversations around digital wellness, social media platforms, and feelings of isolation. I loved the experience as it reminded me of digital expressions of creativity, whether through online world-building or using games as play or art.
(Through the Virtual Aether is part of Trinity Square Video‘s 2020 themed exhibition, Remote Realities. It can be viewed here.)
How do you use art to express yourself? What do you feel needs to be said right now?
A friend I follow on Instagram, Phoebe Chin, posted a story two years ago that said, “Nothing blooms all year round, let yourself rest and lie fallow.” I think about this quote a lot, and it represents how I currently feel towards my creative practice. There are many things that need to be said, but I’m in a season of listening to other voices right now rather than actively finding the words to speak.
Thank you Abby, for providing such real insight on what it means to be an artist now, and what challenges that brings up. It can be so easy to get swept up in being adaptable and succumbing to digital demands, but your words serve as a reminder to create tangibly.
You can find more on Abby, and her work, on her website abby-ho.com.