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Interview / Allison Chow – Practice as a place to centre joy

June 3rd – August 8th, 2024, Massy Arts will host, Ravelling Seams: Visioning Hope, a new group show by artists Allison Chow, Sena Cleave, and Rawan Hasan.

Ravelling Seams: Visioning Hope brings together a collection of unfolding stories. From strolls in shipyards to embodying home from away, the artists in this show braid intimate reflections with public spaces, archives, and the touchstones that constitute them.

The works in this exhibition outline the edges of collective hope while ravelling the lived experience of artists reaching –but never touching– the history of what could have been.

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This project is supported by the British Columbia Arts Council.

The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.
The gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm to 5pm.
Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.

To contact the gallery, send an email to:

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To celebrate the exhibition, Curator Faune Ybarra interviews artist Allison Chow for Massy Arts. 

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Allison Chow – Practice as a place to centre joy

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Faune Ybarra – Your work speaks of art as a mechanism for social change and the poetry around us. How do these two ideas converse with each other? 

Allison Chow – The practice of art and creativity in all of its forms is to practice noticing deeply, to re-imagine things in millions of iterations over a lifetime, and to foster curiosity and courage to approach the novel with wonder. Under the weight of capitalism, engaging in creative practices is a way to make space for self-discovery and to build resilience rooted in intuition.

In my personal and community-engaged practice, poetry is about the dynamic pairing of intriguing ideas, holding thoughts lightly, to appreciate their multiple truths.  To tap into the generative force of what’s around, allowing fresh insights to emerge rather than deducing mainly from established arguments. 

Experimenting with shapes, sounds, colours, and memories stored in our lands and bodies – engaging with the poetry of existence nurtures an appreciation for our interdependence and the beautiful impermanence of our collective rhythms and ripples.

In service of social change I think these are powerful muscles to bear a flourishing community that is ever-unfolding with shifts in systems, policies, demographics and public opinion. The pursuit of justice takes on different shapes depending on the unique constellation of forces and individuals involved. Navigating these spaces requires profound compassion, self-awareness, and humility to stumble forward together.


FY – Somatic is another important descriptor of your work. How does somatic work look like for you in your art/work and why is it important? 

AC – My therapist told me once when we “over-think,” we can “under-feel.” This struck a chord, especially as I began my work on the “Communal Poetry Machine” where I became absorbed by understanding ways we share knowledge outside of cognitive rationality. I sought to engage my senses and emotions as a way of placemaking. Navigating to different spots in the community, I tried to stay as long as possible to allow the normal chatter in my brain to quiet. Feeling the temperature, listening to the sounds, chatting with locals and visitors, and noticing my wandering thoughts, I let it all soak into the page without focusing on any particular outcome. With each visit, I learned more about the history and significance of each place and their stories layered onto my own experiences. Using found objects I use my form to feel their weight, their movements to interpret them into the sculptural works.

On this path I find I’m often just as surprised as viewers at what emerges. The process is often moving – like receiving a letter from another self deep within or still to come. These spilled hopes and possibilities often prompt me to invite the community as sense-making collaborators. 


FY – In the past, you have referenced the writing of Hillary Mcbride in “The Wisdom of Your Body” and how we live within a culture that sees the body as a limit to overcome. What have you overcome through your work and why do you think it’s important to reframe the body as something other than a problem to master? 

AC – In the last two years my artistic practice has revolved around burnout recovery. Before my norm was pushing past my limits to get the job done. I was proud of the work I did, it felt like I was doing what I was “supposed” to, yet there were physical signs I wasn’t doing well, like waking up some days with aching clenched teeth. Dr. Hillary Mcbride’s research, among others, helped me understand the different strings pulling on my life and I started to notice how pervasive it is in our culture to romanticize the bypass signs of stress – headaches, chronic pains, fatigue, and illness, instead of seeing them as the warning signs that something must change. It helped me question my own automatic responses and patterns. 

Mcbride’s work in particular invites us to examine the barriers like ableism and racism that make it difficult to feel safe and honor our embodied experiences. I began to see my practice as resistance, a place to center joy, moving in my own way on my own time. It was a place to learn the different parts of myself that weren’t as obvious as others. I think creating more room to embrace the wisdom of our bodies, helps us to live more in-line with our beautifully different minds and bodies to advocate and build meaningful inclusion. 


FY – Your work includes zines, sculptures, and community workshops. Can you speak to how the materiality of your work intertwines with the audience? Do you think you are subverting the role of people looking at your artwork to become a part of it?  

AC – Across my work, I see what I do as a kind of table setting – laying out different utensils and my favourite wares for a feast where everyone is welcome to bring something to share from shared and different backgrounds. Someone asked me once “if the work is in connection and the art making is the byproduct of discussions, thoughts and recording, then when is it ever done?” It struck me then, in this social practice, no matter the medium, the most precious things are the insights people find within themselves and the spark to find more ways to nourish authentic connections. In that way, the work lives on through every medium and is never really done. 

In many ways I don’t think what I’m doing is subversive – all art is conversive, love letters from creators across time that implore audiences to reflect, try on new perspectives and participate in tiny irreversible shifts. What I do find interesting is how this body of work, and perhaps my practice at large, has drawn participants that consider themselves outsiders to the art world. Using found objects from the shipyard in a partnership with Seaspan led to a wonderful way of sharing the project with the ship builders with a special invite into the art world. I’ve heard from curators and peers in creative industries share about the resistance they feel being asked to make marks, take apart compositions in the gallery, to leave something of themselves in the world as a participant, while some, without any art training, have no hesitation at all and often get the ball rolling. It’s been so special witnessing the tenderness, unexpected connections and strengths that comes from leaning on one another. 


FY – Why is community important in your work? How does community show up in your work?

AC – It is my greatest hope that we all can find a sense of belonging, acceptance and the courage to dare be who we are in concert with the millions of lives that we are interwoven with. 

Growing up in Canada as a 3rd culture kid, I often longed for community, not only to be among but to be seen, to contribute and to belong. Expanding beyond my own story I want to help create space for more non-dominant narratives in a way that can invite playfulness and vulnerability. I believe it’s this kind of allowing and first-class noticing that sparks care – an antidote to violence. My hope is that this work can celebrate the sticky, messy nuances of being in community together.   

My work often starts with noticing gaps in designs and services and getting curious about the stories and lived-experiences of community members that could offer holistic solutions. A big way community shows up in my work is the way I think about the different ways the people and friend’s I’ve made may want to show up – imagining installations that honour their different processing speeds, sensory needs, and other supportive elements people may enjoy like text or audio.