The Artist Spotlight series aims to celebrate creators at a time when art is being consumed the most. This week, we sat down with lens-based visual artist and writer Fehn Foss, who shared the creative process behind her most recent work and her thoughts on being a young artist during a pandemic and social awakening.
Q: Can you share a little about yourself and your background in the creative field? What inspires your work?
I am a lens-based artist living and working in Tkaronto/Toronto. I grew up (mostly) in Hamilton, ON and finished my BFA, Photography at Ryerson University. Currently, I hold down a few freelance jobs in the creative field but have also worked at Gallery 44 and many bars, cafes and restaurants in the city. In my art practice, I’m interested in process, movement, social justice and the body. I find myself using my art practice as a place to learn and discover as well as make. Looking at other artists’ work, listening to music, reading across all genres and going to the gym nourish my life every day.
Q: Your most recent work “On Healing: In Progress” is so powerful and personal. Can you share a little about the project and about your creative process?
Oddly enough, this work was created during a time in my life that feels similar to what many of us are going through now. At the time I had been experiencing a mysterious health issue: life slowed to a halt and time seemed to pass by without notice. I began to feel isolated and like a stranger in my own body. The self-portraits were taken as a way to gaze-back towards myself—trying to see who it was that was there and feel reconnected to my body. These images are placed alongside some muted still lifes in black and white as well as a scan of a doctor’s note. The note’s text has been partially removed in order to convey the confusion and unresolved state that I felt I was in. I had begun making the self-portraits during a time when I felt very drained and simply getting dressed felt like a win. I was lucky to be able to use a friend’s studio space to make these works. The series feels unfinished because it is an ongoing conversation I am having with myself as I continue to learn how to listen to my body. I hope to return to this series soon and continue to develop it.
Q: Is there a quote/ mantra you live by, if so, how has this shaped your practice?
I’m not sure if I have a mantra that I live by, but I often find there are two ideas constantly popping into my head as I think through predicaments. The first is, “No learning is bad learning.” For me, this pertains to the idea that everything we are given, we can make something with. Even the hard stuff. Although, I hesitate to call this a mantra, because I don’t believe that that means we have to suffer—that’s an old trope about being an artist. When we do though, humans have a knack for making it into something powerful—even if that just means we share it, unabashedly, with others. Or we use it to fight for the rights of others. Second, I often turn the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none” over in my head. Again, I don’t exactly think of this as a mantra—and I’m not sure if this is a positive or negative saying, but I am a person hungry for knowledge. I love learning new things and sometimes that means I might not ever be a complete master in one area. But I will be in a perpetual state of learning and have the freedom to explore widely and I think I’m ok with that.
Q: (How) Has the pandemic and physical distancing measures affected you and your family/your art?
I’m lucky to be young and in relatively good health. The pandemic has been terrifying and eye-opening. For those fortunate enough to be able to work from home or qualify and survive off CERB for a bit, it feels like there has been a social awakening. More folks have taken the time to think about how lucky they are, how the pandemic does not affect each of us to the same degree, and have taken the necessary steps to attend marches and rallies, donate money and do some introspective analysis. The podcast Code Switch has a good episode about this. In Toronto, I have witnessed the brave and powerful organizing of Black Lives Matter TO, many folks starting grassroots movements for houseless individuals,\ and a real dialogue on how we can re-imagine our police and carceral system. This has been promising, while other parts of the pandemic have been devastating. My art-making has been on the back-burner at a slow simmer for a while but I feel it slowly coming to a boil. I live with four others in a house in Toronto and its been nice to have each other for support through this time.
Q: What are you working on/up to right now?
I’m currently easing into two new jobs, attending Muay Thai classes when I can and working on a new body of work. I’ve also been trying to use this increase in quiet time to read and learn more.
Q: How do you envision the future of in-person/ interactive events like gallery shows, given physical distancing measures and reduced capacity of indoor spaces? Is the future all digital?
As a person who thoroughly enjoys tactile activities and is invigorated by social interaction, I sincerely hope that the future isn’t all digital. I can’t say I have any idea for what the future will look like but I will say that having lectures, exhibitions, talks, readings, etc. recorded and broadcast online certainly increases the scope and the accessibility of the event. Hopefully that sticks around even when we can attend events in person again.
Q: What do you think companies/collectives/local organizations need to be focusing on to address the ongoing systemic racial inequalities in the arts and culture sector?
This question is an important one, but not one for me to really be an authority on answering. I have resources that I have been reading, which I can send to anyone who is curious about learning more. As a white woman, I am definitely not an expert, but from what I’ve been reading and who I’ve been listening to, it’s important to focus on inclusivity, representation and implementing the actions that BIPOC folks have been calling for (and calling for, while being ignored, for way too long). Systemic racism and the erasure of Indigenous voices and culture has white-washed cultural spaces in what is now called Canada. It starts with evaluating the organizations we are a part of, identifying the ways in which they have failed/are failing, implement measures and make plans that support the unlearning of white supremacist values, hiring the plethora of talented BIPOC arts & culture professionals there are in Canada and making sure that the spaces and people working in them are held accountable for their words and actions. As arts and culture organizations in Canada, we also have the power to give a platform to work that can enact political change.
Q: Is there anywhere people can buy your original pieces/work? Can you share some of your favourite collaborations?
My website is fehnfoss.com. For those interested, prints can be purchased from me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Instagram @fehnfoss. To see more of what I do commercially/outside of my personal practice, head to ffoss.myportfolio.com!