It’s eight o’clock in the evening and alumna Ingrid Pui Yee Chu is still all a smile in Hong Kong. She is an accomplished curator and writer in the city, and it is clear from her enthusiasm as she describes her work that she enjoys what she does, even if it means putting in long hours. Her innate drive to make new things happen means that every project she takes on seems to have a uniqueness to it, and that challenges traditional ideas of art and how it is expressed in the hopes of reaching ever wider and diverse audiences.
Ingrid was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada at a young age. She earned a bachelor of fine arts, majoring in visual arts with a minor in English literature from York University. With the encouragement of one of her York teachers, she continued her studies through an exchange program at Northumbria University in the UK, and eventually, the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in New York where she completed a master’s in curatorial studies.
Ingrid has always known what she wanted to do. “I'm one of those people who knew from an early age that I would be involved in arts and culture,” she explained. It was important for her to pursue this at the university level, where she could benefit from a multi-disciplinary approach, making York University an ideal choice. It was a bonus to be able to live on campus while remaining in close proximity to her family too. “While there were some other programs these were geared towards arts administration and I wanted to actively continue exploring my creative side as well.”
While reminiscing about the exhibitions at the Art Gallery of York University, Ingrid recalls three York teachers who made a significant impact on her life. Drawing teacher Hugh LeRoy, a Canadian Sculptor whose work, Rainbow Piece (1972), you’ll find on campus. “He taught me a lot about understanding technique. He always said that you can apply this to anything in life; that is, to understand and learn about something before you go and change it. I apply this lesson curatorially now, too.” Ingrid also remembers Lynn Donoghue, a well-known painter who has since passed away, kindly meeting up with her after graduation to give advice on how to transition into a ‘real world’ life in the arts. Another painting teacher, Richard Storms, encouraged her to study abroad. “I’d say that year really changed my life, mostly because it introduced me to the different ways in which artists were working internationally. I also made lifelong friends and colleagues while at York, who I continue to cherish.”
Today Ingrid is working as an independent curator and a writer, and Associate Curator for the Artists’ Book Library at Tai Kwun. Before then, while working at The Power Plant in Toronto and elsewhere, then after in New York she saw a need to connect artists and their work to the public in a more meaningful way. It inspired her and her artist and curator friends to put on independent exhibitions of their own, creating the time and space that best suited the art, rather than the other way around. “We’d get together and put on these exhibitions in warehouses or storefronts and during this time I began to really enjoy producing these exhibitions and projects. I realised then if I was going to continue and involve other artists’ work, I had to take myself out of the artist’s role. For me, it’s important that there's no confusion about what my relationship is to the exhibiting or commissioned artists.”
Without a doubt, her go-getter spirit, acute self-awareness and dedication to artists is what led her to found two non-profits: RED-I Projects in 2004 and with fellow Curator & Director Savannah Gorton, Forever & Today in 2008. Both remain important vehicles as curatorial platforms that offer artists support independent of the traditional gallery system, a key component to the way she chooses to work, along with her ongoing writing for international publications as its own form of record-keeping on the art of our time.
Ingrid applies the same principles to her work at Tai Kwun: “I enjoy being at Tai Kwun because it is an institution of sorts, but the heart of it is quite experimental and the end goal is always to create exciting opportunities for artists.”One of Tai Kwun’s main programmes, an annual art book fair called BOOKED: is a perfect example.
She’s also planning future independent projects with the support of Hong Kong’s Design Trust and has more writing planned including a contribution to the book for recent BMW Art Journey winner Leelee Chan. When she’s not working, Ingrid enjoys listening to music, podcasts, and has plans to travel when it is once again safe to do so.
Her advice to new grads would be to remain open to possibilities and absorb all you can, you never know when it might be useful down the road. "Sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself, or by collaborating with others. Don't be afraid to start something new!”
It will be interesting to learn what comes next for Ingrid. In fact, it probably won’t take too long to find out.