Tiffany Leung is a worldly experienced curator at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Arts (CFCCA). Located in an artistically innovative area of Manchester in the U.K., Leung shares her experiences of the arts world and her current practice. As a curator for CFCCA, it is important to diversify the arts and create inclusivity for all, which is highlighted below. Leung’s previous projects include solo curation for The Fox Hole Project, in London. Leung has also co-curated several exhibitions, some including The Possible Rendezvous(R.C.A, 2016) and Itinerant Assembly(Gasworks, 2016-17).
What is your background in education in the arts?
I did a BA of Arts in Art and Design in the US- it’s the equivalent of a BA here (U.K.). It was an interesting experience for me, and I came out of it not quite sure of what I want to do. Meanwhile, I was also working in galleries on the side to get experience in the arts. I was interested in working within the arts but maybe not being an artist, and so I applied to do an MA in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art (2015-2017). I didn’t really know what I was doing back then but I just went for it, but luckily I got in. It was a really good two-year introduction to what I am doing now. I only graduated last June, so everything’s quite new.
Has working as a curator at CFCCA changed any methods or thoughts about curating particular styles of work?
At CFCCA, we focus on engaging with Chinese Contemporary Art and Culture, and for the most part we work with artists from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and beyond- artists living abroad and diaspora- so it’s not specifically just for China. I think that people may misconceive that sometimes. I think in terms of a curatorial approach, it’s important to question what it means to curate in this context. It’s a question we have to constantly ask: what is Chinese contemporary art? What does it mean to engage with it, to curate it? It’s ongoing questioning and not necessarily striving to give a concrete answer, but it’s definitely something I have at the back of my head.
I think being in a unique location in Manchester, U.K, working with Chinese contemporary art, which is located halfway across the world. I think in terms of curatorial thinking, it’s important to think of the localities, as there’s very different localities, and the idea of globalisation, and how that all intertwines together and how artists navigate, and how we navigate. Again it’s not something that we provide an answer for, we’re cautious of it and it’s within our thinking. So I think that’s on a more conceptual level of thinking. On a practical level it’s quite different as I do need to communicate with all types of artists, some of whom are far away, being a curator it’s really important to foster that relationship, and understand what’s happening on the ground in the context that you are engaging with. Sometimes artist’s being so far away does have its limitations, and I think you’re bounded by digital communication. Nothing is as good as getting to meet the artists in person, and understanding what’s happening first hand. Otherwise I’d have to rely on emails, which I try to work around and understand the limitations, and not compromise. We also work with our partners, so that way it helps to understand and meet people.
What issues within the arts would you like to change for the better?
The fact that we (curators) don’t get paid enough. It’s something that you’re aware of fresh out of school. You realise how much work you do and find that’s a little bit ridiculous how little we get paid. It’s probably different in a commercial setting, but for a company that’s not for profit it results in artists not getting paid enough, or the curators, and the organisation itself does not get paid enough. It’s a bit frustrating because in general I think people have to compromise a lot. We are lucky already, as we are privileged enough to compromise, that’s what really frustrates me within the arts world. It’s not putting a monetary value on what we do, but it’s a valid thing.
Are there any common misconception of a curator that you would like to change?
Usually there aren’t very bad reactions to being a curator, but there are times which it’s different. A common misconception is that we, as curators pick works and place them in an exhibition. It’s a very niche occupation, I don’t blame people for understanding. It’s relatively quite new also, so I guess we don’t do that. It’s 10x more complicated. Our role is spread across a very long time period, from our research to carrying out the exhibition, it’s a long process. I’m usually working on the next show when a new show has been put in the gallery, so this show at the moment we have been working on for a long time. I guess maybe that’s the common misconception. Maybe there are curators that simply place work in exhibition, but for the majority of curators this isn’t true.
If you could choose to curate a favourite artist’s piece, who would you pick?
It would be difficult to curate just one piece of work, you can, but I would usually curate more than one piece of work. I don’t have one favourite artist, but in the past year I have seen a few really great works, and they seem to be all film works. Such as Arthur Jafa, Mauve Brennan, Jao Jingban, and Lawrence Abu Handan.
For information on CFCCA, visit http://www.cfcca.org.uk/or follow them on social media at @cfcca_uk. Tiffany Leung’s social media is @teefee.