Written by Kawthar Itani with editorial support by Rana El Kadi
During summer 2023, I had the opportunity to interview Julie Rae Tucker as part of the “Disability and Technology: Focus on Crip Ecologies” course I was taking at Toronto Metropolitan University. Tucker is the co-curator of the BioCurious Exhibit at Art Windsor-Essex, along with Jennifer Matotek. In this article, I will share what I learned about Tucker’s work as a curator in general and on the BioCurious exhibition in particular.
Being a Curator
Tucker began by explaining to me that her role involves doing administrative work, as well as selecting exhibiting artists and managing their work. She also supervises the prep team, which includes two full-time members and four part-time members who assist with setting up each exhibition. Finally, she manages the shipping and receiving department, where she works to ensure a smooth transition for the art arriving from all over Canada.
Tucker’s voice changed from a formal to a personal tone when I asked her to discuss what being a curator meant to her: “To be a curator, it means to care. I really think that what I do is actually caring for an object, but also caring for people at the same time.” She told me that she became interested in curation during her final year in the Art of Education Master’s program at the University of Windsor. During that time, she had the opportunity to create a platform for community participation, where people could gather and interact with her artwork through touch, sound, or vandalism. That was a turning point in Tucker’s career. That is when she realized that she loves being a curator more than she loves being an artist, and she began to pursue this newfound passion.
Tucker stated that her favourite part of the job is getting the chance to mentor young artists and support them through their careers. She also noted that “Windsor is just as diverse as Toronto, but people who have not visited yet do not know about that.” She told me that, as a curator, it is important to amplify the voices of new artists from the Indigenous, Black, and newcomer communities, because they tend to be overlooked in the art world.
The Theme of BioCurious
When I asked Tucker to elaborate on the theme of BioCurious, she mentioned that the idea came about naturally in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts of climate change. BioCurious uses the past as a reference and presents the future by showing how much damage could be done to the environment in a short period of time. Tucker emphasized how the exhibition also highlights the communities that are more negatively impacted than others: “This exhibit is about the effects of climate change, especially felt by people in the North, that will greatly transform how they live and thrive on their land.”
We then discussed the process of curating BioCurious. Tucker told me that the co-curators selected artwork that either fit the “Bio Art” or the “Organic Bio Matters” category. I found it interesting that the artists all identified as women. She also told me that exhibitions usually take a year and a half to bring from concept to opening, but BioCurious took less time. While unexpected setbacks may come about when setting up an exhibition, some of them might prove to be very fruitful. For example, while setting up the BioCurious exhibition, artist Xiaojing Yan’s piece “Stamen” required a huge team to set it up. But instead of turning into a challenge, this gave a University of Windsor student a hands-on learning opportunity to collaborate with the artist.
The “Water Library”
Tucker was excited to tell me about the Water Library, a special interactive display that she created for the BioCurious exhibition. She called this display “a human touch point.” The Water Library is inspired by the Water Protector movement, which aims to protect water and waterways. This display invites people from the community to fill recycled bottles with water samples they have collected from their communities and place them on a special shelf in the gallery. These samples include ones collected by Indigenous community members in Ontario who live on reserves where the drinking water has been contaminated and there are advisories to boil it before drinking it. People who submit samples are able to record where they collected them from in the Water Library logbook. They also get to interact with the materials by using the water test kit to see the impact of water contamination for themselves.
Overall, my interview with Julie Rae Tucker taught me a lot about the exciting process of curation and the importance of holding a truly community-engaged art exhibition about climate change.
This article was written by Kawthar Itani with editorial support by Rana El Kadi. Kawthar is a student at Toronto Metropolitan University.
In summer 20223, AWE collaborated with students and faculty from the School of Disability Studies at Toronto Metropolitan University on a work-integrated partnership. This program was supported by Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada, the School of Disability Studies, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Art Windsor-Essex.