A Labour of Labour is a series of artwork by interdisciplinary artist Florence Yee that explore the intergenerational dynamics of communication and labour. Through subsequent conversational interviews with friends and family, the artist reflects on how they've internalized ethics of work and care from the people around them. From the immigrant imperative for success to the precarity in their fields, the snippets associated with each project reveal the need for communities of care to help us sustain ourselves alongside our work.
A Labour of Labour
(accompanied by an interview between the artist and their father)
Who taught you how to sew?
Did you ever use your skills for anything?
Nothing really. There was a point where we made stuff at home, but because we were poor.
Why didn’t you teach me how to sew?
It's not that hard. It's a basic skill you could learn on your own in a few hours... Did you want me to show you?
Yeah, I feel like everyone does it differently.
When are you going to come back?
I don’t know.
I work hard, but
(accompanied by an interview between the artist and their grandmother)
Does it worry you that I work too much?
I worry that you don't rest enough. Schedule your time. Are you tired?
I think I’ve gotten accustomed to it. Do you think you work too hard?
I never had to work much. I studied, got married, and then stayed home.
But being a stay-at-home mom is a form of work.
It’s less competitive than outside work. Being at home was less stressful for me.
Do you ever feel like caring is part of your job?
With children? Of course.
Isn't that exhausting?
Only if they don't listen.
Were ma-ma and yi-yi easy to care of?
Oh yeah. They always listened to gong-gong. But it’s harder to care for people who are not younger than you. It’s a different relationship. Do you feel like your work is hard?
No, but I never feel like I work enough because I don't have a set schedule.
I'm guessing you're probably doing overtime all the time.
Maybe, but it's hard to tell what counts as work when you're an artist.
“Did you know your grandmother did this?”
(accompanied by an interview between the artist and a soon-to-be nurse)
Both your bachelor’s degrees, Early Childhood Education and Nursing, are heavily imbued in
economies of care. Do you think that aspect attracted you to those jobs?
I feel like I have a big affinity for care, but I think I’m good at what I do regardless of that.
What will care look like for you when you start your new nursing job?
I know that I need to care less to avoid burnout. Because burnout happens when you carry your work home. I think I’m good at distancing myself.
Do you have any strategies for that?
I’m good at distancing myself. I’m a forgetful person, and I think I can give myself that distance. But in ECE, I used to develop such deep relationships with the kids and the families that I would keep thinking how to keep being part of their lives in the future. It used to be hard for me to deal with that attachment. When I talk to nurses, they always tell me it’s their first case that stays with them the most. I think I’ll be good at what I do because I won’t care in that intimate way. I’ll still be empathetic, but I don’t want to let it get to me. I know the first case I’ll cry for will hit too close to home, probably be a child or maybe a poh-poh.
They say that culture can ground you, but
(accompanied by an interview with a domestic worker)
What did you dream of doing when you were younger?
I wanted to be a stewardess, to go to all the countries. I tried to become a teacher, but I wasn’t very good because I didn't get my license right away. Then, I went to other countries to work as a domestic worker, as an OFW, to support my family. I worked in Singapore and Malaysia.
Where did you like working most?
If it's about the salary and work hours, it's here. They don’t have limits in other countries. They can make you work from 5am and not let you go until 11pm. You’re always working.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I have a baby now, and I want to be with her more. I want to take care of her myself. It's different from other people. As a mom.
What did you like to do before?
Sleeping, cleaning my apartment, talking to my loved ones.
Florence Yee is a 2.5 generation, Cantonese-struggling visual artist based in Tkaronto/Toronto and Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. Their interest in Cantonese-Canadian history has informed an art practice examining diasporic subjectivities through the lens of gender, racialization, queerness and language. Notable exhibitions include Sino(n)-Québécoise? at Centre Never Apart and Le Salon at Articule, as well as exhibitions at the Gardiner Museum (2019), A Space (2019), Art Mûr (2018), the Karsh-Masson Gallery (2017), Studio XX (2016). They have participated in residencies at the Gay Archives of Quebec, the John and Maggie Mitchell Art Gallery, La Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario and, the Ottawa School of Art, and the Fine Arts Reading Room. Having graduated with a BFA from Concordia University, they are now pursuing an MFA at OCAD U in Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design as a SSHRC recipient and Delaney Scholar. They are represented by Studio Sixty-Six. | florenceyee.com