#ArtTransforms March 16, 2021

PH:AIZ: In Conversation with Phi Tran Trinh

By Tyler J. Sloane

Phi Trần Trinh (he/they) comes from suburbia and is currently based in Tkaronto. Their craft explores the dimensions of sound, imagery and movement through the art of storytelling. As a queer artist of colour, they seek to play with the themes of gender, sexuality and power in contemporary times. 

Recently Phi spoke with Tyler J. Sloane (they/them), SKETCH’s Performing Arts Associate, to speak about their artistic practice from a place of exploration and reflection. Continue reading to learn more about Phi’s work, their influences, and Magitek. 

PH:AIZ is a series of SKETCH artist interviews based on their experiences in the SKETCH art studios. The interviews, led by Associate Artists Tyler J. Sloane and Jess De Vitt, hope to explore the different relationship artists have to the space and community at 180 Shaw Street. 

These interviews exist in text as well as in a downloadable Zine that can be printed from home or viewed digitally! 

Print Phi's Zine View Phi's Zine Online

Ty: Can you start us off by telling us how you came to SKETCH?

Phi: I initially heard of SKETCH in my first year of University at Ryerson, downtown Toronto. I was consulting my learning strategist and they were telling me about how SKETCH is this beautiful, creative community that does social work and art in one space. So I was dreaming of going to SKETCH for years and was able to get my fourth year social work placement there.

That was my introduction to SKETCH. I became familiar with the different offerings there, from the harm reduction, food, the host that greets you, the communications team, the movement studio and all the other cool stuff that goes on there. And then since my placement, I’ve mostly come to a) check out all the cool familiar faces, all the y’know local community hubbub, but also the movement studio because I love that space. I love how the light shines onto the wooden floors and the mirrors. And to really give myself that moment to be in my body.

Phi performing on stage for the Right to Dance Intensive

Ty: Incredible. So it sounds like you have a movement practice of some sort. So I’m wondering if you can touch on all of the art practices that you have and what tools do you love to use to practice?

Phi: Oh, big question. I have many art practices that are as free as the wind so, I’ll start off with my movement practice. I think movement kind of ties into mindfulness. So it’s like a daily thing for me. And I’m very, or I try to practice being aware of how my body is feeling and how I’m moving, the gestures that come up in my face, how I react to certain stories in different environments. So that’s always in the backlog of my mind and free of that movement practice, it guides my writing.
In my writing practice I’m mostly a poet, though a developing storyteller in terms of fiction. But I really try to create written pieces that reflect the cinema. I try to reflect my story in a way that takes the reader through a movie. I try to use all the senses of the body. So yeah, I would say that’s kind of my muscle memory, body memory, backlog that I use in my practice. Mostly I use my body, my mind, my spirit and usually a pencil or a pen. Sometimes I like to type things into my phone or on any random scraps of paper that are around me.

Ty: So you’ve mentioned a backlog. So I hope that that means that you also have a wealth of artistic inspirations and potentially muses. And so if that’s true, who are they?

Phi: One of my artistic inspirations or muses is our local community member of Toronto, Miss Nookie Galore. Otherwise known as Patrick Salvani. I adore them. They have been such a mentor to me since I’ve come to Toronto and gave me an opportunity to explore performance and art, and storytelling. I really appreciate them in the world of drag and other kinds of performance.

I would also say the queer Vietnamese-American poet Ocean-Vuong. I adore his writing and so many of his narratives I see reflected in my own story. Another Queer Asian artist,  I admire is Rina Sawayama. Wow can you tell there’s a pattern here? I think she’s really exploring different types of music right now in terms of pop and other genres in the UK. I just love her, and the way that she ties her knowledge into music.

And then last but not least, I’m going to throw in a Kpop group called Mamamoo. I think they have such colourful voices and it’s really cool to see Asian performers around my age have such charisma, and a creative practice that tries to highlight equality.

Phi on stage at Buddies in Bad Times for Queer Cab. Photographed by Tyler J. Sloane

Ty: Amazing. That’s such a wealth of inspirations and muses. I’m wondering if you can touch on two parts. The first part, is what sort of art have you made at SKETCH? And the second part, what sort of art are you making now more broadly?

Phi: The art I made at SKETCH was really exploratory because I really had so much opportunity with all of the different spaces and materials available. In addition, the folks that come to SKETCH offer a vast amount of expertise. I’ve created pieces with pastels with placement students, I’ve sewed my first pair of shorts for a costume in Indie Studio, which was very cool, I got to explore jamming for music with the bass guitar for the first time. And once again, I got to explore my body in the movement studio to create different stories, shapes and energies at SKETCH. So I would say a lot of pieces that kind of explore identity and my relationship to emotion feel like that’s my biggest drive.

Now the art that I made broadly. I think after exploring at SKETCH, I’m still so interested in all the different art practices, sometimes I will be recording covers at home. In the vein of music, I think I’m always still exploring my body. I kind of observe how it changes. And, you know, every day it’s a check in, like, what can you do today? What can I offer or what needs some rest? So I really take that lesson in caring for yourself with me from SKETCH.

I feel like writing has always been a grounding practice for me. I used to do some journaling or reflecting at SKETCH and I think that kind of shows up in my stories now. Since my time at SKETCH, I’ve been in the Right to Dance intensive with ILL NANA. There I got to explore what it means to discover joy as someone who is QTBIPOC, and someone who really resonates with the word trauma. So exploring my body and identity in a way where I can feel pride in myself.

I’ve also been in the Goth Drag Musical twice, where I just get to explore what it means to be Goth while also creating a character. And I’ve performed at Pride a few times. And I guess you can find me writing on my day today, or just dancing in the living room.


Phi getting ready for Goth Drag Musical. Photographed by Daniel Andres Lastres Rodriguez 

Ty: I love that. My next question was going to be how was your work featured in any way, but you’ve named two different programs that have existed at SKETCH. ILL NANA’s Right to Dance and the Goth Drag Musical. Has your work been featured in any other way at SKETCH that you can name?

Phi: No, not that I can think of. I feel like part of that showcase is people get to see you in process.  I feel like that’s a way of showing your work, and people can see you creating and  they have the opportunity to have conversations with you at SKETCH. Or you can learn from observing other people’s practices. So I would say my work has been featured in a process way.

Ty: Yes, I miss I miss you belting and doing your ballads

Phi: Just randomly singing, taking over the host hallways.

Ty: Fantastic, I love it, I miss it! So how has the art space at SKETCH helped you in your arts practice

Phi: The physical space at SKETCH has been so valuable for me. It’s given me a space where I can feel comfort, I can feel safety, I can feel a sense of companionship, and also mentorship. I feel like when you’re at SKETCH you’re around people who really support you, or really want to challenge you to grow. And so that environment has been so helpful in terms of me exploring my boundaries as an artist, but also just making me comfortable.

Living in Toronto is such an expensive city, and at the time I was living in a house with five roommates, so it was very difficult to have the physical space to really have an arts practice. So for example, having the movement studio, having that large space to just dance, was really valuable for me. Also just encouraging myself by seeing other artists. I think by seeing other artists at SKETCH, it encouraged me that it was something that’s possible and it’s something that you can pursue. And even if it doesn’t become your main profession, it’s also something that you can keep in your life. It’s just a comfort knowing I can do what I love with great people every week without worrying about the cost of a class. My mental health improves vastly when I can attend.

Ty: Yeah, for sure. You’ve mentioned the movements and the host hallway near culinary, I’m wondering if you can touch on a studio that you’d love to work in that’s not normally a space that you occupied.

Phi: I think I’d love to try out the music space a bit more. You know, I’ve always admired the technology and it’s always so cool to see people making music and recording music. I think that would be something really cool to explore.

Phi in the SKETCH music studio. Photographed by Poorani Jay

Ty: So here is a big curiosity question. What do you want folks to notice, or be curious about when digesting your artwork?

Phi: Ooh, that is a big question. I think I would like people to be curious, why did I tell this story, why did I tell this story this way? And I’d really like people to reflect on my choices, or to notice those choices. I’d like them to explore the nuances I chose in terms of gender and race and sexuality. Yeah, I really just want that to marinate like a good broth.

Ty: Well, speaking about broth which makes me think about food, which makes me think about family, which makes me think about extended family and lineage- a bigger question now. When you have moved on from this realm,  this earth and this place, and you are an ancestor and you have a bounty and an abundant amount of descendants- what would you want them to know?

Phi: You are loved. You are enough. Come from a place of wholeness. I’d really want my descendants to know that wherever they are, however they feel, that someone out there is going to support them and know that they’re awesome and talented and beautiful. I’d like my descendants to know that they’re appreciated, they have a story to share, and that they’re valuable.

Ty: Yes, I love that. I love that. Alright, so we have the present which is what folks are curious or noticing about your work now. And then we have your lineage, those who are going to carry on the various pieces that are you in their own lives, when you are their ancestor and they are the descendants. But now, in terms of your actual artwork, where will your art exist after your time on Earth?

Phi: Okay, wow, that’s a big question. So first, it’s going to exist in the archives of social media. That’s where you can find my art and all my performance history there. I have a dream of one day publishing a poetry collection. So maybe by the time I move on,  that will be a tangible thing. I’ll be found in the history of people’s Google drives and all the photos they’ve taken of me that didn’t make the cut.

And my art will also exist, I think, in people’s bodies and memories, solely from experiencing them and the feelings that they’ve had while experiencing my art

Ty: That’s incredible. I love how your art is present with folks after you’re gone. And I also love how Google Drive is going to outlive you.

Phi: Yeah, I mean technology is changing every  five years it feels like. So maybe Google Drive won’t be a thing anymore, but the records will.

Ty: True, it will live in the Internet space.

Phi: Exactly. I’m sure I have a floppy disk somewhere that still has stuff on it, I just can’t open it.

Phi performing on stage for the Right to Dance Intensive

Ty: I love it, wow. Is there anything else that you want to share about your relationship with the SKETCH art studios, or about your own arts practice. Anything coming up, or inspiring you?

Phi: I’d like to add something I really appreciated about SKETCH was that it’s a multidisciplinary space, so it creates an opportunity for artists of different practices to collaborate with each other. I don’t think there’s another space that really allows that. And I also really appreciate all the resources and the materials they have there. And if you want something that’s not there, the staff are so knowledgeable and creative in finding those materials for you to the best of their ability.

And it’s also a community. So if you feel like maybe you’re alone, or you don’t really have any other connections in your life because of where you’re at or based on other life experiences, in some ways you could have a chosen family at SKETCH. So I think that connection and relationship is so important in fostering not only someone’s creativity, but their own sense of identity and well being.

I also want to add, y’know find each other. I think there’s so many beautiful artists out there, and there’re so many people who want to hear what you’re doing. So all you have to do is find each other. Sometimes it feels really hard, and we all know that the Instagram algorithm is going against us, but we’re out there! So y’know, get creative, talk to people, push yourself out of your shell a little bit if you can. Because not everything’s online these days, there’s a lot online, but there’s some things you can’t get from it.

And then last but not least, in terms of my art and practices, stay tuned for more storytelling. I’m hoping to add more stories around witches and robots. In the words of Final Fantasy, some magitek in my future.

Ty: I like that word. Magitek.

Phi: Magic and technology? Amazing

Ty: Incredible. I’m going to say thank you for having this interview with me. 

Phi: Thank you for having me, I’m so grateful for this time and space.

This series has been put together as part of Project Home.

Project Home is SKETCH’s capital campaign to purchase its legacy space in the Queen West neighbourhood. By helping SKETCH secure its studios, you ensure that young artists have continued access to space and free-programming to develop their practice and explore their creativity. Learn more about how you can support here