intro and edit by kaitlyn d. hamilton

In TUO TUO’s library, you’ll find several objects and tools for divination: The I Ching, The Rider–Waite and Thoth Tarot decks, and the Glowwood Oracle deck, among others. Artists drawn here are often curious about divination, if not already practicing. Many artists have cast spells or created altars during their residencies. Together we’ve stargazed, shared visions and dreams. After all, the creative process is magical and the forest is dense with spirit(s).

The first mystical reading I received was in 2017, right before I moved to Finland. In my candle-lit Bushwick apartment, Kim Tran took on the role of interpreter over a Tarot spread. As Kim entered a trance state, I became transfixed, enlivened and trusting. She channeled ancestral voices and laid a path of assurance, providence and precaution for my course ahead, many windows towards deep healing were opened. Again in the spring of 2020, just before launching this project, Kim sat across from me, this time virtually, and gave me the strength to listen to my own visions and dreams, to move with bravery toward the invisible.

My experience with Kim – who is not only an interdisciplinary oracle but an artist as well – paved the way for my experience with other sibylline practitioners (Ariana Reines, Òscar Moisés Díaz, Pea the Feary), all of whom are also artists. But first it was Kim. We’ve had several readings since then and many supportive collaborative working sessions around shared intuitive practices. Each one expands my sense of cosmic materiality and affinity for being alive, which is a true gift, and our work together was the inspiration behind
Esoteric Yellow Pages.

In the conversation below, we reflect on Kim’s mystical practices and our work together.


Kaitlyn: So, I’m talking with Kim today who is a friend of mine from New York, based in brooklyn. You’re a Creative Director and an artist. You co-founded SPA THEORY which is a women-led XR creative studio. You’ve worked on incredible projects combining art and tech, Kim has worked in the fashion and beauty spaces for clients like FENTY Beauty, Sephora and Ralph Lauren to art world clients like MoMA PS1 and Pantone. Kim’s work has been featured in Forbes and The New York Times.

But Kim is also super invested in community and community service. You gather people together, you throw events. You have many gifts and practices in mystical or sibylline traditions: Tarot, ancestral mediumship, altar building, symbol creation, remote location and other psychic sercives. You also work with people in a 1x1 context to hone their own psychic gifts and abilities.

We met in 2014 I believe, in nightlife circles – definitely this Bushwick-specific art and nightlife intersection/ scene. And Kim was throwing incredible parties at the time, the best of my club kid career, I have to say. The series was called Zodiak, it was a monthly event themed around the astrological sign for that month; everything from the talent booked to the venue (it was a different location every month) full blown decor: installations, visuals, all the elements were totally custom and on theme. This is all just a snapshot of how I might attempt to introduce Kim.

The work we’ve been doing together over the past six months, I feel, has been a way for you to invite me into your practice. I have been able to see how it looks from the client experience, I’m understanding more about your offerings now. At the same time, you’ve given me access to a more BTS lens – which is my whole thing and why I like working with artists in a residency context. I am much more interested in the process vs. the outcome, so it’s been really nice to work with you in this process-focused way.

Kaitlyn: You were my first-ever Tarot reading (and reading of any kind), so I was wondering if you remember your first intuitive or psychic experience. What was the entry point for you, if you can remember?

*content warnings: death, car accidents
Kim: What sticks out the most, and there were many events, most of them dealing with my family: When I was younger I used to read my mother’s mind a lot, which was strange. I forget what age, probably around ten or eleven, but I would just think of something, and she would say it. Once, I had this thought that my mom would probably have wanted me to be back in her belly; and a minute later she said wow Kim, I wish you were just a baby again. I wish I were pregnant again with you. It was really strange. Occurrences like this kept happening.

Then, while my grandfather was dying in Vietnam I would have dreams of him, I’d be flying with him over deserts. And once I had this incredibly beautiful dream, I was on a beach at sunset and my father was in the ocean. The sky was like orange and golden and gorgeous and I had this feeling, this knowing that: wow, this is the afterlife and we’re still here, we’re still alive. And I went to into the ocean to speak with my dad, and I was like isn’t this amazing? And he was like yeah, this is great, there is life after death who knew!?

And at the time my father wasn’t with me in New Jersey, he was traveling in the South West. So, I called him immediately in the middle of the night when I woken up to make sure he was okay. He answered and told me he had just nearly died from a car crash off the highway, there was this huge pile up and he’d spent hours with paramedics basically helping to remove bodies from the cliff.

So, it started off with small occurrences before being tapped into my grandfather before his death, and then my father’s near death experience.

Then, there was another time where my grandmother reached me - it was through a dreamlike state - this happened later, after college. She had been on her deathbed for awhile; she’d had a stroke and was paralyzed during her later years. I felt her trying to connect to me and send messages to my mother, messages of love and advice. This was strange because she hadn’t really ever connected to me like this before, also she was in Vietnam.

And that week, my father told me that my grandmother had passed. So, I think my first experiences were a lot of these connections with my ancestry and family, near-death or the afterlife.

Do you remember when or how you came to understand that this faculty was going to be something you would intentionally explore, and then nurture and hone, that it would become a part of your life that you would share with others?

Kim: I’ve always wanted to engage more with something beyond just the material. I’ve always felt very connected to the natural world. I’m an animist, so I do believe in the spirit of inanimate objects and in everything, so I’ve always connected to that. It’s a dream for me to even practice in this way publicly. I always knew that I was interested in these subject matters, but I never knew I would be in community sharing what I have to give – whether it’s guidance or just care, or creation with altar building, or talking about my traditional practices and backgrounds coming from a Vietnamese and Teochew, Khmer diaspora. It’s an honor because before I had always been very afraid and almost like hiding myself in this way.

And it was during COVID that I realized, ok it’s been years now that I’ve been reaching people psychically or reading Tarot, or working with different gatherings around nature/spirit themes. I went public during COVID because when the whole world slows down and you have no choice but to isolate, when you have time, you realize about what’s important to you. And that was when Chế Kim Nine started.

I remember before I moved in 2017, you were still really hesitant about offering your services. I felt like it wasn’t perfectionism or imposter syndrome, but the upmost integrity around this kind of work. You did not rush into it until you were certain you were ready.

Kim: Right, I made sure I had over a decade’s worth of knowledge and practice before I even created a service publicly – outside of friends or family.

First off, I don’t want to give something to other people that wouldn’t help them. Not every practitioner is going to resonate with everyone. So, trying to find my people was a big part of it too.

This is something we talked about in our sessions: one idea was that we might offer a reading for the collective through TUO TUO’s platform. We realized that it’s not condusive for the way you work, because sitting opposite the individual and being in that 1x1 is super important.

I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about what it’s like for you when you’re sitting across from someone and you’re tapping in. How would you describe the experience of giving a reading?

Kim: Being in a 1x1 context, within a very small group, or in partnership, is going to be more intimate and it’s where a lot of the healing or guidance can come through, especially with ancestral work. There are different levels of help, right? I could give giant, sweeping affirmations online and maybe it would help someone (lol). But the heavy-lifting is fully focusing on the individual and tapping into their guides as well.

If I’m talking to a million different guides, I don’t know if I can provide as much help or care or space for creativity – well, creativity maybe on a collective level this could be more interesting – but I don’t want to offer something that isn’t well thought out, or isn’t really good!

Has there been a time when you’ve been in a reading where you were surprised, maybe not by the content, but surprised by what means the messages came through?

Kim: As I get older I start to notice different senses being activated, sound has become more apparent, or even smell becomes more apparent, sometimes even taste comes through. And I wasn’t expecting half of these to become awakened while talking to someone, but all of my different bodies, spirit bodies, physical bodies are just aligning.

Once I was talking to someone and their ancestor just came through for them and in that moment I was getting a cinnamon/ pumpkin note in the region where smell and taste collide. The smell of a certain pie baking in the oven, for example, this could be a specific message that would resonate for someone about their relative. So, spirits come in different ways, they alert me in different ways. Taste and smell, also seeing symbols more clearly would be another. I never really expect those sensations to happen, but they do.

We also did psychic games together in our work, which are ways to develop and exercise the senses beyond the five. This is another way you work with people. Do you have any tips for someone who has experienced intuitive reception, or who has some inclination that they’re psychically gifted? And what would you say to them about exploring it further?

Kim: People experience their own psychic senses in different ways, some more visual, others plugged into the auditory nature of it. I’m not sure who came up with the terminology, but they’re referred to as the four Claires or how you intuitively perceive. So, if you’re Clairaudient, your perception would be hearing. If you’re Clairvoyant, it’s more visual, seeing symbols or a landscape, a person’s physical appearance, etc. Clairsentient is a knowing, but it’s more emotional, knowing through feeling. Then, Claircognizance which is a mental knowing. So, anyone can access these claires and then you can strengthen them like a muscle, which is why we use psychic games. The more you play them the better you get.

For example, we might start by narrowing down a location. Two people (person A: the receiver & person B: the projector) would try to land on the same location. Person B thinks of location which they would then project onto the receiver; person A would be trying to receive, or connect to the location. And the more often you engage this way the more accurate you get, especially if you’re working with the same person. And it is a game too, it’s not something that needs to be correct 100% of the time. But it’s about letting yourself sense.

Kim’s DALL·E 2 Research & Re-education

As we mentioned at the top, you’ve worked a lot with various modalities in the technology space virtual reality/ XR and lately AI has been thrown into the mix. I’m curious how you’re feeling - and I’m sure it’s a spectrum - this can mean for the arts, but also the esoteric or mystical arts, if at all. This can be more personal, and for your own practice vs. a global or predictive take.

To me, I have very mixed feelings. I haven’t been in the tech space for a very long time, but I’m of course very fearful of how humans might treat the AI, how they bully the AI, how it’s being abused for greed and other horrible objectives. As an animist, I believe the AI has a spirit, which I can try to tap into, but this feels very overwhelming. All spirituality aside, as a femme-identified person who is Asian, I want there to be space in building this “new world” for those of us who are not white/ cis/ het / whatever – like, even when I’ve been playing around with open AI and Dalle for the first time, the images that come back are insanely sexist, racist, and misogynist. And you have to tell the developers: you are obviously doing something very wrong. Why are all of the POC and femmes shown with very little clothing on? Why if I’m typing in words like “joy, people, or group” are there just white folks spun back?

Again, if spiritually removed, I believe there is a lot of space to be taken up and if we’re going to create a new world it shouldn’t be by only one type of person, obviously.

And what about the “spirituality” spaces?

I mean especially white folks, there is a lot of appropriation. Everyday you see a finance bro who becomes a spiritual guru who administers Ayuasca on instagram.

Nature is a huge element of your practice too, and something we’ve talked about a lot is not getting so swept up by the bucolic or the myth of pristine “nature” but rather staying connected to nature in a city, an urban space, or concrete-covered settings. What are your thoughts on staying connected when living in a massive city like New York?

I wonder about my own presence here. Or, why I’m here, too. You know, these lands have been heavily populated for thousands of years – I’m talking before the arrival of colonizers. This is Lenape land (Manhatta), and like past-present New York City, was an indigenous place of trade for thousands of years. It has always been a meeting place, so there’s still this strange connection. The concrete for me, physically when I see it I have an adverse reaction, but at the same time: the knowing that just beneath there is so much more; it’s so dense with spirit, so dense with energy. If I place my hands on a plot of grass in NewYork, it is buzzing, there are many things below the surface of the concrete.

When I’m connecting to a great tree here, I know that it knows a lot, that it’s seen things long before colonizers came here. And you can also tap into the spirits of this land as well, they’re still here. What I want to do is bring some help, some healing, or care back into spaces like these. But to me, the concrete… it’s a lot, but cement is also nature. And if you listen very carefully, you can hear things (underneath), and you can learn from what’s underneath. 

Chế Kim Nine is a spiritual and art making practice developed by Brooklyn based diviner, community organizer and creative director Kim Tran. Chế translates to ‘elder sister’ in Teochew, by way of Vietnam.

More about booking a virtual reading with Kim – as featured on TUO TUO’s Esoteric Yellow Pages*Sliding scale and/or bartering options available to BIPOC or trans identifying folx.

Kaitlyn D. Hamilton is the co-founder and co-director of TUO TUO.

Many thanks to Arts Promotion Center Finland (Taiteen edistämiskeskus) for supporting this collaboration.