Crozier Named to Order of Canada

Lorna Crozier, the acclaimed professor of poetry with the University of Victoria’s Department of Writing, has been named an Officer of the Order of Canada by Governor General David Johnston.

One of Canada’s most beloved and talented poets, this latest honour comes on the heels of Crozier being recognized as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2009, and her winning of UVic’s Craigdarroch Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression in 2010. With 15 books of poetry behind her and a number of awards—including the Governor General’s Literary Award—as well as a pair of honourary doctorates for her contributions to Canadian literature and her designation as a Distinguished Professor at UVic, Crozier is in the enviable position of being highly regarded by her peers and universally loved by the students and writers she has mentored over her 20 years at UVic.

She will be honoured at a special celebration at Rideau Hall in Ottawa this fall, alongside a select list of other notable Canadians, including the celebrated likes of novelist Nino Ricci, comedian Eugene Levy, science broadcaster Bob McDonald and musician Valdy.

The Officer of the Order of Canada recognizes a lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large. Over the last 40 years, more than 5000 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the Order, including UVic President Dr. David Turpin and School of Music professor emeritus Ian McDougall.

For more information visit www.lornacrozier.ca and http://www.gg.ca/document.aspx?id=72

Freshman’s Win

UVic’s Department of Writing can now add the words “award-winning” to the description of its acclaimed web series, Freshman’s Wharf. The 10-episode, student-created, online comedic show beat out four other entries to win Best Web Series award at the 12th annual Leo Awards on June 11.

“In some ways, producing Freshman’s Wharf was painstakingly challenging,” says co-producer Julia Dillon-Davis. “We were a group of students trying to film a web series that required a sailboat, an airplane, a tandem bike and half-naked professors dancing around a bonfire. The success of the series is really just indicative of our collective desire to create art.”

Originally created as a class project, Freshman’s Wharf evolved into a for-credit directed studies Writing course with 10 episodes being created, performed and shot by a mix of UVic students and alumni. Written by Rachel Warden, and mentored by Writing associate professor Maureen Bradley and digital media staffer Daniel Hogg, Freshman’s Wharf offered a light-hearted look at first-year student life at UVic.

“It’s a perfect fusion of research and teaching, a creative production engaging with the next generation—and that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be doing,” says Bradley, an award-winning filmmaker herself. “Our goal is to create innovative new media that’s Vancouver Island-based, and to engage students in our research creation, so it really was perfect.”

“I’ve had more fun on Freshman’s Wharf than any other student initiative,” says Eliza Robertson, who played the female lead, and was recently shortlisted for the Journey Prize for an unrelated writing project. “That might be why none of us expected to win: we’ve all enjoyed the experience so much that any concrete success is just whipped cream and cherries on top.”

Writer Warden, as well as Bradley, Hogg, Dillon-Davis and Robertson, were all in attendance at the gala Leo event, which was hosted by award-winning humorist and CBC personality Bill Richardson at Vancouver’s Fairmont Hotel.

The Leo Awards are an annual project of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foundation of British Columbia and celebrate excellence in artistic achievement in B.C.’s film and television industry.

Performing the Art of Professorship

When it came to selecting an artist for the inaugural Audain Professorship in Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest, the choice for Visual Arts department chair Daniel Laskarin was clear: it had to be Rebecca Belmore. “She’s a First Nations artist of substantial repute, a person with a strong international reputation who had represented Canada at the Venice Bienale, and one who could give our students the benefit of her skills and experience,” explains Laskarin.

In a word, Belmore was ideal. Born into the Anishinabe First Nation in Upsala, Ontario, but currently based in Vancouver, Belmore is internationally recognized for her enviable 25-year legacy of multi-disciplinary art, which explores themes of history, place and identity through sculpture, installation, video and performance.

In the catalogue for the 2005 Venice Biennale, where Belmore’s performance projection “Fountain” was Canada’s official entry, noted Cornell University visual historian and artist Jolene Rickard described how the artist’s “role as transgressor and initiator—moving fluidly in the hegemony of the west reformulated as ‘empire’—reveals how conditions of dispossession are normalized in the age of globalization.”

Indeed, it would be difficult to think of a more fitting artist to kick off the Audain Professorship, which—thanks to a $2-million gift from celebrated BC art philanthropist and National Gallery of Canada board chair Michael Audain and the Audain Foundation—will bring a distinguished practicing artist to teach in the Department of Visual Arts each year. (As well as the Audain Professorship, the main public gathering and exhibition space in the Visual Arts Building is now named the Audain Gallery and Atrium.) In addition to her noted residencies and extensive exhibition history, Belmore’s work has appeared in numerous exhibitions both nationally and internationally, including two Canadian solo touring exhibits in the past decade.

Speaking at the end of the academic year, Belmore is obviously pleased with what she describes as her “first kick at the can at working a whole semester.” Offering a characteristically wry smile, she says, “Usually I just do short-term workshops and, in that sense, this Audian Professorship is quite beneficial, especially for myself—to let me figure out how I can fit into this idea of teaching. And I have to thank Mr. Audain and the university for collaborating on this project. It’s a great opportunity not only for the program here, but for artists like myself—and, of course, the students.”

Working with a small number of undergraduate students with zero performance experience (“they were totally green,” she says with another smile), Belmore explains how she had them create performance art pieces throughout the entire semester. “I was trying to share with them my process as an artist—which is kind of spontaneous, and involves more short-term planning than long-term. I ran my classes with a certain looseness, trying to verge on spontaneity, which was great, because they were really quite open to going with the flow, trying to figure out what I was sharing with them. And they made great work; I was quite surprised and impressed with their enthusiasm and creativity. Another thing I really enjoyed was being asked to do studio visits; I had some really good conversations with students outside of my immediate classes.”

Belmore's 2008 piece "Fringe"

One challenge Belmore faced was encouraging her students to think beyond the Ring Road. “I was trying to get them to think about themselves in the context of a larger society, to work with a mix of personal experiences and what’s going on in the world.” That’s something Belmore herself had to deal with when she was a student at the Ontario College of Art and Design back in the ’80s. “I initially came to performance art from a more politicized point of view, because there’s nothing more politicized than your own personal being, your body,” she explains. “Using the body as a vehicle to negotiate and navigate the contemporary art world is a very interesting path and journey; my being here is another experience for me to continue to push myself as an artist.”

Speaking on behalf of Belmore’s classes, Laskarin says, “The students she worked with were very enthusiastic about their experience with Rebecca, and she was able to offer them a perspective that was extra to what they were already exposed to by our continuing faculty.”

And when asked for her take on her UVic experience, Belmore just smiles. “Obviously, as I’m maturing—I don’t want to say getting older—I’m happy to experience teaching in a traditional art institution,” she says. “Everybody was very supportive—and very busy—and now I have a better understanding of how much work it is to teach at this level. And I’m curious how it affected my students’ other work; hopefully there’ll be another performance art class in the program at some point.”

Laskarin is also clearly pleased with the recent announcement of the next Audain professor: acclaimed Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, currently participating in the Haida Manga Reading Room and Comic Jam Studio at Toronto’s Gendai Gallery. “In the long run—and already—the Audain Professorship will continue to bring an expanded field of vision to the Department,” says Laskarin. “It’s a small department in a small city, and even with the considerable experience that our faculty bring to the table, it’s very valuable to be able to bring in that kind of direct contact with outside influences. As faculty we travel to keep engaged with contemporary practices and thinking, but this is something that our students are not always able to do, or able to do so extensively; the Audain Professorship helps to bring the world to Victoria.”

And while Belmore will return in September for an exclusive exhibit at the Audain Gallery, does she have any advice for Yahgulanaas as the incoming Audain professor? “If you’re not already from Victoria, the challenge is to figure out how to be here and how to be somewhere else at the same time,” she offers, after taking a moment to ponder. “I’m in Vancouver, which isn’t very far away, but crossing the water once a week was kind of tough; if I lived up North or wherever and had to move here, that would really be a challenge. The ideal would be to make a temporary home in the Visual Arts building, so students could drop in and have a more casual relationship, but that didn’t really work out for me. It’s tricky to negotiate public space and private space; some people may be able to do that, but it’s complicated.”

Finally, does she have any hints on what we can expect from her Fall exhibit here? “No clue,” she says with one last, quick laugh. “I’ve gotta go get to work.”

 

Find out more about Rebecca Belmore by visiting her site

See some examples of the Haida manga style of incoming Audain professor Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Read more about philanthropist Michael Audain in this piece from The Ring and this from The Globe and Mail (May 9, 2011)

 

Freshman’s Nomination

Freshman's Wharf

Filming a scene of Freshman's Wharf (photo by Ashley Culver)

The student-produced online comedic series Freshman’s Wharf has been nominated in the “Web Series” category of the 12th annual Leo Awards. Originally created as a class project in the Department of Writing, Freshman’s Wharf evolved into a for-credit directed studies course and 10 episodes were created, written, performed and shot by a mix of UVic students and faculty. Written by Rachel Warden, and mentored by film prof Maureen Bradley and digital media staffer Daniel Hogg, Freshman’s Wharf offered a light-hearted look at first-year student life at UVic.

Freshman’s Wharf is nominated alongside four other web series—Animism: The Gods Lake, Bob & Andrew, Happy Trails andThe Acting Class—and the winner will be announced at a gala awards ceremony on June 11. The Leo Awards, a project of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foundation of British Columbia, celebrate excellence in artistic achievement in B.C.’s film and television industry.

You can watch the episodes by clicking here.

 

Lights! Camera! Cannes Action!

A scene from Une Memoire Courte

Third-year Department of Writing student Katherine Walkiewicz’s 20-minute movie, Une Mémoire Courte, has been accepted in the Short Film Corner, a showcase of international work by emerging filmmakers at the Cannes International Film Festival. A fictional drama about whether or not a young couple is truly in love, Une Mémoire Courte was created as a term project for her International Film Writing course this year and was selected by a jury presided over by acclaimed director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

“A few years ago Canadian [director] Xavier Dolan’s first feature film was shown at Cannes,” says 22-year-old Walkiewicz, who plans to continue in film after graduation. “He’s a year younger than me, and it made me realize that if you have the motivation and will, age is no reason to prohibit you from striving to create serious cinematic work, having high artistic values and professional ambition.”

Katherine Walkiewicz (photo by Stephanie Fisher)

While at Cannes, Walkiewicz will be attending workshops for young directors, as well as watching movies, before heading to Lyon to begin work on her second film. “France has such a rich tradition of cinema, and I’m sure the experience will be especially fascinating as a film studies student. To be able to see the films in competition, made by the real artists of contemporary cinema, will be watching film history unfold.”

The Short Film Corner runs May 11 to 22.

www.k-r-w.com

http://www.shortfilmcorner.com/sfcfilm/filmFiche2.Aspx?id=53594874

Booked for Big Things

Erin Fisher's words were music to John K. Samson's ears

Fine Arts student Erin Fisher is $2,000 richer, thanks to her first-place win for a story originally written as a first-year assignment for the University of Victoria’s Department of Writing. Fisher, now a third-year Writing student and winner of the 2009 Cadboro Bay Book Prize for Fiction, was selected as the Grand Prize Fiction winner in the 2011 PRISM International poetry and fiction contest for her 2,500-word short story “Bridges.”

Chosen from a field of over 250 entries by this year’s fiction judge—noted songwriter and publisher John K. Samson of The Weakerthans fame—Fisher describes “Bridges” as a story about “a six-year-old girl who spends her time watching her sister, watching herself and telling stories; it’s about quietness in people, and connections.”Originally written in two weeks for a first-year writing class, “Bridges” was reworked as an entry for The Malahat Review’s 2010 Open Season Award in Fiction, where it was shortlisted as a finalist, before being redrafted and sent to PRISM. “This will be my first publication, and it is a much-needed moral boost,” says Fisher, an award-winning pianist who also teaches at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. “I’ve spent a lot of years composing music and playing music, and in order to work on writing words I had to shift part of my focus from those studies. It’s good to know both fields can complement each other.”

Fisher says she hadn’t originally planned on pursuing writing at all. “When I first started at UVic, I was thinking of finishing off a music degree in composition,” she recalls. “I took a course from Lorna Jackson to see how the structure of short stories could compare to a musical structure, and got addicted. After luring me in, the writing department showed me what to watch for in technique and craft.”

Acclaimed local author Matthew Hooton (Deloume Road) was one of Fisher’s writing instructors this year and says it has been a “humbling experience” to read her work. “I’ve found myself in the paradoxical position of trying to engage with her work in class and get out of her way at the same time,” he says. “She has a knack for choosing the right word, the right metaphor, the right structure, the right line of dialogue. This prize is the literary equivalent of a warning shot over the bow of the establishment. It won’t be the last time you read her name—trust me, I’ve seen what she’s got coming next.”

Founded in 1959, PRISM International is the oldest literary magazine in Western Canada and published some of the first works by such iconic Canadian writers as Margaret Laurence, George Bowering, Alden Nowlan and Margaret Atwood.

http://prismmagazine.ca/2011/05/02/poetry-and-fiction-contest-winners-announced/#more-1096

One Brassy Dude

 

Always alumni, now distinguished: Paul Beauchesne

Meet Paul Beauchesne, tuba master and now Distinguished Alumni

When it comes to symphonic greatness, tuba players likely don’t leap immediately to mind—but Paul Beauchesne (BMus ’88) is about to change all that. Not only has Beauchesne been the principal tuba with the Victoria Symphony for the past seven years, but he was also selected as the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient for the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

Beauchesne—one of 11 leading members of UVic’s alumni community recognized for his professional achievements and community leadership—is also a founding member of the Beacon Hill Brass Quintet, serves on the faculty of the Victoria Conservatory of Music and pulls double-duty as the Victoria Symphony’s stage manager, as well as keeping busy at home as a husband to fellow UVic alum Victoria Beauchesne (music director for Fairfield United Church) and father to their eight-year-old son, Louis. But rather than feeling overwhelmed by all this, the good-natured Beauchesne says wearing multiple hats is simply part of the game.

“That’s the reality here, especially as a tuba player, which is not part of the core orchestra,” he says. “And a lot of the people who are part of the core orchestra—who make more than double what I make as a tuba player—have side jobs as well; this orchestra doesn’t pay enough to afford the cost of living here.”

Ironically, Beauchesne credits his time at UVic for his multitasking skills. “That may be the single most important thing I took away from UVic—the idea that, if there’s any way possible, you should always say yes. During my student days, I had my fingers in a lot of different things, and it seems to be a recurring theme—I guess that’s how I‘ve distinguished myself. The longer you are in a place the more you branch out, the more you start making a life out of a whole bunch of disparate things.”

A Yamaha Performing Artist and Clinician, Beauchesne was born in Montreal and grew up all over B.C.’s coast, thanks to his father’s job with forestry giant MacMillan Bloedel; in addition to his time at UVic, he has also studied at the Banff Centre and the University of New Mexico, was a longtime member of Calgary’s Foothills Brass Quintet, spent two years as principal tuba of the KwaZulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban, South Africa, and has performed with the Boston Symphony, Sante Fe Symphony, New Mexico Symphony, Calgary Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Vancouver Ballet Orchestra, Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra as well the NADEN Band, Calgary Jazz Festival Orchestra, the Wild Rose Jazz All Stars and the Band of the Ceremonial Guard.

Busy? You bet. But he’s more than happy to have returned here to make a home for his family in Victoria. “I really enjoyed life on the road before becoming a dad, but leaving my wife and son behind to live out of a suitcase in hotel rooms suddenly wasn’t very enjoyable anymore,” he chuckles.

And does Beauchesne, who studied at UVic under famed tubist Eugene Dowling, thinks the tuba gets the same respect as other symphonic instruments? “I think the expectations of the tuba and tuba players is actually quite low,” he says with a brassy laugh. “The general public is always surprised when they hear someone who can actually play it, compared to what their preconceived notion is. Within the orchestral world, of course, conductors know what the tuba can do, and the standard since I’ve been studying has only gotten higher and higher.”

When asked how he feels about being chosen as the Distinguished Alumni for the Faculty of Fine Arts, Beauchesne is clearly flattered but remains characteristically humble. “I’m not really sure,” he says. “It’s certainly an honour, but I can easily think of other people I went to school with—even in the music department, let alone all of the Fine Arts—who are more, if not equally, deserving.”

Beauchesne pauses, and then laughs again. “It’s hard to be, like, ‘Go me!’ But it’s nice to receive recognition for years of slogging away, even though my slogging isn’t head and shoulders above that of my peers. And I feel lucky to still be working in my chosen profession.”

—John Threlfall

 

4 Seasons in One Print

Visual Arts student Everett Wong designs award

Over the years, the Distinguished Alumni Awards have taken different shapes, and this year’s model is no different. The 2011 award—“4 Seasons,“ an 11×14-inch limited-edition framed serigraph print representing the changing seasons at UVic—was designed by fourth-year Visual Arts major Everett Wong, and was presented to the 11 recipients by university Chancellor Murray Farmer (BA ’68) and UVic Alumni Association President Glenda Wyatt (BSc ’98) at the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards gala on February 11 at the University Club.

Wong says the inspiration for the award came to him “after taking a short walk around campus to find buildings and structures that were emblematic of the ideals that withstand this institution.” He then chose the “simplicity and starkness” of a Japanese print for the actual award. “Drawing parallels between the climates of both our coast and Japan’s, I came to adopt the idea of the four seasons that are both revered both in print form as well as our day-to-day existence,” Wong explains.

Working under the guidance of Visual Arts instructor Megan Dickie, Wong created four different versions of the print reflecting the shifting colours of the seasons. “The other key component was the notion of variation—promoting the idea of the subtleties that make up individuals,” he says. “In the end, it provided and interesting ground for me to test my aptitude as an emerging practicing artisan.“

—J.T.

Girl Gone Wilde

Sara Topham on the Importance of her Broadway debut

Sara Topham as Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest (photo by Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

She’s played Stratford for more than a decade and earned raves for her work at the Belfry; now, Sara Topham, BFA ’98, can add one more feather to her much-plumed theatrical hat: conquering Broadway. Topham just spent the winter appearing in the Oscar Wilde classic, The Importance of Being Earnest, alongside veteran performer and director Brian Bedford. Already a hit during the 2009 Stratford Festival, Earnest was remounted on the Great White Way in December 2010, and Topham was one of only thee members of the original production asked to reprise her role—playing Lady Bracknell’s vivacious daughter, Gwendolyn, to Bedford’s own cross-dressing turn as Lady Bracknell, no less. Yet despite the play’s vintage (Earnest debuted in 1895 and hasn’t appeared on Broadway in 33 years), Wilde’s comedy of errors clearly still clicks with New Yorkers, as it’s currently held over until July 2011.

“It’s a perfect play,” offers Topham on the show’s continued success. “Human beings haven’t changed over the century—mistaken identity, people in love and being thwarted, two guys competing with each other—it’s instantly recognizable if you’ve ever watched a sitcom. Dare I say the quality of the writing is significantly higher, however . . . it’s like spun gold, and it’s a joy to do.”

Clearly influenced by her years performing the likes of Shakespeare and Shaw, Earnest has also been a great showcase for the effusively eloquent Phoenix Theatre grad. Variety described Topham’s performance as “vivacious” while the New York Times felt she played her part with “silken self-satisfaction” and looked “ravishing in [her] most beautifully wrought costumes.” But while show business tradition insists that performers not read their reviews, does she sneak a peek when they’re this strong? “I do not,” Topham says, with just the right touch of earnestness. “Of course, when they’re as good as these ones clearly are, it’s impossible not to have a sense of that—especially when they’re printed up in front of the theatre. But I manage not to look at them as I walk by.”

And as an A-list Phoenix alum, does Tophahm have any advice for current UVic students? “Mainly that it is possible to make a living pursuing this—particularly when you live on an island, where you often feel isolated and wonder if the bridge from the student world to the real world even exists,” she offers. “When you’re in school, it’s important to know that it is possible, and that everybody has been where you are at some point or other. You just have to keep moving forward.”

Alas, while Earnest will continue playing into the summer, Topham herself will be moving back to Stratford this spring to prepare for her 12th season—this year playing Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, as well as Celimene in Moliere’s The Misanthrope. Still, despite what she cheerfully describes as the “great adventure” of it all, there is one down side to her New York run. “I no longer have the opportunity to make my Broadway debut,” Topham sighs happily, “as I’ve now made it!”

—John Threlfall

Super String Theory

After 25 years, the Lafayette String Quartet is making even more beautiful music together

The last place you’d expect to find the origins of an internationally acclaimed string quartet would be in a booth at McDonald’s. But that’s exactly where it all began for the Lafayette String Quartet back in 1986. “We were all in a chamber orchestra in Detroit and had this dream of becoming our own string quartet,” recalls violinist Sharon Stanis, “so we met at a McDonald’s and made the big decision.”

Not the classiest of venues, to be sure, but it’s all been up from there. Over the past 25 years, the LSQ has gone on to play concerts and festivals in all but one Canadian province (better tune in, PEI), more than half the American states, and eight countries worldwide; they’ve won major prizes, received awards for their recordings (notably 2003’s Death and the Maiden), have been the subject of a book (David Round’s The Four and the One) and still maintain a punishing touring schedule, in addition to their teaching duties as Artists-in-Residence at UVic’s School of Music.

The Lafayette String Quartet, with Sharon Stenis on the far right (photo by Frances Litman)

They also remain the only all-female ensemble in the world to still feature the original members—which Stanis credits to their individuality. “In our earlier years, it was always the group first: ‘What’s best for the quartet?’ But the reason we’ve been successful for 25 years is that we’ve since changed the focus to, ‘What’s great for the individual?’—because if the individual is happy, then the whole quartet is happy.”

Indeed, the collective acclaim of the Lafayette String Quartet can very much be attributed to the sum of their parts: Ann Elliott Goldschmid (violin), Joanna Hood (viola) and Pamela Highbaugh Aloni (cello), as well as Stanis. And not only are the LSQ popping the cork on their silver anniversary in 2011, but they’re also simultaneously celebrating two decades at UVic. “That has provided a great foundation for us,” says Stanis. “They took a chance on a five-year-old quartet, but UVic has shown a strong commitment to us . . . I feel very fortunate to be here. Not all universities have a resident string quartet, and there’s a real mentoring by having all of the string teachers in one ensemble.”

Looking back over the achievements of the past quarter-century, it’s clear Stanis feels the lasting contribution of the Lafayette String Quartet can best be found in their students. “In music, as with other professions, you’re handing down to the next generation . . . when I first arrived here in my early 30s, I felt like I was educating people to become working violinists in symphonies—but now I feel like I’m educating people on how to live and be passionate, how to work hard to make something beautiful. That’s our job, basically; we’re not educating musicians so much as we’re educating human beings.”

While the LSQ will be celebrating with a full year of performances—including a residency at the prestigious Banff Centre, a return to Ontario’s acclaimed Festival of the Sound and a highly-anticipated Eastern Canadian tour—it all kicks off in July at the annual Victoria Summer Music Festival. But, after 25 years, are there still new pieces for them to learn? “Tons,” Stanis laughs. “For instance, Haydn wrote 83 quartets and we’ve learned maybe 25, and we only know two of Shostakovich’s 15 quartets . . . it’s hard to squeeze in new pieces when you’re juggling teaching, administration, touring, practicing and family life.” And is there an ultimate musical goal for the LSQ? “Well, we’ve already learned all 16 Beethoven quartets, which is a cornerstone for any string quartet, but I think the Shostakovich is the one that we’d all like to set our sights on—so we’ll need to put a couple in our pockets every year.”

Stanis admits it hasn’t always been easy being an all-female quartet—two of the group are mothers, which meant touring with infants, and one has survived breast cancer, which led to the ongoing annual Lafayette Health Awareness forums—but she’s clearly pleased with how the concert world has evolved. “Twenty-five years ago, it was common to have one or two women in a quartet, and there were probably only six all-female quartets—but now? They’re all over.”

Much like the distinct parts they play in their music, Stanis again emphasizes the importance of their individuality. “We’re such four different personalities but somehow the whole vive la différence has helped bind us together. We’ve had our share of big arguments, but it’s through those that we’ve come to a consensus, a respect and an honouring of each other’s opinions, lives and lifestyles.”

And did they ever expect it to last this long? “I remember us saying, ‘Let’s try two years and see how it goes.‘” She pauses and laughs again. “I don’t even know if we checked in after two years; we were too busy chasing our tails, trying to get the next concert, the next gig, practice the next piece . . . I don’t think we ever imagined it, but it happened.”

Outside the Box

Daniel Laskarin discusses a decade of Agnostic Objects

By John Threlfall

Laskarin's "Butterfly Trap," photo by Bob Matheson

When is a box not a box? When it’s part of a sculptural exhibit by Daniel Laskarin, of course. Laskarin, current chair of UVic’s Visual Arts department, recently wrapped up his first survey show at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Titled Agnostic Objects (things persist), Laskarin’s 10-year survey offers not only the gallery’s latest glimpse into Victoria’s burgeoning contemporary sculptural scene but also affords viewers the opportunity to reengage with contemporary art in general. But if you find yourself feeling a little baffled by some of the pieces, don’t feel bad—it’s all part of the artist’s concept.

“Laskarin has a stated interest in doubt and uncertainty, which he sees as important qualities in his work,” notes AGGV director Jon Tupper in the introduction to the 96-page, full-colour glossy catalogue for Agnostic Objects. “He believes viewers become creatively engaged when they can’t easily identify objects.” Thus, an apparently simple box becomes the basis for “Butterfly Trap,” a playful Wile E. Coyote-style piece that sets out to capture the viewer’s imagination.

“I celebrate uncertainty as a positive and creative process,” explains Laskarin. “Uncertainty, without letting it become paralyzing, is profoundly important; it’s where criticality begins, where change begins. These objects have a relationship with the outside world that is uncertain; there are little hooks, little gestures, but it’s not clear.”

What is clear, however, is the essential role of the viewer in relationship to these Agnostic Objects. “His artistic practice is stimulated by propositions and investigations, which are intentionally left unresolved in the objects he produces,” notes Nicole Stanbridge, the AGGV’s associate curator of contemporary art. “Consequently, the objects allow for thoughtful consideration on the part of the viewer.”

It also allows for thoughtful consideration on the part of the artist. “It is kind of a landmark,” Laskarin says about the survey exhibit. “It gives you a real opportunity to look over your own development from a bit of distance. And it’s good to have had the exhibit up for four months, as I was working on a lot of the works right up to the time it opened—so while it’s a survey exhibition, there’s a lot of new work that hasn’t been shown before. And it creates a platform for the next development.”

Indeed, with four pieces of the 21 pieces on view made specifically for this exhibit and another five having been “modified, reconfigured or changed” since their initial creation between 2000 and 2010, Agnostic Objects offers a range of work that can, depending on your perspective, be seen as delightful, challenging or downright perplexing.

“A lot of the works aren’t that easy to approach, but it’s contemporary work, it’s experimental work,” he explains. “Just like experimental physics, some of it is quite esoteric. The great thing about art as a practice is that it lets you think about things as seriously and deeply as you’re able.”

Agnostic Objects gallery overview, photo by Bob Matheson

Laskarin readily admits there’s room in the art world for “comfortable, recognizable, familiar” pieces, but also points out the necessity of universities to be creating “stuff that is more leading edge . . . for us to be doing populist work here would be a betrayal of the whole research character of our university.”

And when it comes to experiencing his work first-hand, Laskarin paraphrases famed art historian E.H. Gombrich. “He made the statement that when you enter an exhibition, each work of art you see is like encountering another consciousness. Once you recognize that, it changes the entire way you look at a work of art—it’s not necessarily about art as self-expression, or art as a statement about something; instead, it’s like meeting another person.”