Megan Dickie Throws It Down

Installation view: Megan Dickie, Throw Down | Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 2012 (Photo by Larry Pfister)

It’s busy times right now for local artist-on-the-go Megan Dickie. Not only is she one of five emerging artists showcased in the current Art Gallery of Greater Victoria exhibit, Throw Down, but she also currently has work on view in Calgary’s Stride Gallery.

Dickie—a limited-term Visual Arts professor and ongoing sessional instructor specializing in sculpture—creates objects and images that are humorous, tactile and interactive. As noted on her website, she investigates ideas of artifice by making sculptures out of sensuous materials that turn functional forms into exaggerated novelty gadgets. Dickie finds novelty compelling in how it rejoices in excess and is truthful about its moral shortcomings. It is a form that promotes curiosity over intimidation which allows the viewer to lean in and discover through touch. Through this tactile experience the viewer ends up struggling between their desire for amusement and their desire for reason.

Dickie's "The Gleamer"

Her Stride Gallery piece, “the Gleamer”—a 15 x 15 foot flexible silver blanket made of tiled aluminum—can be entered and manipulated from underneath to become a variety of sculptural forms. Showcased in Stride’s Project Room, Get the Gleamer runs through to March 24. As noted in the gallery’s description, “Get the Gleamer transforms Buckminster Fuller’s Jitterbug Discovery into an interactive sculpture for amusement. The form incorporates serial patterns and the same potential for endless action that one might expect of a slapstick movie. As a ‘tongue in cheek’ response to the distance between thinking and doing, the Gleamer invites viewers to experience how imagination and play lead to intellectual discovery.”

Meanwhile, back at the AGGV, Dickie’s large-scale playful work in Throw Down (alongside fellow artists Sonny Assu, Gregory Ball, Tyler Hodgins and Alison MacTaggart), can be seen at their latest Urbanite event coming up on Friday, March 9—or through to the end of the exhibits’s run on May 6.

And if you’re wondering why the exhibition is so named, as the AGGV says, “to ‘throw down’ can mean many things: to celebrate in a big way, to fight for something meaningful, or to contribute resources to make something happen. The overall spirit of throwing down is captured by the five B.C. artists selected for this exhibition. They use sculpture, video, photography, drawing and public intervention to address socio-political issues, economic struggles, to invoke a call to action or an invitation to play. Satire and humour are strategically used as a means of contemplation and critique of relevant issues within society.”

Dickie’s work has been seen across Canada, including recent exhibitions at Vancouver’s Grunt Gallery, the Nanaimo Art Gallery, Saskatoon’s Kenderdine Art Gallery, and Deluge Contemporary Art and the late, great Ministry of Causal Living. She was also the recipient of a Canada Council emerging artist creation grant in 2004 and a BC Arts Council grant in 2007 & 2009. She completed a BFA in printmaking from the University of Calgary in 1997 and received a MFA in sculpture from the University of Saskatchewan in 2002.

Chocolate Woman Changes the World

Monique Mojica

Think theatre can change the world? Monique Mojica knows it can.

An acclaimed Guna and Rappahannock actor and playwright (Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots), the Toronto-based Mojica is dedicated to a theatrical practice as healing, as reclamation of historical/cultural memory, and as an act of resistance. Hot off a week-long run performing her play, Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way at Vancouver’s Talking Stick Festival, Mojica will offer a March 6 public lecture on the five-year process of creating the production.

Co-founder of Toronto’s Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble and former artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts, Mojica is also a member of the Chocolate Woman Collective, which follows the rigorous application of a creative process that privileges indigenous knowledges, cultural aesthetics and performance principles. She has taught at McMaster University, the Institute of American Indian Arts and was the editor of a special issue of Canadian Theatre Review focusing on Native theatre.

During her short time in Victoria, Mojica will also lead a workshop encouraging aboriginal children to tell their own stories, as well as a workshop with UVic students about creating theatre based on Indigenous performance principles. Her public lecture, “Scoring the Body Through Guna Aesthetic Principles: Indigenous Dramatic Arts in Theory, Process and Practice,” will discuss how Chocolate Woman uses an Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole concept to explore her own ancestral roots in Panama’s Guna culture, and explore its potential for creation, conflict and healing.

“My exploration for Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way began when I invoked the healing spirit of Buna Siagua (Chocolate Woman) as a bridge to that which has not been interrupted by colonization, displacement and urbanization in my life,” says Mojica. “What have I got that is not broken?”

Monique Mojica’s public lecture begins at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, 6 March, in room C122 of UVic’s Strong Building. Free.

A Taste of SALT

The Tsilumos Ensemble: Dániel Péter Biró (left) Kris Covlin, Ajtony Csaba and Joanna Hood

If your musical taste is feeling a little bland these days, spice things up with the second annual SALT Festival on March 2nd and 3rd. An innovative and edgy two-day sampling of contemporary new music that brings together Canadian and international artists at both UVic and Open Space, SALT is, in the words of festival co-creator Dániel Péter Biró, “A whole series of great possibilities—and it’s all new music.”

Ensemble Nikel

Day one of SALT will see the University of Victoria Orchestra, under the direction of Ajtony Csaba, join forces with Europe’s acclaimed Ensemble Nikel to present the world premiere of Lovely Monster Reloaded by Bernhard Gander, and the North American premiere of Chaya Czernowin’s Zohar Iver (Blind Radiance)—a concerto for Ensemble Nikel (saxophone, electric guitar, piano and percussion) and orchestra. This Friday night performance at the University Centre Farquhar Auditorium will also feature the music of Bach (Suite in B-minor BWV 1067) and Benjamin Britten. (The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra).

Chaya Czernowin

“This shows how SALT has already become an international event,” says Biró, associate professor in composition and music theory for the School of Music. “Chaya Czernowin is one of the most prominent composers in the world; she’s professor for composition at Harvard, and her pieces are played everywhere from the Salzburger Festspiele to New York’s Merkin Hall. She’ll be giving a public lecture and a master class for the students while she’s here. We’re lucky we can make this happen.”

Olaf Tzschoppe, of Les Percussions de Strassburg

Moving down to Open Space on Saturday, SALT day two will feature the Tsilumos Ensemble (with UVic’s own Joanna Hood, Csaba and Biró, as well as Kris Covlin), plus Ensemble Nikel, celebrated Victoria pianist Tzenka Dianova, and Germany’s Olaf Tzschoppe—a member of Les Percussions de Strassburg and one of the greatest percussionists in the world.  “He’ll be presenting a solo recital, including a piece for speaking percussionists,” Biró says of Tzschoppe. “I’ve heard him play it and it’s amazing—he speaks a French text and plays on a Moroccan drum simultaneously, and it has a lot of theatrical elements.”

Exciting and innovative, SALT promises two days of new music not to be missed. And no, the festival name isn’t an acronym, but a reference to the actual mineral. “Salt is necessary not only for taste but for survival,” chuckles Biró. “So think of that in the aesthetic realm: it’s a matter of taste, but we do need it for our own survival.”

When asked about the origins of the festival, Biró says it goes back to a conversation between him and Csaba, conductor of the UVic Orchestra. “We thought there needs to be more new music, and a more strategic effort to play technically challenging and innovative new music,” he says. “As a composer and performer of new music, I specialize in music that is innovative, has a diversity of musical language, explores new musical experiences and new technical problems or possibilities. That’s my area of research.”

And is the School of Music known for its new music content? “UVic has always had a very strong new music component and has been known throughout Canada for that—but what’s exciting now is that it’s also being expressed in the orchestra. For example, I don’t think there’s another student orchestra in North America that would be presenting a world premiere and North American premiere of two very important living composers in one  concert,” says Biró. “They are being taught these skills that normally specialized orchestras might have—and most of those are in European countries. And the students get excited about it because it has to do with their own time, and not only music from 150 years ago.“

Does that mean it needs a different skill set for the musicians? “Definitely. In Chaya Czernowin’s piece, for example, a major element is extended timbre and noise; sometimes she works with the orchestra almost like it’s a sonorous landscape—it’s no longer just a body that can play harmonically, but it can actually present new realities of sound production. But in order to do that, the students have to learn new techniques on their instruments.”

This means the audience itself has to stretch a bit, says Biró. “In the same way that one goes to a museum and sees a Gerhard Richter painting next to a Rembrand, one then not only sees a historical connection but also a disconnection, or what’s changed. It’s the comparison that helps the audience see what the actual musical artwork is.”

He also notes the importance of the opportunity for UVic students to work with the professional Nikel Ensemble in a “concerto-type situation”. “As an up-and-coming new music ensemble, they’re not much older than the students themselves but are already quite prominent—so they can actually be role models for the students.”

Biró also credits SALT’s sponsors for making it all happen: UVic and Open Space, but especially the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation in Switzerland. “All of this was made possible because we have actually been granted five commissions by the Siemens Foundation, one of the biggest contemporary music supporters in the world.” (Two of those commissions will be performed this year, with the other three at SALT 2013.)

Ultimately, Biró invites audiences to stretch their musical boundaries with a sampling of SALT. “Some of it may be unusual and perhaps even exotic for the listeners, but it will definitely engage them.”

SALT day one: 8 pm Friday, March 2 at UVic’s University Centre Farquhar Auditorium. Tickets $17.30 & $13.50 or 250-721-8480.

SALT day two: from 4 pm Saturday, March 3 at Open Space, 510 Fort Street.
Tickets $25 for a day pass (available at the door). 250-383-8833.

History in Art students know how to ARTiculate

History in Art graduate students are celebrating the launch of their new peer-reviewed, online art historical journal ARTiculate.

Founding co-editors Randip Bakshi, Sara Checkley and Jennifer Cador realized a year ago that the dearth of publishing opportunities for graduate students in art history was a serious problem for those aspiring to a career in academia. But rather than just accept this situation, they decided to create new publishing opportunities for their colleagues themselves.

“Publishing is absolutely a requirement if you’re trying to become a professor, but it’s difficult to do at the grad student level when there are so few graduate journals in the field,” says Cador. “We decided to try to remedy that situation to some extent by creating ARTiculate, and to raise the national profile of UVic’s History in Art department at the same time.”

ARTiculate is an annual peer-reviewed journal that welcomes papers from graduate students at any university.

“Our inaugural edition consists of articles that originated at last year’s Visual Impetus art history symposium at UVic, but next year, we’re expanding the scope and putting out the call for papers to universities across Canada,” says Bakshi. “We expect ARTiculate will grow with each passing year.”

Reflecting the priorities of its home department, ARTiculate is global in scope and engages with diverse cultures and time periods. The inaugural edition contains articles straddling three distinct geographical regions (Italy, North America, and Byzantium) and chronologically spans across a millennium (Medieval, Renaissance, and Modern/Contemporary).

“We have been fortunate to find immense support for the journal through our department and through the assistance of Inba Kehoe, the Scholarly Communications librarian at McPherson Library,” says Checkley.  “Even though we had a zero budget, we still managed to create a robust journal with a rigorous peer review process because of the faculty and staff advice we received and—equally importantly—because of the online infrastructure already in place.”


Ancient Myth, New Life

Mary Kerr's bold design for Eurydice (photo: David Lowes)

Ancient myth meets modern times in the latest Phoenix Theatre production, Euridyce, running through to February 25. A bold and dreamlike retelling of the classical Greek myth of Orpheus in the Underworld, award-winning New York playwright Sarah Ruhl re-imagines this story through eyes of its quirky heroine, Eurydice. Dying too young on her wedding day, Eurydice is reunited with her long-lost father in the whimsical, Mad-Hatter realm of the underworld, complete with singing stones and a playfully sinister Underlord.

Directed by MFA candidate Jeffrey Pufahl and featuring a particularly stunning visual design by acclaimed Theatre professor Mary Kerr, as well as an appearance by senior Theatre instructor Peter McGuire, this 105-minute, no-intermission production is, as  Adrian Chamberlain of the Times Colonist said in his review, “potentially a great fit for the University of Victoria’s Theatre department . . . hip, irreverent and educational.”

Reviewing for CVV Magazine, Chris Felling echoes that thought. “It’s been an impressive season so far for the Phoenix,” he writes. “Eurydice is a sharp right turn from the more traditional Rookery Nook and more importantly a show whose radical designs might not show up anywhere else in town.” Monica Prendergast on CBC Radio describes it as “very nicely done production” featuring “a visionary use” of the theatre space. And in their review, Monday Magazine describes it “a playful and artistic look at love, life, loss and separation.”

The TC‘s Chamberlain was particularly taken by Kerr’s “deeply artistic design,” which he called “an absolute tour de force—she’s created a strange, circus-like world (beautifully lit by Bryan Kenney) bursting with powerful primary colours and bold visual effects . . . . Kerr, one of the country’s top designers, has outdone herself with Eurydice. The thrust stage of the Chief Dan George Theatre is enveloped in cobalt blue, save for a jagged expanse of crimson on the back wall. Film projections (Orpheus, Eurydice, the father) appear on a giant floating sphere. A yellow metal ladder and a green pole each bisect the theatre chamber.”

CVV’s Felling says, “If you remember your 20th century painters, the set can best be described as a three-dimensional Miro painting. In contrast to the clear shapes and elemental colors, floods of smoke pour in from trapdoors and the gates of Hades themselves and the affably impish chorus of stones adds billowing sheets, ropes and pulleys, and old-fashioned acrobatics to the show. Weird? Absolutely. But marvelously theatrical.”

More than just the design, however, Felling was also taken by the cast. “The vulnerability and consequent naivete of Eurydice is ultimately what this play is about. [Alysson] Hall’s portrayal harmonizes with the sincerity and warmth of [Peter] McGuire and [Derek] Wallis as clearly as it accents [Graham] Mile’s scene-stealing alpha-male confidence.” Chamberlain also liked Hall’s turn in the title role, noting she “has success in finding the warm human heart of the character, making Eurydice the fully fleshed-out gal that the playwright intends. Hall conveys Eurydice’s whimsy and plucky intelligence.”

Ultimately, the TC‘s Chamberlain calls this one “a strange, beautiful dream” and notes “the visuals are compelling, even thrilling . . . . Eurydice veers close to becoming a performance art piece that, in turn, contains a play.” Simply saying, “Damn, what a show!”, CVV’s Felling concludes that Eurydice is “another Phoenix show that I can’t recommend highly enough, plain and simple.”

Click here for ticket prices and information, or call the Phoenix box office at 250-721-8000.

Daniel Barrow Brings Art to Life

Daniel Barrow in action (photo: Sonia Yoon)

While mainstream animation keeps trying to look ever more realistic, Daniel Barrow is a dab hand at keeping things as simple as possible. Since 1993, the Montreal-based artist has been performing his famed “manual animations” using little more than outdated overhead projectors, CD players, live narration and slide projectors to create complex narratives through comparably simple techniques of layering and manipulating his own drawings by hand.

Now, the prestigious $50,000 Sobey Art Award-winning Barrow will be sharing his techniques and performing as part of the long-running Visiting Artist program in UVic’s Visual Arts department. His free talk and performance begins at 8 pm on Wednesday, February 22, in room A162 of UVic’s Visual Arts Building.

"Helen Keller in the Scuplture Garden," from the 2008 performance "Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry"

Barrow, last seen locally as part of Intrepid Theatre’s 2009 Uno Festival, has performed and exhibited widely in galleries and festivals throughout Canada and around the world. As both an image-maker and live performer, he has developed a personal visual language over the past 20 years that draws mixes imagery from the cultural and digital past with emotional, usually melancholic, content.

As the 2010 Sobey jury panel said, “Over the past 15 years Barrow has created a unique, self-sustaining fictional world composed of drawing, storytelling and manual animation . . . [and] his virtuoso performances awaken a sense of empathy in the viewer. Wry, politically astute, and strangely heartbreaking, his comic narratives address love, loss, gender, and media culture. The crux of Barrow’s practice is the problem of how we are all obliged, in order to proceed with our lives, to continually strive to better ourselves and the world around us, in ways misguided or not, transforming the abject into the sublime, heartbreak into redemption.”

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear and see one of Canada’s top artists in action. Daniel Barrow is only the latest in this year’s Visiting Artist program (still to come this season are author and noted visual art writer Lee Henderson on February 29, and acclaimed New York City artist Allan McCollum on March 21). Designed to introduce both students and the general public to some of the top artistic talent at work in the visual arts field today, the Visiting Artist program regularly brings in acclaimed national and international artists working in a variety of mediums.

Live at Open Word, It’s Sheila Heti!

If you haven’t been to an installment of  “Open Word: Readings and Ideas” series yet this season, you’ve got the perfect excuse this week—and appearance by acclaimed writer and cultural innovator Sheila Heti! Sheila will read at 7:30pm on Feb. 21 at Open Space (510 Fort, by donation) with a live interview by UVic fiction professor Lee Henderson to follow. She’ll also be appearing on campus at 3pm Wednesday in room D107 of the MacLaurin Building.
The Toronto-based author of five books (including the novel Ticknor and the book of “conversational philosophy” The Chairs Are Where the People Go), Heti also tapped into the American zeitgeist in 2008 by creating The Metaphysical Poll, a headline-making blog that collected actual sleeping dreams people were having about then-presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Heti also made her mark by creating Toronto’s popular Trampoline Hall lecture series, where people lecture on topics outside their areas of expertise—which has been running monthly since its 2001 inception, and has sold out every time. An editor, playwright and artistic collaborator, Heti is currently writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario.

Open Word
is a partnership between UVic’s Department of Writing and Open Space, and has a long history of pairing the finest writers with fascinating live interviews. As award-winning local poet and author Steven Price put it, “I think the series is a godsend to the city’s writers and book lovers.”

Medieval Television?

Director of Medieval Studies and History in Art associate professor Marcus Milwright furthered his current standing as one of the most buzz-worthy Fine Arts faculty members with his weekend appearance on CHEK News.

Milwright was briefly interviewed as part of CHEK’s coverage of the 25th Annual Medieval Workshop on Saturday. We’re not exactly sure what was so funny that it made the newscaster laugh through half of the clip, but perhaps it was the mere sight of women wearing wimples. Decide for yourself by clicking here, then scrolling along to Feb. 4 and the “Medieval Fair” clip.

Charlotte Gill visits UVic

Charlotte Gill

Noted Canadian author Charlotte Gill—currently in the running for the $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction (alongside Writing’s own Madeline Sonik)—will be appearing at UVic for a special reading and book signing event this week.

Gill, whose tree-planting memoir Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life with the Tree-planting Tribe earned her the Taylor Prize nomination, will be reading from 1-2pm on Tuesday, February 7, in room B111 of the Cornett Building. She will also be doing a reading alongside UVic grad  Barbara Stewart, author of the oil-patch camp memoir Campie author at 7pm Tuesday at Cabin 12 restaurant, 607 Pandora. (Be sure to check out the original “Eating Dirt” essay from Vancouver Review that grew into Gill’s highly acclaimed memoir.)

Eating Dirt was also nominated for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize and the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. A former professional tree planter herself, the Sunshine Coast-based author’s previous book, Ladykiller, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award and winner of the B.C. Book Prize for fiction. Her work has appeared in Best Canadian Stories, The Journey Prize Stories, and many magazines.

“I sowed my first seedling when I got a job on a reforestation crew in northern Ontario,” Gill recalls. “I was 19 years old and an undergraduate at the University of Toronto. Before tree planting, I didn’t know anything about hard physical labour. I arrived in a remote and snowy camp in the boreal forest with half the necessary camping gear and all the wrong clothes. But I was instantly hooked on the tree-planting life—a job most of us grow to love and hate in equal measure.

“Since those early days, I’ve worked on the Canadian Shield, in the foothills of the Albertan Rockies and in many parts of British Columbia, including the breathtakingly primeval Great Bear Rainforest. Like thousands of planters all over Canada, I’ve left my handiwork in muddy swamps and on high mountaintops, in sandy loam and rocky barrens. I’ve commuted to work in float planes, offshore tugboats, diesel trucks, helicopters, rowboats, ATVs, inflatable dinghies and amphibious military vehicles. I’ve crossed paths with whales, eagles, dolphins, flocks of migrating cranes, moose, newborn fawns and grizzlies. In my silvicultural travels, I met all kinds of weird, brilliant, fascinating people. They’re still some of my closest friends.

“In 17 seasons I planted more than a million trees. I don’t do it for a living any more, but for some strange reason it took me a whole book to explain, I miss it every day.”

Say It With Dance

Conrad Alexandrowicz

Never underestimate the power of interdisciplinary chit-chat. When assistant Theatre professor Conrad Alexandrowicz met famed poet and Writing professor Lorna Crozier at the annual Fine Arts faculty retreat last year, he had no idea their discussion would soon translate into nearly $175,000 in grant funding.

“I introduced myself to Lorna and said, ‘I’ve really admired your work for a long time and think it’d be neat to collaborate on a project,’” recalls Alexandrowicz. And while Crozier was intrigued by his initial idea of adapting the work of Canadian poets into a dance/movement piece for the stage, it was her suggestion to write an entirely new poetry cycle that became the basis for Alexandrowicz’s winning Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant proposal.

Now titled Words Made Flesh: Staging Poetic Text, Alexandrowicz’s SSHRC project has evolved into a truly interdisciplinary Fine Arts production. Not only will it be based on Crozier’s poetry and his own directing/choreography skills (with the assistance of Applied Theatre graduate student Kate Bessey), but it will also feature a musical score by Alexandra Pohran Dawkins, head of woodwinds with the School of Music, and will be filmed and adapted into a digital format by associate Writing professor and experimental filmmaker Maureen Bradley.

“I wanted to examine different kinds of text and how they could lend themselves as a source for physical theatre creation,” Alexandrowicz explains. “But I didn’t want to do anything that was purely abstract; I wanted to do something that has a lot of emotional power and a consistent narrative line. It’s already hard enough to get people to sit still when you’re doing interdisciplinary performance, so you have to make sure they’re touched by what you’re doing emotionally.”

Alexandrowicz is no stranger to adapting words and music to movement; a noted director, writer and choreographer who specializes in the creation of interdisciplinary productions that address subjects central to the human journey, his projects have received critical acclaim across Canada for the past 30 years. But he says Words Made Flesh—currently preparing for a spring 2012 test-run, with the final production set for a fall 2013 debut—will be more than just another dance piece. “I want to embody the poetic text as much as I can,” he says, “so it’s not just going to be voice-over accompaniment; I’ve done that for years with my own work and I want to do something quite different here.”

Another intriguing aspect to this production is its cinematic future. “It’ll start off as a short dancefilm, then be developed into a chance-based application for iPods, Androids and Blackberrys using the I Ching, where you can shuffle together different pieces of text and music and movement”—which, in addition to addressing some of his primary research questions (“What kind of poetic text best lends itself to performance?”, “What becomes of the narrative voice of the poem when the text is staged?”, “How does the text interact with music, both improvise and scored?”), will allow Alexandrowicz to discover how the finished performance text is transformed via the additional media of film and interactive applications.

Ultimately, Alexandrowicz is grateful for the opportunity this generous SSHRC grant have given him to create new work—especially considering the current Canadian arts climate. “Even if you spread it out over three years, this is more than a lot of companies get in annual funding from the Canada Council,” he says of his nearly $175,000 windfall. “It’s a huge amount of money; it’s astonishing. I feel really grateful and lucky I was able to get this on my first attempt.”