The Aesthetics of Anarchy

Being the first to gain access to an archive is the kind of research opportunity most academics dream of—and it’s how Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff will be spending his summer.

Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff

Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff

Antliff was recently announced as the inaugural Research Fellow in Residence at the Clyfford Still Museum Research Center in Denver, Colorado. Named for the famed American painter—whom Antliff describes as “a leading artist in the abstract expressionist movement”—the position at the CSM represents a rare opportunity.

“No scholars apart from those at the CSM have had access to his archive or library before this—I’m getting first crack at it,” says Antliff, who will be spending two months on site. “The archives are still being catalogued. I have no idea what I’m going to find there; I’ve just been told it’s substantial.”

Clifford Still

Clifford Still

Considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Still developed a new and powerful approach to painting in the years immediately following World War II. But after his death in 1980, Still’s estate was sealed off from public and scholarly view.

His will stipulated his estate be given in its entirety to an American city willing to establish a permanent museum dedicated solely to his work, ensuring its survival for exhibition and study—which Denver committed to in 2004. The CSM opened in 2011 and represents 95 percent of his output—more than 3,000 works created between 1920 and 1980.

Still's work in the CSM

Still’s work in the CSM

“Professor Antliff’s appointment as the first Senior Research Fellow at the CSM promises to shed fresh and exciting new light on Clyfford Still’s art and thought,” says Dr. David Anfam, Director of the CSM Research Center. “In particular, Professor Antliff’s deep knowledge of anarchism and the arts should yield though-provoking insights into Still’s lifelong belief in libertarianism and its aesthetic consequences.”

Antliff will be focusing on Still’s “groundbreaking contribution” to abstract expressionism. “I’ve been exploring debates concerning aesthetics and romanticism during WWII in Britain and the United States, and tracking art’s configuration as a means of resistance to the forces of state power, mass conformity and dehumanizing military violence,” he says.

Still's "1949-A-No.1"

Still’s “1949-A-No.1″

Much like contemporaries Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman (whom Antliff describes as “the three anarchist abstract expressionists”), Still’s work commands a steep price: his painting “1949-A-No.1” went for $61.7 million at the New York Sotheby’s in 2011—one of four of his paintings that were sold and collectively raised $114.1 million for the endowment of the CSM.

In addition to his research, Antliff will also be working on an article for publication while at the CSM. “It’s part of a larger book project on the abstract expressionists,” he says. “I‘m revisiting the entire movement in relation to the anarchist concerns I’m examining.” He will also present a public lecture on July 23.

“It’s a big adventure, because I don’t know what’s in the archive,” Antliff concludes. “There’s no record of the contents—we’ll see what I discover.”

Music for Mycologists

It sounds like a Zen koan: What kind of music would a mushroom make? The answer isn’t to be found in meditation, however, but at this week’s Music for Mycologists concert.

The Experimental Music Unit

The Experimental Music Unit

American composer John Cage—an avid mycologist—often quipped that music and mushrooms have nothing to do with one another . . . except for the fact that they appear next to each other in the dictionary. The Experimental Music Unit (EMU) puts the veracity of this statement to the test with Music for Mycologists, a collection of musical works by local composers Paul Walde and Tina Pearson, Czech composer Vaclav Halek—described as “the world’s most prolific composer of mushroom songs”—and the EMU trio. Music for Mycologists explores relationships between music making and mushroom hunting, exposing the sometimes fragile process of discovering sounds of rare and raw beauty that exist just beyond perception.

The Music for Mycologists CD release concert begins at 8pm Saturday, June 6, at Open Space. Tickets are $11-$16 advance or $15-$20 at the door. There will also be “mushroom-themed” refreshments (we’ll leave that to your imagination), signed CDs available for purchase and informal discussions with the artists.

EMU is the core ensemble of LaSaM Music, which has been producing adventurous music events since 2008, and three of the four members hail from UVic: Visual Arts chair Paul Walde (bass guitar), School of Music audio specialist & recording engineer Kirk McNally (live electronic processing), Computer Science professor George Tzanetakis (bass clarinet), plus composer Tina Pearson (flute, voice). Known for its themed projects informed by aural tradition and improvisation, LaSaM explores the relationships between the natural world, sound and music, acoustic ecology and the provocative ideas of music practitioners from many times and places.

m4m-coverMusic for Mycologists features Walde’s piece “Interdeterminancy (for John Cage)”, the musical realization of a set of eight large mushroom spore printed panels designed as a graphic notation, which appeared as part of the Legacy Gallery’s 2013 Visual Arts faculty exhibit Paradox. Also on the bill is Pearson’s “Hunt (3) Chanterelles”, a set of sonic textures that reflect the sensations, sounds, colours, smells and attention states inspired by her mother’s memories of lifelong mushroom hunting. Balancing the program are “Mycelium Running,” a sonic enactment of the life cycle of a single mushroom from mycelium through spore, three short Halek compositions from his collection of short melodies transcribed from sounds he heard directly from mushroom species near his home, as well as live electronic processing by audio artist McNally.

In EMU’s Music for Mycologists soundworld, intentional microscopic attention is paid to typically peripheral instrument and body sounds, such as the nuances of breath, pre-tone whispers and whistles, the tap of instrument keys, the sound of a bow slowly crunching, and the charged pause of acute listening. You can listen to an excerpt below.

Whether performing in the Royal BC Museum’s natural history exhibit or exploring the sonic life of spores, the Experimental Music Unit always lives up to its name.

EMU and LaSaM are known for their original themed projects inspired by relationships between the natural world, sound and music, and the provocative ideas of music practitioners who work outside the margins; and the act of listening itself. Previous major projects include Dark Listening (2014), Music for Natural History (2012), In a Large Open Space (2011), “And Beethoven Heard Nothing” (2010), and Removing the Demon (2009) among others.

Quartet Fest West offers harmonious strings

From the launch of a new CD to a rare performance of one of the most beautiful works ever written for eight string players, Quartet Fest West will electrify audiences and students alike. An intensive chamber music workshop welcoming select national and international students, Quartet Fest West runs June 8-19 at the School of Music.

The Lafayette String Quartet

The Lafayette String Quartet

Now in its third year of revival, Quartet Fest West originally ran from 1993 to 1998 and has continued to be popular with performers and audiences. Hosted by the Lafayette String Quartet—UVic’s beloved artists-in-residence since 1991—this year’s acclaimed guest artists include violist Henk Guittart, pianist Alexander Tselyakov and the Penderecki String Quartet, who were part of the original Quartet Fest West in 1993.

Quartet Fest West offers an unparalleled string quartet experience, including a series of concerts, masterclasses and workshops, all of which are open to the public in UVic’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Tickets for all concerts are $12 students / $25 regular or a three-concert pass is available at $25 students / $65 regular, but masterclasses and the Henk Guittart’s evening lecture are by donation.

“It’s a very high-pressure job … [but] you get to interpret the music, you don’t have to go along with a section,” LSQ violist Joanna Hood says about the challenges of the string quartet experience in this Times Colonist article. “You get to shape the music more. And the music that’s written for string quartet is such great repertoire.”

Quartet Fest West opens with a June 10 concert celebrating the launch of the Lafayette String Quartet’s latest CD, Motion and Distance.

Motion and Distance, the new album by the LSQ

Motion and Distance, the new album by the LSQ

Originally commissioned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival in 2014, “In a World of Motion and Distance” was written for Alexander Tselyakov and the Lafayette String Quartet. The piece takes its title from a poem by Philippe Jaccottet, “Les Distances,” which reminds us that even though the birds in the sky are at a great distance, the stars are even further. Yet the poem also offers a solution: no matter what the distance between tree to bird, to sky, to stars, we can move through it all because we live in a world of motion and distance.

Divided into three contrasting movements (fast, slow, fast), the initial catalyst for the piece was in drawing parallels between the creative process and the annealing of glass and metal. Elements are refined, purified, and strengthened through slow, intense heat followed by cooling; in the composition of music, the parallel processes would be doubt, revision, and persistence. At the beginning of any project, the concepts and ideas are at a great distance from the concert hall. One has to struggle, grasp, and push in order to commence and then to continue moving forward through that distance between inspiration and the finished piece.

Pianist Alexander Tselyakov

Pianist Alexander Tselyakov

At the June 10 concert, the LSQ will be performing selections from the album, as well as a new piano quintet by Kelly Marie-Murphy with pianist Alexander Tselyakov and guest violist Yariv Aloni. Also on the program is the beautiful “Hummell Piano Quintet”, Shostakovich’s jazz-infused “13th Quartet” and a viola quintet by Michael Haydn, the younger brother of Joseph Haydn.

The June 13 concert features the Penderecki String Quartet, Wilfrid Laurier University’s remarkable quartet-in-residence, performing Beethoven “Op. 18, No 3″, “Penderecki No. 3″ and Smetena’s beautiful “Quartet No. 1, From My Life.”

On June 14, renowned violist Henk Guittart speaks about his quartet’s long relationship with the great chamber musician Eugene Lehner.

Penderecki String Quartet

Penderecki String Quartet

The performance on June 16 features these two great Canadian string quartets—the Lafayette and Penderecki—uniting to perform one of the most beautiful works for eight string performers ever written, the rarely-performed “Enescu Octet”. Also on the program the magnificent “Cello Quintet in C” by Franz Schubert.

QFW studentsFinally, QFW comes to a conclusion with the June 19 Participants Concert, featuring the participating student quartets of Quartet Fest West 2015. The students will be performing select movements from Brahms’ Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111, Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 44 and Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110. Admission to this concert is by donation.

Please join us for this annual celebration of strings!

Her next chapter

There have been educators and scientists, conservationists and lawyers, visionaries and business leaders. Now we can add journalist to that laudatory list as beloved CBC Radio personality Shelagh Rogers begins her three-year term as the University of Victoria’s 11th Chancellor on June 8.

Click here to watch the live streaming ceremony of the installation of Shelagh Rogers as Chancellor.

Shelagh Rogers prepares for her purple reign (Photo Services)

Shelagh Rogers prepares for her purple reign (Photo Services)

“It’s a huge honour, I’m absolutely delighted,” says the characteristically humble host of The Next Chapter. “I must say, though, it came rather out of the blue. It just hadn’t occurred to me—this isn’t something you apply for—so I was hugely surprised when I got the call.”

While the idea of being a university chancellor may never have occurred to Rogers, she seems an ideal match for the university. Nationally respected for her nearly 35 years with the CBC and her role as Honorary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Rogers holds five honorary doctorates (Western, Mount Allison, Memorial, Nipissing and VIU) and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2011. Heck, she’s even a West Coast island-dweller, having called Gabriola home for the past decade.

Likening the weeks leading up to her acceptance of the position as something of a “courtship period”—including meeting with both President Jamie Cassels and Board of Governor chairman Erich Mohr, familiarizing herself with UVic’s legacy of dynamic learning, interacting with students and touring the campus—Rogers says she quickly fell for our extraordinary academic environment. “Obviously, it’s very beautiful and I love the size, which is very attractive to students, faculty and staff; that’s a value that should be promoted and protected. But I’m just blown away by what UVic is doing to reach out to the community.”

Rogers hosting the Dept of Writing's Lorna Crozier Scholarship event in November 2013

Rogers hosting the Dept of Writing’s Lorna Crozier Scholarship event in November 2013

Rogers already feels a kinship with UVic’s vital impact on the city, the province, the nation and the world. “Community engagement is critical,” she insists. “A university is like a brain, and it’s vital for Victoria and Vancouver Island to have that interaction with UVic. There isn’t an elitist mentality here; there’s a nice flow between the community and the university. Decisions aren’t being made in small office in a large tower—it’s wide open. I see Jamie out on campus and he’s talking to people and anyone can talk to him. These are things that are really important; they represent the values of transparency and openness, and that’s a big part of why UVic rocks.”

no stranger to uvic

Rogers at the official announcement in 2014

Rogers at the official announcement in 2014

Nominated by the “dean team” of Drs. Sarah Blackstone and Lynne Van Luven (the Dean and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, respectively), Rogers was a clear choice to follow outgoing Chancellor Murray Farmer. “Shelagh has a deep commitment to higher education and to the Aboriginal reconciliation process,” says Van Luven. “She has the ability to ask the right questions and to tell the whole story so that others can understand complex and urgent issues and ideas. She will enhance the excellence of our university, and bring tremendous energy and great insight to her new role. Her national reputation as an advocate for Canadian arts and culture will serve the university well. UVic could not ask for a better ambassador as we build on our reputation for excellence in teaching, research, and community engagement.”

Those sentiments are echoed by Jo-Ann Roberts, Rogers’ former CBC colleague. “Having a woman of her integrity, intelligence and natural curiosity [as Chancellor] speaks well of UVic,” says Roberts, who recently retired as host of CBC Radio’s All Points West to run as Victoria’s federal Green Party candidate, and was the Department of Writing’s visiting Harvey S. Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction for 2013. “A lifelong learner herself, Shelagh is a champion of literacy and a proud Canadian with a passion for history, music and our Aboriginal history. She is also loved from coast to coast to coast for her genuine interest in the people who have shared their stories with her and whose home towns she has visited.”

promo-nextchapter-biggerFor her part, the 60-year-old Rogers will continue to host and co-produce The Next Chapter—her weekly showcase of books and ideas—from the backyard studio constructed by her husband, retired CBC technician Charlie Cheffins. As we talk, Cheffins sits next to us in a tearoom in Victoria’s historic Chinatown district, and Rogers often glances his way for supportive nods and encouraging smiles. (“I’m already calling him the Chancellor-in-Law,” she quips.) But when I mention the praise bestowed upon her, Rogers waves it away and instead shifts the spotlight to how her new role as Chancellor dovetails with her other longstanding role: being a witness.

“Witnessing is an active verb,” she explains. “And if you’re seriously committed to the retelling of what you’ve seen and heard, it’s not always comfortable.” Gesturing at the two pins gracing her lapel—one, the Order of Canada, the other representing her role as Honorary Witness at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—Rogers’ voice takes on a serious tone. “The Order of Canada motto is ‘They desire a better country,’ and I do desire a better country, so I wear this button as a reminder. And this one”—she strokes a small strip of moosehide dangling from a silver shield—“reminds me of how important it is to be a witness, to recount and retell things you have seen and heard, to make sure the word gets out. It’s broadcasting, in a way.”

Rogers (second from right) at the Truth & Reconciliation Hearings

Rogers (second from right) at the Truth & Reconciliation Hearings

Rogers pauses and quotes an Ojibway elder who, on the eve of her testimony at the TRC hearings in Ottawa, told her to remember the words debwe win. “That means ‘speaking from the heart’ in Ojibway. And the word ‘witness’ itself is from in wit, which means ‘having a clean heart’ in Old English. The relationship with witness is very beautiful, how it all relates back to the heart. It’s not just hearing and seeing, but feeling too.”

“Just be Yourself”

Before accepting the position, Rogers made a point of speaking with former Chancellor Norma Mickelson—UVic’s first female Chancellor—who served from 1997 to 2002. “I was worried about how I could uphold the values of the university and support all the ways the university engages with the community and the students and respect all the relationships on campus and started thinking, ‘Wow, am I even qualified to do this?’ And Norma gave me a great piece of advice: ‘Just be yourself.’ She reminded me that I was asked for a reason, and talked about what joy the role had brought her. She really bulked up my muscles!”

"Just be yourself"—easy advice for Shelagh Rogers as UVic's next Chancellor

“Just be yourself”—easy advice for Shelagh Rogers as UVic’s next Chancellor

While her formal installation will coincide with her officiating at the Spring 2015 convocation on June 8, Rogers is already settling into her role on campus. “I feel incredibly stimulated—like my mind is always dancing—and that’s a very nice feeling,” she says. “This is a much broader discourse than what I do at the CBC. It’s going to be a huge stretch, but I feel I can go into the outside world and really talk about the UVic difference. And there really is a difference here. I want to get to know it as well and represent it to the best of my abilities.”

Torch_RogersNoting that list of former Chancellors—scientists and educators and lawyers (“Oh my!” she chuckles again)—Rogers takes a thoughtful pause. “I’m different. I’m a journalist, and that will help me trying to understand the whole UVic story. As a journalist, my training has been to get at the real meaning—the truth—and to create dialogue. That’s important to me.”

As the page turns on her own next chapter, it’s clear Shelagh Rogers will always speak from the heart as she witnesses UVic’s continuing development here on the edge of innovation.

A shorter version of this interview ran in the Spring 2015 issue of the Torch, UVic’s alumni magazine. Click on the link to read Shelagh Rogers’ top books list and an excerpt of her on-stage live interview with UVic alumnus and Flickr & Slack innovator Stewart Butterfield.

Meet the new Acting Dean

For once, a symphonic fanfare is completely appropriate: current School of Music Director Dr. Susan Lewis has been announced as the new Acting Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts. (Cue the trumpets!)

Acting Dean Susan Lewis

Acting Dean Susan Lewis

Lewis’ appointment will run from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016, and she will replace current Acting Dean Dr. Lynne Van Luven, whose term ends on June 30. Van Luven herself was standing in for Dr. Sarah Blackstone, who was on secondment as Advisor to the Provost this past year—but has now resigned due to personal hardship.

“As outgoing Acting Dean, I am delighted to hear that Susan Lewis is going to take on the leadership of the Fine Arts Faculty for the next year,” says Van Luven, noting that Lewis received a positive ratification of 97 percent from the Faculty. “Dr. Lewis brings terrific skills to the position: she is a thoughtful administrator, a critical thinker and a faculty member well versed in the overall operation of the university. She brings grace, a sense of humour and a reassuring calmness to the position.”

For its part, the School of Music will require an Acting Director for a period of one year, and the consultation process for that has now begun.

Susan Lewis (second left) declaring the winner in the Vikes Nation Rally Song contest with UVic President Jamie Cassels (second right)

Susan Lewis (second left) declaring the winner in the Vikes Nation Rally Song contest with UVic President Jamie Cassels (second right)

Prior to becoming Director of the School of Music, Lewis herself was the School’s Acting Director in 2010 and 2012. She joined the School as assistant professor in 2001 and was promoted to the rank of associate professor in 2008. One of her mandates as Director has been increased collaboration with other departments on campus—including recent initiatives with Vikes Athletics as the Vikes Nation Rally Song contest and the brand new Vikes Band elective, which sees the creation of a for-credit varsity band course.

A graduate of Queen’s University (BMus in Performance and BA in Music and Politics), the University of Arizona (Master’s of Music), and Princeton University (Ph.D. in musicology), Lewis’ fields of teaching and scholarship embrace cultural history, music and print technologies, as well as music bibliography and genre studies. Her research profile extends to European and global music of the 17th and 18th centuries, sacred music and spirituality, and the music of Claudio Monteverdi, an early opera composer and advocate for experimental harmony and text-driven music.

baroqueAn accomplished scholar with two multi-year SSRHC grants, Dr. Lewis is the sole author of Editing Music in Early Modern Germany (Ashgate, 2007) and The Madrigal: A Research and Reference Guide (Routledge, 2011). Her textbook Music of the Baroque: History, Culture, Performance will be published by Routledge in 2015.

While most of the faculty were expecting Dr. Sarah Blackstone to resume her duties as Dean of Fine Arts this year, it came as a shock when she instead announced her resignation this past April.

“This is an extremely difficult decision for me, and I have not made it lightly,” she said at the time. “As many of you know, I face a challenging and life-changing situation in my personal life that makes it impossible for me to continue as your Dean. For now, I do not have the emotional capacity or the strength to manage the day-to-day operations and the long term planning that are the responsibilities of a Dean.”

Outgoing Dean Sarah Blackstone

Outgoing Dean Sarah Blackstone

Blackstone became Dean in 2007 and her tenure has been one of growth and strengthening for the Faculty. While she has spent the past academic year working as Advisor to the Provost and had anticipated returning, Blackstone recently recognized she’ll need “extensive time” away from UVic in the near future, and acknowledges that this would be “extremely disruptive” to both the Faculty and the operations of the Dean’s Office.

“It has been a privilege for me to lead the Faculty and I am tremendously proud of the things we have accomplished together,” she continued. “You are an extremely talented and dedicated group of people who provide such critical support to students trying to find their way in very challenging professions. Your own artistic and scholarly work inspires your students and many people on and off the campus. I wish each of you, and the Faculty as a whole, the very best of luck in all your endeavours.”

The entire Faculty offers Dr. Blackstone and her family strength and support in the coming months.

26 film award nominations for Writing alumni, faculty

Need proof of the impact of the Department of Writing‘s film production courses? Just look to the 2015 Leo Award nominations, where films by Writing faculty and alumni received a combined 26 nominations—a staggering number for a university that doesn’t technically have a film production program.

Bradley on the set of Two 4 One  (photo: Arnold Lim)

Bradley on the set of Two 4 One (photo: Arnold Lim)

Clearly, the Writing department is punching above its weight when it comes to film futures, but this year’s list of nominees is no exception—as evidenced by past Leo nominations and the department’s 2011 win for  Best Web Series Award for Freshman’s Wharf.

What’s the secret to their success? “Film is just a development of the Writing department’s already well-known streams: fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and drama,” says film professor Maureen Bradley. “I don’t know anywhere else in the country where this is happening. There are good student films being made, but they’re not being driven by faculty [led-courses].”

Students shooting Freshman's Wharf on campus

Students shooting Freshman’s Wharf on campus

Bradley has spent the past five years building up the technical equipment and supporting talent to create professional-looking 10-minute short student films. “Drama and film are really an applied form of learning,” she explains. “A screenplay and a play are not final products, and they’re always open to interpretation. Students need to see how hard it is to make a film, how to adjust the writing as the film is made, how to write with a budget in mind.”

With no other Vancouver Island college or university offering film production classes, Bradley feels UVic’s Writing department is uniquely situated to help fill a gap both locally and nationally. “I think we have the best [student] screenwriters in Canada here, and I have a lot of experience in the other centres,” she says. “This is a unique situation where the production comes through the writing first. I’ve seen beautiful films at student screenings across Canada, but the story is usually lacking—so it’s really exciting to see story and surface come together here. Why make a film if there’s no heart to it?”

This year’s Leo nominees with ties to the Writing department include:

Blackfly

Blackfly

• Alumnus Jason Bourque‘s feature film Blackfly leads the pack with nominations for 10 awards, including best motion picture, direction & screenwriting

• Professor Maureen Bradley‘s feature film Two 4 One (produced by Fine Arts Digital Media Technician Daniel Hogg) is nominated for six awards, also including best motion picture, direction & screenwriting—and costumes, which were created by Theatre grad Kat Jeffery

Gord's Brother

Gord’s Brother

• The short film Gord’s Brother—created by the busy alumni team of Daniel Hogg (producer), Jeremy Lutter (director) & Ben Rollo (writer)—received four nominations

• Alumni Kate Bateman & Matt Hamilton‘s web series The Actress Diaries received four nominations

Godhead

Godhead

• Recent MFA grad Connor Gaston‘s student film Godhead received 2 nominations

A project of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Foundation of British Columbia since 1999, the Leo Awards are an annual celebration of excellence in BC’s film & television scene.

The awards will be presented over three evenings  in Vancouver, depending on program: June 6 at the Westin Bayshore and June 13 & 14 at the Hotel Vancouver.

Community sings over Troubled Water

What do you get when you combine one of the best-known songs of the past 50 years with the latest technology? A fascinating art installation by Visual Arts sessional instructor Yoko Takashima: Bridge Over Troubled Water, continuing until May 30 at UVic’s Legacy Art Galleries Downtown.

Bridge Over Troubled Water (family), 2015

Bridge Over Troubled Water (family), 2015

An interactive video and sound installation project developed using Cycling74’s MAX and JITTER with other computer software and a Microsoft Kinect for interactive data collection, Takashima produced this new form of video installation in close collaboration with Visual Arts alumna Ruby Arnold.

“In this project, no identical image or performance is seen,” says Takashima. “More significantly, this technology allows for unexpected narratives to be constructed through the constant self-generation of the video and sound.”

Takashima will be giving an artist talk about her project, beginning at 7pm Thursday, May 14, at Legacy Downtown (630 Yates).

Described as a “so-called music video” of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Takashima video-recorded 37 volunteer community singers—friends, family, choir groups, folks in the theatre community, both professional and semi- professional singers—in a variety of age groups all with the same framing: face centred and looking directly at the camera lens. The artist then used a green screen and chroma keying of the footage to provide the collage of singers with a background of moving images of ambiguous hybrid landscapes, which act as “visual metaphors of our modern reality, encompassing anxiety, horror and hope.”

Bridge Over Troubled Water (Chris), 2015, Video still

Bridge Over Troubled Water (Chris), 2015, Video still

“It is significant for me to explore the shifting role of artists in the digital era,” explains Takashima. “In a time of saturated images, information and ‘high-speed fetch’, our role is now focused on selecting and preparing guidelines and then witnessing what technology can provide and manipulate. I am interested in exploring how technology used this way can produce effects beyond the artist’s authorship and premeditated aesthetic.”

Takashima felt the lyrics of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” convey a message of friendship and support, which she describes as “fundamental, ageless human needs. In exploring new technology with this song, we celebrate the up-lifting spirit in humanity and the new ways of delivering it.”

The exhibit is organized by Legacy director Mary Jo Hughes as the second of her continuing IN SESSION exhibits showcasing the work of the many sessional instructors in the Department of Visual Arts. But far from an exhibition of static work hanging on a wall, Hughes feels it’s the viewer who really brings Takashima’s work to life.

Bridge Over Troubled Water (Thomas), 2015, Video stillI

Bridge Over Troubled Water (Thomas), 2015, Video stillI

“When the darkened exhibition space is vacant, the audio plays quietly while the video is reduced to black and white,” she explains. “When someone enters the space, the sound level and colour intensity are gradually increased—the nearer one approaches the projection, the louder the sound becomes. To retreat is to attenuate the volume. The layered faces fill the wall in magnitude larger than life.”

“We see the singing human faces as beautiful in their openness and sincerity, while verging on the ridiculous in scale, proximity and unexpected combinations of over-layered facial features. The space is filled with their presence,” Hughes continues. “While interactivity has been integral to some of her past works, the constant regeneration of this work is new to Takashima’s 20-year video-based practice. It represents her desire to push video installation art beyond simple screening pieces placed within a space to offering infinitely-varied experiences involving the whole space with the viewer.”

Takashima's "Islands Burning" (1998), installation

Takashima’s “Islands Burning” (1998), installation

Hughes notes that, over the past two decades of work, Takashima has consistently “focused on her own body over various stages of life to explore her place as an individual while concurrently delving into the universalities and depth of human existence.” Video works such as Brushism (1996), As If (1996) and Islands Burning (1998) saw Takashima presenting her body as non-narrative subject, “performing within a limited or unidentifiable context, often truncated, anonymous, and isolated in an unnervingly close proximity.”

Bridge Over Troubled Water, says Hughes, represents the artist’s “continuing interest in using technology as an artistic tool in her ongoing research into new modes of expression. In this work, Takashima involves us in an unending performance that personifies the interconnectedness of a larger more encompassing humanity . . . . The installation suggests that through family, friends, and basic human connections, we can provide for each other the support that will get us through the fear and discord that otherwise characterizes our world.”

Feeling the Reverberations

Looking for the very best in emerging contemporary art practice? Don’t miss the annual MFA exhibit at the Department of Visual Arts, this year titled Reverberations. A group show featuring the work of four graduating students in the Master of Fine Arts program, Reverberations encompasses a dramatic range of photographic and video works, sculptural installations and intermedia practices.

Reverberations kicks off with a 5-7pm opening reception on Friday May 1. The exhibit then runs 10am-4pm daily to May 8 throughout UVic’s Visual Arts Building.

“Pinna” by Ebony Rose

“Pinna” by Ebony Rose

Reverberations is composed of four solo exhibitions: “The Longing of Stone To Be Lively Again” by Rebecca Bergshoeff; “Autopoiesis” by Nicole Clouston; “Between There and Now” by Emily Geen; and “Pinna” by Ebony Rose. But the pieces on display are really just a fraction of the work produced during their two-year residency.

“We’re looking for artists who want to engage with contemporary art dialogue in an environment that really promotes independently driven, rigorous studio investigation in the service of research creation,” says Visual Arts chair Paul Walde.

“The Longing of Stone to be Lively Again” by Rebecca Bergshoeff

“The Longing of Stone to be Lively Again” by Rebecca Bergshoeff

With “The Longing of Stone To Be Lively Again,” Rebecca Bergshoeff playfully engages with trace and process, suspending her works in a state of flux where the instability of material and the oscillation of form between the pictorial and the sculptural, the surface and the edge, present themselves with a certain structural transparency, immediacy and generosity.

“Autopoiesis” by Nicole Clouston

“Autopoiesis” by Nicole Clouston

Nicole Clouston’s “Autopoiesis” explores the beauty of chemical and biological processes, as well as the value that can be found in these experiments when their ability to communicate specific information is stripped away.

In Emily Geen’s photographic installation and video works “Between There and Now,” she uses the inherent materiality of glass to abstract and deconstruct recorded images, regenerating them with the peripheral and perceptual nuances of lived experience.

“Between There and Now” by Emily Geen

“Between There and Now” by Emily Geen

Finally, with Ebony Rose’s “Pinna,”contemplative spaces and subtle interventions proffer a renewed discovery into natural phenomenon and the things that surround us.

UVic’s MFA is an intensive degree predicated on immersive experiential learning combined with critical discussions and one of Canada’s leading Visiting Artist programs.

 

Enter Vodka, exit Masters student

When it comes to their theses, UVic’s graduate students are always looking for something new. Recently, Master of Education student Mike Irvine became the first person to conduct an underwater webcast defence of his thesis. Now, Department of Writing MFA candidate and playwright Leah Callen will present a staged reading of her thesis—the surreal play Enter Vodka—followed by a public defence . . . in front of a live audience.

Dept of Writing MFA Leah Callen

Dept of Writing MFA Leah Callen

“Originally, I asked to do my defence under-vodka, but that was a no-go,” quips Callen. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity to have my play read by some lovely actors to an audience. A script doesn’t mean much unless it is heard out loud.”

Enter Vodka marries the personal histories of two dead Russians—Stalin’s daughter and the Romanov Princess Anastasia—both stuck at 17, and trapped inside a melting Fabrage egg. In Enter Vodka, nothing is as red or white as it seems. The 90-minute show begins at 8pm Sunday, April 26, at the Intrepid Theatre Club (1609 Blanshard, at Fisgard) with Callen’s thesis defence to follow. Admission is by donation.

The staged reading—directed by Melissa Taylor, featuring Kathleen O’Reilly & Julie Forrest, and designed by Kerri Flannigan & Colette Habel (all UVic students or alumni)—is part of Intrepid’s monthly New Play Reading Series and in support of the Equity in Theatre Initiative, which continues to celebrate the work of local women playwrights at all stages of their careers. “We are happy to be working with the UVic writing program on this project to bring new plays to life,” says Intrepid artistic director, playwright and celebrated Department of Theatre alumna Janet Munsil.

A scene from Callen's The Daughter of Turpentine

A scene from Callen’s The Daughter of Turpentine

Nervousness aside, Callen is looking forward to the opportunity of having her new play presented in public. “UVic’s Writing program is wonderful, but I felt pretty cloistered as a playwriting graduate student, typing away by myself for two years,” she says. “I’m both excited and terrified by the defence part—but if I can’t stand up to a little public scrutiny, what kind of a playwright am I? My characters have to go through the fire literally, so the least I can do is honour them figuratively with a little Q&A.”

The idea behind the public defence came from Callen’s MFA supervisor—award-winning playwright and Writing professor Kevin Kerr—who wanted her project to step off the page. “A stage play is meant to be seen in performance and, as a writer, it’s important to see the work handled by the other collaborating theatre artists who bring the work to life,” he explains. “The success of the thesis is not only on the page, but also in the way that it inspires other artists to create a living experience for an audience.”

Writing professor & playwright Kevin Kerr

Writing professor & playwright Kevin Kerr

Kerr feels this is an ideal opportunity to showcase the creative academic process. “It seemed to be an exciting way to handle this formal step in Leah’s academic journey,” he says. “It’s potentially an opportunity for an audience to get a first-hand encounter with what a Fine Arts graduate degree entails, and demonstrates the connection between the work done inside a university Fine Arts program and the professional practice the students are working towards.”

Both Kerr and Callen expect it to be more than just a standard theatrical talk-back session. “There will be a different level of stakes attached to the process, as the questions—and answers—are part of the final step for Leah to complete her MFA,” he says. “People witnessing the defence will also be able to contribute to that experience with questions of their own.”

Not that Kerr is out to add extra pressure to an already daunting experience. “Will it be nerve-wracking? Yes—but exciting as well,” he chuckles. “Leah is being supported by a team of artists who are invested in presenting the work to the best of their abilities. Their passion is already a vote of confidence in the candidate’s talent and ability, so Leah’s not alone in this experience.”

Callen—who spent the past two years studying with playwriting faculty Kerr and Joan MacLeod—had her first one-act play, The Daughter of Turpentine, produced by Phoenix Theatre’s SATCo in 2014. She has also reviewed theatre for local online magazines Coastal Spectator and CVV Magazine. A revamped version of Turpentine will reemerge as a full production at the Victoria Fringe Festival in August this year; directed by Phoenix Theatre’s Chase Hiebert, Callen promises it will “literally set the stage on fire.”

enter vodkaThe inspiration for Enter Vodka originally came from a poem she wrote about the Romanovs for Writing professor Tim Lilburn’s poetry workshop. “This story is inspired by the two real women, but it’s a metaphor for the places people visit when wounded, to escape or  revisit pain in ways that are as ritualistic as drinking tea, lighting candles or doing shots of vodka,” explains Callen, who cites the likes of Tennessee Williams, Tomson Highway, Sarah Ruhl, and Wajdi Mouawad as influences.

“Anastasia ordering Svetlana about could easily be modern-day Russia trying to drag Ukraine back home. I’m playing with the historical forces that have led to this moment in time, and in the end their holy kiss has explosive repercussions literally and figuratively. But this is not a biographical play. It is symbolic and thematic of the Russian struggle, but it’s mostly about women trying to find joy and freedom in the face of death.”

Kerr is also looking at this as something of a pilot project. “I’d be interested in continuing to find more opportunities to connect our grad students to the larger theatre community and audience as part of their time here,” he says. “I think it could be an important part of what we can offer as a program.”

In Search Of . . . new artists

Looking for new approaches to art? Come In Search Of at the annual University of Victoria Visual Arts BFA Graduation Exhibit. Kicking off with a 7pm opening reception on Friday, April 17, the exhibit will then run 10am to 6pm daily through to Saturday, April 25, in UVic’s Visual Arts building.

"This is for Youds" by Elizabeth Charters will be seen in the annual BFA exhibit

“This is for Youds” by Elizabeth Charters will be seen in the annual BFA exhibit

With a wide variety of art created by more than 30 graduating BFAs filling UVic’s entire Visual Arts building—including painting, photography, sculpture, drawing, installation and extended media works—In Search Of not only offers a glimpse into the future of visual art but also shows the originality of vision that comes with being mentored by some of Canada’s top contemporary artists.

“I’m really glad that title was picked,” says graduating BFA Kaitlyn Corlett, one of the exhibit’s student organizers. “It’s ambiguous, exploratory and kind of open-ended—which is how a lot of our work has come about over the past few years.”

Kaitlyn Corlett with one of her In Search Of pieces

Kaitlyn Corlett with one of her In Search Of pieces

Corlett notes the actual process of preparing the exhibit—from choosing a title for the show and preparing the catalogue to the selection and preparation of pieces—has been an education in itself. “For a lot of us, it’s our first time having that hands-on experience of developing a show. We’ve been doing critiques and getting work ready for assignments, but this is the first time we’ve been preparing for the public—it’s been a great process to consider an audience beyond our teachers.”

In Search Of is curated by Visual Arts faculty members Sandra Meigs and Robert Youds. “This year’s graduating students once again set an excellent high bar for their contemporary quest to wonder, doubt, and remember, through the practice of art-making,” says Youds, a Visual Arts department alumnus himself. “This exciting exhibition represents a broad and yet challenging display of diversity and passion from each and everyone of these young voices of the future.”

the business of art

Corlett, who is also doing a Business minor and participating in UVic’s Co-operative Education Program, understands the importance of putting her creative practice and critical thinking skills to work after graduation. “I’ve always been an artist but I’ve grown up with a real business side, so I’ve always had that duality between rationality and creation,” she says. “My desire to be professional is driven by my desire to be in the business world too.”

Kaitlyn Corlett installing one of her sculptural pieces

Kaitlyn Corlett installing one of her sculptural pieces

While her own ambition is to become a curator—something she’ll be working towards by traveling and studying art history after graduation—Corlett notes that some of her BFA peers have already been accepted into MFA programs or going on to study in related fields like architecture.

But she’s quick to credits the Co-op program with affording her important and relevant opportunities. “I’ve gotten a lot of work experience through UVic’s Co-op, where I’ve had really amazing experiences and great opportunities. I feel really blessed and lucky to have had that.” Her work placements included both the North Vancouver Community Arts Council and the Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art. “Those were perfect experiences for me, to understand what curation actually means for non-profit organizations. I’ve been really lucky in finding those niches that have helped me understand where I want to work.”

A close community of artists

In Search Of . . . the proper angle

In Search Of . . . the proper angle

Corlett also praises the experiences she’s had pursuing her Visual Arts degree these past four years. “I love the range of teachers that I had,” she says. “They’ve really pushed my work to the limit to get it to a more professional level. Getting to work with leading artists like Paul Walde and Robert Youds and Daniel Laskarin and Sandra Meigs has just been amazing. You’re seeing them teach but also learn from you, and vice versa. And they’ve got their own careers and professional practices that are continuing to grow.”

In Search Of . . . the perfect lighting

In Search Of . . . the perfect lighting

Meigs, one of the 2015 Governor General’s Award for Visual & Media Arts, agrees with Corlett’s assessment. “We have some of the top contemporary artists in the country here and we have very high standards,” says Meigs. “We focus intensely on studio practice for the students . . . it’s hard for the general public to get that, but it’s all very exciting. That’s the great strength of UVic’s Visual Arts program—walk through any of the studios and you’ll feel it.”

UVic’s size was another advantage for Corlett. “The scale and closeness of the Visual Arts building and department is a real strength, and one of the reasons there’s such a strong network of artists here,” she says. “Having a community of artist who are all growing at the same rate has also been fantastic—I’ve now got 30 people I can talk to in a couple of years who I could ask to put on a show with me.”

“Priorfriends" by Olivia Prior can be seen at In Search Of, May 1-8

“Priorfriends” by Olivia Prior can be seen at In Search Of, May 1-8

While Corlett admits she was originally being “pushed to go to Emily Carr” by her family, she feels justified in ultimately deciding on UVic. “I wanted the opportunities to go into Business or Art History, and UVic had enough crossover points for that. I’ve always loved Victoria—it’s far enough from but close enough to home that I could have my own life here—and coming straight out of high school, it’s been a nice place to grow up a bit more. And I love the campus here—it’s such a beautiful place.”

in search of . . . an audience

In Search Of . . . the correct Jenga stack

In Search Of . . . the correct Jenga stack

Ultimately, says Corlett, In Search Of has been the perfect conclusion to her BFA degree process—even if that means taking a few creative risks. “It’s been a very humbling process for a lot of us. It’s tough to put your work forward for critiquing and to accept that kind of legitimate criticism. It’s like putting our entire education up on the wall for this show.”

But she’s pleased with how it’s all come together and is looking forward to opening night. “Our main goal was to have a show that wasn’t explicitly for the art community. We should be open to everybody, so we’re hoping to have a lot of new people from the university and the community come out and see it.”

In Search Of, the Annual Visual Arts BFA Graduation Exhibit, opens with a 7pm reception on Friday, April 17 and continues 10am-6pm daily to April 25. It’s free and open to the public.