What’s in the Basement?

Busy Visual Arts faculty member Sandra Meigs is not only participating in the current faculty exhibit Paradox at Legacy Art Galleries Downtown, she also has her own solo exhibition of new large-scale works, The Basement Panoramas, running at Open Space through to December 14.

Sandra Meigs with one of her Basement Panoramas

Sandra Meigs with one of her Basement Panoramas (photo: Cliff Haman)

“The work relates to my year of grieving after my husband succumbed to cancer in 2010,” she says. “It took me a year to get back to work—but then I went into it big time with this epic project. I think grieving is not something people talk about enough; there is a big mystery and privacy about it in our culture, whereas in other cultures it is quite openly shared. I decided to share these four major stages in my process over the year, from when I could do nothing till I came out of it feeling transformed.”

The result is the vividly coloured paintings that make up The Basement Panoramas. Based on her studies of the invisible foundations of buildings—places like basements and crawl spaces—Meigs found these overlooked, catch-all spaces to be surprisingly intimate. “The paintings deal with the grieving process in a universal sense—it isn’t necessary to know specifics, just to walk with the paintings and experience the spaces they portray.

"Red, 3011 Jackson" (detail), by Sandra Meigs

“Red, 3011 Jackson” (detail), by Sandra Meigs

Basement spaces often hold that which we do not want to let go of and are also the foundation of the house, analogous to the psyche,” explains Meigs, noting that many of the pieces in the exhibit relate to the idea of transformation.

Her research into this project began, naturally enough, with her own basement: a crawl space with a giant rock in it upon which her house was built in 1922. From there, she took panoramic photos of people’s basements, then made drawings from them. Another unique aspect of Meigs’ exhibit is the inclusion of a “robotic element”—six life-size ghost-like forms that take turns perambulating on a raised platform. “Each ‘ghost’ wears a semi-transparent robe with a golden spiral painted on it and has noise makers inside that jingle as they moves,” she explains. “It’s an extension of my painting—a moving painting, in a sense.”

From Focus magazine's article

From Focus magazine’s article

Be sure to read this fascinating profile of Meigs and her new exhibit in the November issue of Focus magazine (flip to page 44), as well as this piece from the Times Colonist. You can find out more about the backstory to the exhibit on this post from Kate Cino’s Art Openings website—where there are also some opening night reactions from familiar Fine Arts faces Maureen Bradley, Megan Dickie, Todd Lambeth and Kevin McGuinn, among others.

“Meigs’s unsettling canvases achieve an uncanny physical presence and seem to shift and move as subtly as breath or the movement of the body’s circulatory system,” says Open Space executive director Helen Marzolf. “Meigs observes that these new works cannot be read in a single glance; it is only by walking back and forth or finding a high and distant vantage point that they can be apprehended.”

The Basement Panoramas continues to December 14 at Open Space, 510 Fort Street.

Cage 100 Festival breaks out

Across the globe, the life and work of the late American composer John Cage is being given some extra attention this year as we mark the centenary of the iconic artist. In collaboration with the University of Victoria’s School of Music, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and Open Space, the Victoria Symphony dedicates its November New Music Festival to a series of concerts, art exhibitions and special retrospectives celebrating the 100th anniversary of Cage’s birth.

Happy 100th, John Cage!

John Cage’s significant contributions to music, modern dance, writing, critical thinking and visual arts could not possibly be summarized here. His influence, which continues to grow twenty years after his death, has been impressed upon countless artists, from composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and Phillip Glass to the more populist likes of Radiohead and veteran producer and musical innovator Brian Eno.

“Music in the twentieth century was changed profoundly by Cage’s life. If you’re a musician, or interested in music, you can try to ignore him, but sooner or later you have to deal with him,” says Cage 100 Festival curator and School of Music professor of composition and theory Christopher Butterfield.

Butterfield was recently interviewed for this extensive Globe and Mail article about Cage. “I think Cage’s whole point is that he wants people to be acutely aware of the kind of aural world or acoustic world around them and to be able to actually, I don’t know, rejoice in the sheer idea of consciousness or of being sensitive to the world, and you don’t need the kind of conventional constructs of music,” Butterfield told G&M arts reporter Marsha Lederman. “It’s much more about a much larger world of sound possibilities than simply the ones put together for people to learn on the piano or the violin or an orchestra or whatever.”

He also talks about not only the festival, but his own experiences meeting Cage in the local Times Colonist: “Once in the 1980s, [Butterfield] and a friend had hoped to greet Cage following a big concert in Toronto, but didn’t get the chance,” writes the TC’s Amy Smart. “They walked up the stairs to a friend’s party in an apartment in the ‘cheap part of town,’ and Cage was the first person they saw. ‘He’d rather be downtown with slightly sketchy people than uptown,’ said Butterfield.”

Cage’s “New River Watercolour” series IV, No. 3, 1988 (watercolour on paper)

Drawing on the artist’s extensive body of work and diverse artistic practices, Victoria’s Cage 100 Festival brings together some of his most famous compositions as well as works too seldom heard or seen—including Cage’s graphic work and a 1987 sound installation, plus film, letters and paintings by people who were part of Cage’s social circle. Works by composers who share Cage’s sense of exploration and wonder will also be featured. “Cage was endlessly inventive, not just in music, but in other forms too,” explains Butterfield.

Cage 100 curator Christopher Butterfield

When crafting the program for the festival, Butterfield wanted to offer a broad yet intimate glimpse into Cage’s world, people he knew, and ideas he espoused. “We were lucky to rely on old friends of Cage’s, who volunteered some extraordinary material.” Devoted Play, which opens at the AGGV on November 8 (and runs to January 5), kicks off the entire festival by bringing together a collection of materials from some of his closest friends and influential figures—including Gordon Mumma, Jasper Johns, Marcel Duchamp, Mark Tobey, Morris Graves and Robert Rauschenberg. That same night, November 8, the sound installation Essay debuts at Open Space (and runs to January 12), featuring Cage himself reading from Henry David Thoreau’s essay “On Civil Disobedience.”

On Friday, November 16 at 12:30pm, the UVic Percussion Ensemble—under the direction of Bill Linwood—will perform works by Cage (1939’s First Construction in Metal and 1941’s Third Construction) and Linda Caitlin Smith (Blue Sky). Later that same day, UVic’s Sonic Lab hosts an evening of Cage’s music starting at 5pm with a School of Music-wide fanfare performance of 1967’s Musicircus, followed by a concert at 8pm (including 1957’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra, 1973’s Etcetera and 1983’s Ryoanji). All events take place in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall and admission is by donation.

From left: David Tudor, John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow in Nancarrow’s Mexico City studio, 1968 (photo: Gordon Mumma)

Additional Cage 100 Festival programming includes a concert with the Victoria Symphony on November 17 at the Alix Goolden Hall (including Cage’s 1947’s 4’33”, 1947’s The Seasons and 1950’s Concerto for Prepared Piano, plus works by others), and on November 18 at the AGGV with the Emily Carr String Quartet (1950’s String Quartet in Four Parts, plus works by others). Talks and discussions will take place at Open Space on November 19 (on Cage and anarchism, featuring History in Art professor Allan Antliff and Andrew Culver, Cage’s assistant in the 1980s) and the AGGV on November 22 (featuring Cage collaborator Gordon Mumma).

Finally, Cage 100 Fest curator Christopher Butterfield recently spoke with CFUV’s Phoenix Bain about the festival. Listen to that interview here.

And for information on both local and international Cage-related events, or more about John Cage’s life and legacy itself, check out the official Cage website.

—with files from Kristy Farkas

Two Visual Arts alumni mount Victoria exhibits

If it’s Thursday, it must be opening night at a local art gallery—and this week, two Visual Arts alumni each have openings here in Victoria.

First up is Rick Leong, who is opening his first Canadian solo exhibition this week at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s LAB GalleryThe Phenomenology of Dusk is, as Leong himself describes it, “the study of the phenomena that is illuminated by a waning light in the gathering darkness, encouraging the imagination to form the visible from the invisible.”

Rick Leong, "Hypnagogia" (2012, mixed media on panel). Photo: Raymond St. Arnaud

According to AGGV curator Nicole Stanbridge, “His large-scale paintings create haunting and lush landscapes that hover in the intangible realm of dusk. Influenced by both Chinese and Canadian landscape painting traditions, the themes articulated in Leong’s work begin in the natural world—forests, mountains, meadows and night skies—and become immersive spaces built from imagination and memory. In keeping with Chinese landscape tradition these scenes are more than mere representations of nature. They are at once tangible and ethereal in their articulation of the psychological experience of dusk. The imagery in his work leads us through a poetic narrative that speaks of utopic landscapes; an idealized and constructed view of nature that has been prominent throughout the history of Canadian landscape painting.”

Leong’s The Phenomenology of Dusk is a new series that evolved during a January 2012 artist residency in Barcelona, Spain.  As he told local Times Colonist arts writer Amy Smart in a May 17 article, “As a landscape painter, I’m always looking. It’s part of my language, part of my vocabulary. Wherever I am, I’m paying particular attention to the landscape for those sorts of opportunities to expand my vocabulary and inject something new into my language.”

Leong received his BFA from UVic back in 2003, yet despite this being his first Canadian solo exhibition, he earned national attention as one of the finalists in the 2008 RBC Canadian Painting Competition, and his work is already in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Leong will also give an artist’s talk at the opening, from 7:30-9:00pm on Thursday, May 17. The exhibit itself runs to August 6.

Next up is 2011 MFA grad and local artist Emilio Portal, whose new installation islands opened at Open Space on May 14.

Emilio Portal with the start of his "islands" at Open Space (Photo: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist)

As Open Space’s exhibit description notes, “Inspired by colonial and indigenous histories connected to the site of Victoria, islands is an on-going performance that honours the Lekwungen peoples of Vancouver Island. Through a series of creative acts, Portal performs a respect to the land, and the remnants of history that lies underneath. As this performance unfolds we become witnesses to the creation of an interstitial space of transformation and ceremony. Portal’s islands float into existence to become a new ground, a new ground on which we can respond to the land in deep and meaningful ways.”

In a Times Colonist preview article titled “More to Pile of Wood than Meets the Eye” (also by busy arts reporter Amy Smart), Portal posed with a stack of 204 milled cedar planks, explaining, “This pile of wood was everything to the people here. It built their houses, the boats, the clothing, the nets for fishing . . . . This cedar needs to be revered, even honoured for its service to humanity, to the world.”

Local arts journalist Kate Cino has done a feature on Portal’s exhibit on her Art Openings website. And given the evolving nature of the exhibit, Portal will be having a “show closing” celebration instead of a formal opening, running from 7-9:00pm on June 26.

Sounds Good

If you’re looking for an auditory adventure this weekend, there are two events involving faculty well worth attending: Friday night’s MISTIC concert and Saturday night’s Site & Sound installation.

First up is MISTIC. The final event of the School of Music/Open Space collaboration with Seattle-based sound sculptor and inventor Trimpin on the (CanonX+4:33=100) piano-based sculptural installation, the MISTIC concert promises to be both a fascinating and entertaining evening.

Preparing to get MISTIC: (from left) Darren Miller, Andy Schloss and Steeve Bjornson. Photo: Kristy Farkas

MISTIC—or, Music Intelligence and Sound Technology Interdisciplinary Collective—will feature Dr. Andrew Schloss and UVic students putting into practice the “unique methodologies” they’ve developed over the course of the (CanonX+4:33=100) exhibit, as they “perform” the installation as one enormous musical instrument. (Last Saturday’s exhibit discussion by Darren Miller focused on the “compositional opportunities and challenges of writing for a Trimpin installation,” so it’s bound to be quite the night.) Remember, these aren’t really pianos anymore, more a series of deconstructed and enhanced piano-based constructs into which the MISTIC performers can plug their computers in order to create their own unique style of music.

Open Space says it best: “Created by one of the most stimulating and inventive forces in music today, Trimpin’s installation will skew your everyday assumptions about sound and technology and engage your senses of perception, surprise, and joy in an extraordinary and intricate audio-visual experience unlike any other.”


The MISTIC concert starts at 8pm Friday, April 27, at Open Space, 510 Fort Street. Tickets are $15 or $10



 for Open Space members, students & seniors

Then on Saturday night, it’s the Royal BC Museum’s quite literally fascinating sounding Site & Sound installation. Dubbed “a unique festival of all things auditory,” Site & Sound features an impressive lineup of musicians, poets and sound artists who will be performing after-hours in and around the various RBCM dioramas and displays.

Will new Visual Arts associate professor and sound artist Paul Walde be in the submarine? Will the Victoria Phonographers Union—featuring concert manager Kristy Farkas—be in the old town? Will flautist and School of Music alum Kathy Rogers be in the rainforest? Will Victoria Poet Laureate Janet Rogers be in the longhouse? Will spoken word artists Missie Peters and Dave Morris be riding the wooly mammoth? You won’t know if you don’t go!

All of the nine participating artists and groups have specially crafted sound for this event, which will provide a unique way of experiencing the RBCM. In addition to those already mentioned, the other performers are sound artist Tina Pearson, bluegrass duo Garrett Tompson and Shanti Bremer, Chinese group the Victoria Gum Sing Musical Society and local performance artist Peter Morin, of northern BC’s Tahltan Nation.

Whatever your taste in musical expression, it’s a safe bet you won’t hear either of these two shows again!

Site & Sound starts at 7pm Saturday, April 28, at the Royal BC Museum, 675 Belleville Street. Tickets are $15.

Talking Trimpin

The School of Music/Open Space collaboration with Seattle-based sound sculptor and inventor Trimpin on his (CanonX+4:33=100) piano-based sculptural piece has been getting good press since its March 16 opening. With the exhibit itself running through to April 27 at Open Space Gallery—closing night will feature a live concert with UVic’s MISTIC group “playing” Trimpin’s creation—there’s still lots of time left to pop down to 510 Fort Street and check it out. We guarantee you’ll never look at a piano the same way again!

In his Times Colonist piece, Adrian Chamberlain talks with Trimpin about the importance of Conlon Nancarrow and how cuckoo clocks in Trimpin’s native Germany may have been an early influence on his work.

Open Space director Helen Marzolf talks to CTV's Adam Sawatsky about the Trimpin exhibibt

To get a sense of the piece in action, check out this interview where Adam Sawatsky of CTV Vancouver Island talks with Open Space director Helen Marzolf (just click on the picture to the right, then slide along to the 1:30 mark for the start of the Trimpin piece).

Meanwhile, in her Monday Magazine article, Mary Ellen Green spoke with project originator (and now School of Music Concert Manager) Kristy Farkas about the idea of music. “Every object is an instrument,” Farkas told Green, while discussing Trimpin’s work. “I don’t always like to play instruments in traditional ways. I always used to play with the inside of pianos and I really connected with his work. It’s very creative, playful, sculptural and imaginative.”

Trimpin (centre) works with UVic students to build (CanonX+4:33=100) Photo: Dallas V. Duobaitis

Trimpin himself offers a breakdown of the (CanonX+4:33=100) project in this article for The Ring, and recently spoke on-air with the campus radio show U in the Ring (scroll down to the February 28 podcast, and it’s about two-thirds of the way through). And the good folks at MediaNet posted this video of the exhibit’s opening night.

If you’re interested in the mechanics of the installation, on-site specialists will be available for demonstrations and Q&A sessions every Thursday from 2:00 to 5:00 pm at Open Space.

And there’s a weekly series of talks and discussions called Plugging In: Talks on Sound, Technology & Art featuring UVic speakers:

• Project co-creator Andrew Schloss of the Music & Computer Science degree program talks about “Approaching Public Art from a Sonic Perspective” at 7:30pm on Wednesday, April 4.

• New Visual Arts instructor Paul Walde will discuss “Composer as Inventor” at 2:00pm on Saturday, April 7.

Steeve A. Bjorson talks about “Micro-controllers and Their Use in (CanonX+4:33=100)” at 2:00pm on Saturday, April 14.

• And finally, in advance of the MISTIC concert, Darren Miller will discuss “Invention on Invention: The Compositional Opportunities and Challenges of Writing for a Trimpin Installation” at 2:00pm on Saturday, April 21.

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.”

Trimpin Reinvents the Piano

Not that there’s anything wrong with the piano as we know it, but internationally celebrated sound sculptor, composer and inventor Trimpin has never been one to simply accept things as they are. Now, the Seattle-based Trimpin will be bringing his latest innovation to Victoria this year 2012 with a project titled (CanonX+4:33=100).

Trimpin in his Seattle studio (photo: Kristy Farkas)

In collaboration with Open Space and Dr. Andrew Schloss (head of our Music and Computer Science program), a team of emerging sound engineers, musicians and visual artists from UVic will have the opportunity to work directly under Trimpin’s mentorship while assisting with the creation and installation of the work, scheduled to debut at Open Space on March 16.

With 2012 marking the centennial celebration of some of the most influential composers of the last century—namely John Cage and Conlon Nancarrow—(CanonX+4:33=100) will celebrate a continuum and extension of the important work of both composers. Combining ancient concepts and methods with the latest in digital technology, Trimpin will give new life to an array of transformed abandoned pianos, by constructing visually dynamic and aurally stunning acoustic and electroacoustic sculptures and automatons out of their carcasses.

“The pianos will be ‘prepared’ with mechanical actuators—small robotic devices to play the piano strings in a way which both composers, more than a half century ago, started to experiment with, compose, and perform,” Trimpin explains. “With the tools of today’s technologies, this experimentation can be extended to the next level of investigation.”

Detail of (CanonX+4.33=100). (photo: Kristy Farkas)

Believing in our capacity to experience sound visually, Trimpin will accentuate this concept with the use of video cameras and sensors to translate movement and colour into gestures that activate the instruments.

Trimpin will visit UVic from January 17 to 20 to introduce the project, conduct workshops with participants, and host a free screening of Peter Esmonde’s 2009 documentary, TRIMPIN: the sound of invention (8pm January 18 in Visual Arts room A146, featuring the music of the Kronos Quartet). He will then return in March to install (CanonX+4:33=100) at Open Space, as well as present an artist talk and perform with the UVic collective, MISTIC. Until the close of the installation on April 28, the UVic team will lead demonstrations and workshops, as well as have the opportunity to develop unique methodologies for activating and “performing” the installation as an enormous musical instrument.

Trimpin's "IF VI WAS XI: Roots and Branches" (photo: EMP Museum)

Enormous instruments are nothing new to Trimpin, who is perhaps best known in the Pacific Northwest for his towering instrumental sculpture “IF VI WAS IX: Roots and Branches,” which dominates the main level of Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum. Constructed from more than 500 musical instruments and 30 computers, “Roots and Branches” offers a dynamic, engaging and historical journey into the origins and evolution of American popular music—thanks to the earphone-equipped computer touch-screens that guide visitors through various sound permutations the sculpture is capable of realizing.

After years of formal training in brass and woodwind performance, the German-born Trimpin completed an apprenticeship in electrical engineering and later earned a Master’s degree in social pedagogy. As he explains on the Experience Music Project website, “I had to study what goes on physically when different brains are working. I needed all this information to get to the point where I could execute my ideas. It wasn’t available in literature, because none of these books existed. So from the beginning I always had to do it on my own.”

One of the most stimulating and inventive forces in music today, Trimpin’s  (CanonX+4:33=100) will skew your everyday assumptions about sound and technology and engage your senses of perception, surprise, and joy, in an extraordinary and intricate audio-visual experience unlike any other.

—Kristy Farkas and John Threlfall, with files from the EMP Museum

Don’t miss the free screening of TRIMPIN: The Sound of Invention—featuring Trimpin himself as host—at 8pm Wednesday January 18 in room A146 of UVic’s Visual Arts building.