Graham McMonagle has designs on the future

While the majority of Department of Theatre graduate students are working professionals looking to further their academic credentials, Graham McMonagle is truly exceptional. A professional dancer for 20 years and the co-founder of Victoria’s Canadian Pacific Ballet company, which operated locally from 2007 to 2014, McMonagle lacked any pre-existing Bachelorate degree—which means he had to be granted “exceptional entry” status by both UVic’s Graduate Studies and Senate.

Graham McMonagle with one of his Wild Honey designs

Graham McMonagle with one of his Wild Honey designs

But a hearty recommendation from Theatre professor and Royal Society Fellow Mary Kerr, together with four years experience working as a cutter in UVic’s costume shop alongside instructor and head of wardrobe Karla Stout, paved the way for McMonagle’s current work designing costumes for the latest mainstage production, Wild Honey, running February 11-20 at the Phoenix Theatre.

“I knew getting my MFA would be challenging visually and mentally for me,” says the soft-spoken but quick-witted McMonagle. “Design has been a lateral stream with dancing my whole life and, as I come to the end of my dancing age, this is as much a moment to begin anew as it is to wind something up.”

McMonagle, whose professional design credits are many and numerous, studied at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and apprenticed in the National Ballet of Canada’s costume department, as well as serving as Resident Designer at Columbus Dance Theatre. “Design plays a huge role in theatre, especially dance theatre,” he says. “Design is half of dramaturgy, and I’m really stimulated by that.”

His skills are being put to the test with Wild Honey, a comedic rewrite of Anton Chekhov’s first unpublished play, as adapted by British playwright Michael Frayn (Noises Off). Heavy on love triangles and the kind of country estate-entanglements for which Chekov is known, McMonagle says his designs are less “slavish historicism” and more “anachronistic hybrid” of the kind of “dirty luxury” director and Theatre professor Peter McGuire is bringing to the stage.

Wild Honey director Peter McGuire

Wild Honey director Peter McGuire

McGuire himself is yet another theatre professional who sought to enhance his career by earning an MFA at UVic in the late ’90s. “I walked away from a very lucrative career in Ontario to come back here,” says McGuire. “For me, it was the right thing to do. It was both a reinvention and a renewal of spirit.” Not only did his MFA further his career, but it also sparked a love of teaching evident in his latest production.

Wild Honey has always been on my list of shows to direct,” he says. “It’s a great fit for all of our students and has great design options for set, lighting, sound and costumes. A show like this really speaks volumes about the opportunities for students in the Theatre department.”

“I’m excited to be working with Peter, and to be working on this play,” says McMonagle, as he flips through colourful sketches of his costume designs. “There are multiple ways to draw an audience into a narrative: Peter wanted to use 1900 as an anchor, but his visual association with the principal actor was more the shirtless, greasy-haired, 1970s Keith Richards.”

Platonov (Jack Hayes) and Anna (Arielle Permack) in Wild Honey, at UVic's Phoenix Theatre until Feb 20 (Photo: David Lowes)

Platonov (Jack Hayes) and Anna (Arielle Permack) in Wild Honey, at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre until Feb 20 (Photo: David Lowes)

As a result, expect the 15-person cast to be sporting a mix of “skirts and jeans, rubber boots and overalls, caps and traditional dresses . . . in a way, we’ve created our own 1900-by-way-of-1970 Russian country look. It’s beautiful, because both of those periods were about landed people who were becoming lost from their anchored place and experiencing disintegration, substance use, and a kind of disaffected glamour. ”

McGuire can’t emphasize enough the importance of costume design. “A good actor will look at a good costume design and really see their character—they may have read the script and been thinking about their role, but will look at the sketch and understand their character so much more. Costumes really help to tell the story.”

McMonagle clearly enjoys the challenge of costuming, creating something that’s as relevant for the actor’s process as it is for the audience’s enjoyment. “There’s a balance to be drawn between how directly we reveal something to the audience: if I help the actor to reveal their role, I am in fact revealing something to the audience—but if it impedes the actor, then I’m diminishing their role.”

What can fish see?

The gap between the molecular basis of fish vision and the colour calibrations of a large-format printer may seem as wide as the space between UVic’s Biology and Visual Arts departments, but a recent collaborative project brought the two much closer together.

It started when Tom Iwanicki, a MSc candidate studying starry flounder opsin genes with Biology professor John Taylor, contacted Cliff Haman, Senior Academic Assistant in Visual Arts, with a very basic question: what is colour?

Iwanicki (left) with Haman and Taylor

Iwanicki (left) with Haman and Taylor

“As biologists, we can ask ourselves questions about things like opsin genes and colour vision in fish and then, you would think, come up with various strategies to answer those questions” said Taylor. “But we quickly realized we lacked some very basic knowledge. For example, we wanted to print a particular colour on a sheet of paper. That is, we wanted the paper to reflect a particular wavelength of light. We had no idea how to do that, or even if it was possible. What about a second sheet of paper that reflects the same amount of light, but at a different wavelength? We asked the physics department, but they offered astronomers. So Tom focused on Visual Arts.”

The eyes have it

The experiment in question dealt with checkerboards and starry flounder camouflage. Starry flounders change the pattern on their back when they settle on a traditional black-and-white checkerboard—but what about one with red and green squares? Opsin genes encode the light receptors in the eye, and while humans are trichromatic—we have three different types of light receptors distributed among the ‘cone’ cells of our retina—fish have many more. “We know that species with only two cone cell opsins, like cats and dogs, can’t discriminate among as many colours as we can,” says Taylor. “We want to know if the surprisingly large fish opsin gene repertoire enhances their colour vision.”

Starring . . . the starry flounder

Starring . . . the starry flounder

Iwanicki’s two-year experiment also hoped to discover if opsins could be influenced by raising the fish in different light environments. “We’re very passionate about going from molecular data to actual behavior,” he explains. “We discovered these flatfish are capable of active camouflage—they can change colour quite quickly and convincingly—so we honed in on using differently coloured and patterned checkerboards as a model for studying vision in general.”

After living in UVic’s Outdoor Aquatic Unit for six weeks under broad-spectrum (as a control) and green-filtered (test) lighting that mimicked ocean conditions, Iwanicki set out to discover if the opsins changed under different light environments—and if this also influenced their ability to camouflage. Unfortunately, Taylor and Iwanicki were out of their depth when it came to creating the essential test patterns; fortunately, UVic offers diverse facilities for interdisciplinary research.

The theory of colour

Using the large-format printer in the Fine Arts building’s Studios for Integrated Media, Cliff Haman was able to create consistent, reliable prints that matched the spectrophotometer-measured colour intensities. “We work with colour daily, and our labs are very well-equipped for the creation and manipulation of digital media,” says Haman. “[Biology] had specific requirements for various swatch colours and luminosity values, particularly when laid out in checkerboard patterns. Our imaging software provides superb control and accuracy with such colour data.”

The team with their colour patterns

The team with their colour patterns

Haman also assisted with photo documentation, which required calibrated, diffuse lighting and a fairly complex camera installation. “It can all boggle the mind of someone who’s not familiar with it,” admits Iwanicki. “Visual Arts wasn’t the first place that came to mind, but we luckily ended up going there. It’s just been fantastic.”

To be clear, the goal of the experiment was to see if the fish echoed the pattern, not the colour. “If we give them a red and green background, we’re not expecting the fish to turn red and green,” says Taylor. “Instead, we’re looking to see if they adapt to a smooth, mottled or disruptive pattern; the fish can do each of those things. If it recognizes a smooth pattern, it will turn a single colour, whereas mottled or disruptive patterns will result in a stippled or big-block colours.”

Final results

And the result? “They’re definitely camouflaging differently—which is quite exciting,” says Iwanicki. “As far as I know, no one has explored camouflage response as a way of figuring out what fish can and can’t see.”

Taylor is clearly pleased. “Obviously, we don’t know everything about vision, but if you think about the opsin repertoire as a toolkit, there’s way more tools in there than we expected,” he says. “The job of light sensitivity is much more diverse than we thought it was.”

For his part, Haman enjoys the opportunities offered by such interdisciplinary research. “When we collaborate in other environments, we’re actively exposed to new ways of thinking and doing—which to my mind is fertile soil for sprouting new ideas.”

Ultimately, Iwanicki is excited about how it all went. “A lot of research tends to reduce things down to their component parts, but if you can incorporate the bigger picture all in one study, that’s one of the more important avenues we need to be shifting towards,” he says. And while he may speaking about his individual experiment, his thoughts clearly apply to the unexpected pairing of Biology and Visual Arts. “And that is really cool and exciting.”

Joan MacLeod’s work goes from headlines to centre-stage

When it comes to researching a new play, internationally celebrated playwright and Department of Writing professor Joan MacLeod often takes inspiration from the headlines.

Joan MacLeod in rehearsals at the Belfry (UVic Photo Services)

Joan MacLeod in rehearsals at the Belfry (UVic Photo Services)

From the murder of Victoria teenager Reena Virk to issues facing new immigrants and the importance of righting historical wrongs, MacLeod’s plays are universally acclaimed for their ability to present realistic characters grappling with key emotional situations. When her latest play, The Valley, makes its BC premiere at the Belfry Theatre, audiences will find themselves catapulted into a head-on collision between two of the defining issues of our time—law enforcement and mental illness.

MacLeod—also an alumna of the Writing department—says she was inspired by the case of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekański, who died as a result of RCMP tasering at the Vancouver airport in 2007. But rather than focus on that one situation, she decided instead to look at the pressures that may have caused the RCMP’s controversial response. “I started thinking about an altercation between a police officer and a person in distress,” she says. “As I did more research, I became really interested in that intersection between the mentally ill and the police, who are often front-line workers with the mentally ill—and not necessarily by choice.”

Clearly, MacLeod’s research paid off, as the reviews for the Belfry’s production of The Valley have been uniformly strong. In this review for CBC Radio’s On The Island, Monica Prendergast notes that “MacLeod is so good about giving us these truthful, private moments  . . . when playwrights can craft these kinds of characters and scenes that move us, about events that may or may not touch our own lives, you can call that beautiful”. Adrian Chamberlain said in his Times Colonist review that the characters are “rendered with passion and sensitivity, brimming with compassion.”

Fellow Writing instructor Alisa Gordaneer praises MacLeod’s work in her CVV Magazine review, noting that she “clearly has a keenly tuned ear for voice, and the dialogue in this play is sharp, seething, and bang-on contemporary west coast, with not a spare word spoken by any of the cast. Even so, the dialogue is stunningly naturalistic, heightening the sense of listening in to regular people hanging out in Vancouver.” Finally, in his review for The Marble theatre blog—run by Theatre grad Matthew McLaren—Chad Jarvie-Laidlaw says, “The Valley leaves questions lingering when you leave the theatre: how do you heal someone? How do you protect? Do you have any right to do either for them? These questions themselves are left unanswered, but a promise is made: you can, and will, find an answer for yourself.”

TheValleyWhile the psychotic breakdown of an 18-year-old university student on Vancouver’s SkyTrain may be the spark that ignites the play’s dramatic powder keg, the heart of The Valley is how two families—both the boy’s and the police officer’s—each battle depression. “There’s an assumption that it’s going to be about police brutality, but at the end of the day, this is a play about the ‘everydayness’ of mental illness. I didn’t want it to be an ‘us and them’ thing; I want people to look at the world in a different way.”

Much like policing, MacLeod acknowledges how the perception of mental health has changed over her lifetime—something she’s witnessed first-hand as a university professor. “This is about a first-year student who falls apart, and anyone who teaches post-secondary has had that experience. He’s not based on  any specific student, but as a professor I’m aware of the pressure our students are under, their vulnerability.”

As a playwright, a big part of MacLeod’s research is ensuring the authenticity of her scenes. While writing The Valley, she consulted a police officer and a psychiatric nurse, as well as Andrew Solomon’s definitive 700-page study, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. “Based on the people who have seen the show, the mental health issues are portrayed pretty accurately,” she says. I’m proud of the fact that everyone in this play gets a fair shake—the police officer, his wife, the boy, his mother.”

Is there a trick to achieving that level of authenticity on stage? “That’s just what playwrights do,” she says. ”That’s our job—to get inside a character and make the audience feel that way.”

More than books or television, MacLeod feels the stage is the best place to bring these kinds of emotional issues to light. “Theatre is ideal for that. When it’s done right, you’re having a true emotional experience. And it makes for a very powerful combination when you base it on a real event.”

Joan MacLeod (far right) with director Roy Surette (right) and some of the creative team (UVic Photo Services)

Joan MacLeod (far right) with director Roy Surette (right) and some of the creative team (UVic Photo Services)

Her plays—including Jewel, Toronto, Mississippi, Amigo’s Blue Guitar, The Hope Slide, Little Sister, The Shape of a Girl, Homechild and Another Home Invasion—have been translated into eight languages. She is currently writing her 11th play, Gracie. “It’s based in part on the polygamous community in Bountiful. I never know what I’m going to write. It’s almost like I have to trick myself into getting really interested in something.”

MacLeod has won every major Canadian playwriting prize, including the Governor General’s Award and the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize. “Joan is a master of expressing the profoundest human emotions, putting to paper the vulnerability, the compassion,
the weaknesses and strengths of the human spirit,” said the Siminovitch jury chair.

But when it comes to teaching playwriting, MacLeod says the trick is to find truth and common ground. “It comes down to a sense of veracity, of remaining true to your characters,” she says. “All I can teach students about is language and what good
dialogue is. It’s up to them to make it feel true.”

Listen to this interview with Joan MacLeod and On The Island host Gregor Craigie, taped live at the Belfry Theatre’s B4Play event on January 30. You can also read more about The Valley in this Times Colonist preview article from February 4.

The Valley runs Feb. 2–28 at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre. The Belfry will also be hosting a special UVic Alumni event on Feb. 7, where MacLeod—an alumna of UVic’s writing department—will speak after the show.

Fine Arts a big part of Victoria Film Festival

If it’s February, it must be time for the Victoria Film Festival! This year, in addition to the usual lineup of great feature and short films running February 5-14—including a number by Fine Arts faculty and alumni—the VFF is offering special free attendance for Fine Arts students to their annual Springboad film industry event, running Feb 5-7 at the Vic Theatre (details below). This is especially of note for anyone interested in film studies, film production, acting, producing, screenwriting or media studies in general. Students simply have to RSVP by Monday, February 1, to director@victoriafilmfestival.com.

VFF The DevoutOne highlight of the nearly 70 feature films screening this year is The Devout, the feature film debut by Department of Writing MFA alumnus Connor Gaston, produced by fellow Fine Arts alumni  Amanda Verhagen (Theatre) and Daniel Hogg (Writing), with costume design by Kendra Terpenning (Theatre). Gaston attracted a good deal of attention at past film festivals near and far with his award-winning short film ’Til Death, the latest short to emerge from Writing professor Maureen Bradley‘s Writing 420 film production class. The Devout screens 7:15pm February 11 and 1pm February 13 at the downtown Odeon, with Gaston and cast members doing post-film Q&As at both screenings.

Other highlights with links back to Fine Arts include Reset, a short film about a female android discovering she has feelings for her owner, directed by Writing grad Jeremy Lutter (a frequent VFF face with the likes of Gord’s Brother), written by Writing grad Ryan Bright (screenwriter of ’Til Death) and produced by UVic Gustavson School of Business grad Jocelyn Russell. It shows at 8:45pm Feb 7 at The Vic Theatre as part of the “Techlandia” shorts program.

No Breath Play

No Breath Play

The short film No Breath Play is chock full of Writing alumni, being written and directed by Stacey Ashworth, starring Julia Dillon-Davis, featuring camera work by director of photography Scott Amos, produced by Kelly Conlin and executive produced by Daniel Hogg. No Breath Play takes a look at what happens when a reclusive young woman explores BDSM, only to be mistakenly left bound and alone at home. This one screens at 4pm on Feb 7 at The Vic Theatre as part of the “Risky Plays, Risky Places” shorts program.

There’s also a special CineVic retrospective happening at the festival, 6:30pm Sunday Feb 7 at the Odeon on Yates. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the local filmmakers society, over half the 15 short films on view feature the work of Fine Arts alumni:

  • Wolfgang Ball, Marjorie Celona (BFA, Writing)
  • Godhead, Conner Gaston (BFA & MFA, Writing)
  • Bark to the Land, David Geiss (MFA, Writing)
  • Sisyphus, Maureen Bradley (Professor, Writing)
  • Grass, Scott Amos (BFA & MFA, Writing)
  • The Quandry of Señor Muchacho, Jeremy Lutter (BFA, Writing) also starring Theatre alumna Amanda Lisman
  • Woodrow Without Evelyn, Daniel Hogg (BFA, Writing)
  • Near Silence, starring Treena Stubel (BFA, Theatre)

Finally, the annual VFF SpringBoard event focuses on the business side of filmmaking, which is dynamic and ever-changing in this increasingly digital era. SpringBoard offers aspiring Canadian filmmakers the opportunity to expand their knowledge and keep up with new trends in panels and discussions hosted by established industry leaders.

What can you discover at Springboard?

What can you discover at Springboard?

Again, Fine Arts students can attend the Feb 5-7 Springboad events at the Vic Theatre for free. This is especially of note for anyone interested in film studies, film production, acting, producing, screenwriting or media studies in general. Students simply have to RSVP by Monday, February 1, to  director@victoriafilmfestival.com.

Friday, February 5:

• Media Worldview Round Up (11am-noon) – Join the VFF for the annual review of what’s new, forecasted and unpredictable. Gain insights into how the changes impact the kinds of projects you create and understand new opportunities. With Harold Gronenthal, Executive Vice- President of Programming & Operations – AMC/Sundance Channel Global at AMC Networks Inc. He has led content acquisitions for AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel and WE TV since 2004.

Tania Koenig-Gauchier

Tania Koenig-Gauchier

• Getting Your Start (12:15-1:45pm) – A panel of commissioning editors will provide tips on what a career looks like for an emerging filmmaker. Topics will include commissioning priorities, preferences on approach and pitch, and what to expect working in the field. Panelists include TV producer Tania Koenig-Gauchier, who has almost 20 years experience in broadcasting and independent production working as a producer for CTV, APTN and CBC, and has a background in business, marketing and promotions for television; Tara Ellis, CBC’s Executive Director of Scripted Content, including comedy and drama, kids programming and digital originals; and Robin Neinstein, Production Executive, Original Drama Content for Shaw Media, who oversees the development and production of various scripted series and co-productions for Shaw channels including Global, History and Showcase.

Mary Galloway

Mary Galloway

• The Winning Pitch: Mary Galloway (2:30-3pm) – Mary Galloway won the BravoFact! $35,000 pitch competition in 2015 to create her short film Ariel Unravelling, and now returns to discuss making her film and working with BravoFact! Mary Galloway is a young First Nations actor, producer and writer. She has dedicated her career to telling stories with dynamic female leads, as well as being an advocate for equality for Aboriginal (and non-Aboriginal) woman. She prides herself on being a positive role model for today’s youth. She has lead three feature films, can be seen on TV shows such as The CW’s Supernatural and is in pre-production for many of her own passion projects.

• Pitch Tips (3:30-4:30pm) – This session reveals the nuts and bolts of how and what to say when pitching your project. Pat Ferns is President of Ferns Productions Inc., specializing in blue-chip documentary-drama mini-series, working with his son Andrew, President of Ferns Entertainment Inc. whose principal focus is drama. Major series Pat and Andrew have produced together include the award-winning Captain Cook: Obsession and Discovery and Darwin’s Brave New World, both Australia-Canada co-productions.

Saturday, February 6

Semi Chellas (G. Pimentel, photo)

Semi Chellas (G. Pimentel, photo)

• In Conversation with Semi Chellas (noon-1:30pm) – Semi Chellas discusses writing for film and television. Chellas was Co-Executive Producer and writer for Mad Men, running the room for the final two seasons. She was nominated for six Emmys and shared the WGA award with Matthew Weiner for co-writing the episode “The Other Woman”. Chellas has written for indie features, kids movies, television movies and directed several award-winning short films. Chellas is currently working as an Executive Producer of Steve McQueen’s HBO miniseries Codes of Conduct.

Sunday, February 7

Larry Weinstein

Larry Weinstein

• In Conversation with Larry Weinstein (noon-1:30pm) – Welcome to the inventive world of Larry Weinstein, a wonderfully unique documentary filmmaker whose films have captured the lives of great composers, the former Ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor, and the mystery of Hana’s Suitcase.  Weinstein is going to look at the anatomy of making a documentary from inception to completion while expanding on his thoughts by screening raw and completed footage of his latest project, Devil’s Horn. He’ll be in conversation with CTV AM’s film critic, Richard Crouse.

Writing alum Billeh Nickerson offers publishing workshop

Exciting news for students and community writers: celebrated Department of Writing alumnus, author & editor Billeh Nickerson (BFA ’98) returns to campus with an exciting new workshop. “Getting It Into Print” will reveal the trade secrets of getting your work published in literary journals.

Billeh Nickerson

Billeh Nickerson

Learn valuable tips from an industry professional, including the key do’s and don’ts of cover letters and what writers can learn from rejection letters. (Believe it!) This workshop, co-presented by Geist magazine and the Writing department, is as fun as it is instructional. A frequent Geist contributor, Nickerson well knows the ins and outs of the Canadian lit scene.

As the author of five books, including the 2014 City of Vancouver Book Award-nominated Artificial Cherry, Nickerson is the ideal instructor for this workshop. A former editor of both PRISM International and Event (two of Canada’s most respected literary journals), and a previous writer-in-residence at Queen’s University and at Dawson City’s Berton House, he is now Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Vancouver’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

“Getting It Into Print” runs 11am – 2 pm Friday, January 29 at UVic’s Legacy Gallery, 630 Yates. This $50 workshop also includes a one-year subscription to Geist for yourself or a friend. Register now.

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Carl Wilson is Writing’s 2016 Southam Lecturer

When it comes to writing about popular culture, Carl Wilson’s heart will always go on. That’s partially because, as a music critic for Slate and Billboard magazines, Wilson is deeply passionate about the impact music can have on everyone’s lives; but it’s also because his book about Céline Dion struck a chord that rivaled the power of love.

Carl Wilson

Carl Wilson

Originally published in 2007 as part of the acclaimed 33 1/3 music criticism series, Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste deftly deconstructed Céline Dion’s dichotomous popularity and vilification. Described as “a thought experiment,” Let’s Talk About Love prompted readers to second-guess what they like and dislike, and to really consider what they value or scorn.

“Different forms of culture are lenses through which we can look at our lives and society,” says Wilson. “It’s more about engaging in dialogue with the work than a knee-jerk thumbs-up/thumbs-down reaction. When you’re writing about music or movies or books, you can write about anything; it potentially encompasses all experience.”

As the 2016 Harvey Stevenson Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction for the Department of Writing, Wilson will be offering students the benefit of his experience as a contributor to The New York Times, The Atlantic, Pitchfork, The Nation, Exclaim!, Spin and others—including nearly 15 years as a feature writer and editor at The Globe and Mail. “One of the reason I like to work in pop culture is that it’s a more immediately accessible and relatable form,” he says. “Whether or not you’re deeply versed in the history of those forms, it’s a medium you have direct access to that works as a conversation with other people through this common experience of popular culture.”

With his class running in the winter semester and a public lecture planned for the end of February, Wilson intends his course to be “a collective workshop on approaches to critical writing about popular culture. It will be really hands-on—I want the students to read a lot of things that will give them ideas and then try to put those ideas into practice.”

let's talkReprinted in 2014 as a stand-alone edition subtitled “Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste,” Let’s Talk About Love now includes additional essays by the likes of novelists Nick Hornby and Sheila Heti, musicians Owen Pallett and Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), cultural critics Ann Powers and Sukhdev Sandhu, scholars Daphne A. Brooks and Jonathan Sterne, and many others. And while not quite as popular as Ms. Dion herself, Wilson’s book has sparked debates about taste in the music-writing community as well as on blogs and podcasts, in cultural studies departments and across traditional media outlets ranging from The Village Voice to The Colbert Report. It even got a shout-out from actor James Franco on the red carpet at the 2009 Oscars.

As the ninth Southam Lecturer for the Writing department, Wilson follows in the footsteps of the likes of CBC Radio’s Jo-Ann Roberts, author Richard Wagamaese, humour writer Mark Leiren-Young, and sports journalist Tom Hawthorn, among others.

He does admit to being “kind of excited and scared” about teaching. “I feel like academia was the shadow life I never had,” he says, adding that he holds a BA from McGill. “I intended to stay in school, but that never happened. But a lot of the work I do is academically informed—I read a lot of cultural studies, because a lot of the questions that interest me are broad theoretical questions and to do that work you have to know what’s been done before, and what you can add to that.”

Of course, it helps that Let’s Talk About Love has become academically popular. “One of the really surprising things is how much it’s been adopted as an academic text,” he says. “It’s been taught in a lot of places and courses have been designed around it, which I never considered at all when I wrote it. But I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms over the past few years because of that.”

The big question, then, is whether or not he’ll be using his own book in class. “I’m still deciding,” he says with a laugh. “It’s slightly hubristic to make your own text required reading—but, on the other hand, it does deal with the same questions we’ll be dealing with in the course.”

Spring 2016 Visiting Artists

Always an exciting part of each semester, the long-running Visiting Artist program in the Department of Visual Arts has announced their spring lineup. (More to come, but check back later for those.) Organized by Visual Arts professor Jennifer Stillwell, all these illustrated talks take place in room A162 of the Visual Arts Building, and all are free and open to the public. Come join us in exploring the wider visual arts world!

A scene from one of Thauberger's films

A scene from one of Thauberger’s films

First up is notable Visual Arts MFA alumna Althea Thauberger. A Vancouver-based artist and film/video-maker, her works are generated from critical and historical readings of the physical, social and institutional sites they are generated within, and they are often developed in an extended process of cooperation and dialogue with their subjects. Thauberger’s film/video, performance and image works are informed by her background in the history of photography and issues related to the power dynamics of representation.

In recent years, she has developed projects at Prádelna, Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital, Prague; the Haskell Opera House on the Québec/Vermont border; the former Rikard Benčić factory in Rijeka, Croatia; and the Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Thauberger has also been involved in teaching and organizing of public programming in impromptu spacesas well as at The Banff Centre; The Academy of Fine Art, Prague; and VIVO, Vancouver; among many others.

She’ll be appearing as an Orion Visitor in Fine Arts at 8pm, Wednesday, January 13.

A detail of Carl Boutard's "Island"

A detail of Carl Boutard’s “Island”

Next up is Berlin artist Carl Boutard. Also an Orion Visitor, Boutard currently holds the Swedish Art Council residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York. His artistic practice has been shaped longing for the outdoors; he observes and reflects on the relationship between human beings, nature and culture. His work is presented as installations that incorporate drawings, sculpture, video, text and performance. A recurring theme is that which is about to disappear, that which possesses aura and authenticity, both visually and from the point of view of content.

Boutard has completed public art commissions in Sweden and Germany, and his work has been exhibited in solo and group shows across Europe and has been
awarded numerous grants through public funding bodies in Sweden.

Also an Orion Visitor, Boutard will speak at 8pm on Wednesday, January 27.

Diana Freundl

Diana Freundl

While the first two visitors are practicing artists, the next is curator Diana Freundl. The Associate Curator of Asian Art at the Vancouver Art Gallery since
2013, Freundl has curated a series of installations for Offsite, the Gallery’s public art project, including works by Shanghai-­based collective MadeIn Company and Mumbai-based Reena Saini Kallat. In 2014, she co-­curated Unscrolled: Reframing Tradition in Chinese Contemporary Art, one of the inaugural exhibitions for the Institute of Asian Art and most recently she co-­coordinated the touring exhibition Lee Bul.

With an academic background in comparative religion and philosophy, with graduate studies in journalism, Freundl lived and worked in China for 14 years, where she was an Artistic Director at Art+ Shanghai, and the curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). She co-­curated large-­scale exhibitions such as Night on Earth: Helsinki, Berlin, Shanghai (2007); MoCA Envisage II: Butterfly Dream (2008) and INDIA XIANZAI: Contemporary Art from India (2009). In 2012, she co-­curated Virtual Voices: Approaching Social Media and Art from China with Zheng Shengtian at the Charles H. Scott Gallery in Vancouver.

Don’t miss her talk at 8pm Wednesday, February 17.

Camille Norment (Photo: Marta Buso)

Camille Norment (Photo: Marta Buso)

Coming up on March 9, Visual Arts is proud to present Camille Norment as a Distinguished Women Scholar Lecture. A multi­media artist, Norment often uses the notion of cultural psychoacoustics as both an aesthetic and conceptual framework. She defines this term as the examination of socio-­cultural phenomena through sound and music, and the contexts in which they are produced. Norment applies this concept towards the creation of critical works that consciously interweave the formal and the contextual; her artwork utilizes forms including sound, installation, light sculptures, drawing, performance, and video, all united by a preoccupation with the way in which form, space, and the body of the viewer create aesthetic and conceptual experience.

Norment in performance

Norment in performance

Norment performs as a solo artist, with other musicians in selected projects, and with her ensemble, the Camille Norment Trio—electric guitar, Norwegian hardingfele and the rare glass armonica—to explore the instruments’ collective sensual and cultural psychoacoustics across genre boundaries. Each of these instruments were simultaneously revered and feared or even outlawed at various points in their histories; through deconstructions of “beauty” and “noise”, “harmony” and “dissonance,” the visceral atmospheres they produce resonate through a tantalizing union of the instruments’ voices and their paradoxical cultural histories.

Selected to produce a solo project for the Nordic pavilion in the 2015 Venice Biennial, was also commissioned a permanent sound installation for the Henie Onstad Art Center. Highlights of her extensive international fine arts exhibition record include New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Oslo’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Liste Young Art Fair, Greece’s Thessaloniki Biennial, Switzerland’s Kunsthalle Bern, Copenhagen’s Charlottenborg Fonden, Denmark, LA’s Santa Monica Museum of Art, New York’s Studio Museum of Harlem, Sweden’s Bildmuseet, and radio broadcast in the Venice Biennial. Norment’s work has been written about in periodicals such as ArtForum, Art in America, The New York Times, Kunst Kritikk, Aftenposten, a feature in The Wire Magazine, and numerous other international texts.

Don’t miss what promises to be a fascinating event at 8pm Wednesday, March 9.

Samuel Roy-Bois

Samuel Roy-Bois

Finally, on March 23, we have Vancouver-based installation artist Samuel Roy-Bois. Originally from Quebec City, Samuel Roy-­Bois’ ambitious and thought-­provoking installations have been shown across Canada and internationally.

His major solo installations have been exhibited at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver, Point éphémère in Paris, Parisian Laundry in Montreal, Oakville Galleries in Ontario and at the Musée d’art contemporain in Montréal, as well as being part of group shows in Vancouver, Ottawa, Québec City, Joliette, and Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, among others. He has also participated in international artist residencies in Denmark, Paris and Quebec.

"Ghetto" (2006)

“Ghetto” (2006)

“I am always aware of working within an economy of means, voluntarily blurring the border between art and life, and to develop ideas about contemporary ideals and low-­‐scale utopianism,” he says. “These different artistic strategies are ways to promote ordinary objects and spaces into a poetic dimension, with the wish of renewing one’s gaze and perception.”

My work also puts forward ideas about time, by incorporating truncated elements of narration. An exhibition space can be divided into multiple rooms, which can be discovered in a specific order, following a precise path, similar to a musical piece. The work reveals itself through an accumulation of ideas and sensations that culminate into an appreciation of a complex universe both fragmented and coherent.”

Hear Samuel Roy-Bois at 8pm on Wednesday, March 23 in room A162 of the Visual Arts Building.

 

Victoria Wyatt argues for the importance of visual studies

Art History and Visual Studies professor Victoria Wyatt was once again invited to offer an essay as part of the prestigious Edge.org annual question: “What do you consider the most interesting recent [scientific] news? What makes it important?”

Wyatt’s response:  “The Convergence Of Images And Technology.”

edgeFor those not familiar with the site, Edge.org is an online salon whose mission statement pretty much says it all: “To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.” Now, of course, the “room” is a website where the thoughts and opinions of prominent thinkers are aggregated.

Victoria Wyatt

Victoria Wyatt

Wyatt’s 2016 essay argues for the importance of visual studies in promoting a paradigm shift that we need to address global problems. “The news is in pictures, literally and figuratively,” she writes. “Visual images have exploded through our world, challenging the primacy of written text. A photograph bridges the diversity of cultures and languages . . .  Never before have visual images so dynamically pervaded our daily lives. Never before have they been so influentially generated by amateurs as well as editors and advertisers . . . . Social media coalesces around visual imagery. Written text works brilliantly in so many ways, but it has never worked in quite this way.” You can read the full essay here.

This is the second time Wyatt has had an essay on Edge.org; the first was in response to the 2014 question, “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” Her essay focused on the cliche of “The Rocket Scientist”—as in, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know . . .”

It’s notable that Wyatt has once again been included among the nearly 200 correspondents, as most of the contributors are either scientists or social scientists. The Edge.org has been described by The Guardian as “the world’s smartest website” and “a salon for the world’s finest minds.”

In search of the mighty beaver

The next time you pull out a nickel, spare a thought for the humble beaver. Perhaps one of the most misunderstood mammals, the beaver has played a more significant role in shaping our continent than any other animal.

Beaver researcher Frances Backhouse . . . and friend (UVic Photo Services)

Beaver researcher Frances Backhouse . . . and friend (UVic Photo Services)

Not only did beavers directly influence North America’s exploration, settlement and economic development but, after being hunted to near-extinction, they’re currently experiencing an ecological revival—all of which is summed up in a new book, Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver by Writing instructor and alumna Frances Backhouse.

“They’re one of the most important ecological stories happening today,” says Backhouse. “As a keystone species, I can’t think of any other animal in North America that has had such an impact as Castor canadensis.”

By definition, a keystone species plays such a crucial role that an ecosystem would be dramatically different—or even cease to exist—without it. The beaver used to live everywhere—from the Rio Grande to the Arctic treeline and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In fact, North America’s only beaver-free regions were extreme deserts like Death Valley and the alligator-infested Florida everglades.

HatsBackhouse’s original research into beavers provided the basis for her Master’s degree in Fine Arts. She also has a zoology degree and five other books under her belt, and her acclaimed gold rush family history, Children of the Klondike, won the 2010 City of Victoria Book Prize.

The first book of its kind, Once They Were Hats is already garnering acclaim in the likes of the Globe and Mail (“fascinating and smartly written”) and the National Post (“deeply, enthrallingly, page-turningly fascinating”), where it was also named one of the best 99 books of the year (coming in at #47).

She also spoke with CBC Radio on January 6 about the reappearance of beavers in Vancouver’s False Creek area, which you can listen to here. And, south of the border, Backhouse did this interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting in January.

Describing the beaver as a “history maker, landscape shaper and national symbol,” Backhouse’s extensive research led her not only to archives and museums but also to bogs, traplines, fur auctions and Canada’s leading hat-maker. “I see the beaver as something where biology and history intersect,” she says. “North American exploration was largely beaver-driven. There was a rolling ‘beaver frontier’ that kept moving across the continent, always getting pushed west.”

But it’s the beaver’s role as landscape shaper that surprised her the most. “When I began, I didn’t know Castor canadensis had been transforming our landscapes for a million years. But then I found research that suggests an ancestor, the prehistoric beaver Dipoides, was also a tree cutter and dam builder . . . and that potentially puts beaver landscape-shaping in North America back to 24 million years ago.”

An example of Backhouse's dam good research

An example of Backhouse’s dam good research

While dam building can affect the course of streams, the hydrological impact often results in irrigation of land that might otherwise remain dry. The beaver also influences the type and quality of trees and plants that we think “naturally” occur in an area.

Backhouse is equally impressed with the beaver’s resilience, and its human-assisted rebound from near-extinction.

“We’ve suffered from a sort of ecological amnesia for over a century now,” she says. “All the settlement came after the fur trade and we came into this land thinking it was a certain way. Then, as beavers were reintroduced, people found them difficult to live with because they change the hydrology and landscape.”

But the hard-working beaver may also play a pivotal role in our ability to adapt to climate change. “There’s a real interest in reintroducing beavers these days because they offer a solution to drought problems.”

What impact does she hope her book will have? “I’d like people to see that beavers are beneficial to have around, and that we can co-exist with them. And to realize what cool animals they really are.”

Bonus beaver facts!

Bakchouse_Knowledge• The beaver today looks pretty much identical to a beaver of a million years ago, and it’s been on the Canadian nickel since 1937. It also appeared on Canada’s first postage stamp—the “three-pence beaver,” which was the first stamp in the world to not feature a monarch or head of state.

• After 300 years of intense trapping, North America’s beaver population in 1900 stood at less than one per cent of the most conservatively estimated pre-colonial population, which Backhouse says was between 60 and 400 million. “That puts the 1900 estimate in the low hundred-thousands.”

• The largest beaver dam on record was reported by 19th-century explorer David Thompson, who saw one that was 1.6 km long. The longest known beaver dam currently in existence is 850 metres long in Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta. Most dams are about 20 metres long.

• Once They Were Hats is a great example of how creative nonfiction books effectively combine research and narrative, which Backhouse is keen to pass on to her students in UVic’s Department of Writing. “The extensive interviewing and other research I did for this book gives me lots of real-life examples to draw on when I’m teaching creative nonfiction—everything from the kind of people skills you need for interviewing to how to find the story in an academic paper.”

This story originally ran in the Times Colonist on December 27 as part of the monthly UVic research KnowlEDGE feature. Read more KnowlEDGE stories here

Top 10 Fine Arts stories of 2015

It’s the end of another busy—and rewarding—year here at the Faculty of Fine Arts, where there was never any shortage of things to keep everyone busy. With five departments offering literally hundreds of annual concerts, theatrical productions, readings, exhibits, symposiums and lectures by visiting artists, academics and professionals, Fine Arts remains one of the most community-engaged faculties on campus. Here’s a quick wrap-up featuring some—but certainly not all—of the leading Fine Arts stories of the year.

A very Meigs year

Sandra Meigs with the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada (photo: Sgt Ronald Duchesne)

Sandra Meigs with the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada (photo: Sgt Ronald Duchesne)

It was quite the year for Department of Visual Arts professor Sandra Meigs. Hot on the heels of being named one of eight recipients of the Governor General’s Awards for Visual and Media Arts in March—an honour that saw her work featured in a special curated exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada this past summer—she presented her most recent solo exhibit of new work, All to All, at Toronto’s acclaimed Susan Hobbs Gallery. Plus, she was announced as the winner of the $50,000 2015 Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the AGO in October, an award that also comes with a solo show at the Art Gallery of Ontario and a further $10,000 towards a publication on her work. Read more about Meigs’ successes here and here.

A Royal event

UVic's new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

UVic’s new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

More than 400 of Canada’s brightest academic minds converged on Victoria in November when the Royal Society of Canada—Canada’s national academy—honoured three of our own. Celebrated playwright, Writing professor and UVic alumna Joan MacLeod was one of three UVic professors elected as new fellows, while noted composer and Music professor Dániel Péter Biró was elected as one of three new members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Finally, acclaimed author and retired Writing professor Jack Hodgins was presented with the RSC’s 2014 Pierce Medal for outstanding achievement in imaginative literature. Find out more about UVic’s Royal Society connections here.

Really made in BC

Maria Tippett speaks to a full house

Maria Tippett speaks to a full house

Back in September, Fine Arts was proud to host the launch of Made in British Columbia: Eight Ways of Making Culture—the latest book by noted cultural historian Dr. Maria Tippett. “UVic has always impressed me as being sensitive to art in British Columbia, and is a superb place to launch the book,” noted the Governor General’s Award-winning Tippett. It was a packed event with nary a seat in the house and, despite nearly having to cancel due to ill health, Tippett proved a real trouper and carried on with a fantastic event. Read more about the book here.

Singing his praises

Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)

Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)

A tenor of international renown with a repertoire ranging from baroque to classical and contemporary, Music professor Benjamin Butterfield was announced in June as the 2015 winner of UVic’s Craigdarroch Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression. “The measure of Professor Butterfield’s impact on the musical world can truly be found in how he applies his talent and expertise to the training of a new generation of singers,” says Dr. Susan Lewis. “He makes the difference for young singers, providing both inspiration and sound teaching to prepare them for the world stage.” Discover more about Butterfield here.

(Re)Acting to a crisis

Conrad Alexandrowicz

Conrad Alexandrowicz

Back in March, a first-of-its-kind national symposium co-organized by Department of Theatre professor Conrad Alexandrowicz questioned and examined traditional acting methods, as it addressed what has been described as “the crisis of actor training in Canada.” Acting Training in a Shifting World saw 34 instructors from the majority of Canadian post-secondary drama institutions—ranging from universities and colleges to conservatory programs—converge on the Phoenix. “It’s good for UVic to host a discussion where we’re questioning all the things we’ve taken for granted for decades—that acting always comes out of a printed script,” says Alexandrowicz. “We’re under a lot of pressure to think of theatre training as a greater part of a liberal arts education, so we should be including people from all across campus, people who want to learn about performance but have no interest in professional acting per se.” Read the original Ring article here.

Mile-high research

Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff

Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff

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 spent his summer. 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 represented an exciting 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,” said Antliff, who spent two months on site. Read more about Clyfford Still here.

Welcome to the (faculty) club

Fine Arts was pleased to announce three new hires this academic year: Music’s Joseph Salem, plus Cedric Bomford and Megan Dickie in Visual Arts. “Dr. Salem comes to us from Yale University, where he completed a doctoral degree with a dissertation on Pierre Boulez,” says Dr. Susan Lewis. “A scholar with expertise in music after 1950, he brings a strong analytical focus to his approach to music. He is a passionate teacher who will ignite the classroom and instill a love for music our students.”

Salem, Dickie & BOmford

Salem, Dickie & BOmford

Joining Visual Arts from the University of Manitoba is sculptor and photographer Cedric Bomford. “[His] career is on a upward trajectory as evidenced by an international exhibition record and his work being recently nominated for the prestigious 2014 Sobey Award,” noted Visual Arts chair Paul Walde.

And stepping up from her longtime position as a sessional instructor is local sculptor Megan Dickie. “Megan has been teaching with Visual Arts for 10 years now,” says Walde. “She is consistently one of our most highly ranked instructors and is extremely popular with our students. In the past four years, Megan’s studio research has developed in new and innovative ways, bringing her more exhibition opportunities both nationally and internationally.”

Nominating success

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

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

An impressive 26 nominations in the 2015 Leo Awards for films created by Department of Writing faculty and alumni proves we’re punching above our weight when it comes to film futures—truly, a surprising number for a university that doesn’t even have a film production program. “Film is just a development of the Writing department’s already well-known streams,” says film professor Maureen Bradley, whose groundbreaking feature film Two 4 One (produced by Fine Arts Digital Media Technician Daniel Hogg) was nominated for six awards. “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].” Read more about our film course here.

Finding art in conflict

Applied Theatre professor Dr. Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta became the latest Fine Arts TEDx speaker in November, when she enthralled audiences with her talk “Utopia of Unwanted Spaces: Art in Conflict.” From her experiences bringing theatre to some of the most seemingly hopeless places in our world, Sadeghi-Yekta has learned what it takes for art—and culture—to not just live on, but thrive in conflict zones. “Theatre transcends the destructive places where a horrendous physical world exists,” says Sadeghi-Yekta. Some of her most notable work has been with working with the children in the Downtown East Side in Vancouver, young people in Brazilian favelas, disabled women in areas of Cambodia, adolescents in Nicaragua and students with special needs in schools in the Netherlands. You can watch the video here:

Gone but not forgotten

Finally, this past year saw the passing of three important figures in the Faculty’s history: School of Music professor Gene Dowling, Visual Arts professor Don Harvey, and Writing professor Dave Godfrey.

An inspirational teacher and invaluable colleague, Dowling passed away in June. “He showed incredible generosity and thoughtfulness towards his students and helped make the School of Music a great place to be,” says Acting Dean of Fine Arts and former School of Music Director Susan Lewis.

Dowling, Godfrey & Harvey

Dowling, Godfrey & Harvey

Also passing in June was former Writing chair Godfrey, a Governor General’s Award winner. Retired Writing professor Lorna Crozier remembers him as being “generous, sharp and excited about ideas and young people. He was a central figure in the Canadian renaissance, in our belief that our own stories have value. We need more of his kind now.”

Professor Emeritus Harvey passed away in August. A founding member of the Visual Arts department, current professor Robert Youds recalls Harvey as having “a formidably quick wit and a razor sharp eye for anything to do with colour, mark-making, and the pictorial in art. He played an enormous role in the early development of the Visual Arts department at UVic—for which we current members owe a real debt of thanks.”