Rebecca Belmore performs the art of professorship

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belmore’s 2008 piece “Fringe”

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

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

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

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

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

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


Find out more about Rebecca Belmore by visiting her site

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

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


Freshman’s Nomination

Freshman's Wharf

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

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

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

You can watch the episodes by clicking here.


She’s the Top

Lorna Crozier knows research can be poetic

Department of Writing professor Lorna Crozier was named one of UVic’s top seven researchers for 2011. Crozier, a much-loved poet, essayist and public speaker, picked up the Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression at the 2011 Craigdarroch Research Awards on May 3.

“Our university continues to be ranked nationally and internationally as a top research institution because of the talent, creativity and passion of our faculty and students,” noted Dr. Howard Brunt, UVic’s vice-president research. “The accomplishments of these award recipients exemplify that excellence and clearly demonstrate how new knowledge is being applied to improve the world around us.”
Crozier was lauded for her position “at the forefront of Canadian literature,” with the Craigdarroch panel noting how “the arresting, lyrical honesty for which she is best known infuses her 15 verse collections, as well as her 2009 memoir, Small Beneath the Sky.”

Other award recipients included engineer Dr. Andreas Antoniou, chemist Dr. Alexandre Brolo, engineer Dr. Reuven Gordon, physical anthropologist Dr. Eric Roth, historian Dr. Eric Sager and biochemist Dr. Caren Helbing.

Lights! Camera! Cannes Action!

A scene from Une Memoire Courte

A scene from Une Memoire Courte

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

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

Katherine Walkiewicz (photo by Stephanie Fisher)

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

The Short Film Corner runs May 11 to 22.

Booked for Big Things

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

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

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

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

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

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