What Child is This?

Lynne Van Luven

Department of Writing prof and Associate Dean of Fine Arts Lynne Van Luven is back with another book, Somebody’s Child: Stories about Adoption (TouchWood Editions)—the third in a series of anthologies about the 21st-century family that also includes Nobody’s Mother and Nobody’s Father. This latest volume of 25 stories of “longing and belonging” sees Van Luven reuniting with Nobody’s Father co-editor Bruce Gillespie to reexamine traditional definitions of the concept of “family.”

Van Luven appeared at TouchWood’s latest At The Mike reading series on October 25, alongside UVic graduate Barbara Stewart (Campie) and Jane Johnston (whose story, “A Mother Out Of Time,” appears in Somebody’s Child), all of whom were discussing the idea of “Life Writing” at Cadboro Bay Books. As part of that reading, Johnston shared some of her own experiences with adoption, which reflect the intimate and personal nature of the essays found in her new book.

“I gave birth in 1971 as a so-called ‘unwed mother,’ during the aptly named baby-scoop era. At that time, you may as well have killed someone, the shame and punishment for being unmarried and pregnant was just that great. We pregnant girls were hidden away in ‘homes for unwed mothers’ in neighboring towns, cities and provinces. We naturally grieved the loss of our families, our friends, our schools, our communities, our activities, our churches, our pets—well, everything that gave us an experience of belonging. We became lost to ourselves. We were taught that if we truly loved our children, we would let married people raise them. New birth certificates were forged with new names and the original records were then sealed for all time.

We mothers came home empty-armed, expected to behave as if all was well.  We were not to make anyone uncomfortable with our grief. The rule for silence was all-encompassing. So, why would anyone so stigmatized want to revisit the shame and pain and expose themselves, and their families? Well over a million mothers and children are still carrying the burden of this time. Many adoptees don’t know the truth of what happened, and many older mothers will go to their graves silent and shamed.

While even murderers may be freed and pardoned, most provinces still have permanently sealed adoption records—a life sentence that keeps mothers and children apart. Some, like myself, have found ways around that system, but the toxic secrecy and shame of that era prevails in law. The past has not really passed.

It has been said that we are each a part of the greater tapestry. When we stand back we can see patterns emerging and how our part fits in the greater picture. So, writing about the dark decades separated from my son, followed by the overwhelming joy of finding both him and his adoptive family (with no government help) has been transformational. Sharing my voice means finding my place in the bigger story, and also the possibility of helping others see themselves in a healthier way. Adoptees might realize the possibility that their mothers do want them. Do love them. Adoptive parents might realize there are no finite amount of people to love and be loved by in return. And importantly, grieving mothers who see their lives reflected in the stories of other women may begin to heal, if even a little.”

Barbara Stewart was also interviewed recently by UVic’s Martlet, and offered high praise for the Department of Writing. “The writing department faculty has a spirit of generosity that extends beyond the cost of tuition or the borders of UVic,” she said. “Time and again, help has been there when I needed it, even now.”

Jumping Jupiter!

Collaborators in The Moons of Jupiter: (L-R) Actor Azalea Micketti, Blackstone, Hesser, Ellison and Wise (UVic Photo Services)

Word just came down that the original UVic play The Moons of Jupiter was a finalist in this year’s Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition.

Written for 2009’s International Year of Astronomy by theatre historian and Department of Theatre professor Jennifer Wise, and workshopped by Theatre students and faculty, The Moons of Jupiter looks at the the family dynamics between famed astronomer Galileo and his children.

This biennial nation-wide open competition—named for Herman Voaden (1903-1991), a Canadian playwright, director, theatrical innovator and lifelong champion of Canadian culture—is judged “blind” by a distinguished panel of playwrights and directors and is one of the country’s most important awards for playwriting. This year’s preliminary judges included Brenda Bazinet, Douglas Bowie, Daryl Cloran, Paula Danckert, Katrina Dunn, Kevin Kerr, Robert Metcalfe, Yvette Nolan and Elyne Quan, with director and playwright Alisa Palmer and Arts Club Artistic Managing Director Bill Millerd acting as judges for the final round.

Millerd and Palmer commended the play for its “very strong voice,” its “fascinating idea,” and its “very discerning” and “demystifying” treatment of history and father-daughter relationships.

After being approached by Physics and Astronomy professor Sara Ellison about making a contribution to the International Year of Astronomy—a global celebration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first telescopic observations—Wise realized that there was a scarcity of great plays on astronomical themes; and the best-known (Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo) was historically inaccurate in its representation of Galileo’s family members, particularly in its depiction of his daughters. As a result, The Moons of Jupiter focuses on the lives of his two daughters in seclusion in the San Matteo Convent in Florence. Beginning with a comet that traverses the night sky in 1618, the play spans the years of Galileo’s altercations with Rome and his supposed imprisonment there.

“The members of his family revolve around Galileo like planets in a solar system, and it is through their stories that we can begin to understand this philosopher and astronomer’s entire life, not just his science,” Wise explained in a December 2009 Ring article. “I discovered, through the process of allowing these marginalized historical figures to speak, that Galileo’s family drama provides a surprisingly powerful tool for understanding his public life.”

Dr. Sarah Blackstone, Dean of Fine Arts, directed a three-week workshop process of this new play, with its first staged reading in November 2009. “As a collaborative project involving the playwright, director and students, we all learned a great deal in the process of making the script come alive,” noted Blackstone at the time. “The challenge has been to preserve Dr. Wise’s fascinating story while helping the author make necessary changes so that the play will work on the stage. For me, it was very nice to be able to set aside my administrative tasks for a time and engage in the creative process again.”

Jim Hesser, director of the National Research Council’s Astrophysical Dominion Observatory and the Canadian chair for the International Year of Astronomy, noted that The Moons of Jupiter was the only new full-length play created in Canada in honour of the event.

Laskarin in Sculpture mag

Daniel Laskarin is reviewed in this issue of Sculpture

The work of Visual Arts chair Daniel Laskarin has made it into the pages of Sculpture magazine. The current issue features Rachel Rosenfield Lafo’s review of Laskarin’s 10-year survey exhibit, Agnostic Objects (things persist), which was on view at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria earlier this year. “The sculptures intrigue yet mystify, their meanings open-ended and seemingly just out of reach,” writes Rosenfield Lafo. “They demand close and repeated looking.”

Laskarin’s work is reviewed alongside some impressive international contemporaries, including Andy Goldsworthy, Arne Quinze, Donald Judd, Betye Saar, Sook Jin Jo, Rosalyn Driscoll, Ronald Bladen, Jim Campbell and John Clement.

Laskarin’s “Packing the Fleece and Trapping Owls”

Clearly impressed by what she saw, Rosenfield Lafo notes, “Like the writings of Samuel Beckett . . . Laskarin’s sculpture eludes the possibility of exact meaning.” The review also included a photo of Laskarin’s piece, “Packing the Fleece and Trapping Owls” (2006-10, powder-coated aluminum, steel, rope and moving blanket).

Sculpture magazine is produced by the U.S.-based International Sculpture Center, a member-supported, nonprofit organization founded in 1960 to champion the creation and understanding of sculpture and its unique, vital contribution to society. Members include sculptors, collectors, patrons, architects, developers, journalists, curators, historians, critics, educators, foundries, galleries, and museums—anyone with an interest in and commitment to the field of sculpture.

In conclusion, Rosenfield Lafo says, “Ultimately, Laskarin’s inscrutable objects succeed because they demand an intellectual and a physical response from the viewer, exercising both brain and body.”

Curious? Read this January 2011 interview with Daniel Laskarin from the Ring.


From China, With Respect

Fine Arts Dean Sarah Blackstone shake hands with GAFA Vice President Wang Yuesheng following the official signing of the Memorandum of Understanding

Six representatives of China’s Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts (GAFA) visited UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts on October 5. In addition to a faculty tour, a luncheon with representatives from UVic’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives and Office of International Affairs, a lecture by GAFA scholar Wu Yangbo on “Chinese Feng Shui and the study of the Dragon Mother Temple” and a public reception, there was also an exchange of gifts and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to pursue future student and faculty exchanges.

The GAFA delegation with Dean Sarah Blackstone, outside the Fine Arts building

“I am very hopeful that we can forge a strong relationship with GAFA that will provide our students with the opportunity to study in China, and our Faculty the chance to learn about Chinese art practices from visiting students and faculty,” said Dr. Sarah Blackstone, Dean of Fine Arts.

Founded in 1953, GAFA has developed into one of the finest art institutions in South China. Specializing in two disciplines—Fine Arts and Design—GAFA focusses on traditional Chinese painting as well as oil and watercolour painting, sculpture and art history, while the College of Design ranges from architecture and environmental design to fashion, digital, textiles and more.

David Wang (second left) of UVic’s Office of International Affairs takes the GAFA delegation around the campus

GAFA currently has over 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students, has welcomed more than 300 students from 18 countries over the past 20 years, and was one of the first institutions in China authorized to award MFA degrees. It is one of the top eight fine arts schools in Mainland China, and also has an attached Fine Arts High School and Fine Arts Research Institute. (On an interesting historical note, the largest number of immigrants to Victoria came from China’s Guangzhou province, making UVic the natural choice for establishing an exchange program.)

Members of the GAFA delegation tour the Fine Arts buildings

In addition to GAFA Vice President Wang Yuesheng, visiting delegates included professor Huang Yong (Director of Foundation Program for Fine Art), professor Long Youzhong (Dean of Art Education), professor Wang Dapeng (Dean of Traditional Chinese Painting), Xia Tian (Department of Sculpture) and Wu Yangbo (School of Art and Humanities).

The visit was organized with the assistance of Ms. Eunice Lowe, widow of noted artist Stephen Lowe and a donor to History in Art. Ms. Lowe also kindly organized a special evening reception at the Union Club, where invited guests included the likes of Barry Till, curator of Asian Art for the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, noted local art writer Robert Amos and former Victoria mayor Alan Lowe. Also present at the luncheon was Writing professor and poet Tim Lilburn, who was instrumental in bringing acclaimed Chinese poet Xi Chuan to UVic in 2009.

Robert Amos with GAFA Vice President Wang Yuesheng at the Union Club

Following their visit to UVic, the GAFA delegation was continuing on to Montreal and the USA.

Media Check-Up

Christian Giroux, left, with artistic partner Daniel Young, accepting the 2011 Sobey Art Award (photo: Steve Farmer/Art Gallery of Nova Scotia)

Anyone who likes to keep track of our Fine Arts alumni will be forgiven if they’re having trouble keeping up with all the media coverage of late—fortunately, that’s why we’re here!  Here’s a few links to check out:

CBC recently picked up the news about Visual Arts alum Christian Giroux‘s $50,000 Sobey Award win. Giroux, together with artistic collaborator Daniel Young, picked up the prize on October 13, with the jury noting, “Young and Giroux reflect a curious world where digital interfaces have become an inextricable part of our lives.” Giroux attended UVic’s Visual Arts program back in the late ’90s.

Proudly wearing Canadian plaid, D.W. Wislon in London (photo Edmond Terakopian/Globe and Mail)

Hot on the heels of his recent £15,000 BBC National Short Story Award, writing grad Rosemary Westwood has written about Writing grad D.W. Wilson for the Globe & Mail. Wilson’s winning short story, “The Dead Roads”, can also be found in his newly published debut, a collection of short stories called  Once You Break a Knuckle. Wilson was also featured on CBC Radio’s North by Northwest on October 23, talking about his recent win with host Sheryl MacKay.

You can also read a review of Wilson’s debut courtesy of Jim Bartley in the Globe and Mail. (“‘Write what you know,’ the old-school saw to aspiring authors, has taken knocks over the years, but Wilson does a stunning job of resurrecting its prescriptive force. His fractious Kootenay town of Invermere rings with authenticity.”) And, not to be left out, the National Post ran this interview with Wilson on October 28. (“Wilson’s version of [Kootenay] Valley is a slightly mad and lawless place, full of senseless violence, petty vandalism and long-running feuds.”)

And the media machine that is Writing grad and former Writing instructor Esi Edugyan continues to provide headline fodder, despite not winning the Man Booker Prize this week. A recent piece in the Vancouver Sun previews her appearance at the Vancouver International Writers Festival. Expect more pieces about Edugyan as the dates approach for her standing nominations in the $25,000 Governor General’s Literary Award, the $50,000 Giller Prize and the $25,000 Writer’s Trust prize. Not that it’s all about the cash, of course . . . it’s also about the fame.

If you’ve only read about it but not cracked the actual book yet, the Globe and Mail has kindly provided an excerpt from Half-Blood Blues for your enjoyment.