Dr. Dániel Péter Biró, professor of composition and music theory with the School of Music, has received a prestigious Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University for the 2014/15 academic year—a first for UVic’s School of Music.
“They have invited 53 researchers from all disciplines for this next year,” says Biró. “It’s not every day you get something like this.”
The Radcliffe Fellowship is only the latest accolade for Biró, an internationally acclaimed, multiple award-winning composer, co-creator of the SALT New Music Festival and Symposium and co-editor of the Search Journal for New Music and Culture.
Dániel Péter Biró
“Dr. Biró’s appointment as a fellow at Radcliffe College is a great achievement,” says Dr. Susan Lewis Hammond, director of the School of Music. “This is a high honour that reflects the status of his work and his international reputation in the fields of composition and new music. It is a mark of the quality of research and teaching happening in the School of Music. Our students will benefit greatly when Dr. Biró returns and transfers the knowledge and experience that he gains from Harvard to his classes.”
Biró’s tenure at Harvard will be spent not teaching but completing a seven-part, three-hour composition cycle he has been creating since 2003. “It’s called Mishpatim, which means ‘laws’. It’s all coming from an archaic Hebrew text, and will involve large ensemble, voice, piano and electronics,” he explains. “There’s also interaction between the live musicians and what’s being processed via computer and then coming out of the speakers to the audience.”
A movement of the Mishpatim cycle was commissioned by the German city of Darmstadt and performed by the ensemble recherche in 2006 while Biró was a featured composer and lecturer at the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music.
The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study is defined by a program that provides one-year fellowships for projects in a variety of disciplines in an open intellectual atmosphere. The Radcliffe Institute Fellowship Program has awarded over 650 fellowships since its founding in 1999, and past Fellowship winners include Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Poets Laureate, MacArthur fellows and leading international scientists, theatre directors and visual artists.
When it comes to advanced academic work, few would expect to spend five minutes examining a graduate student’s work in biochemistry, neuroscience or mechanical engineering and really “get it.” Yet the same rules don’t seem to apply to Visual Arts, where people are often quick to dismiss an MFA student’s work simply because they don’t immediately understand, or appreciate, it.
Art by Visual Arts MFA candidate Neil McClelland
Just ask Paul Walde. A professor of painting and media practices in the Department of Visual Arts, Walde is the graduate advisor for UVic’s 11 Visual Arts MFA students. He’s also a very busy intermedia artist on the leading edge of contemporary practice, so he knows well of what he speaks. “If you walk into a play or open a book and just spend five minutes with it, you’re probably not going to have a good sense of what the total accomplishment is,” he says. “That’s the same with visual arts—you have to spend some time with the work, maybe do a little reading around it . . . sometimes the content of the art is such that a level of understanding will have to preface it in some way.”
The MFA exhibit, titled In Your Eyes,will feature work by six graduating MFA candidates: Megan Dyck, Ethan Lester, Neil McClelland, Kaitlynn McQueston, Carley Smith and Jeroen Witvliet. “It’s really like six solo exhibitions,” says Walde. “Six people are taking over the entire facility, and some take up three or four rooms. The amount of work they produce is staggering; you’ll only be seeing a fraction of what they’ve produced in the past two years.”
MFA student Kaitlynn McQueston
Kaitlynn McQueston, who did her BFA at York University, was attracted by the independent studio focus of the MFA program. “I love the idea of a program that focuses more on practice-based research,” she says. “Graduate students have a little more control over what you read and research . . . most programs are just partial studio, and you spend a lot of time writing papers. This is more independent.”
McQueston describes her own practice as being “site-specific work focusing on the outdoors and architecture . . . I like the idea of artwork that tries to blend into the urban landscape and invites you to touch it in an informal but tangible way. I like breaking down those institutional barriers and engaging the public with art, as well as the landscape.” (In addition to the work on display in the MFA exhibit, McQueston is currently negotiating with local municipalities to install some pieces in public spaces.)
An example of Jeroen Witvliet’s work
Artists like McQueston, who have fresh approaches and new ideas, are exactly who the MFA program wants to attract. “We’re looking for artists who want to engage with contemporary art dialogue in an environment that really promotes independently driven, rigorous studio investigation in the service of research creation,” says Walde. “It’s definitely a successful program given its size; I shouldn’t be shocked but it’s always surprising—or affirming—when our former students receive awards or gain the recognition they so rightly deserve.” (Case in point: Visual Arts alumnus Kim Adams, who was recently awarded the 2014 Governor General’s Award for Visual & Media Arts.)
One of Carley Smith’s pieces
But while a perpetual sense of misunderstanding seems to be go hand-in-hand with being a contemporary artist, Walde doesn’t let it rankle him. “Most artists generally don’t want to confound audiences; they’re trying to convey messages in ways that are comprehendible in some form,” he explains. “But people expect it to work like advertising. With advertising, you’re driving by a billboard and you instantly get it, then it’s gone—whereas a good work of art will hopefully engage you and linger longer, more along the lines of a good novel or a good play.”
“With all the works in this exhibition, there are lots of opportunities for people to bring their own experiences and histories to bear upon the things that they’re seeing,” he says. “Most artists would agree that whatever you walk away with—whatever experiences you have—are valid interpretations of the art.”
In Your Eyes runs May 2-10 throughout the Visual Arts building. The opening night reception is from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, May 2, with opening remarks beginning at 7 p.m.
Mowry Baden in his studio, with the start of his Guggenheim-funded sculpture “Trisector”
Well-known contemporary artist and sculptor Mowry Baden, a professor emeritus with the Department of Visual Arts, can now add one of North America’s most prestigious awards to his long list of honours. Baden is one of only two Canadians receiving a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship and is among a diverse group of 178 scholars, artists, and scientists selected from a field of almost 3,000 applicants.
Baden is only the sixth UVic scholar to be awarded a Guggenheim and our first creative artist to receive the honour. The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced this year’s recipients on April 10 in its 90th annual competition for the US and Canada.
“I’m very happy,” says Baden of his one-year fellowship worth $55,000 US. “My request was for money to help develop a sculpture that addresses the sense of touch—in art parlance, that’s called haptic. The sculpture will be pretty complex and will, of course, also have a visual component. It is a piece that will be able to be moved from place to place.” His Guggenheim-funded sculpture, titled Trisector (seen here), is already being constructed.
Baden & Meigs’ “Revolving Basement” (2013)
Best known locally for his public art sculptures and complex tactile works, Baden is a prolific artist and recipient of numerous grants and awards including a 2006 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. He will also be speaking at the upcoming event Reclaim the Streets: A Symposium on Art and Public Space, running April 25 and 26 at Open Space. Baden also contributed the piece “Revolving Basement” to the recent solo exhibition The Basement Panoramas by fellow Visual Arts faculty member Sandra Meigs.
“The Department of Visual Arts is proud to congratulate Mowry Baden on being awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship,” says department chair Daniel Laskarin. “He was one of two professors who joined UVic in the 1970s and who led the development of our program into what it is today. His students are among the most successful artists across Canada and beyond, and his own artistic work is internationally celebrated.”
Baden’s “Upper and Lower Case” (2009)
Notable among Baden’s former students are the likes of Sobie Award winner Christian Giroux, Yale’s director of sculpture Jessica Stockholder, current Visual Arts professor Robert Youds and 2014 Governor General’s Award winner Kim Adams. In his GG interview, Adams mentions the influence Baden had on the development of his work. “When we learned art history, it was through somebody who knew art today—and that was Mowry Baden,” he says. “We started seeing things that were more real—the perception of the colours, the scale and the size, what happens between it and you and that space between. For me, it was the street level, I was trying to pull that into the art.”
You can read more about Baden’s life and artistic legacy in this Canadian Art magazine feature article “The Great One.”
Baden’s “Tender Trepanation” (2005)
“UVic has for many, many years has had a popular and critical sculpture program,” says Baden. “A lot of these people who have done well out in the world are sculptors who have been trained by me, my friend Roland Brener, who passed away, and by Daniel Laskarin . . . it continues to be a very strong program.”
Reflecting on the development of the department under his guidance, Baden feels they created something unique. “I think it’s true that no other department was offering what we could offer—Roland with his uniquely English exposure and me with a Southern California background—that’s kind of a unique combination. I can’t think of another Canadian university or art school that had that kind of blend.”
Opening night of the recent BFA show Split hints at the diversity of the Visual Arts building
Baden was also instrumental in developing not only the Visual Arts program but the building itself. “When I was the chair of the department in the early ‘90s, we were singularly fortunate in getting a new building, and I had a great deal to do with its design—not that I designed it, but I was the point man for the department,” he recalls.
“A little stroll through the building is important when you want to see how the pedagogy is reinforced by the structure of corridors and studios and shops, the way they are linked and related with one another. It’s not a thousand percent success, you can never achieve that, but I think the building does a great deal to help with practice.”
As mentioned above, Baden will also be participating in Reclaim the Streets: A Symposium on Art and Public Space at Open Space on April 25 and 26. A fascinating and wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium on art in the public space, Reclaim the Streets will bring together artists, scholars, curators, activists, community organizations, and engaged citizens to examine and discuss the goals, perceptions, problems, and possibilities of public art in Victoria. Along with Baden, Fine Arts will be represented by the likes of Visual Arts MFA Kika Thorne and former Department of Theatre alumni and instructor Dr. Will Weigler.
Past Guggenheim fellows from UVic include climatologist Andrew Weaver (2008), astrophysicist Julio Navarro (2003), English professor Anthony Edwards (1988), ocean physicist Chris Garrett (1981) and biologist Job Kuijt (1964).
Often characterized as “midcareer” awards, the Guggenheim Fellowships are intended for men and women who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts. Scores of Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and eminent scientists are past Guggenheim fellows, including Henry Kissinger, Linus Pauling and Ansel Adams.
Undergraduates in the Department of Visual Arts are similar to students in any department at the University of Victoria: they come here to learn, to think, to research and to incubate their ideas. But what makes Visual Arts students different is that they also come here to create—and that creative difference is showcased in the annual Bachelor of Fine Arts graduating exhibit, this year titled Split.
BFA student Marina Eglis installs her piece in the graduating exhibit Split
No question, the BFA exhibit is one of the most anticipated events of the Visual Arts academic year. This year featuring the work of 36 students, Split runs from April 17-26 and will feature a tremendous amount of painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, video and media art spread throughout the Visual Arts building.
“For many of the students, the BFA exhibition is an opportunity for them to exhibit their work publicly for the first time,” says Visual Arts professor Jennifer Stillwell, who is coordinating Split with fellow professor Robert Youds. “Each graduating student has created a body of work or a major work that speaks to their individual point of view as an artist. The exhibit marks the achievement of their degree and celebrates and highlights the work they have put into it.”
BFA student Abigail Laycock with her sculptures
More than just displaying their work, however, the students have also organized most aspects of the exhibition itself—from curatorial decisions and building preparation to organizing the opening night event and creating a colour catalogue that will further support the work and ideas of each artist in the show.
“Most BFA students arrive here not really knowing what contemporary art is, then they have to go through the process of figuring it out and engaging with it,” says Visual Arts professor Paul Walde. “Then they have to decide what they want to work on and move forward with that. This final year really is the tipping point where you see massive development in a student’s work. That’s why UVic is such a great incubator for artists: it gives you time and space, and it has great facilities and a great faculty—but when students graduate, it’s really important for them to get off the island and test the strength of their ideas in other contexts.”
VASA president Graham Macaulay with one of his installations
Split not only offers a glimpse into the future of visual art but also shows the originality of vision that comes with being mentored by some of Canada’s top contemporary artists. “Taking these courses and working with these professors has given me a way of filtering what I’m taking in and providing effective strategies for creating things,” says graduating Visual Arts Student Association president Graham Macaulay. “The strength of this program is the very direct studio practice—you really get into the meat of your artistic practice. I’ve been exposed to a lot of different ideas and people with different practices.”
BFA student Heather Carter with her wall of nudes
On one level, the exhibit title Split was inspired by a quote by French theorist Roland Barthes, which appears in the exhibit catalogue: “It would seem that we are condemned for some time yet to always speak excessively about reality. This is probably because ideologism and its opposite are types of behaviours which are still magical, terrorized, blinded and fascinated by the split in the social world. And yet, this is what we must seek: a reconciliation between reality and men, between description and explanation, between object and knowledge.”
Graduating student Chris Savage matches his painted dishware to paintings
When asked about this, Macaulay chuckles. “It’s kind of tricky naming a grad show—it’s always a bit of the same thing: a lot of people with very disparate practices. You get some meeting places where people work together but the only real connection point is the location—we’re all here, we’re all Visual Arts students,” he says. “But in her catalogue essay, Jennifer Stillwell said, ‘It’s time to split’—which I thought was so funny, it’s been four years and it’s time to split. It’s such a simple thing, and such a contrast with what Barthes has to say.”
Split also carries on the enviable Visual Arts tradition of producing some of Canada’s most notable contemporary artists—such as 2014 Governor General’s Award winner Kim Adams, as well as the likes of Jessica Stockholder, Gwen Curry, Bill Burns, Marla Hlady, Phyllis Serota, Barbara Fischer, Christian Giroux and many, many others.
If you want to brush up on the future of Canadian art, look no further than UVic’s Department of Visual Arts.
Split opens with a 7pm reception on Thursday, April 17. The exhibit runs daily to April 26 throughout UVic’s Visual Arts Building, and is free to attend. Don’t miss our upcoming MFA graduating exhibit as well, running May 2-10.
With 2,200 works of art currently on display—out of more than 19,000 pieces in the university’s overall art collection—UVic has more art on view in public, non-museum spaces than at any other university in Canada. Managing the collection responsibly through the Legacy Art Galleries’ Art on Campus program has also meant that a number of pieces previously on display in public spaces have been deemed to be at risk—and are in the process of being replaced with thematically similar works.
Mary Jo Hughes at the 2013 Legacy exhibit Paradox (photo: Don Denton)
“The Department of Canadian Heritage designate some of our works to be of outstanding national significance,” explains Legacy Art Galleries director Mary Jo Hughes, “so they require we only show and store these pieces in places with ‘Category A’ museum standards—which we unfortunately don’t have in the public spaces and offices on campus.”
The risks that Legacy must be concerned about are more than just the possibility of theft. “Art can be damaged from light, temperature, humidity, airborne contaminants, pests and vandalism,” she says.
Canadian Heritage requires nearly 1,000 nationally significant artworks in UVic’s collection to be protected for the benefit and education of both present and future generations. Consider, for example, Legacy’s precious William Morris tapestries. “They are so valuable and so vulnerable to light that we only bring them out for short-term display, and for examination and research,” says Hughes. “We always have to balance preservation with the desire for long-term display; if we were to put them out, they would be so faded after a couple of years that they ‘d be worthless for future generations.”
Legacy curator Caroline Riedel, History in Art Professor Dr. Erin Campbell and History in Art student Holly Cecil (photo by Gary McKinstry)
But while this curatorial shuffle means you’ll no longer find Myfanwy Pavelic’s paintings in the McPherson Library or Robert Davidson’s prints in the Fraser Building, you will now find equally strong and relevant pieces in their place. Pavelic’s portrait of famed conductor Yehudi Menuhin that previously hung outside the library’s Music and Media department has been replaced with alumna Eva Campbell’s portrait of filmmaker Kemi Craig. “Legacy is attempting to match pieces that will continue to speak those messages,” explains Hughes. “Maintaining First Nations prints in the Law faculty, for example, speaks to their respect for and interest in indigenous approaches to law.”
Even though Legacy Art Gallery Downtown and the Legacy Maltwood in the Mearns Centre for Learning are the only “Category A” spaces available, that doesn’t mean the campus will be short on art to display. “We have the most art on public display of any university in Canada,” Hughes says. (By way of comparison, the much larger University of Toronto campus only has 800 pieces on view.) “The Art on Campus program makes a valuable contribution to the educational environment at UVic. It reinforces an interdisciplinary approach in how people work, teach and learnon campus, and recognizes art as a vital part of everybody’s life; it provides invigoration and stimulation wherever it is.”
UVic’s Legacy Gallery Downtown
Hughes also points out what our art collection says about the university as a whole. “It reinforces key messages about UVic, about our values, about our culture,” she says. “Think about the remarkable amount of First Nations art we have campus: that speaks to our connection with the Coast Salish people, with being grateful for being on their territory, with recognizing their culture as a vital part of our world right now. That’s very important to UVic, across disciplines. We don’t want to just pigeonhole art in the Fine Arts or Visual Arts buildings.”
Though some key works have been moved out of offices where they were well-loved, protecting the art will create opportunities to share the pieces with a wider audience through the gallery—in our own era and in the decades to come.
Maxwell Bates’ “Circus People” (1969) will be seen in Legacy’s upcoming Epiphany exhibit
The program is also providing new opportunities for community engagement, as seen in Legacy’s upcoming exhibit Epiphany:Highlights from the Legacy Permanent Collection opening May 1. Featuring artists of national significance like Norval Morrisseau, Lawren Harris, Frederick Varley, Robert Davidson, Emily Carr, Myfanwy Pavelic, Robert Rauschenberg, Jack Shadbolt and Jean-Paul Riopelle, among others, Epiphany will showcase art that may previously have had limited exposure. “This will enable a lot of people to see some of the cultural properties that have been taken off-campus,” she explains. “A piece may have been hanging in someone’s office or a hallway the general public couldn’t get to before. We’re trying to give access to these key pieces in exhibitions like this.”
Hughes also feels it’s important to remember that community engagement is only part of the role of UVic’s art collection—with the other part being experiential learning. “We cater to faculties whenever they want to have artwork as part of their teaching. We offer art for teaching in classes on campus or at Legacy and we provide study access to reseachers . . . what we do is very much linked to the academic mandate, and real-life experience of working with art. ”
“We’re still dedicated to providing access to all our pieces,” Hughes concludes, “through temporary exhibits, research, classroom visits, and through our database. We have to balance the protection of the artwork with access for scholarship, research and exhibition purposes.”