Three things set Jackson 2Bears apart as the 2013/14 Audain Professor of Contemporary Arts of the Pacific Northwest for the Department of Visual Arts. Not only is he the first UVic alumnus and first local artist to hold the position, but he is also the first person reappointed for a second year.
Following in the footsteps of such noted Indigenous artists as Rebecca Belmore, Michael Nicol Yahgulanaas and Nicholas Galanin, 2Bears is a Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) multimedia artist and a frequent face around campus. Having completed both his Masters and PhD here, he taught for both Visual Arts and UVic’s Pacific Centre for Technology and Culture before accepting the Audain position. But he’s kept busy off-campus this past year by participating in solo and group exhibitions such as Ghost Dance: Activism. Resistance. Art. at Toronto’s Ryerson Image Centre, the Beat Nation tour which saw him invited to perform in Montreal and a number of East Coast performances with the Noxious Sector collective, as well as participating in Open Space Gallery’s recent public art symposium Reclaim The Streets.
As with all Audain professors, 2Bears’ year was split between teaching and studio practice. “There were periods where I was really focused on working with students—which was fantastic—but because of the way the position is set up, I found a lot of time for my own work,” he says. “Much of my year was about intense research; I really wanted to use this time to experiment with my own practice. Sometimes at the mid-career level, you find yourself in ruts or overly familiar ways of working; I was conscious of trying to upset that for myself. I wanted to do the research in order to recreate my practice.”
But he was also found himself challenged by his experience teaching the 300-level Audain seminar, which included students working in a variety of mediums: from painting and sculpture to digital media, performance and music. “Working with students at the senior level, it feels less like teacher/student relationships and more like we’re a group of artists working together, helping each other out,” he says. “I found that immensely helpful—especially in an environment where you’re forced to be critical of other peoples’ work all the time in that role, you go home and do that to yourself; it enhances your own practice. You look at your own work, and the voice in your head says, ‘Am I following my own advice here? Have I really thought this through?’”
Currently working on creating entirely new digital instruments for his Audain exhibition in September 2014 (“I’m adapting an old analogue synthesizer into a video performance machine . . . I want to treat video like sound, so it can warp and move like a synthesizer and music”), 2Bears has also been writing (“I’m also working on some new texts directly related to indigenous philosophy and technologies”) and looking at enhancing community engagement with the Audain position.
“I’ve been building relationships between Visual Arts and First Peoples House, Open Space and the community, but it’s taken a lot of this year just to get that off the ground,” he says. “But it would make me very happy to see that carry on, create more of a sense of community with the Audain position—not just community here on campus but bringing in other artists as well.” Already in the works is a series of mini-residencies with fellow contemporary indigenous artists Maria Hupfield, Sonny Assu and Corey Bulpitt.
All in all, 2Bears is pleased with his first year as an Audain Professor. “Absolutely, it’s been a great year,” says an enthusiastic 2Bears. “It’s been a real challenge working with students—in this environment, it’s very rich, very interdisciplinary, and everybody’s coming at things from different angles and perspectives—but it’s been fantastic.”
Created in 2009 as part of a $2-million gift from B.C. art philanthropist Michael Audain and the Audain Foundation, the Audain professorship brings in mid-career professional artists to both work with students and further their own work.