Four from Visual Arts shortlisted for Philip B. Lind art prize

Brandon Poole's "Flatter Movement"

Brandon Poole’s “Flatter Movement”

When Vancouver’s Presentation House Gallery announced the eight nominees for their inaugural Philip B. Lind Emerging Artist Prize in March, the Visual Arts department was proud to have connections to half the nominees. Among the artists nominated for this new $5,000 photography prize are Visual Arts graduate student Kerri Flannigan, undergrads Brandon Poole and Anna Shkuratoff, and alumna Emily Geen, whose shortlisted photos appear on this page. As only eight artists are nominated, Visual Arts makes up an impressive half of the list.

A group exhibition of works by the shortlisted artists will be mounted at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Centre as the premiere event of the 2016 Capture Photography Festival. Jurors for the prize include artist and Emily Carr University faculty member Stephen Waddell plus Presentation House gallery’s curator Helga Pakasaar and director Reid Shier; the jury will reconvene at the Capture Photography Festival’s opening reception on Friday, April 1, to choose the winning artist. The $5,000 award will go towards the production of a new work to be exhibited at Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery in 2017.

Kerri Flannigan's "Catching Stones and Throwing Hammers: The Woodlands Demolition" earned a $1K runner-up prize

Kerri Flannigan’s “Catching Stones and Throwing Hammers: The Woodlands Demolition” earned a $1K runner-up prize

Update: SFU student Vilhelm Sundin was announced as the winner on April 1, with Kerri Flannigan named runner-up and winning a $1,000 prize.

Geen, who graduated with her MFA in 2015, singles out the efforts of her MFA supervisor, Visual Arts professor Robert Youds. “There is no doubt that my UVic education has been pivotal in the maturation of my art practice,” she says. “This is in part due to Rob’s perspectives on pictures and perception, which informed an expansion in my understanding of how photography can be approached in contemporary art practice.

Youds himself is particularly excited to see Geen’s name among the UVic nominees. “For her to be short-listed for this prize is a big deal,” says Youds. “Whether or not she wins, she has nevertheless already impressed.”

Emily Geen installing her nominated photo "A View to Call One’s Own" during the 2015 MFA exhibit

Emily Geen installing her nominated photo “A View to Call One’s Own” during the 2015 MFA exhibit

Geen also emphasizes the department’s focus for making a difference in her creative practice. “In my experience, UVic’s Visual Arts encourages a strong studio-centric work ethic and challenges its students to think about art in a way that puts the experience of the viewer first,” she says.

“We’re investigating our artistic values in a really hands-on way and thinking beyond the framework of fulfilling a degree, towards the bigger picture: how our work will behave in a professional exhibition setting with an audience. This attitude helps us to make sophisticated, gallery-ready work.”

The Philip B Lind Prize has been established to support emerging artists working with mediums of photography, film and video. Each year, post-secondary visual arts instructors are invited to nominate a student enrolled in a BFA or MFA program. Shortlisted students have their work exhibited as part of the Philip B Lind Prize exhibition, and a winner is selected and announced the night of the exhibition opening celebration. The Prize is made possible with generous support from Rogers Communications. Rogers made a significant donation to Presentation House Gallery to honour Phil Lind’s 45 years of service and contribution to the company and the communications industry, and to celebrate his passion for the Vancouver art scene at the time of his retirement last year.

Anna Shkuratoff's "Tire Swing"

Anna Shkuratoff’s “Tire Swing”

The exhibit will run from April 1 to 9 at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre, 181 Roundhouse Mews. and will be open 9am to 10pm weekdays, and 9am to 5pm weekends.

2016 Youth Poet Laureate Ann-Bernice Thomas speaks her mind

Ann-Bernice Thomas doesn’t even hesitate when asked the most surprising aspect of being named the City of Victoria’s 2016 Youth Poet Laureate. “All the attention,” she says with a quick laugh. “Considering I didn’t really hear anything about last year’s poet, it’s been really surprising . . . but nice.”

2016 Youth Poet Laureate Ann-Bernice Thomas

2016 Youth Poet Laureate Ann-Bernice Thomas

A second-year double-major in the departments of Theatre and Writing, Thomas was announced as the new Youth Poet Laureate in January and quickly received a flurry of attention from nearly all of Victoria’s media outlets, with interviews in the Times Colonist, Victoria News, Martlet, and the Nexus.  Her one-year term, jointly funded by the City of Victoria and the Greater Victoria Public Library, ends on December 31, for which she will receive a $1,750 honorarium and $1,000 in special project funding.

With a mandate to create and present new works to both Victoria City Council and Youth Council, conduct poetry readings at City and Greater Victoria Public Library events, and organize a community youth poetry event—in addition to her regular studies—Thomas will definitely have her hands full in the year ahead. “I’m excited about it, but I’m also planning to do a lot during the summer when I’m not in school,” she says. “I’m really hard on myself and want to do a good job. I can only be as good as I can be, so I’m totally motivating myself.”

As part of the annual Victorious Voices youth spoken word festival, Thomas will present an introduction to spoken word workshop from 4-6pm Tuesday, April 12, at the Greater Victoria Public Library downtown. Details here.

Born in England, Thomas has lived in a Toronto suburb since she was seven and specifically moved to Victoria to attend university. “UVic is the only school in Canada that offers a double-major in creative writing and theatre, and it also has the best writing program,” she says. “UVic is special—it was a very good choice. I love it here!”

Thomas is the third UVic student to hold the position. Then-writing undergrad (now alumna) Aysia Law was named the City’s inaugural Youth Poet Laureate in 2013—the first position of its kind in Canada at the time—and women’s studies major Zoé Duhaime held it in 2015. Victoria’s inaugural Poet Laureate was writing instructor Carla Funk, who held the position from 2006-08, and current Poet Laureate Yvonne Blomer is also alumna.

Thomas has already made her debut as Youth Poet Laureate at a Victoria City Council meeting, and will be mentored by Blomer in the coming months. “I need to sit down and plan what I want to do,” she says. “For example, I was just interviewed by a poetry radio show in Edmonton; it’s such a cool idea, so now I have to talk to CFUV about whether it’s possible to do a show like that. But I’m also putting together a blog for myself and for local youth to post to, and I want to host a few poetry/theatre workshops as well.“

Thomas performing at an out-of-town poetry slam

Thomas performing at an out-of-town poetry slam

Already an accomplished spoken word artist, Thomas is also passionate about the impact poetry can have on a young person’s life. “As an out-of-towner, I don’t really know the ‘youth’ of Victoria,” she admits, “but I’m very excited about sharing poetry with them. It made such a big impact in my life.”

Having performed at social justice events like the AIDS Walk for Life and a Ferguson Rally back home, Thomas has seen the power of poetry first-hand. “I grew up in a pretty non-multicultural town, so it makes a big difference being a minority . . . so many people are raised with micro-aggressions and subtly racist ideas, and the only way to unlearn those it is to talk about them. Poetry is a surprisingly evolving art form and a very good medium for social awareness, because you can be honest and entertaining and punchy and make people think, all at the same time. And once you get people thinking, you can get them learning.”

And does the latest Youth Poet Laureate have a motto, any words to live by? “Everything is poetry!” Thomas laughs. “So do poetry. That’s about it.”

Click here to listen to Thomas perform one of her pieces, “The First Time I Saw God.”

Graduating Visual Arts MFAs present a Solo Series

MFA_showposter_finalAlways looking for a new way to present work, the Department of Visual Arts has changed the format of their annual exhibition by graduating students of their MFA program. Rather than presenting one large exhibit featuring all the graduating MFA students, this year’s exhibition will instead offer a rotating Solo Series. The first of these week-long solo exhibitions will happen throughout March in the Audain Gallery in the Visual Arts building, wrapping up with three further solo exhibitions in late April following the annual BFA exhibit. Artists on view in this first Solo Series include Tristan Zastrow, Ryan Hatfield and Rachel Vanderzwet.

“This series will be beneficial for our undergraduate students and the public to directly experience the rigorous individual studio practices that our grads are engaged in,” says Visual Arts professor and grad student supervisor Jennifer Stillwell. “Their solo exhibitions are milestones in their research and practice as they publicly display and celebrate the work they have developed through their two-year Master’s degree.”

First on view is Tristan Zastrow‘s “Emerge,” running 9am to 5pm daily from March 14 to 19. His installation references the notion of “putting one’s self into another’s shoes”, and the inherent impossibility to fully do so. “It contends with the impact of story on identity and experience by creating an immersive environment that seeks to turn the viewer’s attention back toward themselves,” says Zastrow. An American artist who has lived in Canada since 2007, Zastrow’s practice primarily considers identity and behavioural influence.

From Tristan Zastrow's "Emerge"

From Tristan Zastrow’s “Emerge”

His focus in the MFA program has dealt with his analysis of narrative as a self-proclaimed “story junkie.” Noting that he has been greatly inspired by “the experiential turn,” which has become increasingly prevalent since the 1960s, he says he arrives at his work through a conceptual process of research and investigation. “I like holding a topic up close, and trying to extract some part of it which might translate best to a dynamic encounter.” Zastrow’s interactive works seem to carry a thread of playfulness with an undercurrent which encourages reflective pause. “I want to make accessible works that people of all walks of life can come to with whatever mood or foreknowledge of fine art, and be able to get something that sticks with them.”

Listen to this interview with Zastrow on the CFUV Radio show Beyond the Jargon. Also running simultaneously with his MFA exhibit is Zastrow’s “Circle Makers”, March 12-29 at the fifty-fifty arts collective. All are welcome to join Zastrow at the “Emerge” reception, 4-7pm Thursday, March 17 in the Audain Gallery.

From Ryan Hatfield's "I Didn't Understand it, or Enjoy it, but I'm Sure it's Profound."

From Ryan Hatfield’s “I Didn’t Understand it, or Enjoy it, but I’m Sure it’s Profound.”

Next on view is the ironically titled “I Didn’t Understand it, or Enjoy it, but I’m Sure it’s Profound” by Ryan Hatfield (9am-5pm March 21-25, with a 4-7pm reception on Thursday, March 24). In his series of large-scale oil paintings, Hatfield uses jarring intersections of visual interruptions and contradictions to mess with art historical and contemporary art tropes.  “Throughout my process, the work is constantly challenged by throwing off and teasing composition with various visual elements including text, brightly saturated colour, representational still life and figures,” he says. “A montage of extraneous, competing elements explore the relationship between visual balance and chaos.”

With an aim to articulate our environment’s complexity, Hatfield’s works stem from a frustration, fascination, ode and ridicule of how we search for meaning through images and painting. Hatfield holds a BFA from the University of Denver, a post-graduate diploma from the Cyprus College of Art and has exhibited work internationally in Scotland, Cyprus, Israel, Australia, and USA.

From Rachel Vanderzwet's "Mooning Over Feathered Tutus"

From Rachel Vanderzwet’s “Mooning Over Feathered Tutus”

This first series rounds out this month with Rachel Vanderzwet’s “Mooning Over Feathered Tutus” (9am-5pm March 28-April 1, with a 4-7pm reception on Thursday, March 31). Vanderzwet’s thesis work is ripe with the desire of a manufactured lifestyle torn fresh from the pages of contemporary visual culture. Her paintings burst with recognition and humour while flirting with abstract gesture. “Each painted mark comes about from a process of reacting to the one laid down before it,” she explains. Her layered and spatial pictures are alive with energy and colour that seduces the viewer into a state of close inspection and investment. There is a sense of curiosity and freshness to the work which reflects an earnest appetite to explore kitsch and the everyday as the unexpected allure of our material lives.

“Rachel Vanderzwet’s new paintings readily bridge the cleave between the realms of abstraction and representation,” notes Visual Arts professor Robert Youds. “Her canvases ooze with gesture, colour, pattern, becoming visual choreography with all the reciprocity and speed of fashions best sociological/cultural bites.” Prior to her enrollment in UVic’s MFA program, Vanderzwet received her BFA in Studio Art from University of Guelph and a Diploma in Graphic Design and Art Fundamentals from Niagara College. She has shown work nationally in Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Victoria and Guelph.

Coming up at the end of April are exhibits by this year’s remaining MFA candidates: Victoria Murawski, Breanna Fabbro and Kerri Flannigan.

“Summer and Smoke” is a show of firsts and lasts

Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke, the final Phoenix Theatre production for the 2015/2016 season, is definitely a production of firsts and lasts for director and MFA candidate Alan Brodie and set designer and Theatre professor Allan Stichbury. While it marks the first time Brodie has directed a full-length play, it is also the last show Stichbury will design as a Theatre professor, given his imminent retirement.

Alan Brodie (photo: David Cooper)

Alan Brodie (photo: David Cooper)

Brodie, a highly acclaimed Canadian lighting designer with over 300 plays, musicals, operas, and dance productions to his 25-year career credit, is merely the latest working professional to enroll as a Master’s student in UVic’s Department of Theatre. And while his design work has been seen on the stages of all Canadian English-language regional theatres, Summer and Smoke marks both his directorial debut and culmination of his Masters in Directing—a solid payoff on his two-year academic investment. “I felt that if I was going to put work on hold, I needed to undertake something that could be truly transformative on my practice as a designer,” he said. “Studying directing has been just that. The past two years have been the most challenging and rewarding enterprise of my life.”

Summer and Smoke runs to March 19 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre. Click here to listen to this CFUV interview with Alan Brodie about making the transition from lighting designer to theatre director.

Brodie, who designed the lights for a 2007 Shaw Festival production of Summer and Smoke, is happy to be in the hands of a master storyteller like Tennessee Williams. He knew he wanted to direct something from the canon of the 20th Century American Drama, and that Williams loomed large at every turn. Yet while Summer and Smoke may not be the playwright’s best-known work, Williams himself felt that the central character of Miss Alma Winemiller “may very well be the best female portrait I have drawn in a play.” Alma, the play’s protagonist, is a minister’s daughter who struggles with feelings for her self-indulgent neighbour John; their bittersweet relationship is heartbreaking and poignant, and Williams’ tale about the classic struggle between body and spirit has stood the test of time since it was first produced on Broadway in 1948.

Allan Stichbury in his office, with a model of the angel seen in Summer and Smoke

Allan Stichbury in his office, with a model of the angel seen in Summer and Smoke

With a bittersweetness suitable to the play itself, Summer and Smoke is also the final Phoenix production for set designer Allan Stichbury before his retirement from the Department of Theatre. Stichbury, a UVic professor since 1988, has managed to successfully balanced a career as both a professional designer and teacher. Yet his own path to theatre was a little circuitous.

After high school, Stichbury traveled the country, with plans of returning to his native Saskatchewan to attend pre-law courses. Yet upon visiting Victoria and learning of UVic’s new law school, he decided to stay . . . but the political science classes didn’t capture his imagination. “In 1971, there weren’t a lot of women in political science courses,” he recalls, “but there were a number of women from the Theatre department in my English course, so I began to hang out there.” It was also at UVic that he saw his very first play, and soon realized theatre was much more interesting than law. “So I dropped some other classes, registered for Theatre 100 and, by second year, had changed my major to theatre.”

It was here at UVic that Stichbury learned how to design and build sets, working with then-design professor Bill West, and realized he had a skill for design—so much so that he dropped out of school after second year and began working at Victoria’s Bastion Theatre. Two years of backstage experience later, he enrolled at the University of Alberta for theatre design and never looked back. With a career designing scenery and lighting for numerous major theatre and opera institutions across Canada, Stichbury has also designed shows for Broadway, in Washington DC and Bangkok, Thailand, where he was influential in establishing a student exchange between Bangkok University and the University of Victoria.

For Summer and Smoke, director Brodie’s research into the 1948 original convinced him that he wanted to stay true to that production’s realism, but in a way that would help translate it to 2016 audiences. Working together with Stichbury, they chose to place the play’s various locations on a revolving turntable instead of having more traditional scene locations (stage left, stage right). “We can maintain the poetic symbolism of having everything on stage at one time,” says Brodie, “but the revolve allows us to select which scene we feature, and bring that location downstage so that the communication between the actor and the audience is the strongest it can possibly be.”

Alma (Gillian McConnell) & John (Aidan Correia) in Summer and Smoke (photo: David Lowes)

Alma (Gillian McConnell) & John (Aidan Correia) in Summer and Smoke (photo: David Lowes)

With a vast southern sky and a nod to Mississippi architecture, Stichbury’s designs for Summer and Smoke offer an elegant sense of minimalism. But he’s clear that, as well as serving the play, his designs for the Phoenix are also about creating opportunities for student learning and exploration. “It’s important to use design elements every few years—like a turntable or the use of a cyclorama screen to project a huge sky onto—so that each cohort of students can be introduced to and explore these concepts.”

As with other theatrical professionals who have earned their MFA at the PhoenixChari Arespacochaga, Graham McMonagle, Peter McGuire, Christine Willes and David Ferry, to name but a few—Brodie feels lucky to have been a student here. “I have been so fortunate to work with an incredible team on this production. Designers, actors, stage managers, coaches, technicians, crew, staff, faculty, supervisors and advisors alike—all have conspired to give me a dream ride on my first major foray into directing.”

As for retiring, Stichbury doesn’t see it as the end. “It’s not about stopping,” he says. “It’s about changing your focus and moving on to something else.” With his Bangkok University production of West Side Story opening on the same night as Summer and Smoke, and designing several upcoming plays across Canada, he is definitely not stopping soon. “It will be a variation of what I do. Will it involve teaching? Will it involve designing? Probably.” Stichbury pauses and chuckles, “It will probably also involve some time at the beach.”

—Adrienne Holierhoek

Astri Wright curates International Women’s Day exhibit

When it comes to community engagement, it’s hard to beat an art show where more than 70 local artists contribute work for an exhibition proposed, organized, curated and displayed by a team of Art History & Visual Studies faculty and alumni.

Women Hold up Half the Sky, an exhibition in celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8), runs at the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria’s exhibit space in downtown’s Bay Centre until March 13.

From left: Tumasonis, Wright, O'Hare & Eisenbraun

From left: Tumasonis, Wright, O’Hare & Eisenbraun

Art History & Visual Studies professor Astri Wright is guest curator of this exhibit by local women. Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands artists were invited to submit work representing how they see their ideas having agency in the world—whether through their art or other avenues—with over 300 submissions curated to the final 120 pieces on display. Describing it as a “lightly juried” exhibit, Wright also brought in retired AHVS professor Elizabeth “Betsy” Tumasonis as guest curator.

“It was a pleasure to curate work by these women,” says Wright. “Very few can live off their art; whether trained or untrained, most of these artists are working on an amateur basis—and I don’t use ‘amateur’ as a put-down, it just means they’re doing it for the love of it . . . that sense of inclusiveness and celebration of women was paramount for this show.”

Wright, who formulated and pitched the exhibit idea to the CACGV—where she had also curated an International Women’s Day exhibit in 2008—was excited to discover three AHVS alumni were already involved with the gallery: Executive Director Stephanie Eisenbraun (BA ’11), Gallery Coordinator Brin O’Hare (MA ’14), and ‎Assistant Arts Coordinator Alanah Garcin (BA/MA ’12). All three are good examples of how the hands-on learning that happens in the Art History & Visual Studies department can prepare students for careers in the arts.

From left: Garcin, O'Hare, Wright & Eisenbraun

From left: Garcin, O’Hare, Wright & Eisenbraun

“Working with them has been a lot of fun, professionally and personally,” says Wright. “The training we get in art history positions us to see value in a much broader range of art and media than what you see in a more tightly or subjectively curated exhibition. This is a clear case of where the professional concerns of an art historian and those of a community organization dovetail very nicely. An exhibit like this represents greater diversity and more aspects of our community—both the art community and the larger community—than is often seen in professional gallery spaces.”

She also praises the increased perspective art history can offer when it comes to seeing the world through new eyes. “Most people have a subjective response to art, but what art history adds to our toolbox and our perceptual abilities is the ability to know how to locate that response,” she says, “as well as an appreciation for a broad wealth of media, stylistic approaches and different kinds of aesthetics. Art history really trains for inclusiveness—especially in our department, where so many parts of the world are represented.”

You can find out more about the show in this CBC Radio All Points West interview with one of the exhibit’s participants, who specializes in creating large-scale community art projects, or in Wright’s interview with ExhibitVic, which also includes a tour of the exhibit. There will also be a special Speaker’s Series, hosted by Wright, from 2-4pm on Sunday, March 6.

Wright discusses one of the exhibit pieces

Wright discusses one of the exhibit pieces

Wright, whose research focuses on Asian, South Asian and Indonesian art and artists, has a long history of studying activist artists and women artists of Indonesia’s Suharto era. Since the turn of the 21st century, she has also been interested in global collaborations between indigenous-contemporary and modern-contemporary artists. Her curatorial work—including the recent on-campus exhibits Seeker, Sentry, Sage: Shades of Islam in Contemporary Art and Roots, Remakes and Reflections: Global/Canadian Kaleidoscopesfocuses on contemporary artists who draw on hybrid and global identities in their work.

“I’ve always been drawn to research and curating that follows an idea of greater inclusiveness, that deconstructs colonial and elitist frameworks,” she explains. “My publications have all been about contemporary artists working in very pluralistic art worlds, working outside of the canonized masterworks ‘celebrated genius’ histories—which is nearly completely focused on male artists.”

Wright very much sees exhibits like Women Hold up Half the Sky—where the work ranges from paintings, sculpture and installations to photographs of events like the Idle No More movement—as a way of challenging that sense of privilege. “There are ways of wielding knowledge as a mix of objective tools and subjective inspiration—which is also part of decolonizing the way women have been colonized in art history, in the art world and in the world in general by predominant values.”

CAC-Intrnl Womens Day Exhib poster-FinalSimilarly, she sees the CACGV’s gallery in the Bay Centre as ideal for this kind of show. “It is a gallery in a mall, which means it’s not a freestanding gallery in a very elite part of Victoria,” she chuckles. “Instead, it democratizes the gallery experience, and removes that barrier.” Pointing out the diversity of the exhibit’s attendees (“a real mix of service workers, parents with strollers, seniors and shoppers”), Wright praises the CACGV for their inclusive approach. “Most artists are not going to find representation in a commercial gallery, so when artists can find a place like this to show their work, it can be incredibly important for viewers and artists alike. It adds to the culture around art.”

Ultimately, says Wright, it’s simply better to have more art by a greater diversity of artists on view in the community. “The richer the offering of visual art to the public, the better,” she says. “Music reaches almost everybody—whether it’s R&B or rock or classical or opera—but visual arts doesn’t reach people as powerfully here in North America as it does elsewhere. Here, it’s more of an urban, educated, professional pursuit, unless you’re an artist or from a family where there’s an artist.”

As her research has proven, this isn’t the case elsewhere in the world. “I don’t know if 90 percent of the people in Victoria could name a great exhibition they saw recently or an artist they really like—beyond the level of the clichés, like Van Gogh or Picasso. But in Indonesia or Japan or India, there’s a much larger appreciation for the visual across the board, and people have better cultural training in finding the importance in visual symbols.”

“Perhaps it’s our exposure to mass media, or the way art history developed as an elite discipline,” she muses. “To a certain degree, the split between the work of the mind and the work of the hand is still with us. Trying to bridge those gaps, mend those splits and speak across the distance is gratifying work.”

Women Hold up Half the Sky runs February 25 to March 13, 2016, on the third floor of the Bay Centre1150 Douglas Street (between View and Fort).