MFA exhibit offers mix of practices

MFA POSTER[3]Always 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 has instead been split into two different sections. The first, a three-week rotating Solo Series, ran in March; now, the final three exhibitions by graduating MFA artists Kerri Flannigan, Breanna Fabbro and Victoria Murawski will be on display.

The exhibit opens with a reception from 5 to 8pm Friday, April 29, and then runs noon-4pm daily to May 6 in the Visual Arts building.

Engaging with Kerri Flannigan's work

Engaging with Kerri Flannigan’s work

Kerri Flannigan’s Catching Stones, Throwing Hammers uses drawings and archival footage to map the exterior of Woodlands, a now-defunct institution for the intellectually disabled, using changes wrought to the building’s façade since the mid-19th century to explore the institutional borders of exclusion. Flannigan is a Victoria-based interdisciplinary artist who explores methods of experimental narrative and documentary through drawing, writing, projection, and performance. She has shown locally and internationally, and is a recipient of the Best English Zine at the Expozine Awards (2011 and 2014) and runner-up to the inaugural Lind Prize (2016).

As part of her thesis defence, Flannigan will also present The Secrets of Naming Clouds, a performance accompanied by moving image work, projections, sound and live-narration; this 40-minute performance begins at 6pm on Thursday April 28 at the Intrepid Theatre club (2-1609 Blanshard), with thesis defense to follow. The performance itself will draw on utopic universal languages such as Blissymbols, an “anti-word” language designed to eradicate miscommunication and Láadan, a feminist language created to end patriarchy. These idealized forms of communication are interwoven with coming of age stories; home videos and choreographed dances, dating bans, classroom conversations on consent, teen-girl vigilantes and a family trip to LA in pursuit of minor celebrity Adam Sessler, my sisters crush.

Breanna Fabbro's "It Held Only Briefly"

Breanna Fabbro’s “It Held Only Briefly”

Breanna Fabbro’s It Held Only Briefly is a series of paintings that depart from the normative apperceptions of still-life in the traditional understanding of an object sitting still in space, but accede the moments before an object meets its final position. Objects are constructed out of shredded canvases and given life through actions such as tearing, raveling, and tossing. These moments of suspended motion are mobilized through painting the memory and experience of interactions with the objects as it relates to the space or scenario it is set against.

Apropos to life and mortality in the still-life canon, these works are a return to life and its inherent momentum, subsumed by discovery, failure, and regeneration. Objects in the world are alive – we make them alive with our constant interaction with them. Like food in still-life paintings that depict decay, all objects have a life. Fabbro’s work depicts that movement and process of coming and becoming.

Part of Victoria Murawski's "Coming Forward in Waves"

Part of Victoria Murawski’s “Coming Forward in Waves”

Victoria Murawski will also present her work in the exhibit, Coming Forward in Waves.

Now complete, the Solo Series in March featured work by graduating MFAs Tristan Zastrow, Ryan Hatfield and Rachel Vanderzwet.

Annual BFA show reveals “Iterations” of contemporary art

iterations-posterIf you think organizing an art show is simply about hanging paintings on a wall, think again. As the annual Bachelor of Fine Arts graduating exhibit in the Department of Visual Arts reveals, there’s as much innovation as inspiration behind a well-planned exhibition.

“This is where students learn that practicing artists are true entrepreneurs,” says Visual Arts professor and faculty supervisor Megan Dickie. “They conceptualize a project, test it, and produce it. Then through the BFA exhibition they discover how to fundraise, keep financial records, create publications, promote and present their work in a professional gallery setting.”

This year’s exhibit—titled Iterations—will fill the Visual Arts building with work by more than 30 student artists between April 15 and 21. Featuring a wide variety of mediums—including painting, sculpture, photography, drawing, installation and extended media works—Iterations offers a fascinating look at the work being produced at one of Canada’s lead contemporary art institutions.

The west coast-inspired work of Luke Fair (right) will appear at Iterations

The west coast-inspired work of Luke Fair (right) will appear at Iterations

“The work represents the self-directed nature of our program, where students learn to invest in their own research using a variety of artistic mediums to bring their projects to fruition,” says Dickie.

Dickie notes that she and fellow professor Robert Youds function both as curators and advisors for the exhibit. “In the early stages, Rob and I give the students a basic outline of the different stages of the process— then, during the installation week, we curate the exhibition,” she explains. “There is no adjudication process; students put forth their best work. We are also there to support the students by answering questions and by working with administration staff.”

Given 30-plus artists and 10 rooms, expect to see an explosion of Iterations at the event, which opens with a gala reception beginning at 7pm Friday, April 15.

Apple Gouzheng's ironic conceptual piece will be on exhibit at Iterations

Apple Gouzheng’s ironic conceptual piece will be on exhibit at Iterations

“It feels great to see the BFA show,” says Dickie. “We are very proud of our students—they work incredibly hard during the school term and even harder to prepare for this exhibition. As a professor, there’s nothing more rewarding then seeing your students achieve success.”

The annual BFA exhibit is a highlight of any academic year in Fine Arts. Much like School of Music students with their final concerts and Theatre students with their mainstage performances, the BFA show is an important milestone in the training of Visual Arts students. You can read about an earlier BFA show here.

Iterations runs April 15-21 in the Visual Arts building. Open from noon-6pm daily, with a 7pm to late opening reception on Friday, April 15.

Audain Professor Rande Cook raises awareness with class and art

One of the best things about an annual guest teaching position is the diversity it offers students. Now in its sixth year in the visual arts department, the Audain Professorship of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest has benefited from a variety of approaches and practices by previous professors—including the likes of Jackson 2Bears, Michael Nicol Yahgulanaas, Nicholas Galanin and Governor General’s Award-winner Rebecca Belmore. But Rande Cook has one unique aspect not shared by his forerunners: he is the first Audain professor to represent a Vancouver Island nation.

Rande Cook at UVic (Photo Services)

Rande Cook at UVic (Photo Services)

Cook, a contemporary multi-disciplinary artist with a studio in Victoria’s Rock Bay district, is also chief of the ’Namgis nation, which spans northern Vancouver Island and Queen Charlotte Strait. “The chief’s role is to make sure his people are fed in all ways—metaphorically and otherwise—and I take that into my everyday practice, my life as an artist,” he explains. “How I interact with the community is the same as what I do at home. Even teaching this course involves all of my belief systems, making sure people feel whole.”

Cook wanted to do more than just teach art, however; he was also keen to raise student awareness about current issues in Canadian First Nations politics. “I wanted to design a course around the work I’m doing right now, which means looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the murdered and missing Indigenous women, Idle No More, the REDress project, the round dance movement . . . about healing and bridging,” he says.

No easy task, given that his third- and fourth-year students came from a variety of backgrounds—none of which included a first nation. “I pushed them to think about the relationship we play within all of this—not just as first nations but Canadians as a whole—and then to consider how we express that through art,” he says.”The whole class has been about peeling those layers and exploring these issues, then piecing it back together.”

Cook also brought indigenous teaching methods into the classroom by eschewing contemporary critiquing practices in favour of a more intimate, circle-based sharing environment. “The goal of the class is to decide how they’re going to function as artists and how to make their work authentic,” he explains. “And you can see how much they’ve grown, how much they interact, and how they’re going to place themselves in life after this—which is all I wanted.”

Rande Cook and his class examine the pole he's carving (Photo Services)

Rande Cook and his class examine the pole he’s carving (Photo Services)

While teaching at UVic, Cook is also busy in the visual arts sculpture yard carving a pole dedicated to the murdered and missing Indigenous women. “It’s a nation-wide issue, even though a lot of people don’t see it as such,” he says. “There are a lot of unresolved murders from our area, but nobody really talks about them—people tend to focus more geographically on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside or the Highway of Tears.”

As both chief and artist, Cook feels art can play an important role in the healing process. “There’s no closure when it comes to murder—especially when the victims are never found—so I wanted to create something that stands as a monument to honour these women,” he explains. “It’s easy to talk about healing, about unity, but it’s difficult to practice that when there’s no sense of closure. So if I can put all of those different thoughts and ideas into this symbolic piece of art, it can be a way to recognize that they’re not forgotten.”

And while the future of the pole is still being determined, Cook feels the campus would be an ideal home for the piece once it is complete. “UVic is a place of knowledge, of learning, so why not use a monument like this for people coming from all these different areas to understand what that means? You think about healing and unity, and students and learning, and diversity and gender equality—it’s all right there.”

Technology promotes dynamic learning

Call it learning 360.

When Writing professor Maureen Bradley teaches digital media for storytellers, her venue is a departure from the typical university lecture hall: no podium, desk seating or front of the classroom. Instead, tables with roller-wheel chairs line the room, with a multi-media teaching island in the centre. Each table serves as a five-student pod, equipped with a 48-inch wireless video screen, audio speakers, laptop plug-ins and writable white board. Bradley displays video or broadcasts audio to any or all dozen screens in the room, or shows individual or group projects to every screen.

Maureen Bradley in the active-learning classroom

Maureen Bradley in the active-learning classroom

UVic installed four active-learning classrooms last summer as part of a three-year, $3-million upgrade program to create more opportunities for dynamic learning. The impetus behind it, says Katy Mateer, associate vice president of academic planning, is to address changes in pedagogy by better integrating technology into classrooms. The largest of the new classrooms, MacLaurin D115, encourages visual problem solving and idea sharing to tell stories across multiple media channels like videos, podcasts, webcasts and blogs.

“There are some really interesting ways to disseminate information using digital technology. Whether you are a fiction writer, a poet, a journalist or a filmmaker, these are your tools,” says Bradley. Her fast-paced, 50-minute writers’ workshop teaches digital literacy to students across such disciplines as writing, linguistics, political science and humanities.

Today’s academic challenge goes beyond distilling information that is already ubiquitous in the digital frontier. The focus is teaching students to apply their research, language and learning skills through fingertip technology—creating new knowledge along the way, says Bradley. “The classroom is perfect for this kind of new learning environment. The quicker you can get students to connect with each other, the learning derives from their talking and brainstorming ideas. They become active learners.”

As Bradley displays examples of corporate use of social media tools, baffles built into the ceiling absorb the crescendo of creative noise arising from teamwork and student-led discussions. Both the classroom and collaborative learning format suit Aleesha Koersen just fine.

“It’s a really cool space,” says Koersen, a student in Bradley’s third-year class. “I like working in groups and collaborating with people. It’s a learning style I can really get in touch with.” The segue into multi-media learning hugely benefits writers, she says. As literary journals increasingly embrace online publishing, poets like her can draw their art from the margins and into the mainstream. “It makes poetry easier for people to find and access.”

Researching and publishing works in obscure volumes and periodicals often bound past generations, but today’s budding writers discover online communities to get themselves and their work known, says Koersen. While some students find discussing their works in front of an entire class to be daunting, bouncing ideas off each other in group work seems natural. “You’re engaging in the conversation, there’s the comfort of a small group and it builds courage for you.”

A bike patched into a gaming system demonstrates the  flexibility in digital teaching

A bike patched into a gaming system demonstrates the flexibility in digital teaching

The active learning classrooms are widely used to teach sciences, engineering and a variety of courses for experiential learning that transcends textbooks and lectures. The technology-rich learning spaces essentially “break the classroom” from traditional pedagogy, says Technology Integrated Learning Director Janni Aragon. UVic’s MacLaurin and Clearihue buildings both house two of the new classrooms. Each has a different configuration, with active learning components adapted for typical small lecture, seminar, larger lecture, and what is known as the “pod room.” Additional classrooms will be upgraded in similar fashion over the next two years.

Staying competitive as a post-secondary educator is a priority for UVic. Research and consultations with faculties about students’ different learning needs helped trigger the project for technology-enhanced classrooms. “This allows us to take research-connected learning and active learning and combine them in dynamic ways,” says Aragon. “Not all course are meant to be taught with a professor at the front and students taking notes word for word.”

UVic’s experience is not unique as more institutions enhance their academic mission by exploring ways to blend technology with learning. The Collaboration for Online Higher Education Research, a consortium of 14 Canadian post-secondary institutions, held a conference in October to discuss topics in flexible learning designs such as blended, online and multi-access learning. UVic and Dalhousie co-hosted the two-day event with concurrent sessions at both universities.

This piece was written by Paul Marck and originally ran in the November 2015 issue of UVic’s Ring newspaper