Research and creative practice on view at Ideafest 2017

Ideafest — UVic’s week-long free festival of world-changing ideas — is once again ready to welcome thinkers, innovators, artists and audiences to a fascinating range of events across campus. This year’s festival features hundreds of speakers, presenting on topics ranging from the creative economy and ocean sustainability to cybernetic innovations and Indigenous resurgence. Fine Arts is once again a major participant in Ideafest, with our faculty or students participating in eight different events.

For the Faculty of Fine Arts, Ideafest starts off with the student exhibit Sensitive chaos: The Creation of Flowing Forms in Water and Air. Organized by instructor David Gifford, the exhibit showcases the work of his Drawing 300 class and expands the concept of what it means to illustrate an idea. The exhibit is inspired by Theodor Schwenk’s 1965 book of the same title, an exploration of fluid dynamics in relation to our ability to read patterns revealed in nature and art. As Jacques Cousteau says in the book’s forward, “All that life around us was really water, modeled according to its own laws, vitalized by each fresh venture, striving to rise into consciousness.” 9am – 5pm daily March 6-11 in the Visual Arts courtyard and Audain Gallery.

Our signature Fine Arts panel discussion this year is focused on Rethinking the Creative Economy, an important and timely discussion about the economic impact of creativity and creative production. Indeed, when it comes to the creative economy, myths often trump facts: while some believe the arts have no significant financial impact, the cultural sector boasts 700,000-plus jobs and contributes more than $60 billion annually to the Canadian economy—10 times more than sports, and that’s not even factoring in the value of art. This lively panel discussion will blow the lid off outdated arts myths, consider culture’s lasting impact and explore our key investment: our students. Moderator and Dean of Fine Arts Susan Lewis will be joined by panelists including Kirk McNally (School of Music), Maureen Bradley (Writing), Tony Vickery (Theatre), Cedric Bomford (Visual Arts) and Melissa Berry (Art History & Visual Studies), plus special guest David Dunne from the Gustavson School of Business. 4 – 6pm Tuesday, March 7, in Turpin A110.

That same night, Rande Cook — the current Audain Chair in Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest for the Visual Arts department — will join university chancellor and celebrated broadcast journalist Shelagh Rogers for Reconciliation and Resurgence: How Indigenous Artists are Re-imagining the Story of Canada. Rogers, an honorary witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, offers an intimate conversation with Indigenous visual artists Cook, Carey Newman and visual anthropologist and Art History and Visual Studies alumna Andrea Walsh. Across Canada, contemporary Indigenous artists are using images to explore place, truth and identity and challenging us to transform our perspectives, conversations and ideas. Collectively, this great imagining is playing a unique and pivotal role in understanding our past and determining our shared future. This event will be hosted by UVic’s Vice-President Research, David Castle. 7 – 9pm Tuesday, March 7 at Alix Goolden Hall, 907 Pandora. Note: registration is required for this free event. 

Interested in what Fine Arts students are creating and researching? Don’t miss the always-fascinating Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards (JCURA) Fair, which offers exceptional undergraduate students the opportunity to carry out research in their field of study. The annual JCURA Fair will feature over 100 of these inspiring projects, with Fine Arts student projects ranging from Saskatchewan folklore and 19th century social behaviour here in Victoria to the use of brass instruments in Chinese music and intergenerational theatre for educational sexual health projects. Click on the links to read about JCURA projects by Writing students Leone Brander and Holly LamVisual Arts students Artemis Feldman and Brandon Poole, Music students Ian VanGils, Alex Klassen and Jordan Shier, Art History & Visual Studies students McKaila Ferguson, Lorinda Fraser and Baylee Woodley, and Theatre students Mary Barbara Clerihue and Leah Tidey. 11:30am – 3pm Wednesday, March 8, in the Student Union Building (SUB) Michele Pujol room and Upper Lounge.

Goya’s The Third of May 1808

From the Russian Revolution to the Arab Spring uprising, from Palestine’s West Bank to the gates of the White House — wherever there is political unrest, there is art. And at a time when (sadly) xenophobia, ethnocentrism, political tensions and censorship are on the rise, art and the visual — from the meme to the masterpiece — have more to offer society than ever before in human history. Don’t miss the lively panel Why Art Matters in Dangerous Times featuring Art History & Visual Studies professors Victoria Wyatt, Astri Wright, Melia Belli, Evanthia Baboula and Lianne McLarty. This panel event accompanies the exhibition Learning through looking: Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Department of Art History & Visual Studies. 5 – 7pm Wednesday, March 8, in room 025 of the McPherson Library.

Meet the next generation of Canadian literature at The Write Stuff, where MFA students from UVic’s legendary Department of Writing read (and perform) ground-breaking graduating manuscripts in fiction, poetry, screenwriting and playwriting and creative nonfiction at this lively (and licensed) literary cabaret. Presenters include Claire Mulligan (screenwriting), Alexa Eldred (fiction), Melissa Taylor (playwriting), Kelsey Lauder (fiction) and Nicola MacWilliam (poetry). 6:30pm Thursday, March 9, at the Copper Owl, 1900 Douglas. While admission is free, please note there are no minors allowed in this licensed venue.

How do artists of colour experience race and identity? That’s the question behind Re-imagining Race, Art and Landscape. Hooked to the current Legacy Gallery exhibit The Mystery of Grafton Tyler Brown, three contemporary Victoria artists of colour — Victoria’s 2016 youth poet laureate Ann-Bernice Thomas, also a Writing/Theatre undergrad — plus painter and performance artist Charles Campbell and filmmaker Kemi Craig — will perform new work relating to racial identity. Grafton Tyler Brown was one of the first professional landscape artists in BC, and the story of his racial identity shifted throughout his career to where he eventually passed for white. 7 – 9pm Friday, March 10, at the Legacy Gallery Downtown, 630 Yates.

Borrow a book, discover a person: that’s the whole focus of the Phoenix Theatre Human Library, a fascinating project that pairs  Phoenix pioneers, current educators and local industry professionals with visitors. At the “circulation desk,” you’ll get your own Human Library card and the chance to check out one of a dozen possible human books ranging from titles like “Actor”, “Playwright” or “Producer.”  A one-on-one informal conversation will begin and the rest is up to you. Following a theme of “Theatre then and in the future,” participants include the likes of former faculty member John Krich, alumnus playwright/author Mark Leiren-Young, Intrepid Theatre director Heather Lindsay, theatre historian James Hoffman, and local actor Kirsten Van Ritzen, with more to be announced.

“Books” are available on a rotating schedule and are subject to availability, so please be aware that not every book will be available during all hours the Human Library is open. If you’ve never participated in a Human Library before, don’t miss this chance to participate in this culture phenomenon that began in Denmark in 2000; since then, over 65 countries have connected tens of thousands of “readers” with “books” from all walks of life at thousands of these events! Please arrive earlier than before you expect to “read” your book — books are checked out on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 9:30am, 30 minutes before the Phoenix Theatre Human Library opens. This is another signature event in the Department of Theatre’s ongoing 50th anniversary celebrations. 10am – 4pm Saturday, March 11, in the Phoenix Theatre lobby.

While these are what we’ll have on view for Fine Arts, be sure to see the complete schedule of all Ideafest eventsLet your curiosity guide you and be inspired by ideas that really can change everything!



Phoenix play Gut Girls offers a way of protesting gender inequality

When the cast and crew of the Department of Theatre play Gut Girls joined thousands of others at Victoria’s Women’s March on January 21, it was a case of life and art once again coming together.

Gillian McConnell, Mary Van Den Bossche, Emma Grabinsky & Caitlin Holm in “Gut Girls” at the Phoenix Theatre (Photo: David Lowes)

While the emancipation message of Gut Girls is told through the lives of women in a different century, gender inequality is definitely not only a subject for a period play. Written in 1988, Gut Girls is one of playwright Sarah Daniels’ most produced plays — perhaps because its message still speaks to today’s audiences.

Phoenix Theatre’s Gut Girls offers a historical look back at the Deptford slaughterhouses of the late 1800s, where women as young as 14 made a living working in one of the lowest, most disreputable jobs in society. The play follows the friendships of five brash and unrefined young Victorian women who make a decent living gutting cattle, working under horrific slaughterhouse conditions — until a well-intentioned upper-class character, Lady Helena, becomes intent on helping these “gut girls” find work as proper house maids; when the gutting sheds are shut down, the young women are forced to choose between how they make a living and how they want to live.

The play was originally commissioned by Albany Empire Theatre in Deptford to draw working-class Londoners to the theatre by telling the community’s stories and history. Characters like Lady Helena are directly inspired by the “philanthropic efforts” of the Duchess of Albany. In both the play and in history, there exists a gendered hierarchy in the workforce. In the slaughterhouses of the 1890s, women made considerably less than their male counterparts. But compared to working as a maid in service — traditionally seen as “women’s work” — women were able to make a respectable living. Daniels’ play offers insight into the history of devalued women’s labour. As Maggie, one of the “gut girls” in the play, says: “I tell you girl, you may think this place is hell but we get paid in one week nearly what you get for a whole year in service, so by comparison it makes this place seem more like paradise,”

The cast at the 2017 Women’s March in Victoria

Unfortunately, a considerable wage gap still exists today — even in Canada. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), the average Canadian woman makes just 66.7 cents to man’s dollar (based on all annual earnings, 2011 Census), and women of colour make even less. There are various factors that affect this wage gap, for example, female-dominated fields are often related to domestic work which is still not valued as a skilled form of labour. CWF estimates that, in general, lower-paying jobs such as teaching, office and administrative work, and retail/customer service jobs make up around two-thirds of the female workforce. In addition to these factors, however, a large portion of the wage gap remains unexplained, and is due to discrimination against women — especially indigenous women, women with disabilities, and women who are members of a visible minority.

Gut Girls director Alix Reynolds has no doubt that many of the issues that face the female characters in the play are still faced by women in Canada and across the globe today. “This distinctly feminist work spoke to me with its relevance to current issues — the advocacy for women’s reproductive rights, equal pay, and domestic recognition — presented through the historical period of the 1890s,” she says.

Despite the continuing struggle for emancipation and the various waves of feminism, recent controversial news stories have prompted a resurgence of protests across the world. On Saturday, January 21, over 3 million people participated in women’s marches in 673 cities across 57 countries. Among the protesters in Victoria was the entire cast of Gut Girls.

MFA director Alix Reynolds

“We march because a play set over 100 years ago discusses the same issues we are still fighting for today,” says theatre student Shea O’Connor, who appears in Gut Girls.

Reynolds, like Daniels, is no stranger to tackling feminist issues through art. The young director hails from St. John’s, Newfoundland, where she founded Joint Productions, a theatre company committed to blending comedy with thought-provoking and innovative theatre. Since she began her Masters at UVic, she has explored several challenging contemporary plays including Crave (Sarah Kane), Mud (Maria Irene Fornes) and In on It (Daniel MacIvor). Gut Girls marks her thesis production for her MFA in Directing.

Gut Girls is constantly reminding me to question what we deem ‘acceptable’ and to redefine the gender binary. It is a piece of theatre that lives in 1899 and breathes in 2017,” says Reynolds. “As theatre artists, performing a play like Gut Girls is our way of protesting.”

Written by Lauren Frost, UVic Theatre student

Gut Girls runs at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre February 9 – 18. Tickets are available online or by calling 250-721-8000.

Where are the Indigenous women in Canadian art history?

What is the role of Indigenous women in Canadian art history? That’s the issue under discussion at UVic’s latest Distinguished Women Scholar Lecture.

Presented by the Department of Art History & Visual Studies, the 2017 Distinguished Women Scholar Lecture features professor, artist and curator Dr. Sherry Farrell Racette. Her free public lecture — “I Want to Call Their Names in Resistance”: Claiming Space for Indigenous Women in Canadian Art History — runs from 5 to 6pm Wednesday, Feb 22 at UVic’s Legacy Gallery, 630 Yates Street

Dr Sherry Farrell Racette

One of only five Indigenous women art historians to hold an academic appointment in Canada, Dr. Farrell Racette is an interdisciplinary scholar with an active arts practice — including beadwork, painting and multi-media textile works. She has also illustrated children’s books by noted authors Maria Campbell, Freda Ahnenakew and Ruby Slipperjack and currently teaches at the University of Manitoba in the departments of Native Studies and Women and Gender Studies.

An exceptional scholar who has mentored many women academics—including other Indigenous women academics—in the fall of 2017, Dr. Farrell Racette will also become the first recipient of the Distinguished Indigenous Scholar at the Jackman Humanities Institute, in conjunction with the University of Toronto’s Massey College where she is currently a Visiting Resident Scholar.

Her research interests are diverse indeed — including, but not limited to, First Nations and Metis women’s history, art history and educational history; Indigenous knowledge and pedagogy; contemporary First Nations art, photography and museum collections; First Nations and Metis traditional arts; and issues of representation and self-representation. “I love drifting through the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives — or any archive for that matter — and opening random drawers in museum collections,” she explains. “Stories are my principal focus, stories of people, stories that objects tell, painting stories, telling stories and finding stories.”

While at UVic, Dr. Farrell Racette will visit undergraduate students in a number of classes, including the Art History & Visual Studies course “Contemporary Indigenous Art” to be held at First Peoples House, as well as Creative Being, the signature Fine Arts 101 class, where she will hold a beading and storytelling circle with students.

Farrell Racette’s 1990 painting “Ancestral Women Taking Back Their Dresses”

While Indigenous art and art history is gaining currency, Indigenous women artists and scholars remain under-­recognized in comparison to their male counterparts. As such, her keynote address is nicely timed to coincide with the exhibit Ellen Neel: The First Woman Totem Pole Carver, currently on view at the Legacy Gallery. Not only does this exhibition celebrate the career of Kwagiulth (Kwakwaka’wakw) carver Ellen Neel (1916-1966), the first woman carver of monumental totem poles, but it also acknowledges her contribution towards the recognition of what she called “Indian Art” and the role of women Indigenous artists.

Farrell Racette’s recent academic publications include Returning Fire, Pointing the Canon: Aboriginal Photography as Resistance, In The Cultural Work of Photography in Canada (McGill-Queens University Press, 2011), “Nimble Fingers, Strong Backs: First Nations and Metis Women in Fur Trade and Rural Economies,” in Indigenous Women and Work: Transnational Perspectives (University of Illinois Press, 2011), and “‘I Want to Call Their Names in Resistance’: Writing Aboriginal Women into Canadian Art History,” in Rethinking Professionalism: Essays on Women and Art in Canada, 1850-1970 (McGill-Queens University Press, 2011).

Recent curatorial and artistic projects include Resistance/ Resilience: Métis Art, 1860-2011 (Batoche Heritage Centre, 2011), We Are Not Birds (Canadian Museum for Human Rights, 2014) and From Here: Story Gatherings from the Qu’Appelle Valley (2015), a public installation of paintings based on memories of Métis elders.

The Distinguished Women Scholars Lecture series was established by the Vice-President Academic and Provost to bring distinguished women scholars to the University of Victoria.





Minor in Digital and Interactive Media in the Arts announced

Starting in May 2017, the Faculty of Fine Arts will begin offering a new minor in Digital and Interactive Media in the Arts (DIMA). DIMA will allow you to combine current electives with new training in interactive media as part of your UVic Bachelor degree.

Writing prof David Leach, part of UVic’s Digital Storytelling & Social Simulation Lab

“Our minor in Digital and Interactive Media in the Arts is an innovative program that builds on our strengths in research and creative activity, as well as the kind of hands-on, dynamic learning Fine Arts is known for,” says Susan Lewis, Dean of Fine Arts.

The arts are traditionally at the forefront when it comes to creative applications of new technologies, and the conversion of regular media to digital formats unleashes new possibilities for interactivity. Networked digital media make it possible for groups to form around all sorts of shared interests in order to better coordinate, communicate and collaborate.

Not only has digital media led to emerging genres and forms of art, but it’s also created new areas of inquiry and analysis into social and cultural impacts. And we’re hearing increased demand for digital and interactive media skills from both students and post-degree industries and institutions in general.

As such, DIMA students will learn technological production and collaborative practices to create and curate immersive and interactive stories, games, performances and installations. Courses will be offered in a range of programs, including (but not limited to):

  • interactive media design
  • photography & film production
  • digital art history
  • technology & visual studies
  • game strategy
  • music, science & computers
  • sound recording
  • digital publishing & digital media arts
  • acting for the camera
  • film studies

As well as a foundational course in creativity (FA 101), you’ll build on a selection of electives looking at digital media production and cultural impacts, combined with a capstone course looking at digital and interactive media in the arts. A balance of practice and theory, core lectures, seminars and studio work will explore the conceptual and creative possibilities of this new area of knowledge and study.

Open to anyone across campus, the DIMA is a natural fit for Fine Arts, already home to the Studios for Integrated Media.  DIMA will also join our current batch of minors, including:

The minor in Digital and Interactive Media in the Arts is yet another way we’re looking at how new technologies are revolutionizing the way we carry out our daily lives. From Netflix to smart phone culture, digital media is already a big part of what we do — why not integrate it into the classroom as well?

By taking the DIMA minor, you’ll

  • Develop skills in new media to create and co-create artistic work
  • Understand the intersections of art, media, and culture and their impact on society
  • Enhance visual literacy and the capacity to reflect critically on the social impact of new media
  • Build a critical vocabulary to clearly communicate concepts and analyze new media

To learn more about the minor in Digital and Interactive Media in the Arts, please contact our Fine Arts Advising Officer.

Conversations and Collaborations: 2017 Distinguished Alumni winner Althea Thauberger

Conversations, negotiations, collaborations — while these are the kind of skills often associated with the realms of politics or business, they can also be essential abilities for a particular kind of artist.

Althea Thauberger

Count Althea Thauberger among the latter. A gifted artist, filmmaker and educator with an enviable international track record, Thauberger’s art practice involves performative and collaborative processes resulting in the production of social documents. These documents can range from performances and films to books, videos and audio recordings, and they often necessitate lasting engagements with the communities and sites where they are produced.

Currently Artist-In-Residence in Photography at Concordia University and represented by Toronto’s Susan Hobbs Gallery, Thauberger received her MFA from the Department of Visual Arts in 2002 and is now the recipient of the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award for the Faculty of Fine Arts

“It’s such an honour to be chosen to come back to the department for this recognition,” she says. “I really changed a lot during my years at UVic — it was a time of transformation and political awareness for me, a time of really thinking about what it means to be an artist in the world.” Thaubeger offers a short laugh. “We’re in a similar moment now, but this seems reflective of the circles that happen in life.”

Althea Thauberger now joins the likes of our previous Fine Arts DAA winners, including director Glynis Leyshon (BFA ’73), author Esi Edugyan (BA ’99), lighting designer Michael J. Whitfield (BA ’67), filmmaker Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (BFA ’02), poet Carla Funk (BFA ’97), musician Paul Beauchesne (BMus ’88), author Deborah Willis (BA ’06), environmental designer Valerie Murray (BA ’78), author Eden Robinson (BFA ’92) and visual anthropologist Andrea Walsh (BA ’91).

But Thauberger also has the distinction of being the first Fine Arts MFA to receive the award. “We are very pleased to select Althea as a Distinguished Alumni,” says Visual Arts Chair Paul Walde. “Through its focus on intensive studio practice and interdicipinary practices, UVic’s Visual Arts department has developed a reputation for contributing to the careers of some of the best interdisciplinary or genre-defying artists working today — of which Althea Thauberger is an exemplary example. She has garnered international attention for her socially engaged projects, which often incorporate video, photography and performance in powerfully evocative yet contemplative works.”

A way of looking at the world

Althea Thauberger at the Distinguished Alumni Awards

Thauberger originally came to UVic to do her first year of a general arts degree with an emphasis on philosophy and history — two early passions that still fuel her work — before switching focus to Visual Arts; and while she transferred to Concordia to complete her BFA, she came back to UVic to pursue her MFA.

“I knew Visual Arts had a strong program and an interdisciplinary focus,” she says of her decision to return to UVic. “They had great support for students and there were artists I wanted to work with. It just felt like the right department for me.”

Foremost among those faculty members was Fred Douglas. A documentary photographer who specialized in the narrative possibilities of constructed scenes, Douglas furthered the photography program originally established at UVic by Roland Brener.

“Fred was very influential to me—he was like a mentor,” she says. “His work was really concerned with theory and history. He had a way of looking at events happening around him, a way of thinking about things that shaped our reality and our imagination. Through working with him, I saw a crossover of many aspects in life and work that were pretty inspiring — being engaged and unsettled with the world, and bringing that into all aspects of your work, including teaching.”

Looking at the world a particular way has permeated Thauberger’s own work. Her film and video installations are often the result of long-term negotiations and collaborations with those depicted — including subjects as diverse as religious choir members, tree planters, conscientious objectors, teenage singer/songwriters, female combat soldiers in Afghanistan, speakers of endangered languages and US military wives. As this Canadian Art magazine article noted, “Thauberger offers varied perspectives on the impact of individuals and groups on the margins of historical or cultural awareness.”

Thauberger’s 2009 piece “Kandahar International Airport” considered the role of Canadian women soldiers in Afghanistan

Prizes and accolades

Such works have resulted in her being shortlisted for the 2004 Sobey Art Award and the 2011 Grange Prize, and having pieces featured in numerous national and international exhibitions, including the National Gallery of Canada, the 2012 Liverpool Biennial, the 2010 Biennale of Sydney, China’s Guangong Museum of Art, Copenhagen’s Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art, Belgrade’s occupied Kino Zvezda, and numerous other exhibition spaces.

“I’ve been very fortunate to create commissioned projects, supported by various organizations and institutions, but each work and each relationship is different,” she explains, “You always have to negotiate the institutional landscape and local community to learn and find support. Its crucial to cultivate a critical self-awareness of the privilege of the position you occupy, of the responsibilities to communities, and then how to push back in a productive way with regards to institutional interests . . .”

A still from her film “Marat Sade Bohnice,” which addresses mental illness, experimental theatre & art therapy

Despite such international acclaim, Thauberger admits that a career as a working artist isn’t always easy. “It’s often a struggle,” she admits. “There are times when you feel really supported and everything seems to be falling into place and other times when it’s quite the opposite and you feel like you might never make another work.” She pauses and laughs philosophilcally. “You have to find a way to deal with those ups and downs throughout your career.”

Advice for the next generation

While back at UVic during Alumni Week, Thauberger will also be speaking to current Visual Arts students, both at the undergrad and graduate level. What advice does she have for the new generation of students and emerging artists?

“It’s important for students to make best use of the kind of amazing opportunity of being surrounded by students and faculty who are there to support you and help you develop,” she says. “I always try to impress upon students that this is where their community begins: developing your work in relation to your peers is what’s going to keep you going once you’re out of school. It’s essential to build those discursive relationships, for example, to start writing about each other’s work — that’s how you make a scene, that’s how you build support.”

And, as a teacher herself now, is there something she keeps in mind when she’s working with a class?

Althea receiving her award from Fine Arts Dean Susan Lewis

“Not to forget what it’s like to be a student,” she chuckles. “As much as it is a privilege, its also  really tough to be an art student — art students have to learn how to make things out of nothing; there’s no rote, no guide like in other disciplines, and everyone’s path is different. And that can be terrifying, as it can be when you have to stand beside your work as you’re being critiqued and not take it personally. I certainly struggled as a student, and now I can mine those experiences to have more understanding. And I will never forget the teachers that were especially inspiring; they are still an example to me.”

Finally, is there anything she wished she had been told as a student?

“You need to develop practical skills: how to negotiate, how to stand up for yourself and your peers — especially for women artists. Despite the fact the majority of art students identify as women and are quite culturally diverse, when you look at the dominant careers here in Canada, the art world — like most other worlds — it’s  largely white male voices. It’s important to find ways to make space and take space with confidence and solidarity.”