2017 MFA show is Pending Approval

Looking for the very best in emerging contemporary art practice? Don’t miss the annual MFA exhibition at UVic’s Department of Visual Arts. Ironically titled Pending Approval, this year’s MFA exhibit features work by five graduating artists: Evan Locke, Heather Koning, Maddy Knott, Carrie Walker and Tlehpik Hjalmer Wenstob.

Pending Approval runs daily April 29 to May 6, with a 7pm opening on Saturday April 29, in UVic’s Visual Arts building.

One of Evan Locke’s “Ley Lines” paintings

Evan Locke’s painting exhibit Ley Lines explores the idea of paintings as tools promoting a conscious awareness of architectural space, and the viewer’s presence within it.

“The immediacy of a direct correlation between a mark and its origin allows painting to shift from abstraction to actuality and become a practical artifact of an event taken place,” Locke explains. “The expression of the artist’s hand is replaced by depictions of causality — obviating process and engendering a confrontation with reality.”

With the application of paint wholly facilitated by the structure itself, each piece reveals the nature of its own existence. “The paintings are simultaneously recording medium and implement,” he says. “Time and space become visually attributed and confrontational to the psychological aesthetic experience.”

From Heather Koning’s “Inertia”

Heather Koning’s exhibit Inertia is a mechanized sculptural installation where she has created kinetic objects speaking to perceptions of structural powers — physical or social — and their assumed function. All the works are made from found materials and old appliances.

“My art practice is a way to find order in today’s constant flow of information, to make sense of the world and its challenges, the changes and the constants,” says Koning. “The walls of my studio echo with noise. The politics of the world, conflicts and social imbalances breach my space through electronic screens and radio waves. “

Inertia surrounds the viewer with a roar of sound and activity. Each object has a task, a motion to perform. Some require the viewer’s presence to move, while others self-regulate or work continuously, perpetually trying to negotiate and reorder the gallery space.

“The objects stand in as physical metaphors for existing forms of power, spaces and rules that inform how humans navigate and experience the world,” she explains. “I created these objects to draw attention to perceived boundaries, anticipated actions and humorous motions of futility as metaphors for bureaucracy and public space.”

One of Maddy Knott’s sculptural pieces

Maddy Knott’s sculptural exhibit Dressing Up Daydreams considers the interaction of structures with organic forms and the idea of a codependency or an alteration existing between these forms.

“My work considers structures, such as the mind and patterns,” she explains. “I question these structures and our relationship to them, and how as an organic form encroaches on a structure, both elements are forced to change. These themes reflect my interest in the corruption of memory and how memories become altered over time.”

Using unexpected materials in her pieces allows Knott the chance to interpret their properties and consider how far she can exploit said material; every new material offers new challenges, as well as components of chance and unpredictability.

“Something magical happens when you blur lines in the art world,” she says. “it’s nice to make your own rules. I want the materials to allow the viewer to embrace how odd the works are and present them with a position of curiosity.”

From Carrie Walker’s “The Circle Hunt”

Carrie Walker’s exhibition, The Circle Hunt, is the culmination of her decade-long fascination with a historical event called The Great Pennsylvania Circle Hunt (or The Great Slaughter). Feeling harassed by wolves and mountain lions, the settlers and colonists in the area decided to organize a great animal drive, with 200 armed men and boys forming a circle 30 miles in diameter — and killing every animal within its boundaries.

“To the best of my knowledge, there exists only two written records of this event — one published in 1990 and another in 1917,” she explains. “Since first reading about the circle hunt, I have struggled to find a way to make manifest the numbers of animals killed.”

Indeed, the 1917 account lists a staggering tally: 109 wolves, 41 mountain lions, 112 foxes, 114 bobcats, 111 buffalo, 17 black bears (and one white bear), 198 deer, 12 wolverines, 3 beavers, 2 elk, and more than 500 smaller animals.

Walker says she at first considered producing a large volume drawing project with a single drawing for each animal killed — over 1,200 drawings would be required — but the written information surrounding each image provided a context she couldn’t ignore: a childʼs first hunt, offers of bobcats for sale, advice on drowning skunks.“[It’s] rife with the contradictions and complications that riddle the relationship between human and non-human animals.”

Rather than a drawing project, Walker instead compiled a book containing a photograph for each animal killed during the Great Slaughter, along with the URL of the webpage on which it was found and select excerpts of text from the webpage. Included in her exhibit is a single drawing is: a life-size representation of the Anson Panther — one of the last panthers to have been killed in Pennsylvania before the species was extirpated in the mid-1800s.

From Tlehpik Hjalmer Wenstob’s “Transfigurations”

Finally, Tlehpik Hjalmer Wenstob‘s exhibit Transfigurations seeks a balance between methodology and mythology by imbuing an Indigenous sensibility into such ubiquitous West Coast objects as a telephone pole, a Styrofoam cooler, and a stack of two-by-fours.

“I’m looking to shed light on both cultural understandings and Canadian politics as it relates to Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest,” says the Nuu-Chah-Nulth artist from the Tla-­O-­Qui-­Aht First Nations.

In relation to the large demographic in Canada, Wenstob looks to redefine titles such as “First Nations” art — an overly broad term that he resents — within the contemporary art world. “I see my work as a way to begin conversations and break down preconceived notions and stereotypes of ‘First Nations’ culture and art.”

Using such commonplace objects as oil barrels and second-grade lumber, Wenstob recreates totem poles to create a broader conversation around overlooked objects now seen as a figurehead of “Canada” while also continuing on his traditional and political role as a Nuu-­Chah-­Nulth carver.

By creating work accessible to both Indigenous and non-­Indigenous people, he sees his work as a way to begin conversations and break down preconceived notions and stereotypes of “First Nations” culture and art — while also telling the truth about history. “It’s important to create a dialogue around our ever-changing environment, as it relates to resource extraction, inaccessibility to territory and an urban relationship to the land, dislocated from home.”

Pending Approval runs daily April 29 to May 6, with a 7pm opening on Saturday April 29, in UVic’s Visual Arts building.


Composer uses Guggenheim Fellowship to explore global migration

Internationally recognized composer and School of Music Associate Professor Dániel Péter Biró can now add one of North America’s most prestigious awards to his list of honours — the Guggenheim Fellowship. And he’ll be using the one-year award worth $50,000 US to reflect on one of the most important issues of today: global migration.

2017 Guggenheim Fellow Dániel Péter Biró (UVic Photo Services)

“I am happy and honoured to be awarded this prestigious fellowship,” says Biró. “I am also extremely grateful to have time to work on the proposed composition cycle.”

Guggenheim Fellowships are awarded to individuals who have 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.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced this year’s recipients in its 93rd annual competition for the US and Canada on April 7. Biró is among a diverse group of 173 scholars, artists and scientists selected from a field of almost 3,000 applicants. The seventh UVic scholar to be awarded a Guggenheim, he’s the second from UVic to receive the honour in the creative arts category.

Listen to this interview with Biró on CBC Radio One’s North by Northwest show.

New work explores concepts of space and place

During the Fellowship period, Biró will work on a large-scale musical composition cycle based on Baruch Spinoza‘s philosophical work, Ethica.

“Exploring concepts of ‘space and place,’ the proposed composition will deal with questions of one’s place in the global world and how music informs and influences our perception of our place in this world,” he explains. “Looking at musical creation as an analogy to the movement of the immigrant — who discovers, remembers, forgets and rediscovers places on his voyage — the composition will investigate relationships to historical space, space of immigration and disembodied space.”

The cycle, also titled Ethica, will be scored for voices, ensemble and electronics and use text from Spinoza’s philosophical work.

The project is inspired by Biró’s time as a visiting professor in the computing and information sciences department of Netherland’s Utrecht University in 2011, where he was living not far from Spinoza’s burial site in The Hague. While one of the greatest philosophers of the 17th century, Spinoza was banned from the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam because of his views — which, says Biró, proved too radical for the time.

“In his philosophical treatise Ethics, Spinoza attempted to present a new type of theology, one that was autonomous from organized religion, such as that of his own Portuguese Jewish community,” he explains. “I would like to create a composition that explores historical dichotomies between religious and secular thinking from the perspective of modern-day globalized existence.”

Unforgettable inspirations

Biró with other Fellows at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute in 2014 (photo: Ben Miller)

During the 2016/17 academic year, Biró was an artist-in-residence with UVic’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society; in 2015, he was made a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, and was awarded a 2014 Fellowship at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and has received numerous other international prizes and commissions. All of these experiences simply inspire him to rethink and finish years of compositional research.

“My year at the Radcliffe Institute was unforgettable, as I was in dialogue with 49 other scholars for a year from every possible discipline,” he says. “The community at Harvard showed great interest and support for my work and I was grateful to experience the collegial environment.”

As a new Canadian, Biró was also honoured to become a member of the Royal Society of Canada, and was pleased that the organizers celebrated their 2015 gala featuring 600 star academics from all over Canada with two compositions—including one by himself, and one by McGill composer Philippe Leroux.

“It was a good moment for the field of contemporary music in Canada, with the Royal Society proudly acknowledging music composition as an important field of creative research for Canadian society,” Biró says. “Upon hearing my composition for bass flute and electronics, the scientists of the Royal Society had many questions about my practice of notation and use of space in my work.”

Creating complete musicians

A valued asset to both UVic and the School of Music itself, Biró hopes his Guggenheim Fellowship will enhance the School’s already very strong reputation — a nice addition to their 50th anniversary year coming up in 2017/18.

“The School of Music is proud to congratulate Dr. Biró on being awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship,” says School of Music director Christopher Butterfield. “As well as being an internationally acclaimed composer, Dániel is widely recognized for his scholarship on Jewish, Islamic and Christian chant traditions. Since coming to UVic in 2004, he has composed a body of music work notable for its aesthetic rigour and integration of elements from various chant traditions.”

Biró with School of Music students

Biró see his work in combining historical music research with modern creation, as well as contemporary music performance with music technology, as being perfectly in sync with the School’s goal to produce “complete musicians.”

This past term, for example, Biró taught music composition, contemporary music performance, the theory and analysis of 20th and 21st century music, and a graduate seminar in Jewish, Early Christian and Islamic notation practices—all of which he will be teaching again as part of the European/Canadian summer course Narratives of Memory, Migration, Xenophobia and European Identity: Intercultural Dialogues in Hungary, Germany, France and Canada. They also dovetail with his role since 2011 as the managing director of the local SALT New Music Festival and Symposium.

“My ability to conduct research in these areas gives me expertise that I can pass on to my students, allowing them a more comprehensive music education,” he says. “I am grateful to be able to integrate teaching and research at the University of Victoria and am hopeful that this Fellowship will allow the School of Music future opportunities to enhance and integrate music creation, history, technology and performance research, making it a destination for researchers from around the world.”

On cultivating obsessions

Finally, considering the Guggenheim Fellowships are often characterized as “midcareer” awards, what does he see in his immediate future?

“My last composition cycle — completed at the Radcliffe Institute — took me 13 years to complete,” Biró says. “As I tell my composition students, one has to ‘cultivate obsessions’ as a composer. I am hopeful that this next obsession might allow me to discover new universes of musical expression and compositional possibilities in the years to come.”

UVic’s past Guggenheim fellows are sculptor and Visual Arts professor emeritus Mowry Baden (2014), climatologist Andrew Weaver (2008), astrophysicist Julio Navarro (2003), English professor Anthony Edwards (1988), ocean physicist Chris Garrett (1981) and biologist Job Kuijt (1964).

Visual Arts BFA show is both an exhibit and course

The end of the academic year also means the start of the annual Visual Arts BFA show—which, for the current crop of graduating students, means Another Year.

The BFA grad show is always one of the highlights of the year here in Fine Arts, and the current exhibition is no exception. Featuring the work of 40 artists, the pieces on display will include mediums ranging from sculpture and painting to drawing, photography, performance, video and digital media.

Another Year opens 7pm Thursday, April 13, and runs 10am – 6pm daily until April 20 throughout the Visual Arts building.

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. And this year, the exhibition itself is actually a for-credit course unto itself: Art 401 is a fourth-year, 3-unit course offering hands-on engagement in the professional practices of organizing a large, high-profile public exhibition.

As well as learning practical skills like art documentation, art handling, exhibition space preparation and the professional installation and lighting of artworks, the graduating students are also responsible for organizing and funding the exhibit catalogue, event planning, promotion, graphic design, and publicity.

The intention, says supervising Visual Arts professor Megan Dickie, was to both create more ownership and involvement from all of the graduation students, and to be able to offer the students more instruction on professional art practices.

“This change has been remarkable,” says Dickie. “The students have shown much more responsibility for all the steps that need to be done to accomplish such a large group exhibition. They have also been in dialogue for the entire year and that time has helped immensely in terms of the quality and ambition of the work. There are, of course, kinks to be worked out with any sort of curricular change but this course seems to be on the right track.”

While the show is free, catalogues are $10 and there will be a cash-only bar at the opening event. Don’t miss this fantastic example of the kind of experiential learning in which Fine Arts specializes!


Event in Victoria’s queer history inspires new play & course

A new play written by Department of Theatre professor Jennifer Wise and performed by Theatre students celebrates a little-known event in Victoria’s gay history.

Theatre professor Jennifer Wise in Bastion Square

Wise’s A Queer Trial tells the real-life story of John Butt, an openly gay Victoria man who, in 1860, was acquitted of sodomy charges by two successive juries — the first of which chose to spend a night in jail rather than convict him.

Wise first ran across Butt’s story in an article written by Terry Glavin — a former Southam Lecturer for the Department of Writing — while researching her 2013 play, The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West. She immersed herself in archival documents and the 1860 police-court transcripts, which have been used verbatim in her new play.

Better still, however, A Queer Trial will be performed in Victoria’s Bastion Square, the very site where the actual trial took place. “I realized that this story would serve as an ideal project for students to learn about site-specific theatre,” says Wise.

Learn more about the story behind the play by listening to Wise’s March 30 interview with CBC Radio’s All Points West. And you can read some of the coverage the play received in this online CBC News story, as well as the Times Colonist, Monday Magazine, the Oak Bay News, UVic’s Martlet student newspaper, and Camosun College’s Nexus student newspaper. A Queer Trial was also the subject of this feature article in Focus Magazine.

A Queer Trial will be performed at 2pm and 4pm on Friday, April 14, in downtown’s Bastion Square, where it will use the heritage façades, doorways and wrought-iron architectural features to its advantage in celebrating this historic event. The performance is free.

With funding from UVic’s Office of Community-University Engagement, Wise developed a new course for Theatre students that began in January 2017. In 2016, Wise applied for and received a Community-Engaged Learning Grant from the Office of Community-University Engagement, which allowed her to redevelop THEA 311, with funding from the CEL Grant, to foster student engagement with the local community through the course curriculum.

The production of A Queer Trial is the culmination of the student’s work and incorporates the research and knowledge of members of BC’s Indigenous, LGBTQ2, Jewish, Black and legal communities. Students in the class are excited to present their months of work with this musical tribute to Victoria’s minority and marginalized communities, as A Queer Trial satirizes bigotry in all its forms.

“We’re taking this beautiful message of tolerance and humanity right into the heart of the community,” says Wise, who acknowledges that recent political events have emboldened attacks on these communities at home and abroad. “As we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, this play reminds us about how essential this message of tolerance is in our world today.”

The students in Wise’s class have taken on key roles, from acting and singing to dramaturgy and historical research, from musical direction and choreography to costume design. A Queer Trial is directed by Theatre alumnus Matthew Payne, currently the Artistic Producer of Theatre SKAM — a company acclaimed across Canada for its site-specific productions under bridges, in cars, at local destinations like Heritage Acres and Macaulay Point, and, most recently, in a carpentry warehouse.

Wise’s last site-specific play also dramatized a surprising event in Victoria’s history. The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West, performed for Congregation Emanu-El’s 150th anniversary, told the story of Ray Frank, who served as the synagogue’s first female rabbi — in 1895. Her translation of Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Methuen, 2013), created for the Phoenix in 2002 and now produced internationally, will be staged at the Shaw Festival and at Carnegie Mellon in 2017/18. Other plays include a version of Aristophanes’ Frogs (Phoenix, 2000), and Orbit, a drama about Galileo’s children written for the International Year of Astronomy (2009).

Wise’s textbook The Broadview Anthology of Drama is adopted at universities across Canada and beyond. Her book Dionysus Writes (Cornell, 1998), about the invention of theatre in ancient Athens, is read around the world, and her research is published in such journals as Theatre Research International, Theatre Survey, Reader’s Digest, and Arethusa.

—Adrienne Holierhoek