Christopher Butterfield marks retirement with new album

Forget the gold watch: noted composer and longtime School of Music professor Christopher Butterfield is marking his UVic retirement with the March 31 release of his latest album, Souvenir. Performed by longtime musical collaborators Aventa Ensemble, the 70-minute Souvenir (Redshift Records) features four never-before-recorded large chamber pieces.

“Each piece was originally commissioned by a different ensemble in the country over a 20-year span—it’s like I’m doing my own musicology here,” chuckles Butterfield. “These have only ever been played live, and there’s a very singular reason why we could record them at all: Bill Linwood’s Aventa Ensemble. They have the capability of playing what is some fairly gnarly music, because they’re extraordinary players and they can do anything . . . in terms of musicianship and virtuosity, I’ll put this record up against anything, anywhere.”

Indeed, as this review of Souvenir notes, “[Butterfield’s] melodic material appears at first to be innocuous, or casually beguiling, but as his instrumental lines merge into each other they refuse to coalesce into a unified statement and as they continue to politely bicker amongst themselves the listener is kept constantly on edge, hoping for a resolution that may or may not arrive.”

Butterfield is particularly proud of the fact that the four epic tracks on Souvenir—1995’s “Souvenir” (21 minutes), 2001’s “Port Bou” (19 minutes) plus 2012’s “Frame” and 2013’s “Parc” (both 14 minutes)—are entirely BC-made, from the producing, recording and engineering right down to the CD’s design and manufacturing. Even the performers are all BC-based, with the sole exception of vibraphone player Rick Sacks, who guests on “Parc”—and was also part of Butterfield’s early-’80s Toronto-based new wave band Klo.

Wonderous & peculiar?

Souvenir’s promotional material notes that Butterfield “has long centred the wondrous and peculiar” in his diverse catalogue of work that “spans the accessible to the absurd”. Does he feel that’s an apt description?

 “I don’t think I go out of my way to be ‘wonderous and peculiar’, but if that’s the way the music sounds, that’s fine, I’m glad there’s a story there,” he says. “I am very interested in harmony: I like to set things up and see what happens. Quite often it’ll appear to be a bunch of noise and then you’ll hear something that sounds very familiar, like a little coincidence. All music is heard in context of itself, so if a harmonic line jumps out, you hear it in terms of what you just heard and that will colour what you’re about to hear next.”

While Butterfield has been teaching composition at UVic since 1992, he first circled the Ring Road to study under renowned composer Rudolf Komorous and earn his Bachelor of Music in 1975, and has since helped launch the careers of a new generation of acclaimed composers like Anna Höstman, Cassandra Miller and Daniel Brandes.

“We’ve had a remarkable 40-plus years of building a reputation for composers who are looked at as rather remarkable . . . and nobody’s quite sure why,” he says. “Is it something in the water? Is it island life? Victoria has an extremely rich musical and cultural environment, but we’re also sort of disconnected and have to make everything up ourselves.”

Beauty in simplicity

Despite now having “at least” six albums behind him, Butterfield still has a back-catalogue of work—including a chamber ensemble, opera and “maritime ballet”—that has been performed live to great acclaim but never recorded. But he’s particularly pleased to see these four complex pieces released as a Souvenir set. “In terms of all these pieces, I don’t think I would ever write anything like them again,” he muses. “I’m afraid this is what happens as you get older: there’s a tendency towards simplicity—you realize you can do quite a lot with not very much.”

Ironically, that’s one thing he’s learned from his students. “Because I’ve taught the first-year composition course for years, I can see myself doing more with less. I had one student last year who wrote a piece that seemed to have absolutely nothing there . . . but when I played it back to myself, I remember thinking, ‘Gee, I wish I could write something like that.’ It was absolutely simple—but no less expressive because of that.”

Click here to listen to the track “Parc” from Christopher Butterfield’s Souvenir. You can purchase the album in both digital & CD here via Bandcamp. 

Four Fine Arts recipients in Distinguished Alumni Awards

The annual Distinguished Alumni Awards celebrate the remarkable achievements of UVic graduates in three different categories: the Presidents’ Alumni Awards, the Emerging Alumni Awards and the Indigenous Community Alumni Awards. This year, Fine Arts has four recipients honoured in two of those categories.

Presidents’ Alumni Award: Maureen Gruben

Tuktoyaktuk-born and -based Presidents’ Alumni Award recipient Maureen Gruben (Visual Arts BFA, 2012) is an Inuvialuk artist who’s passionate about bringing awareness to the Arctic environment through her art. A mature student and mother when she came to UVic, her works incorporate an array of materials from polar bear fur, beluga intestines and seal skin to vinyl, Styrofoam, bubble wrap and metallic tape, linking daily life in the western Arctic and global environmental concerns. Gruben’s art has been exhibited across North America and Europe, and in 2021 she was long-listed for the Sobey Award, considered Canada’s most prestigious art award for emerging artists.

When asked how her experiences at UVic contributed to her success, Gruben says “UVic was where I was really introduced to contemporary art and performance art. That introduction alone opened up so many ideas, doors, new ways of thinking and understanding that was not so traditional. It made me work outside a lot in the environment and not so much in the gallery space. It was really huge for me.”

And what’s her advice to a younger person who is possibly uncertain about their future?

“They just need to get out there and try and explore and find out what their passions are because most people don’t know early in life,” she says. “You have to go and try a few different things before you figure out what you like.”

Read more about Maureen Gruben, including the differences between living in Tuktoyaktuk and Victoria

Emerging Alumni Award: Taiwo Afolabi

Taiwo Afolabi (Applied Theatre D Phil, 2020) has dedicated his life to using theatre as a tool for social change. A prolific scholar and an applied theatre practitioner, the Nigerian-born Afolabi researches, teaches and creates participatory theatre as a means of community engagement to explore themes of education, migration, displacement, climate change, inclusion and diversity.

After graduating from UVic, Afolabi began his tenure-track position at the University of Regina’s Theatre Department where he is an assistant professor; he currently holds the Canada Research Chair in Socially Engaged Theatre, and is the founder and director of the Centre for Socially Engaged Theatre (C-SET).

His research interests lie in the areas of applied theatre and policing, social justice, decolonization, art leadership and management, migration and the ethics of conducting arts-based research. Taiwo is a senior research associate at the University of Johannesburg (South Africa) and the founding artistic director of Theatre Emissary International. His academic studies combined with lived experience of issues of race, equity and inclusion have made him a much sought-after speaker, writer, teacher and faculty member.

While his professional accomplishments are many, he’s most proud of the connections he’s be able to make, the relationships he’s built and the opportunities to engage with people. “Whether it’s in devising a play in the community, writing a paper or doing a workshop, it’s ultimately about the people I’ve been able to touch and who have touched my own life,” he says.

Read more about Taiwo Afolabi, including his favourite memory of being a UVic student

Emerging Alumni Award: Sarah Jim

Sarah Jim (Visual Arts BFA, 2019) is a visual artist of mixed ancestry from the small village of Tseycum in W̱SÁNEĆ. She works in the field of environmental restoration. Her creations reflect and advocate for the beautiful territory that the W̱SÁNEĆ have stewarded since time immemorial. Her art has been displayed across southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands and garnered numerous awards.

A common thread throughout Jim’s work—which includes a territorial acknowledgement plaque for a public library, T-shirt designs, street banners, multiple murals around the territory and native plant signs at the Horticulture Center of the Pacific and UVic’s community garden—is her desire to use art to create awareness and celebrate the historic and ongoing relationship between the W̱SÁNEĆ people and the land, sea and sky.

She says she’s most proud of merging the field of environmental restoration with her artistic practice. “At the very end of my UVic time, I started working in the field of environmental restoration and falling in love with the native plants, foods and medicines we have here and Indigenous ways of being,” she explains. “In my very last painting course, I made this piece that was all native plants with Coast Salish elements, and I was really happy with it, and my teacher said that it was the best thing I made all year and I should have been doing this the whole time. That was a really big turning point for me and my career.”

Her advice to younger people uncertain about their futures? “Just take a chance, because you never know where you’re going to end up. That’s essentially what I did. I started doing markets. I had the audacity to try to sell my things, and a lot of my friends and family supported me. And then even strangers were supporting me, too. Put yourself out there and don’t be too shy because people are going to judge you no matter what, so you might as well just do it.”

Read more about Sarah Jim, including the best advice she was ever given

photo: Simon Pauly

Emerging Alumni Award: Josh Lovell

Barely in his 30s, Victora-born Josh Lovell (Performance BMus, 2015) is already a major player in the international classical music scene. Described by the Guardian as “a handsome-sounding tenor with a warm, liquid voice and easy high notes,” he studied at UVic’s School of Music from 2010 to 2014 before attending the University of Michigan on a full scholarship to complete his Masters of Voice Performance.

The winner of numerous awards, Lovell is currently an ensemble member of the renowned Vienna State Opera house Wiener Staatsoper. He has performed all over Europe at prestigious venues such as Teatro alla Scala Milan, the Glyndebourne Festival (UK), Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Bolshoi Theatre, helping raise the profile of Canada on the international stage. He also maintains an important connection to his home, returning to perform with the Vancouver Symphony, Pacific Opera and the Victoria Symphony, where he continues to inspire future generations of performers.

He felt his time at UVic “rounded me as an individual: it wasn’t completely focused on my studies. There was time to make connections with colleagues and friends, and attend the many events that were going on around the campus. UVic really felt like a community while I studied there. Even though I grew up in Victoria, UVic felt like a different city, another country. It was a zone all unto itself where I felt welcome to take part in all that was offered and challenged to learn all that I could.”

But he hesitates to name any one achievement of which he is particularly proud. “As your experience builds with every single performance, so develops your voice and artistry. Because of this, there is no single defining moment of arrival; there is no exact moment of ‘making it.’ All you can hope for is that you develop well enough to be noticed by the most famous companies in order to be hired by them.”

But Lovell does consider himself “very fortunate” to have been able to perform at a very high level since finishing his education. “This entire journey goes back to UVic,” he says. “None of this would have been possible without my teacher, Benjamin Butterfield.”

Read more about Josh Lovell, including the skills he feels are essential to his career

Nominate a remarkable grad!

The UVic Distinguished Alumni Awards celebrate the remarkable achievements of UVic graduates. Nominations for the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Awards are open now through Oct. 13, 2023. You can nominate an outstanding alum here.

Explore all 16 of UVic’s 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients.

Creating a Certain Kind of Space: Charles Campbell

When the Faculty of Fine Arts announced the creation of a new annual donor-funded lecture series focused on activism and the arts, the selection committee were faced with an onerous task: who to select as the first guest? While a number of options were presented, the committee ultimately—and unanimously—endorsed internationally acclaimed multidisciplinary artist Charles Campbell as the inaugural speaker in the Lehan Family Activism & the Arts Lecture Series.

Jamaica-born but Victoria-based, Charles Campbell is an artist, writer, curator and educator whose artworks—including sculptures, paintings, sonic installations and performances—explore aspects of Black history, especially as experienced in the Caribbean region. The recipient of the Shadbolt Foundation’s 2022 VIVA Award and the 2020 City of Victoria Creative Builder Award, his practice animates the future imaginaries possible in the wake of slavery and colonization.

As such, Campbell is an ideal choice to kick off a series focused on how the arts can be a catalyst for change in advancing the understanding and goals of various social justice topics. His March 23 talk, “Sometimes in the Middle of the Story: Art & Changing Fictions,” explored how his work examines and disrupts the fictions embedded in our colonial reality.

You can now watch that talk here: 

Working for social change

When asked if he felt he was a good fit as the inaugural speaker for this series, Campbell pauses before giving a characteristically thoughtful response. “There are a lot people doing good things in the community with regards to activism,” he says. “My work is important in the realm of social change: it doesn’t always strictly meet the criteria of what I’d consider activist work, but it’s definitely in dialogue with that space.”

From his perspective, what’s the difference? “I think of activist-based art as engaging with a very specific outcome: we want something to happen in how people think, or the social context we’re working in—and the more specific that is, the more effective it can be in terms of activism.”

Campbell feels his more socially engaged practice is about “exploring our political and social realities . . . I think my own work is more about creating a certain kind of space rather than leaning towards a specific outcome.”

photo: Lia Crowe (Boulevard Magazine)

Shifting perspectives

By way of example, he points to “Time Catcher”, his recent commission for the Victoria International Airport. Installed overhead in the passenger departure lounge, “Time Catcher” features a series of three-sided suspended vessels invoking concepts of not only time and movement but also ecological and cultural memory; additionally, the text of Octavia Butler’s “Paradise” is also inscribed in Morse code on each surface, acknowledging both our connection to home and the forces of change motivating people’s global movements.

“That airport piece is an interesting example, as it’s made for all kinds of audiences who come through that space,” he explains. “But one of those audiences is Black people coming into Victoria: the city has historically identified itself as an extension of a little British town—there’s no public or visible space for Black people—so that quote is a marker to say, ‘hey, we’re here.’ That’s just a small example of how I’m trying to create that kind of a space, and a little bit of a shift of people’s perspectives on how a space can work.”

Similarly, his upcoming solo exhibition An Ocean to Livity—running April 15-June 20 at the Surrey Art Gallery—foregrounds Black breath as a source of power, repository of memory and site of connection. He touched on similar themes with his contribution to the 2022 group exhibit The Chorus Is Speaking at the Campbell River Art Gallery, which explored how people experience identities of Blackness in Canada.

“My work in that show was really about breath, about what allows us to breathe,” he explains. “That piece really came out of the experiences of 2020, about Black Lives Matter and the murder of Geroge Floyd.”

Exploring Black identities

Following up on her 2022 Massey Lecture series and subsequent essay collection, Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling, celebrated author and UVic Writing alumna Esi Edugyan recently spoke out against the idea of a “Black monolith” and encouraged people to acknowledge how complex Canadian identities of Blackness can be—an idea with which Campbell definitely agrees.

“I’m totally with Esi on that one,” he says. “There are a large number of Black identities, and some of them take up a larger space in the cultural field than others. But for a lot of us—specifically in Canada, and more specifically on the West Coast—it really fragments quite quickly. But then the question becomes, how to define that space within the context of the multiplicity of experience and points of view?”

As a Jamaica-born artist on Vancouver Island, that’s a nuanced dialogue with which he is constantly engaged. “I’m very well-connected with the Caribbean arts movement and a lot of my exhibition opportunities have come through that—just not on this side of the continent, since Canada’s massive Caribbean population lives back east,” he explains.

“Here on the West Coast, it’s more about being a capital-B Black artist . . . yet there isn’t one origin story for the Black community here, so there’s an attempt at a kind of pan-Blackness. But I think you can intentionally create more solidarity through different notions of Blackness—it’s not about common identity, it’s about consciously working to create understanding and commonality.”

About the Lehan Family

Meet brother and sister Mel Lehan and Freda Knott: committed West Coast activists and community builders . . . and now, thanks to an anonymous donor, the named recipients of a lecture series established in 2022. Each year, the Lehan Family Activism & the Arts Lecture showcases a distinguished guest presenting ideas on how the arts is a catalyst for change in advancing the understanding and goals of various social justice topics.

This short video tells you more about their family’s commitment to activism and the arts, and how Mel and Freda have worked to build community and make changes in their home communities of Vancouver and Victoria. 

Guest artist Hawksley Workman talks songwriting and the music industry

Singer-songwriters and musicians hoping to break into the industry won’t want to miss two unique events with acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter, Hawksley Workman. Set to visit the University of Victoria on March 15-16, these events will highlight Hawksley’s eclectic mix of indie rock, pop, and folk music, his electrifying stage presence, as well as his experience in the music industry as a producer, composer and recording artist.

In a keynote singer-songwriter event on March 15, Hawksley will give a short performance followed by a chat about his song-writing process and techniques. The discussion will delve into Hawksley’s approaches to cultivating melodic surprise, colour and contrast, harmonic contour, and form. Students from the UVic School of Music will then have the opportunity to perform an original song and receive constructive critique from Hawksley.

DIY Musician roundtable

roundtable on March 16 will offer an insightful discussion on what it takes to thrive as a self-produced musician in Canada. Hawksley will be joined by industry leaders from the Victoria community including Merrie Klazek (UVic Associate Professor, trumpeter), Adrian Dolan (composer/producer/arranger, and member of The Bills), and Laura Mina Mitic (vocalist with Carmanah). Topics will include mastering your craft, marketing and promotion, community engagement, and aspects of mental, physical, and financial health.

While visiting UVic, Hawksley will also guide students in a pro-level studio recording session with a focus on how to be efficient and effective in the various studio roles, from producer to session musician. School of Music students Brendan Wong and Olivia Jackson, who perform together as the duo Actual Human People, have been selected to be recorded and will leave with a completed studio recording of one of their tracks. (This event is not open to the public.)

A mainstay of the Canadian music scene for over two decades

Hawksley is a two-time JUNO Award-winning and Gold Record certified singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. A mainstay of the Canadian music and arts scene for over two decades, Hawksley boasts a catalogue of 16 releases, showcasing his signature blend of anthemic folk and show-stopping vocals. Hawksley’s touring career has seen him play over a thousand shows worldwide. He’s headlined prestigious venues like Massey Hall in Toronto and The Olympia in Paris. As a producer, his fingerprints grace releases by JUNO and Polaris Prize nominees and winners like Tegan and Sara, Sarah Slean, Serena Ryder, Hey Rosetta!, and Great Big Sea. He’s also penned melodies with a myriad of artists, from Oscar award-winning Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, Inception) to the late French rock icon Johnny Hallyday.

Symposium explores Gendered Threads of Globalization

Who makes our clothing? How has the shift from artisanal production to “fast fashion” over the last 150 years devalued women’s textile labor in Asia? How are heritage textile/garment traditions across Asia being preserved and revived by laborers and the organizations that support them?

Hosted by Art History & Visual Studies professor Melia Belli Bose, Gendered Threads of Globalization: 20th century Textile Crossings in Asia Pacific (GToG) united scholars, activists and artists from across North America, Asia and Europe for a three-day symposium dedicated to these issues in March 2023 . . . after twice being delayed due to the pandemic.  

The free GToG events included discussion panels, a screening of Cathy Stevulak’s award-winning documentary THREADS and a textile-based performance by visual artist Monica Jahan Bose.

Organizer Belli-Bose was interviewed ahead of the event by CBC Radio’s All Points West (sadly, the interview was only live and not archived online) and was featured in this article which ran in India’s Telegraph newspaper.

“We hosted approximately 30 scholars, artists and textile experts from various countries in Asia, Europe and North America,” Belli-Bose told the Telegraph. “I conceived this conference to unite those working with heritage textile study, revival, and preservation in different Asian cultures. We focused on women’s roles as textile makers, cultural stewards, activists working for recognition and safe working conditions, and designers. The gendered angle is rooted in the fact that women have always had an integral role in textile production, from sericulture in East Asia to making nakshi kanthas in Bengal and phulkaris in Punjab to indigo in Southeast Asia.”

A scene from Cathy Stevulak’s documentary THREADS

About GToG

Gendered Threads of Globalization: 20th c. Textile Crossings in Asia gathered specialists from a range of academic disciplines and artistic/artisanal practices to discuss intersections of gender, textiles/garments/fashion, labour and heritage across Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, Japan, and the diaspora) during the long 20th century (ie: late 19th century to present).

GToG participants investigated topics like

  • heritage textiles/garments—their demise and revival
  • gendered labor in the fashion industry
  • confluences of identity (regional, communal, ethnic, religious), domesticity and agency
  • activist art that critiques the global garment industry
  • the evolution, consumption, appropriation and display of heritage textiles/garments.

Keynote address

Friday’s keynote speech featured Ashoka Fellow Judy Frater on “Threads of Identity in Kutch 2022: Gender, Value, Creativity and the Marketplace” (4:20pm in Fine Arts 103). Judy Frater is steeped in the world of contemporary textiles of Kutch, India. Residing in Kutch for 30 years, she co-founded and operated Kala Raksha, a cooperative for women embroiderers, established the Kala Raksha Textile Museum, founded Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya. the first design school for traditional artisans, and reinvented the school as Somaiya Kala Vidya.

A scene from Monica Jahan Bose’s WRAPture

Live performance

Sunday’s live performance featured the work of Orion Visiting Artist Monica Jahan Bose, a Bangladeshi-American artist and activist whose work spans painting, film, photography, printmaking, performance, and interdisciplinary projects.

Her short film, WRAPture: A Public Art Project was also screened at the event, and was followed by a live textile-based performance in the lobby of UVic’s David Lam Auditorium.

WRAPture follows a climate justice art project from Washington DC’s low-income Anacostia neighborhood to Barobaishdia—a remote Bangladeshi island on the frontlines of climate change—as Jahan Bose leads a dozen women farmers and over 200 Washingtonians to co-create 65 climate-themed saris, which wrap five Washington buildings. While they work on the saris, the participants recite poetry, sing, and dance, creating a trans-border community. The film includes rare footage and testimony of the impacts of climate change on coastal women farmers and the power of art to bring about change.