New Audain professor examines art as act of reconciliation

When Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman’s Witness Blanket was unveiled at the University of Victoria in 2014, it was clear the large-scale installation would quickly become a national monument and spark reflection and conversation about residential schools, settler-Indigenous relations and reconciliation. Now, Newman will continue the conversation as the sixth Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with UVic’s Department of Visual Arts.

Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman installs the Witness Blanket at UVic ahead of its unveiling in 2014 at a global conference hosted by the university. Photo: Suzanne Ahearne

“This is breaking new ground for me,” says Newman. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to convert the experience of mentorship into a more formal educational setting.”

UVic promotes teaching that reflects the aspirations and calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including addressing issues most relevant to Indigenous people and working with Indigenous communities and organizations to understand, preserve and celebrate traditions, knowledge and cultures.

A former UVic School of Music student, Newman will be the first Audain professor to hold a new three-year position with the department. He will also play a role in the award-winning ACE program with UVic’s Gustavson School of Business, which supports the entrepreneurial practices of Indigenous artists.

“As a master carver, Carey Newman has extensive knowledge of traditions and teachings, as well as a keen interest in contemporary design and digital processes,” says visual arts chair Paul Walde. “Not only is he an extremely well-established artist, but he has strong connections in different mediums and disciplines, both nationally and internationally. With him in the department, we know we would all learn a lot—faculty and students alike—and we look forward to how we can be enriched by that dialogue.”

The artist in his studio in 2013/14, working on one of the cedar panels for the Witness Blanket. Photo: Media One.

The master carver for the Cowichan 2008 Spirit Pole, Newman had another piece, “Dancing Wind,” featured at the 2010 Olympic Games. For over 20 years, he owned Sooke’s recently closed Blue Raven Gallery. He is also an accomplished pianist and singer who has performed at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards and with Pacific Opera Victoria, where he is currently a board member.

Best known for his 12-metre-long Witness Blanket—created and assembled from 600 objects and artifacts including pieces of residential schools, an old drum and a shoe—Newman spent four years travelling across Canada with the installation that evokes the atrocities of Indian residential schools and a national journey toward reconciliation. Newman is excited to bring ideas of reconciliation into his classes at UVic.

“I’m interested in looking at how artists can take on the issue of reconciliation through their own relationship with Canada,” he says. “That way, it’s not limiting it to Indigenous people but is encouraging anyone, even international students, to relate to it.”

Established by a $2-million gift from philanthropist and UVic alumnus Michael Audain in 2010, the position has brought distinguished practicing artists Rande Cook, Nicholas Galanin, Michael Nicol YahgulanaasJackson 2Bears, and Governor General’s Award-winner Rebecca Belmore to teach in the visual arts department.

 

A love of objects and a passion for art history

What compels someone to study art history? It could be a passion for the life and work of a certain artist, like Frida Kahlo, or a fascination with a specific period of visual history, like the Renaissance. But for Josie Greenhill, graduating this month with a BA Honours in Art History & Visual Studies (AHVS), her inspiration came from a movie about Jack and Rose.

Josie Greenhill at UVic’s Library

“I’ve always liked museums, but when it comes to liking history, that was from watching way too many period dramas when I was growing up—specifically Titanic. I was next-level obsessed with James Cameron’s movie, which I used to watch every single day,” laughs Greenhill. “Can this interview just be about Titanic?”

Alas, no, but the legacy of that great ship is a good metaphor for what drives an emerging art historian like Greenhill. “I’ve always liked art, history and culture, and this is an area that mixes them all together,” she says. “I like what objects and material culture can communicate to you; it’s a different approach than just looking at historical texts.”

Born and raised in Nanaimo, Greenhill admits she started out as a “mediocre student” at UVic, but that clearly didn’t last long. Beyond completing an AHVS honours thesis, she’s also taken on leadership roles in student governance, was awarded a JCURA for undergraduate research, had a work-study position, held a co-op placement as a curatorial assistant at Legacy Art Galleries—where she also curated an exhibit about local architects—was hired as an archival assistant in Special Collections, launched her own digital exhibition for UVic’s Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, earned numerous awards and scholarships, presented and published numerous academic papers, and is one of the “faces of art history” in new AHVS recruitment material.

She has also been accepted into the University of Toronto’s highly-competitive art history master’s program, for which she also won a CGS Master’s SSHRC grant—a rare feat for a first-year MA student.

“Josie represents everything UVic stands for,” notes AHVS chair Dr. Erin Campbell. “She is a well-rounded, high-achieving, brilliant, civic-minded, thoughtful and compassionate student who has been shaped by her UVic experience.”

Not that the self-effacing Greenhill would describe herself in such glowing terms. “People think I’m really busy all the time, but I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts and watching Netflix,” she admits. “It’s partially about time management—I wake up early every day—but it’s also about taking risks. Sometimes you just have to take the leap and apply for things you may not have all the qualifications for; it’s surprising how many opportunities will come your way.”

Greenhill in Special Collections

One of Greenhill’s favourite aspects of studying art history has been the sense of discovery that comes through working with archival material. “An object can be your only insight into a time period—if you can hold history or really see it, it has more impact than just reading a document.”

For example, she was thrilled to be able to access a pair of books by Christina and Dante Gabrielle Rossetti through UVic’s Special Collections. “She did the poetry and he did the binding and illustrations,” she explains. “My honours thesis is about Pre-Raphaelite book art—the binding designs, illustrations—which directly ties into why I’m interested in art history. The Pre-Raphaelites were so multi-faceted; they were poets, designers, painters, illustrators . . . there are so many aspects they bring together, and I like studying all those different parts.”

One of her favourite projects was curating a Pride Month exhibit in the lobby display case in UVic Library (seen above)—which she feels doesn’t get the attention it deserves. “People don’t necessarily connect with the lobby case. I often see people just leaning on it with their coffee and I want to say, ‘There’s such cool stuff in here!’”

With her time at UVic coming to an end, how does it feel knowing her face and voice will continue to have a presence on the department’s recruitment material? “It’s kind of intimidating,” she admits. “I’m pretty shy, but I do think it’s cool that I can reach people who I won’t ever meet in person and help motivate them to study art history. I’m grateful that people trust me enough to be a face for the department.”

And is there any wisdom she’d like to share with those future students? “You get out of your degree what you put in to it,” she concludes. “If you get involved, you’ll feel so much better.”

Student reflection: Dungeons & Dragons in the classroom

When my family first moved to Canada, we visited my grandparents’ house and loaded all of my dad’s childhood things into a moving van.

A large amount of these boxes were filled with old first edition Dungeons and Dragons modules and rule books, a collection which has continued to grow since my siblings and I began playing with our dad.

We’ve played together for over 10 years now and, even though I live on the opposite side of the country (I am originally from Nova Scotia), we still play over Skype every weekend . . . which makes me one of the few university students up at eight a.m. on a Saturday.

At most universities, this part of my life would have no relation to my academic career but in the WRIT 324: Writing Interactive Narrative course I was able to use this decade-long passion for 50 percent of my final grade!

WRIT 324 is a course on writing for interactive media taught by David Leach. 2018 was the second year the course had been offered and it drew over 40  students. Leach took us through the history of interactive media from which-way-books, to ZORK, to VR Rollercoasters all while teaching us the techniques writers use to encourage engagement and player investment.

We had smaller assignments throughout the term, but our final project was the true test of our learning. The project was left completely open-ended to encompass the wide variety of interactive media we had been introduced to over the year. This gave me the perfect opportunity to use my years of Dungeons and Dragons experience, as well as my love of horror stories.

I had previously written small adventures for campaigns in the Ravenloft Domain (a world overrun with undead and evil), but I underestimated the time it took to write a full murder mystery with its own specialized mechanics.

I included a prophecy card game that would determine the order of the murders, a map of the manor, statistics for where characters would be found in the house, room descriptions and personality outlines for each character. Just this information and the story outline took over 35 pages — which is a bit much even for a third-year project. Ultimately, I worked with Leach to determine which parts of the module were essential to the project requirements, which allowed me to polish these sections and give him a bit less to read in the end.

WRIT 324 gave me an experience I didn’t expect to have in university: to work on skills surrounding both a long time passion and my degree. It also gave me an experiential lesson in the amount of work a complete piece of writing can take.

If I could take the class again, I certainly would, though I don’t know if I could come up with a project I’d be as proud of as my module, Sylvia’s Misery. If anyone loves video games and has taken writing classes (or can argue their way as an exception to the rule) I completely recommend this course and the freedom it offers for you to explore your interests!

—Written by Writing undergraduate student Ali Barr

This story was originally published on the My UVic Life student blog

Paul Walde wins REACH Award

This May, UVic’s second annual REACH Awards celebrated UVic artists, scholars and scientists for their extraordinary contributions in research, creative practice and teaching—whether from a field school in Cuba or a performance atop a glacier in BC’s interior.

Paul Walde

That’s where this year’s Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression comes in: the 2018 recipient is Visual Arts chair Paul Walde, whose Requiem for a Glacier performance and subsequent gallery installations have earned him international attention.

“This year’s REACH Award recipients again demonstrate the strong link between research and learning,” says UVic President Jamie Cassels. “They share and advance knowledge and wisdom in a range of areas. UVic is privileged to be home to such a talented and dedicated array of people.”

While the history of Canadian art has been built on our relationship with landscape and the environment, Paul Walde has fused that artistic legacy with decidedly 21st century concerns and practices by exploring unexpected interconnections between landscape, identity and technology.

“Both the Visual Arts department and Faculty of Fine Arts are tremendously privileged to have such an important artist and educator shaping our program,” says Dean Susan Lewis. “Paul Walde’s art draws attention to the important landscape that makes up our province and nation.”

 

Walde’s “Glacier”

Since joining UVic in 2012, Walde has enhanced the student experience while expanding his reputation as one of Canada’s leading extended media artists. 2014’s Requiem for a Glacier saw him take a 50-piece orchestra and chorus to the top of BC’s threatened Jumbo Glacier (Qat’Muk) and, while the performance earned international headlines at the time, the subsequent gallery installation continues to impact viewers across Canada and Europe—notably this spring’s exhibition in Paris.

“We want[ed] to call attention to this project and recognize its significance as an artwork that advocated for environmental awareness,” says nominator and Visual Arts colleague Jennifer Stillwell. “Paul’s extensive and thoughtful career has made a large impact on the landscape of Canadian visual art. His distinguished achievements and the social impact of his work are worthy of celebration and recognition, both within our institution and beyond.”

The awards were presented at a special on-campus evening ceremony on May 24.

School of Music professor Suzanne Snizek was the 2017 winner of the REACH Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression.

Get ready for the June 20 Summertime Staff Challenge

Can’t wait for summer to start? Eager to bust loose with some lunchtime fun? Get ready for the fun & frantic Summertime Staff Challenge, running 12:10 to 12:40pm Wednesday, June 20, at the MacLaurin Pyramid.

Your four-person UVic team will compete against others in a series of on-campus zany challenges ranging from information- and image-gathering to tests of physical skills and accuracy.

Designed to be more of a team-building activity than anything seriously physically difficult, the whole point of this event is to have fun going up against other UVic teams while discovering more about the campus.

You’ll also get bonus points for each new employee of 1 year or less on your team. (They don’t have to be from your unit, so start poaching now!) Sign up either as a team or individually, and we’ll connect you with other people looking for teammates.

What your team will need:

  • Four UVic staffers (or majority staff)
  • Running shoes or comfortable walking shoes
  • A smart phone, iPad or other similar device that can take photos & post to Twitter
  • Water shoes / flip flops & a towel (?!)
  • A bicycle
  • Keen eyes
  • Steady hands

Deadline for team registration is Friday, June 15.

For more information or to sign up, please contact John Threlfall at johnt@uvic.ca. Yep, he’s the same kooky guy who was behind the Connect U Scavenger Hunts.