Art is often quite prescient. Be it science fiction or political satire, a tasty analogy or handy metaphor can be a welcome tool for many artists in an effort to comment on current happenings. But what happens when, 70 years later, a far-fetched idea becomes closer to reality than the original event?
French playwright Jean Giraudoux wrote La Folle de Chaillot during WWII when Paris was under siege by Nazi forces. Unable to address the political situation directly, he used metaphor as a way to protest the violent incursion of his beloved city; unfortunately, Giraudoux was in ill health when he wrote the play and did not live to see either its premiere or success after the war.
It was understood by audiences at the time that the evil and corrupt businessmen who were trying to profit from supposed oil underneath Paris — as portrayed in The Madwoman of Chaillot, which opens November 9 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre — were stand-ins for the Nazis, whose occupation of the City of Light and much of France caused humiliation, hardship, and tragedy for the French Resistance, French-born Jewish people and those who had fled to France prior to the outbreak of war.
Giraudoux offers us a protagonist to work against these representatives of evil: Countess Aurelia, an eccentric holdover from a less cynical time. When she learns that her cherished neighbourhood of Chaillot is in peril because of the businessmen’s plans, she bands together with a rag-tag group of artists, vagabonds and dreamers to fight back. Fast-track to 2017, when oil pipelines are being driven through our communities jeopardizing wildlife and our environment, and suddenly Giraudoux’s artistic metaphors no longer seem like a far-fetched threat.
“We live in the era of climate crisis — something even Giraudoux may not have been able to even imagine,” he says. “With the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion set to begin, we are forced to take the figures of evil in the play — bent on profit-making regardless of the costs — at their face value; for us their status as metaphor has disappeared.”
An essayist and dramatist who wrote 15 plays, Giraudoux also served France as a diplomat, government official, and a soldier in World War I. His writings often tempered tragic themes with rueful comedy, using allusive prose, allegory, fantasy, and political and psychological perceptions. The 1947 English translation of Madwoman by Maurice Valency holds to this day, and the play has seen a resurgence of interest in the last few years.
The set of Madwoman of Chaillot (photo: David Lowes)
The sets in the current Phoenix production — designed by recent Theatre professor and alumnus Patrick Du Wors — allude to the nostalgic café-lined streets of Paris, even though they are only flat, massive representations of 19th century engravings.
Costumes, designed by MFA student Michelle Ning Lo, have WWII-era references for the businessmen, and vibrant and flamboyant Edwardian-era frills for the “madwomen.” Lighting design by fourth-year student Matthew Wilkerson captures the streets of Chaillot and helps heighten the moments of comedic absurdity, as does the sound design by third-year student Logan Swain, featuring classic Parisian music that is slightly off-kilter.
Michelle Ning Lo’s costume designs
“The designers and I have taken a meta-theatrical approach to the production, eschewing realism completely for a play that operates in the realm of the fantastic, in the genre of post-modern performance as much as in comedy,” says Alexandrowicz.
Indeed, anyone who has seen past Phoenix productions by Alexandrowicz — including 2015’s Lion in the Streets and 2012’s Good Person of Setzuan — will recall his dynamic blend of imagery, movement and text.
Keep your eyes open for intentional elements of creative anachronism that will help to make comparisons to 2017 even more apparent.
—with files by Adrienne Holierhoek
The Madwoman of Chaillot runs at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, 8pm Monday – Thursday from November 9 – 25, with 2pm Saturday matinees. Tickets range from $15 – $26 and can be booked by phone at 250-721-8000, or in person at the Phoenix Box Office. Recommended for ages 13+.
Sometimes the most inspiring work occurs while students are still enrolled in university. Consider MFA Connect, an inter-institutional visual arts exhibit that literally connects UVic Visual Arts MFA candidates with fellow graduate students at UBC Okanagan.
Works by Conner Charlesworth & Crystal Przybille
Organized by second-year UVic MFA candidate Marina DiMaio, MFA Connect runs November 6-10 in UVic’s Audain Gallery in the Visual Arts building; the first part of the exhibit ran October 10-20 in the FINA Gallery at UBC Okanagan’s campus in Kelowna.
“MFA Connect is like a conference for visual arts,” says DiMaio. “Other departments make these kind of ‘connections’ all the time, but when we get together we share a visual language. This is about challenging each other’s research, getting our research out into the world, creating our own opportunities, establishing communities, and continuing the larger conversation of the place of the visual arts in an academic institution.”
As emerging artists and creative researchers, it’s essential for MFA candidates to connect with both local and international art centers, and to encounter and share visual methodologies. With that in mind, MFA Connect aims to deepen and challenge graduate student practices, as well as equip the larger academic communities with new records of interdisciplinary understanding.
David Michael Peters helps install the exhibit at UVic
“The academic community we are temporarily placed in while being in an MFA is perhaps the most valuable part of being here,” she says. “We have an immediate network of support, of individuals striving towards similar goals with a common passion for creative research.”
The first in what’s hoped to be a series of MFA art exchanges, MFA Connect will showcase the work of six UVic MFAs — Conner Charlesworth, Leah McInnis, David Michael Peters, Evelyn Sorochan-Ruland, Xristia Trutiak, and Di Maio herself — and five UBCO MFAs: Steven Thomas Davies, Jessica Dennis, Joe Fowler, Crystal Przybille and Meg Yamamoto.
“Conceptually, we are all working in very different ways,” DiMaio explains. “You will find some similarities in the general tendencies of each program toward materiality, craft, and the handmade — the show is filled with objects pointing toward a physical human experience — but this show ultimately finds its affinities in the ongoing conversation of visual art as a form of research.”
Pieces on display will tackle concepts ranging from discussions of labour and conversations with the history of art to investigations into process and material politics, explorations of internal and external gender identity, studies of soundscapes and perceptual experience, the mapping of place and possessions, and an examination of Indigenous rights and truths.
“We’re only in our MFAs for two years,” DiMaio concludes. “That goes by fast and we need to make the most of our time here and take advantage of all the opportunities that are available to us.”
MFA Connect runs 10am-4pm Monday-Friday, November 6-10 in the Visual Arts Building’s Audain Gallery, with a closing reception beginning at 4:30pm on Thursday, November 9
Fall is traditionally book prize season and, as with most years, our Department of Writing has a fresh crop of alumni and faculty currently up for prizes.
Alumna Eden Robinson is a Giller Prize finalist for her latest novel, Son of A Trickster (Penguin Random House). This is Robinson’s second Giller nomination, following her debut Monkey Beach back in 2000. Robinson is one of five finalists chosen from a longlist of 12 books — which also included alumna Deborah Willis for her story collection The Dark and Other Love Stories (Hamish Hamilton) — and the winner will be announced on November 20.
Writing professor emeritus and beloved poet Lorna Crozier is a finalist — again — for the Governor General’s Literary Awards, this time for her poetry collection, What the Soul Doesn’t Want (Broadview Press). Crozier won her first Governor-General’s Award back in 1992, and we’ll find out on November 1 if she wins again.
Jurors described Yellow Mountains as “a haunting book that explores the harsh impact of colonialism, the blind, random damage it drags in its wake, and the puny nature of ill-thought out resistance versus the well-oiled wheels of imperialism. Thanh’s book is a sensory treat, a complex collage of images and themes. Original sharp and spiky language brings the reader fully into the narrative moment.”
Also nominated for the 2017 Victoria Book Prize were fellow alumni Patricia Young for her poetry collection Short Takes on the Apocalypse (Biblioasis) and Steven Price for his novel By Gaslight (McClelland & Stewart).
Congratulations also go out to current Writing undergrad Kade Bound, who was recently announced as the winner of the Lambda Foundation’s annual Candis Graham Writing Scholarship.
Finally, Writing professor Tim Lilburn was named the first Canadian recipient of the prestigious European Medal of Poetry & Art on October 10. Commonly referred to as the “Homer Medal,” Lilburn was presented the award by visiting Chinese poet and editor Zhao Si at a small reception on campus.
It’s been a busy summer for Visual Arts faculty, students and alumni — thanks to a number of new projects, installations and exhibits happening locally, nationally and internationally. Here’s a quick roundup:
Daniel Laskarin with his in-process sculpture
Professor Daniel Laskarin unveiled a new sculpture at Richmond Firehall 3 in July. The new piece, titled to be distinct and to hold together, is the culmination of an $80,000 public commission started in 2015 and sits in front of the new building, housing Cambie Fire Hall No. 3 and the Richmond North Ambulance Station.
Created to resemble a fire tetrahedron, Laskarin’s sculpture is a representation of the four elements necessary for fire: fuel, heat, oxygen and a sustaining chemical reaction. Visitors are invited to interact with the work, pushing to rotate it by hand, which gives it both a literal meaning — in presenting the services named and the community served — as well as a metaphoric meaning — by giving vision to the interlinked and interdependent relationships among Richmond Fire-Rescue, BC Ambulance Service and the broader community. You can watch it spin in this video.
Visual Arts professor Cedric Bomford is having a busy summer out of town, with work in the California Pacific Triennial at the Orange County Museum of Art, running until September. This thought-provoking exhibition offers a survey of contemporary art in and around the Pacific Rim, exploring the topic of architecture and the temporal precariousness of the built environment. Among the issues to be addressed are the recording of history and preservation; the concept of home and displacement; and the influence of global power, economics, and political systems on global construction. And, along with his brother Nathan and father Jim, Cedric also has a project opening as part of Endless Landscape in Gatineau, Quebec, running until August 30.
Kelly Richardson, our new digital/extended media professor, is hitting the ground running with a pair of summer exhibits: the Bonavista Biennale in Newfoundland and the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, England. The group exhibit at the Towner features art from 12 leading international artists, including Richardson, who has been living and working at Newcastle University since 2003.
Timed for the Canada 150 celebrations, the Bonavista Biennale is a contemporary visual art exhibition and running August 17 – September 17. Organized by curators Catherine Beaudette and Patricia Grattan, it will present works by 25 leading Canadian artists in non-gallery sites (micro-brewery, fishstore, old schoolhouse, seal plant, beach, etc) and promises a unique encounter with this spectacular area where history and traditional culture combine. It’s already gaining attention as one of Canadian Art magazine’s “20 show we want to see in 2017”.
There was a good deal of media interest in the latest site- and temporally-specific performance piece by department chair Paul Walde: his Tom Thomson Centennial Swim on July 8 resulted in 10 unique interviews, ranging from a full-page piece on page A3 of the Toronto Star to six different CBC Radio shows and the Times Colonist. “Landscape painting is about beauty,” Walde told the Star‘s Murray Whyte. “But the landscape is dangerous. It doesn’t care if you live or die. That was the very limit of what I could do. For me, to be in the water where he died — that was powerful.”
And professor Megan Dickie has a new publication hot off the press: One Way or Another looks at Dickie’s exhibition of the same title that ran at Open Space from January 13-February 18, 2017. The publication features essays by exhibit curator Megan K. Quigley, writer Kyra Korodoski and MFA alumna artist Kerri Flannigan.
Kerry Flannigan in action
Speaking of Kerri Flannigan, the recent MFA alumna will be spending the next eight months in residence at Victoria’s venerable Open Space, which has provided a vital interdisciplinary gallery and performance space for over 45 years now. Flannigan’s residency will include research and production investigating social media and storytelling, relating to early digital telecommunications. A Victoria-based interdisciplinary artist and writer who explores methods of experimental narrative and documentary, her work is grounded in both personal history and in-depth research; recent pieces examined family mythologies, coming-of-age confessions, body language and swimming pools.
Modeling the collaboratory projects that Open Space engaged in the late ‘70s, Flannigan’s project employs archival research, DIY skill sharing, and collaborative production, and will culminate in a series of public workshops and performances. She will be focusing on slow-scan, and will work with artist Patrick Lichty, as well as former Open Space directors/artists Peggy Cady and Bill Bartlett. As one of the oldest artist-run centres in Canada, Open Space has played a significant role in the development of contemporary art in Canada. In addition to hosting thousands of artists over the years; it also publishes, manages a resource centre, maintains archives, and manages a commercial lease for the lower level of its building.
Lindsay Delaronde supported by dancers during ACHoRd (Photo: Peruzzo)
In other Visual Arts alumni news, recent MFA Lindsay Delaronde — now Indigenous Artist in Residence for the city of Victoria — presented the powerful dance performance piece AChoRd. A great example of how reconciliation can — and should — involve the arts, AChoRd was performed on June 25 in front of the BC Legislature as part of Victoria’s Canada150 celebrations.
As Emilee Gilpin writes in this fantastic Tyee article, “the performance, called ‘ACHoRd,’ was not a regular dance but the result of weeks of storytelling, healing and transformation. The group, comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women, explored the theme of reconciliation by listening to and learning from one another, creating movements and strategies of support.” To get more of a sense of the creation, intent and impact of the event, be sure to read Gilpin’s piece, which also features exceptionally strong photography by Peruzzo.
Another recent Visual Arts MFA alumna with work on view this summer is Kwakwaka’wakw artist Marianne Nicolson. Her video installation There’s Blood in the Rocks — running until September 16 at the Legacy Art Gallery Downtown — uses pictographic imagery and song in a quiet but powerful video installation that tells the often-silenced history of the 1862 small pox epidemic in Victoria, which utterly devastated thousands of West Coast First Nations people. With this piece, Nicolson acknowledges the loss of her ancestors while affirming continued Indigenous presence in the land and the strength, endurance and resurgence of First Nations peoples over time.
“Forestrial Brain” in process (photo: Yannick Grandmont)
Visual Arts alumni Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane have spent the past two months working on the collaborative drawing installation Forestrial Brain at Open Space — the culmination of an eight-day hike on the West Coast Trail, followed by a six-week residency at Open Space. The enormous, immersive drawn installation explores west coast forests and ecologies, steeped in fantasy and imagination. This shared world is one at the borderlands of wilderness and civilization, the real and the imaginary, deep time and the present,” says Shane. To mark their achievement, Open Space is holding a finissage (closing reception) for Forestrial Brain during the Integrate Arts Festival: 7pm Friday, August 25, with music to follow. Read more about what Times Colonist art critic Robert Amos calls “the biggest, most complex and engaging artistic creation I can ever remember in that space” in this article.
Shane an Holyoak are just two of many Visual Arts alumni involved in the 11th annual Integrate Arts Festival, running August 25-27 in a number of venues and galleries around Victoria. Watch for work by Colton Hash, Laura Gildner, Leah McInnis, Maddy Knott, Marianne Nicolson, Elizabeth Charters and Xiao Xue. And don’t miss Laura Gildner’s “Public Displays of Affection” walking tour (1-2pm Sat, Aug 26), a participant-driven performance work touring between selected exhibits in the downtown core.
In award news, 2017 BFA grad Xiao Xue continues to make headlines with her remarkable walking camper project, titled “something to ponder on” — which will also be on view during the Integrate Arts Festival in downtown’s Bastion Square. As well as being singled out as an outstanding undergrad in this UVic News article, she won the top prize in June’s Rainhouse Technology Challenge—beating out prototype drones, satellites and submarines. “Xiao’s work shows a unique blending of art and technology. It’s a remarkable application of imagination,” said Rainhouse’s Ray Brougham in this Victoria News article. Xiao was also interviewed on CBC Radio’s On The Island on July 12, and was featured in this CHEK TV news segment on July 13.
Xiao Xue with her walking camper
Breaking news! Xue has just been confirmed as the national prize winner in 2017’s BMO 1st Art invitational competition. Not only does she win $15,000, but her work will be featured as part of a special exhibition at the University of Toronto’s Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, running from November 16 to December 16, 2017 (alas, it will only feature a video and documentation of her work, and not the actual camper itself), as well as in a special spread in Canadian Art magazine.
And 2017 BFA grad James Fermor has also been named the BC provincial winner in the same competition, earning him $7,500. His work will also appear in the same Toronto exhibit.
Finally, current third-year student Cassidy Luteijn made the news this summer as one of the finalists for a Canada 150 condom wrapper design contest. Her uniquely “Canadian” imagery includes a sexy beaver and a moose with underwear draped on its antlers. The story has been reported by the Martlet, CBC Radio, the Huffington Post and others.
How can theatre activate the experiences of migrant youth, while at the same time providing a window into the experiences they face while assimilating into a new culture, new society and new city? Questions like this are at the heart of a new Applied Theatre performance directed and devised by Theatre PhD candidate Taiwo Okunola Afolabi.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps welcomes the cast on June 20
Commissioned for World Refugee Day 2017 and created in partnership with the Victoria Immigrant & Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) and the Applied Theatre program in UVic’s acclaimed Theatre department, the live interactive play Journeys of Arriving, Belonging and Becoming was first performed to a packed house of 65 people at Victoria’s City Hall on June 20 — including Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, City Councillor Jeremy Loveday, Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) director David Lau, and Michael Shamata, Artistic Director of the Belfry Theatre. It was also remounted as a free outdoor theatre performance on June 29 in the #UVic quad.
“The performance explores complexities that surround refugees and migrant movements, which can be overwhelming — especially when we don’t have a clear way to actively engage with the issues and individual experiences,” explains Afolabi.
Director Taiwo Afolabi during the audience talkback session
The powerful 50-minute show features a mix of drama, dance, music and spoken word, all aimed at exploring the very real process of relocation, resilience, settlement and integration. It showcases common experiences like choosing an English name, learning a new language, and the difficulties that come with navigating everyday situations like ordering coffee, finding a job or dealing with the donation of unwanted goods from well-intentioned but thoughtless people.
The cast of “Journeys of Arriving, Belonging and Becoming”
But more than just presenting these difficulties, Journeys of Arriving also provides a creative platform for a cast with a truly global background: Syria, Israel, Russia, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Nigeria and Canada.
Most of the eight-person cast are Department of Theatre students — including Annie Konstantinova, Jasmine Li, Megan Chandler, Olivia Wheeler, Thiptawan Uchai and Victoria Stark — with the addition of UVic student Tianxu Zhao, and community member Samer Alkhateb.
“Actors’ experiences and stories from refugees, immigrants and newcomers in Victoria inspired the performance,” says the Nigerian-born Afolabi. “We asked ourselves challenging questions around identity, language, assimilation, psychological needs and the other experiences that refugees and immigrants face.”
The cast performing on campus on June 29
VIRCS youth program coordinator Jasmindra Jawanda says the seed of the idea began about a year ago when she first met Afolabi.
“We both discussed the possibility of working together on a youth theatre play . . . as we both felt youth were often left in the shadows. They are the forgotten ones, standing on the margins of society wanting to fit into Canadian culture but because of the many barriers and challenges that they face, they struggle to integrate into their new communities. We wanted to shine a light onto their stories and truths.”
For his part, Afolabi says he wanted “a storytelling approach” to the material — thus the inclusion of monologues, dialogue and action with music — and occasional moments of humor and comedy allow the cast to address highly emotional and socially sensitive issues. “I worked with an amazing, passionate and dedicated team. Each person volunteered almost 50 hours to devise this performance.”
“Theatre can raise consciousness,” says Afolabi. “Coming to one workshop might change someone’s perspective, whereas I can write five articles that might never be read.”
The Nigerian-born scholar had already travelled to the likes of Burkina Faso, China, Denmark, Iran and the USA and before choosing to pursue doctoral studies in UVic’s Theatre department; indeed, he came to UVic specifically to study with renowned Department of Theatre professor Warwick Dobson.
“For me, applied theatre is all about relationships and interactions,” he explains. “Relationships are powerful because they involve us, and those interactions make us responsible and actionable. Once we start understanding peoples’ reality, it brings us closer to their experience — not just theory, but their actual experience. We can start living it.”
The applied theatre program in the Department of Theatre is no stranger to international projects: consider the recent field school to India led by PhD candidate Matthew Gusul, or the efforts of Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta, who has led projects in Brazil, Cambodia, Nicaragua and The Netherlands.
Following completion of his PhD, Afolabi hopes to travel to throughout Africa — specifically to Eastern, Southern and Western Africa — to map and document what local people are doing to preserve their culture. “Moving from different countries gives you a broader perspective on the world and practices,” he says.
In this article from UVic’s Ring, Afolabi discusses his artistic practices around internally displaced persons or communities. He talks about how a “lived experience” – through the audience’s firsthand experience of culturally specific activities and performances, ranging from dance and music to drumming and magician acts – “has the capacity to make it personal, beyond theory.” This kind of empathy, he says, generates “a profound response.”
“So much memory and knowledge resides in the body and in theatre we can bring it out,” he explains. “And sometimes people give solutions that don’t work for a complex issue because we are distanced from it. With the ‘lived experience’ [of theatre], even if it’s only for a second, you can come to that point. It can give you something that you won’t forget.”
Afolabi is participating in a panel about migration and refugee performances as part of Forgotten Corridors: Global Displacement and the Politics of Engagement — the 10th annual conference of the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. Running May 15 to 18 and hosted by UVic’s Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives (CAPI), this is the first time the conference has been held on the west coast of Canada.
Afolabi was interviewed for this TC story
“We’re building community and building relationships between refugees from different cultural backgrounds,” Afolabi said in this Times Colonist article about the Forgotten Corridors conference.
Afolabi explains that he uses dance, music and drama to give displaced people a sense of empowerment and allow them to engage in “self-celebration, self-expression and self-documentation,” rather than simply being treated like victims.
Forgotten Corridors seeks to expand the examination of global displacement by looking beyond the world media focus on the Mediterranean: are other displaced groups being left out of the discussion? How do financially strapped countries such as India and Kenya accommodate thousands of guests for protracted periods of time? What can theatre teach us about the experiences of internally displaced persons? What do Australia’s offshore detention camps reveal about personal impacts of sending those in search of a safe home to languish in limbo?
By bringing together more than 200 activists, scholars, policy makers and other experts from all corners of the world to share knowledge, experiences and strategies as they relate to global displacement, Forgotten Corridors also dovetails with UVic’s new International Plan, launched in the fall of 2016. It is also one of four signature series events by UVic to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary.
For his part, Afolabi hopes to start conversations at Forgotten Corridors that will act as “sparks” for people to then take home with them.
“When we start understanding the reality, it brings us closer to the experience,” he says. “Applied theatre has the capacity and potential to bring these issues closer to us. We can start living it.”