When Art Meets Science

Ever wanted to have an intimate, interactive moment with a baby orca? A new student-created sculpture allows viewers to have just that, while also learning something about the threats currently facing our local killer whale population.

“Resonant Disintegration” is an intermedia installation created by Visual Arts/Computer Science undergraduate student Colton Hash. Featuring a life-size representation of three-year-old J53, the youngest surviving female of the endangered southern resident orcas, the eight-foot-long hollow sheet-metal sculpture is suspended by wires to simulate an aquatic environment.

After cutting, shaping and welding it, Hash then submerged the piece in a quiet bay off Esquimalt’s Saxe Point to achieve a rust-textured coating that allowed it to be “physically infused with a sense of local place and local water,” as Hash says. But creating the physical sculpture was only half the concept: he also wanted to fuse ocean data and climate change concerns into his sculptural installation. As a result, when installed, a projected visualization of climate data plays across the surfaces of both the whale and the room, while underwater recordings of passing freighters fill the space with a disturbing rumble.

“When people enter into the interactive space, their movements are recorded by a motion sensor and, as they approach the whale, the background noise and the speed of the climate data slows down, so they have somewhat of an intimate moment with the sculpture,” Hash explains.

Add in a microphone and another set of speakers playing the same sounds from inside the whale, all connected by a real-time computer program, and the whole effect becomes both beautiful and haunting.

Colton Hash with his “Resonant Disintegration” sculpture

“Because it’s a hollow object, it acts as a resonating chamber, and the contact microphone picks up vibrations that create a feedback loop and cause the sculpture to make its own sound,” says Hash. “Essentially, the sculpture is responding to underwater noises, as well as the interactions of the viewer.”

While visually appealing, Hash’s sculpture is firmly rooted in science—entirely appropriate, given that he’s also working toward a minor degree in environmental studies. The project data is gathered from the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, located on the UVic campus. It includes variables such as precipitation, ocean temperatures and ground surface temperatures, all of which impact the health of different aquatic systems. The audio recordings are taken from UVic’s Ocean Networks Canada hydrophone stations in the Salish Sea.

“Climate change is happening and it’s already having devastating impacts on species we love, such as orcas,” says Hash. “This whole installation is an attempt to create a reflective and emotionally driven space where people can be present with their feelings. In this world of social media and information saturation, we’re not really allowing ourselves the time to reflect on how we’re feeling about the state of the world.”

While Hash’s sculpture is not currently on view, a short film documenting its creation and intention recently won both first-place prizes at UVic’s Research Reels video showcase during March’s Ideafest, earning him $1750 in cash prizes. He was also just awarded the Jorgensen Legacy Artist Bursary, courtesy of the Victoria Visual Arts Legacy Society.

“I’ve always loved sculptures honoring animals that are important to us,” he continues. “Obviously, there’s a lot of fascination with orcas around Victoria . . . but there’s a real disconnect between how they’re shown in art and the reality of their rapidly declining numbers.”

While there are no immediate viewing dates lined up for the installation, Hash is hoping to exhibit it again in the near future.

“It offers the chance for people to engage spiritually and emotionally with the art and the issues,” he says. “Art has the ability to engage on those levels more than through intellectual or scientific information, which often seems overwhelming.”

Learn more

Only 76 orcas remain in the endangered southern resident killer whale population, which forages for chinook salmon in its core range off southern Vancouver Island. The primary cause of their decline is chronically low chinook numbers, although pollution and noise disturbance from vessels are contributing factors.

Three UVic researchers were recently awarded a total of $935,000 in federal funding to study the impact of underwater noise on southern resident killer whales and on the chinook salmon that make up almost 80 per cent of their diet. Read the story.

UVic’s Ocean Networks Canada operates world-leading cabled ocean observatories for the advancement of science and the benefit of Canada. These observatories collect data on physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of the ocean over longer time periods, supporting research on complex Earth processes in ways not previously possible.

Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada currently have a call out for a new ONC Artist-in-Residence project. Visit the page to find out more about this fusion of art and science, running May to October 2018, with an April 27, 2018 application deadline.

UVic’s annual Department of Visual Arts BFA graduation exhibit will feature the work of 40 emerging artists and showcase the exciting interdisciplinary work being created by students. The free exhibit runs 10am to 6pm daily, April 20–28, in the Visual Arts building, and opens with a 7pm reception on Friday, April 20.

 

Call for Artist-in-Residence Ocean Program

The Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, are sponsoring an Artist in Residence program. The concept strengthens connections between Art and Science to broaden and cross-fertilize perspectives and critical discourse on today’s major issues such as the environment, technology, oceans, cultural and biodiversity and healthy communities. This program is open to local, national and international applicants.

The Artist in Residence will interact with Fine Arts faculty members and scientists at Ocean Networks Canada as well as with other individuals using the world-leading ocean facilities to ignite cross-disciplinary exchanges. Open to artists working in any visual, written, musical or performance discipline, this residency is suitable for an early- or mid-career artist.

The Artist will learn from and engage with the current research, connecting it to the Artist’s own practice, and to wider societal and cultural aspects, creating a body of work to be presented at the end of the residency. The selected Artist will actively engage with researchers on a variety of ocean science themes, that may include:

The ONC Artist in Residence program is established to:

  • explore arts or alternative cultural practices’ potential in the area of the visions, challenges, philosophical, aesthetic, and ethical aspects of the ocean and the impacts humans have on it;
  • add a complementary artistic and creative perspective to ocean science, the societal ramifications of its exploitation, and its cultural aspects; and
  • help envision the potential long-term impact of ocean changes on humanity.

The residency period can start any time between May and December 2018 and last for up to eight months. A cost-of-living stipend of up to CAD $2000/month will be paid to the selected Artist. Following the residency, a public exhibit of the resulting art will be displayed, performed and promoted by ONC and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Please note: the application period closes on 27 April 2018.

If interested, please send your application to corinnea@uvic.ca at Ocean Networks Canada with the subject line “Artist in Residence Ocean Program.” The application should include your CV, a concise portfolio of previous relevant artistic work, and a letter of motivation outlining your project proposal for the residency. Applications will be reviewed by representatives of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada, and artists may be contacted for an interview or to supply further information.

About Ocean Networks Canada: Established in 2007 as a major initiative of the University of Victoria, Ocean Networks Canada operates world-leading ocean observatories for the advancement of science and the benefit of Canada. The observatories collect data on physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of the ocean over long time periods, supporting research on complex Earth processes in ways not previously possible. The observatories provide unique scientific and technical capabilities that permit researchers to operate instruments remotely and receive data at their home laboratories anywhere on the globe in real time. These facilities extend and complement other research platforms and programs, whether currently operating or planned for future deployment.

About the Faculty of Fine Arts: With experiential learning at its core, Fine Arts provides the finest training and learning environment for artists, professionals, and students. Through our departments of Art History and Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and School of Music, we aspire to lead in arts-based research and creative activity and education in local, national, and global contexts. We integrate and advance creation and scholarship in the arts in a dynamic learning environment. As British Columbia’s only Faculty exclusively dedicated to the arts, Fine Arts is an extraordinary setting that supports new discoveries, interdisciplinary and diverse contributions to creativity, and the cultural experiences of the students and communities we serve.

Exhibition reframes Innocence of 1960s artists

In 1963, National Film Board director Léonard Forest travelled from Montreal to the west coast to direct a documentary about artists and poets working in Vancouver and Victoria. Forest said he came here with “zero idea” of what he would find. He made the resulting 27-minute film, In Search of Innocence, with an innocent eye.

AHVS grad student & exhibit curator Nellie Lamb

Now, the latest Legacy Gallery exhibit, Innocence: West Coast Art and Artists Through a Visitor’s Eyes pairs the original NFB documentary with work by artists featured in the film — but guest curator Nellie Lamb also examines the notion of innocence as it pertains to the West Coast in the 1960s.

Lamb, a graduate student with the Art History & Visual Studies department, selected work by the likes of Jack Shadbolt, Margaret Peterson, Roy Kiyooka, bill bissett, Joy Long, Sing Lim, Jack Hardman, and former UVic Visual Arts professors Fred Douglas and Donald Jarvis for the exhibit.

Curious to learn more? Lamb will be giving a special curator’s talk and tour from 3-4:30pm Saturday, February 3.

Lamb says she first saw the NFB film back in 2013, when her mother gave her a copy for Christmas. “My dad, Fred Douglas, appears in it,” she explains. “He passed away when I was 12 so I’ve been getting to know him as an adult through documents like this, and through his friends, co-workers and students.”

Some of Fred Douglas’ original manuscript pages appear in the exhibit

Douglas was a noted Vancouver artist who eventually joined UVic’s Visual Arts department as a professor.

She calls it a “happy accident” that UVic’s impressive art collection holds pieces by some of the artists in the film; the exhibit also features some pieces on loan from UBC, SFU, and the AGGV. “That’s one of the fun things I’ve found about researching local artists, often their work is right here where we can see it up close.”

Lamb says she tried to select works that were created close to the time In Search of Innocence was shot. “Margaret Peterson’s ‘Horos, The Welcome Figure’ (1962) was actually in her solo exhibit at AGGV, which is shown in part in In Search of Innocence,” she explains. “ ’Horos’ also relates to the idea of the West Coast as a place that is — at least in some imaginations — ‘natural’ and ‘mystical.’”

A more innocent time?

Was there actually a sense of innocence among west coast artists of the 1960s? “I think Forest’s use of the term ‘innocence’ is much more nuanced and nebulous than what we typically use the word to mean,” Lamb explains.

“Part of my research is about teasing apart what he might have meant and I think what he meant has many facets, depending on which artist he was looking at. For example, Jack Shadbolt’s search for innocence was different from Al Neil’s. Forest features a diverse group in his film . . . [but] the artists in In Search of Innocence wouldn’t have called themselves innocent.”

Yet Lamb does acknowledge that “the west” has long been seen as a place of opportunity, and that “unrealized opportunity” itself is a type of innocence. Add that to the continued perception that the West Coast is distant from the art-world centers (Europe, New York, Montreal, Toronto), and that West Coast cities like LA and Vancouver are “culturally devoid” compared to their eastern equivalents.

“Of course, anyone involved in the arts communities out here knows that’s untrue,” insists Lamb. “But being removed from these major art centers, and choosing to remain physically and sometimes ideologically marginal, can be seen as an innocent choice or, a search for innocence.”

The researcher as audience & curtor

As an AHVS grad student, Lamb says her Legacy exhibit is just one part of a larger research project focusing on documentary film theory, building a history of Vancouver and the West Coast in the 1960s, and considering her own role as audience and curator.

“Sometimes seeing something we are familiar with through another’s eyes reminds us how incredible that thing is,” she explains. “I hope visitors leave the gallery with a feeling of wonder about the place that we live, and the artists who have worked here for thousands of years and continue to . . . . that’s the feeling in [both the film] and the artworks in this exhibition give me.”

“Innocence” at Legacy Gallery Downtown

Originally from Vancouver, Lamb chose UVic for both her undergraduate degree and her graduate work. “I’m from Vancouver and I had originally planned on moving back there after graduating with my BA . . . . [but] I’ve found that both the AHVS department and Victoria’s art community are overflowing with opportunities for students to put their research and related skills into practice.”

Despite the 55-year gap between the NFB documentary and now, when urban growth and development have radically changed both the physical and cultural landscape, Lamb feels some things do remain recognizable.

“I bounce back and forth between lamenting how much has changed — how much has been lost to development and rising cost of living — and then noticing how much is the same,” she says. “The land is still awe-inspiring, there are still diverse and interconnected communities of artists working in just as diverse media, and some of them are still searching for the same ineffable thing that Forest called innocence.”

Innocence: West Coast Art and Artists Through a Visitor’s Eyes runs to March 29 at UVic’s Legacy Downtown, 630 Yates (open Wed-Sat, 10-4pm).  

New Visual Arts professor creates Avatar Grove film project for IMAX screens

Visual Arts professor Kelly Richardson with one of the old-growth trees in Avatar Grove (photo: Ken Wu)

Internationally acclaimed artist and new Visual Arts professor Kelly Richardson will be one of five digital media artists featured in the upcoming XL-Outer Worlds large-format film project, which will be shooting at Port Renfrew’s Avatar Grove / T’l’oqwxwat in summer 2018 and released on IMAX screens across Canada in 2019.

The Ontario-born artist has been living in the UK since 2003, and teaching at Newcastle University since 2013, but decided to move to Vancouver Island specifically upon seeing BC’s old-growth forests first-hand during her time as a UVic Visiting Artist in the fall of 2016.

“I was overwhelmed by my experience of those ancient stands, which was a huge influence in my decision to apply for a professorship at the University of Victoria,” says Richardson. “I couldn’t believe those ancient stands still exist at all anywhere in the world, let alone here. My upcoming projects will feature the old-growth forests in this region and I hope I can contribute to efforts to raise awareness about their outstanding beauty and the plight to protect what remains.”

Hear more about the project in Richardson’s January 9 interview with CHEK TV. The story was also reported in the January 10 edition of the Sooke News Mirror, the January 11 Canadian Art news roundup, the January 13 issue of the Saanich News, a large spread in the January 14 Times Colonist, the January 16 broadcast of CBC Radio’s On The Island (no link available), the January 17 edition of the Peninsula News Review and the news section of Galleries West magazine.

Vancouver Island’s old-growth forests have a long history of artistic representation, whether as the medium and inspiration for centuries of Indigenous works or the iconic paintings of Emily Carr. Known for creating hyper-real digital films of rich and complex landscapes manipulated using CGI, animation and sound, Richardson’s work fuses 19th century painting, 20th century cinema and 21st century scientific inquiries, Richardson creates works with strong environmental themes, asking viewers to consider what the future might look like if we continue on our current trajectory of global environmental crisis.

Kelly Richardson (photo: Colin Davison)

“I want viewers to be immersed within an old-growth forest that’s been shifted into an area of science-fiction, a potential future,” she says about her project. “That perception will allow us to view ourselves in our current situation with some measure of hindsight and clarity, and hopefully realize what we’re doing, where we’re headed, and why.”

The XL-Outer Worlds project celebrates the 50th anniversary of the IMAX, a Canadian invention, and Richardson’s film will be shot by Christian Kroitor, the grandson of IMAX inventor Roman Kroitor. Featuring four other Canadian media artists (Michael Snow, Oliver Husain, Lisa Jackson, and Leila Sujir), the commission focuses on short films creating a larger-than-life landscape that forms an outer world.

Viewers engaging with Richardson’s work (photo: Ruth Clark)

Highly in-demand as an artist, in 2017 Richardson was involved in 14 solo and group exhibitions across Canada and in China, France, the UK and the US. Her works have been widely acclaimed in North America, Asia and Europe, and have been acquired by the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, and Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, as well as by museums around the world.

Her video installations have been included in the Toronto International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival and she was previously honoured at the Americans for the Arts National Arts Awards alongside Robert Redford, Salman Rushdie and fellow artist, Ed Ruscha.

Richardson’s old-growth project will be created with the participation of the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) who, together with the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, spearheaded the protection of Avatar Grove — called T’l’oqwxwat by the local Pacheedaht First Nation — which is home to one of the most spectacular and easily accessible stands of monumental old-growth trees in BC.

Avatar Grove’s monumental scale matches the scope of Richardson’s work (photo: Ken Wu)

“The old-growth forests around Port Renfrew — still largely endangered — are clearly continuing to impress increasing numbers of people,” says AFA executive director Ken Wu. “Not only tourists, businesses, and news media, but now a renowned artist of Kelly Richardson’s caliber. Her work has garnered major media attention, moved critics and reached popular audiences, all while raising environmental themes in powerful ways.”

The campaign to protect Avatar grove, spearheaded by the AFA and the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce — a ground-breaking alliance of environmental activists and the local business community — has significantly fueled a provincial movement of businesses, labour unions, city and town councils, and environmental groups calling on the British Columbian provincial government to protect old-growth forests and to ensure a sustainable, second-growth forest industry.

Sandra Meigs joins Canada’s academic elite

Contemporary artist and newly retired Visual Arts professor Sandra Meigs has been named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC)—Canada’s highest academic honour.

Sandra Meigs, 2017 (UVic Photo Services)

The title has been bestowed on only 2,000 Canadians in the 134-year history of the RSC, and has just one criterion: excellence. The peer-elected fellows of the society are chosen for making “remarkable contributions” in the arts, humanities and sciences, and Canadian public life.

“Academians are largely associated with scientific and theoretical knowledge, and I’ve always believed that visual art offers a special kind of knowledge—a knowledge giving form to imaginative discovery,” Meigs says in this September 7 article in UVic’s Ring newspaper. “I feel lucky to be able to meet with this large community of thinkers.”

As one of Canada’s leading contemporary artists, Meigs’s work has been presented at more than 100 solo and group exhibitions put on by some of Canada’s most culturally relevant institutions. In 2015, she won both a Governor General’s Award in Visual Arts and Media and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize for professional artists.

“Through her work and commitment to students, Sandra Meigs inspires the next generation of artists and strengthens the Faculty’s core mission of artistic practice and scholarship,” says Dean of Fine Arts, Dr. Susan Lewis. “On behalf of the Faculty of Fine Arts, I extend my congratulations to her on this richly deserved honour.”

Meigs retired in July 2017 after 24 years with UVic’s Department of Visual Arts and has been at the forefront of the studio-integrated learning model now used by many art schools across Canada. Her work has been shown in close to 100 exhibitions, including solo exhibits across Canada, and internationally in Europe and Australia.

“En Trance” by Sandra Meigs (Photo: Winchester Galleries)

She’s recognized as a critically acclaimed visual artist who creates vivid, immersive and enigmatic paintings that combine complex narratives with comic elements. Drawing inspiration from philosophical texts, theory, popular culture, music, fiction, travels and personal experience during her 35-year artistic career, she creates visual metaphors related to the psyche.

Her latest exhibit, “Room for Mystics,” will run at the Art Gallery of Ontario from October 18 to January 13, 2018; part of the Iskowitz Prize, there will also be a exhibit publication and it will feature a collaboration with UVic School of Music professor Christopher Butterfield. An advance look at some of this new work ran at Victoria’s Winchester Galleries back in January 2017 as the exhibit “En Trance.”

But even though she’s retired, Meigs will still remain part of UVic’s Fine Arts community. Now a Professor Emeritus, she believes the university is home to some of Canada’s foremost artists—but is missing one crucial component.

“The University of Victoria should be proud of its Faculty of Fine Arts, but the Visual Arts department is in need of a real, on-campus contemporary art gallery to pursue our creative research and teaching,” she says. “UVic is one of the few universities in Canada that does not have its own contemporary art gallery. Our recitals and concerts at the School of Music are renown, and performances at the Phoenix Theatre are a magnet for the public—whereas Visual Arts has no such venue on campus to showcase its research and teaching.”

Meigs is the fifth Fine Arts professor to be named a Fellow, joining colleagues Harald Krebs (Music), Mary Kerr (Theatre), Joan MacLeod (Writing) and Tim Lilburn (Writing), as well as RSC College member Dániel Péter Biró (Music) and RSC Medal winner Jack Hodgins (Writing, retired).

The Royal Society of Canada was established in 1883 as Canada’s national academy for distinguished scholars, artists and scientists. Its primary objective is to promote learning and research in the arts, humanities, and natural and social sciences. The society has named 72 current, former and adjunct UVic faculty members as fellows over the years.

“Imagination and play, the exchange of ideas and forms, and a sense of wonder and discovery are some of the aspects of academia that inspire,” she says. “I’d be interested in generating a project with an RSC fellow from any other area. Projects are best born when there’s no expected outcome, when there’s just a spark of creative impulse. It just takes making a connection.”

 

Swimming into the past

Despite unseasonably cold winds and unusually choppy waves, intermedia artist Paul Walde dove into the waters of Algonquin Park’s Canoe Lake on July 8 and, after months of preparation, completed the first stage of The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim.

Paul Walde swimming on July 8 (Photo: Clayton McKinnon)

 

Emily Denison plays flugelhorn for the swim (Photo: Andrew Wright)

Occurring on the 100th anniversary of iconic Canadian landscape artist Tom Thomson’s drowning in Canoe Lake, Walde was accompanied by an eight-person synchronized swim squad, a five-person brass band playing Walde’s own 45-minute composition written for the occasion, a film crew and a flotilla of a dozen boats, including six canoes custom-painted in Thomson’s signature green.

“The scariest part was when it was really choppy. I got lost and disoriented and blown off course.” Ironically — and unintentionally — Walde ended up in the part of the lake where Thomson’s body was found and Walde almost had to call for help; but, by spotting the tall white totem pole erected beside the Thomson memorial cairn on the shoreline, he was able to reorient himself and complete his swim.

“Landscape painting is about beauty,” Walde said in this Toronto Star article. “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.”

With the site- and temporally-specific portion of the project now complete, Walde — chair of the Visual Arts department — turns his attention to the equally labour-intensive next stage: viewing, editing and preparing the footage for exhibit.

Chris Solar and Joe Leslie (Photo: Andrew Wright)

“The gallery video will be very different from the swim itself,” he explains, comparing it to his 2013 piece, Requiem for a Glacier. ”It’s not a concert video that simply documents the event, but will be a more poetic, immersive experience that ties together the various film and sound recordings. What will make it really unique is my perspective: what I’m seeing and hearing in the water, my sense of disorientation. I’m using Thomson to frame this activity, but at the same time I’m reframing him; it goes both ways.”

Walde feels the timing was right for this project on a number of levels: not only the centenary of Thomson’s death, but also his own age (“I’m 49, how much longer could I really wait to do this?”) and recent advancements in technology.

“There were a lot of ideas I had for the piece that we just couldn’t do 20 years ago: we wouldn’t have been able to have a flying drone or put a camera on my bathing cap and shoot 4K video.” As a result, the final exhibit will include surface, underwater body-cam and overhead footage, as well as recordings both underwater and of the accompanying band, and scenes of the locations featured in Thomson’s paintings.

Walde with synchronized swimmers (Photo: Andrew Wright)

Walde was accompanied on his July 8 swim by a number of other Canadian academic artists, including University of Ottawa visual arts chair Andrew Wright, Fanshawe College visual arts chair Gary Spearin, Ottawa artist Adrian Göllner and recent Visual Arts alumni Brandon Poole and Laura Gildner; also witnessing the performance was Christopher Regimbal, senior exhibitions coordinator for the National Gallery of Canada.

When it comes to choosing his art projects, Walde takes the long view. ”My career is about following these kind of ideas. The ones you can’t shake are the ones you end up doing — this one was gestating for 20 years.”

When asked about future plans, Walde just laughs. “Once this one is complete, you mean? I’d like to do a forest fire piece. I’ve been thinking about that for a couple of years now.”