While the Department of Theatre crossed the half-century mark with their 50th anniversary in 2016, they’ve already started planning for the future by welcoming a number of new professors to their teaching faculty. Due to a round of recent retirements that saw the likes of design professor Allan Stichbury, director Linda Hardy and theatre historian Jennifer Wise step down, they had the opportunity to bring in fresh talent in the guise of acclaimed designer Patrick DuWors, voice and speech expert Michael Elliott and theatre historian Sasha Kovacs.
New Theatre professor Sasha Kovacs
An arts researcher, creator, administrator and educator, Kovacs holds a PhD from the University of Toronto. As the new assistant professor in Theatre History, Kovacs specializes in Canadian theatre history and theatre historiography (“how we come to ‘know’ and tell the history of performance in the place we now call Canada,” she explains), as well as performance archives and theory, material theatre culture, devised theatre and experimental dramaturgy.
When asked what she’ll be bringing to UVic (beyond a husband, new daughter and extended family), she says, “A passion for thinking about research as a creative practice.”
“I’m thrilled to be joining the community at the Phoenix,” she says. “It’s hard to find a comparable department—one that really values a balanced focus on practice and research. This is a major priority for me—it matches my own commitment to ensuring that the critical academic research I do is creative, and that the creative expressions I generate as an artist are critically engaged. Being a good thinker and researcher makes a person a better performer/director/designer, just as much as honing creative instincts makes a person a better thinker. I’m happy to join a place that shares these values.”
Teaching and practicing
As a teacher, Kovacs is passionate about both connecting with students “who really believe that this discipline we work in and study can change the world” and building their confidence.
“I want students to feel as though the classes they take under my guidance expand their performance vocabularies and enrich their understanding of the traditions of our discipline.”
Born and raised in Toronto, where she developed both an academic and practicing theatre career, Kovacs has mounted a number of her own projects with the international and interdisciplinary performance collective Ars Mechanica, and has worked with a number of notable Canadian performance companies, including Nightwood Theatre, Tarragon Theatre, Buddies in Bad Times and Canadian Stage. She has also designed community-building arts programs for children, adults and seniors as the program director for Scarborough Arts, one of the City of Toronto’s six Local Arts Service Organizations (LASO).
With such an extensive background, does she have any concerns about swapping life in the theatrical centre of Canada for the western edge of the country?
“It has been wonderful to spend so much of my life in Toronto, where the theatre scene is always buzzing, but it’s also—and only—one scene,” says Kovacs. “It’s a good time for me to expand my horizons and learn about a new community that is making—and has always made—really rich contributions to Canada’s cultural and theatrical landscape. This move is welcome at a time when I’d like to cultivate focus in my life, commit to fostering connections with students through my teaching, and pursue more depth in my research.”
Kovacs (left) in 2013’s “Tomorrow we will run faster”
Given her work with Scarborough Arts, does she foresee any community outreach here in Victoria? “Of course, I want to continue working with different arts communities in Victoria, and I will keep seeking out these interdisciplinary and multi-generational artistic environments,” she says, “but I’ll do so knowing that it will take some time to make meaningful contributions.”
Ultimately, Kovacs is excited to be joining UVic’s Phoenix. “UVic’s theatre department has a rich history in leading exceptional research on theatre and performance history,” she concludes. “I am very honoured and humbled to be working in a place that has inspired so many other historians to make exciting and ground-breaking contributions to the field. I hope I can keep the legacy alive!”
Rapid fire Q&A:
What three words would you use to describe Victoria?
“Deep (I’m used to shallow lakes, not the ocean), sweet (are there a lot of pastry shops here, or is it just me?), blue (don’t know why, I just see the colour blue in my mind’s eye whenever I think of the city).”
If you could travel back in time and attend any theatrical performance in history, what/when would it be?
“Hmmm—that’s a hard one. You’d think I would have said something specific to Canadian theatre history but I think, in fact, I’d like to have been there for Molière’s last performance in his Le Malade Imaginaire—the biting comedy that marked the end of his life and career.”
What would you say to parents worried that their child wants to pursue an arts degree and live a creative life?
“They should be proud, because arts degrees cultivate creative thinkers and the creatives will save the world! ‘Please,’ I’d cry, ‘let your child save the world!’”
How do you define student success?
“I’m my happiest when students show me ways of living that even I didn’t think were possible. Then I know I’ve done my job. I’ve given them the tools and confidence to carve out their own path.”
What are the interconnections between climate change, sea rituals and traditional ecological knowledge and practices, and how those be explored through applied theatre practices? That’s the focus of the research currently being conducted by Theatre PhD candidate and Vanier ScholarDennis Gupa.
Gupa is currently wrapping up a year of research on the ground—and on the seas—in his native Philippines, which is partially supported through a 2017 CAPI Student Research Fellowship.
Dennis Gupa in the Phillippines
“I have been here in the Philippines for my field work since September 2017. My site is located in Samar-Leyte Region and I am working with local elders in the island community of Guiuan, where the deadliest typhoon of 2013—Haiyan Typhoon—entered,” he writes.
“One of the most relevant activities I organized during this field research was the intentional congress festival, Paddling Visions [which saw] scholars and artists from the Philippines and Canada gather in a four-day congress festival of performances and academic dialogue and issues about climate change, human, ecological and gender violations, and indigenous knowledges.”
Held in May 2018, Gupa’s Paddling Visions sought to expand dialogue on climate justice in the Philippines. “This event is one of the activities that executes and explores my methodologies—participatory/community action research and applied theatre as research,” he writes.
Hear more about Gupa’s work in this short video:
“My heart overflows with gratitude for the participation extended by the communities in engaging them in grounding stories on the impact of climate change,” he says, noting the widespread participation in his research from all walks of life—including elders, women, children, fishermen, government officials, teachers, artists, scholars and others.
It was big news last year when internationally acclaimed School of Music professor Dániel Péter Biró was named the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship — one of North America’s most prestigious awards. Biró’s intention was to use the one-year award (worth $50,000 US) to reflect on one of the most important issues of today: global migration. Now, audiences in select North American cities will have the opportunity of hearing the results when his large-scale musical composition Ethica is performed this month.
2017 Guggenheim Fellow Dániel Péter Biró (UVic Photo Services)
Based on Baruch Spinoza’s philosophical work of the same name, Ethica will debut at the Americas Society/Council for America in New York City on May 4, as performed by Schola Heidelberg and the ensemble aisthesis, featuring pianist Donald Berman and conductor Walter Nussbaum. Kirk McNally, the School of Music’s assistant professor of Music Technology, will also be collaborating in the performance of electroacoustic pieces in this concert.
Following the New York debut, Ethica will also have live performances in Winnipeg (May 6) and Vancouver (May 10-11), as well as here in Victoria Victoria (May 8-9). Click here for a complete schedule of events.
The Victoria performance is part of the 2018 SALT New Music Festival and Symposium, and the public is welcome to attend a free lecture and performance of Ethica at 7:30pm Wednesday, May 9 at Congregation Emanu-El (1461 Blanshard Streeet). Ethica will be performed byBiró, Klangforum Heidelberg and the ensemble aisthesis; they will also perform a work by the late Czech pianist and composer Gideon Klein, written in during his internment in the Theresienstadt concentration camp during WWII.
The KlangForum Heidelberg is where two very distinctive ensembles for contemporary and ancient music come together: the voices of the Schola Heidelberg and the instrumentalists of the ensemble aesthesis. Together, they have built an international following, thrilling audiences around the world with their innovative concert formats and injecting new life into the relationship between music and society.
A taste of SALT
While at the SALT Festival, Klangforum Heidelberg will also be presenting a reading session for young composers and an open rehearsal of works by Canadian composers including Claude Vivier, Philippe Leroux and Örjan Sandred, who will be in attendance.
Now in its seventh year, the SALT Festival is a series that reverberates far beyond Victoria’s shores. “People actually know about Victoria through our contemporary music scene,” Biró explained in this recent article. “I was in Vienna and just met someone by chance on the street and they said, ‘Oh, you run the SALT New Music Festival’ . . . . Victoria has always been known as kind of a weird place, a place for experimentation.”
These events are happening in collaboration with the SALT New Music Festival and Symposium, Open Space, the University of Manitoba and Vancouver New Music and made possible through support from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Canada Council for the Arts, the BC Arts Council and the Goethe Institute.
Biró’s composition Ethica is inspired by the time he spent as a visiting professor in the computing and information sciences department of Netherland’s Utrecht University in 2011, where he was living not far from Spinoza’s burial site in The Hague. While one of the greatest philosophers of the 17th century, Spinoza was banned from the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam because of his views — which, says Biró, proved too radical for the time.
Spinoza’s burial site in The Hague
“In his philosophical treatise Ethics, Spinoza attempted to present a new type of theology, one that was autonomous from organized religion, such as that of his own Portuguese Jewish community,” he explains. “[My] composition explores historical dichotomies between religious and secular thinking from the perspective of modern-day globalized existence.”
His Ethica cycle will be scored for voices, ensemble and electronics, and will also incorporate text from Spinoza’s philosophical work.
“Exploring concepts of ‘space and place,’ the composition will deal with questions of one’s place in the global world and how music informs and influences our perception of our place in this world,” he explains. “Looking at musical creation as an analogy to the movement of the immigrant — who discovers, remembers, forgets and rediscovers places on his voyage — the composition will investigate relationships to historical space, space of immigration and disembodied space.”
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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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).