Like many outstanding students, the term “overachiever” is a good fit for graduating international Visual Arts major Guochen Wang.
Chen Wang (photo: Chorong Kim)
Born & raised in Taiyuan, a mid-sized city in China’s central Shanxi province, Chen went to a local international high school before looking for overseas post-secondary options. Yet his reasons for choosing UVic over an institution in the US, England or Europe may not be surprising, given his home city’s population of 4.2 million. “I visited Victoria when I was 12 and remember really liking it,” he recalls. “I liked the trees and the quiet.”
He was also attracted by the contemporary practice of UVic’s Visual Arts program, as well as its metaphorical appeal. “I was already doing high-fashion commercial photography in China, which I enjoyed, but I wanted to try something new,” he explains. “Visual Arts looks at photography as a tool to go somewhere else.”
An award-winning photographer before leaving China, Chen continued to find success during his undergrad years: not only did he mount two solo exhibits at local galleries, but he also picked up awards at both the Sidney Fine Art Show and the Victoria Arts Council’s LOOK show. “I like taking pictures of people on the street and telling a story through the lens,” he says.
Yet his future interdisciplinary path started to come into focus when he took his first video art course and then enrolled in the Writing department’s popular film production elective, where he worked on the short film Fear or Favour.
“I just fell in love with the medium,” he says. “Visual art is more about the individual—how you approach the work, creating on your own—but film is different. It’s more collaborative, where everyone is working towards the same goal. It feels different when you achieve something together.”
Chen on location (photo: Chorong Kim)
Fusing his artistic passion with tangible career goals, over the past four years Chen has founded the UVic Film Club, joined the CineVic Society of Independent Filmmakers, started his own commercial production company, joined CHEK TV’s production team (where he helped create over 20 commercials), served as the director of photography and camera operator for local company Botega Creative Ltd, worked as a sessional instructor for the Beifang International Education Group and volunteered on a number of independent films shot locally — all while finishing his undergraduate degree.
“I like the freedom to create,” he says. “Everyone in Victoria is very welcoming, and everyone in the independent film community seems to know and like each other, and the crews are very nice.”
His intention is to develop a web series that uses humour to explore cross-cultural understanding. “I believe that comedy — which is itself a kind of international language that helps to connect people — is a good way to express my own feelings, inspire international students and bring together both Canadian and Chinese audiences in an understated way,” he says. “It allows cultural differences to be easily understood and it builds on shared human values by non-threatening means.”
Much like his experience with street photography, Chen finds humour in the reality of everyday observations. “I can give you an example: when I first got here, I made some Canadian friends and they would greet me by saying ‘What’s up?’ — so I would look up. It’s like [the TV series] Fresh Off the Boat, except for me it would be fresh off the plane.”
While working on his MFA, he’s now getting hired for local film shoots, both independent and union (Pupstars: Christmas), as well as writing and directing his own work, like the short film Drownings. “There’s a difference between writing something in visual language as a screenplay than watching the visual language on the screen,” he explains, “but the only way you can see that is to make it.”
Despite Vancouver’s Hollywood North reputation, Chen likes the idea of staying in Victoria. “I can shoot in other cities, but I like it here: I like the environment, and there are so many talented people who work very hard.”
No question, UVic’s Department of Writing has produced scores on notable alumni — see the current success of writers like the 2018 Man Booker finalist & Giller Prize shortlisted Esi Edugyan for one — but this week, current students will be in the spotlight when the Writing student anthologyThis Side of West hosts their annual Editors’ Reading.
Starting at 6:30pm on Saturday, Oct 20, TSOW will be kicking off a new year at a special event at Hillside Coffee & Tea (details below). Come hear this year’s staff read their work from across all genres, and get a taste for what they’ll be interested in when it comes to new work.
Running since 2003, TSOW publishes an annual collection each spring featuring the best student work coming out of the Writing department.
“This Side of West is a student-run service of the Writing department course union, which is the school-funded student organization that represents any student enrolled in one or more Writing class at UVic,” explains editor-in-chief Riley Smith. “The course union has worked and will continue to work with the department to make the student experience the best it can be, but we make a point of keeping any decisions about pieces and publication independent of faculty involvement.”
It’s this sense of independence that helps Writing students cut their teeth with the editorial process.
“Student publications are important because they give students an opportunity to go through both sides of the publications process on a lower-stakes stage than when publications credits and national distribution are involved,” says Smith, now on his second term as TSOW editor-in-chief.
Indeed, given the steady stream talent coming out of the Writing dept, it’s no surprise that past TSOW issues have featured future published authors and editors, including the likes of poet Garth Martens (2011 Governor General’s Award finalist, winner of the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award), novelist Marjorie Celona (2012 Giller Prize nominee, winner of the prestigious Waterstones 11 literary prize, shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award) and poet Emily McGiffin (finalist for the CBC Literary Awards in 2004 and 2005, winner of the 2008 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers from the Writers’ Trust of Canada).
This year’s group of student editors — including Karine Hack & Jennifer Landrey (creative nonfiction), Marley Sterner & Emma de Blois (drama), KimDias & Hana Mason (fiction), and Kai Conradi & Naomi Duska (poetry) — is clearly keen to keep that winning streak going, and they’re hoping this reading will generate interest among current Writing students.
“If anyone is interested in submitting to This Side of West, our submissions will open at 10pm on Saturday,” says Smith. “We accept literary work in all four genres—creative nonfiction, drama, fiction, and poetry—and comics in any of those genres are great! I’ve yet to see a screenplay comic, but if anyone’s made one work, we want it.”
At Saturday’s Editors’ Reading, expect to hear work by the current editorial team ranging from fiction and creative nonfiction to drama and poetry. A published anthology of the editors’ work will also be available for purchase at the event.
This Side of West Editors’ Reading, 6:30pm Saturday, Oct 20, at Hillside Coffee & Tea, 1633 Hillside (across from Hillside Centre). Admission is $10.
He told me about a violin teacher his daughter had had when she was growing up. The teacher hardly ever spoke, or directed; she simply supported his daughter’s arm, repositioned her bow hold . . . I asked if that was teaching; he asked what teaching is supposed to be.
a series of nudges
I dedicated the past year of my life to studying and learning “De Profundis”: a piece for speaking pianist by Frédéric Rzewski, with text by Oscar Wilde. (Wilde was incarcerated from 25 May 1895 to 18 May 1897; he was charged with ‘indecency’ on account of his homosexuality, then condemned in Britain. From January to March 1897, Wilde wrote a 50,000-word letter to his former lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, from his cell in Reading Gaol).
A behemoth of a piece, the technical, conceptual, philosophical, and performative demands on the interpreter are many. The opportunity to work one-on-one with professors in piano, sculpture, voice/writing, and philosophy, was fundamental to any success had in the development of this project.
The opportunity to focus absolutely on one project and to delve into such detail at the undergraduate level is rare, and the understanding gained from such tailored support is inimitable. In a directed study, the professor is able to challenge you: “what do you give attention to, and why?”
“I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art… I treated Art as the supreme reality and life as a mere mode of fiction.” (Wilde)
UVic provides exceptional artistic training, perhaps mostly because of the staff and faculty’s commitment to training, and supporting critical thinking, above all else.
the need to ask a question
“sorry” “we don’t do that”
“not our policy”
“no one’s ever done that before”
With the exception of the time I wanted to hang – in a harness, suspended from the ceiling – for the duration of a performance, these are words I never heard spoken to me during my five years at UVic. Every challenge was met with openness and flexibility from all levels of the School of Music, and I would even venture to say from the entire Faculty of Fine Arts.
In my second year, I wanted to write and produce a 12-minute opera; my professor helped me book the hall and supervise rehearsals, while others helped construct a projection screen and stand, develop choreography/staging, and put together a performance in under two weeks.
In third year, I proposed the idea of doing my graduating composition outside, on top of Mt. Tolmie. In fourth year, my supervisors asked me what I needed and helped put me in contact with Indigenous elders, language specialists, and students with relevant experience.
(photo: Peter Farris-Manning)
(photo: Peter Farris-Manning)
They assisted me in a multitude of administrative tasks, including securing third-party liability insurance, booking rehearsal venues, and renting a port-a-potty!!
(photo: Emily Stewart)
In fifth year I wanted to do the “De Profundis” project as a sort of transition from ‘undergrad’ to ‘professional’ world, and I was fully supported in my endeavours to host this project off-campus. The school generously provided many resources and lessons even at the satellite location, once again going above and beyond regular university standards.
Rebekah Johnson from Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre helped put together this mock-up in the months leading up to “De Profundis,” so I would have the opportunity to experiment with different lights, GOBOs, colour gels, etc. This was organized through the help of my sculpture prof, Daniel Laskarin.
I wonder if a university is a place to learn skills, or ideas. (I think probably ideally both.)
– A place to learn how to think –
…and the ability to pursue those ideas,
(a nudge is not a direction)
There is no question that I, my way of thinking, and my way of making art have all changed drastically since I came to UVic five years ago.
Is learning the same as listening?
I wonder if a university is a place to meet new ideas, or new people. (I wonder if there’s a difference.)
The creative practice of Department of Visual Arts students and alumni are in the spotlight in a series of street-level artistic initiatives around Victoria right now — a number of which are sponsored by the City of Victoria itself. Hop on your bike or plan a walking tour to catch some of this inspiringly creative work in action.
Integrate Arts Festival
Looking to expand your local artistic boundaries? Don’t miss the 12th annual Integrate Arts Festival, running August 24-26 at various venues around the city—all for free! Visit their site to download the venue map, and be sure to check out the timed events happening over the weekend.
Last year, the Integrate Arts Festival (formerly known as “Off the Grid Arts Festival”) saw over 2,000 people attend art spaces across the city. This year it kicks off with and Opening Reception on Aug 24, where you can catch the first glimpse of the work by their featured artists. Download the Integrate Arts Festival map, which will guide you to a variety of exhibitions and events at 24 different participating galleries, publicly accessible studios, and various sites throughout the city. You can also access the map using the Integrate brochure (found at participating locations), and participants are encouraged to walk or bike to each site.
As always, plenty of Fine Arts students and alumni are involved in the fest, including the likes of Visual Arts students Christian McGinty, Lana Nyuli, Shae Anthony and Mona Hedayati; alumni Taryn Walker, Sadie Nielson, Evan Locke, Eriq Wong and the folks at Theatre SKAM; plus instructor Peter Sandmark at the FLUX media gallery.
Also involved behind the scenes on Integrate’s board to make this all happen are a mix of Visual Arts and Art History & Visual Studies alumni Brin O’Hare, Stephanie Eisenbraun, Libby Oliver, Selina Pieczonka, Olivia Prior, Regan Shrumm, Anna Shkuratoff, and current student Amy Smith. And UVic’s own Legacy Gallery is once again a venue for this event.
One of the participating events this weekend is the City of Victoria’s Concrete Canvas project, which features 16 local, national and international artists painting the same number of murals on the walls of 13 sites around Victoria’s Rock Bay neighbourhood—including Visual Arts MFA grad Kerri Flannigan. Watch as a neighbourhood is transformed into an outdoor gallery for street art and creative expression; work will be continuing through August 27.
Concrete Canvas provides a platform for Victoria’s vibrant art scene to contribute to the city’s cultural legacy for years to come. The City of Victoria is collaborating with community members to build social capital, develop a sense of community pride of space, represent diversity, and empower people to make change in their city—and putting their money where their vision is: each participating artist will be paid a fee ranging from $1,250 to $4,000, with an overall budget of $150,000, funded by the City’s Public Art Reserve Fund.
Don’t miss the Concrete Canvas launch party, running 2-11:30pm Saturday, August 25. Hosted by the Victoria Beer Week Society, the free event will include a mural workshop, live music curated by Holy Smokes Music, a food and beverage area for all ages, and walking tours of completed and in-progress murals (3-6pm), an artist panel talk (5pm), and a six different bands (from 6pm), all happening in the Hoyne and Driftwood Breweries parking lot, 450 Hillside Avenue.
“The Commons” by Libby Oliver
And while you’re traveling around the city, keep your eyes open for the Commute: Bus Shelter Art Exhibition, which features work by five different emerging artists — including Visual Arts alumni Libby Oliver and Kerri Flannigan. Oliver’s work “The Commons” can be seen at Yates & Ormond streets, while Flannigan’s “Feeling Measurements – Fathom 09 (Megan)” is on Yates between Camosun & Fernwood Road.
Watch for more work by Visual Arts students and alumni coming up in future rounds of the Commute project, including current student Austin Willis—who was recently selected as the sixth artist to install work in the city’s Commercial Alley Art Gallery, found in the alley between the 500-block of Yates and Bastion Square. His four-panel pieces use bright colours, bold lines, and shapes to create fun, yet intense energy, and will be on display for a year.
“As an emerging artist I have a great interest in public art and creating work that beautifies spaces,” says Willis. Stay tuned for details about an artist’s talk, coming up in September.
From the cultural impact of Star Wars to the inside track on making it as a young adult writer, it’s tough to beat Fine Arts when it comes to cool electives. With over 100 electives open to all students on campus, we’ve got something that will boost your creative and critical thinking skills regardless of your faculty or major.
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.”