Visual Arts students work with famed performance artist

When it comes to international performance artists, it’s tough to top Cassils. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, several grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, a Creative Capital Grant, a United States Artists Fellowship, a California Community Foundation Visual Artist Fellowship and the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Visual Arts Fellowship — to name a few of their accolades — Cassils’ work uses their body in a sculptural fashion, integrating feminism, body art, and gay male aesthetics into remarkable public performances that leave a lasting impression.

Cassils poses as Visual Arts students prepare a clay block for the performance (UVic Photo Services)

A gender non-conforming and transmasculine artist originally from Montreal, the internationally renowned Cassils is now based in in Los Angeles and was recently the subject of this feature article in Canadian Art magazine. UVic and Victoria audiences were fortunate in March to have had the opportunity to witness their Becoming an Image performance and hear Cassils speak at a public talk as part of the Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects at Legacy Art Gallery Downtown.

Becoming an Image is a piece that works at the interstices of performance, photography and sculpture, and features the artist delivering a series of kicks and blows to a 2,000-pound clay block over the course of 30 minutes. Originally conceived as a site-specific work for the ONE Archives in Los Angeles — the oldest active LGBTQ archive in USA — it is performed entirely in the dark in a tightly controlled environment, lit only by a photographer’s flash. The March 7 performance in UVic’s Visual Arts building was only the 15th time it had been done since being created in 2012.

Four Visual Arts undergrad students — Carter Forman, Katrina Brushetta, Stephanie Hedler and Eloise Mason — were fortunate enough to spend a few days learning from and working directly with Cassils while shaping and preparing the clay block.

“Working with Cassils was an absolute treat,” says Brushetta, a fourth-year student from the Comox Valley. “Cassils is truly amazing person, full of so much knowledge and was always open to conversation.”

 

Cassils designed Becoming an Image to push their body to the extreme to evoke the struggle for self-defense and self-preservation against threats of violence and erasure. By performing in total darkness, the illumination from the camera’s flash serves to sear the scene into the viewer’s retina in a manner both haunting and beautiful.

Canadian Art describes Cassils as being “at the forefront of the struggle for trans rights in America” and notes that “their work depicts, emphasizes and aestheticizes the trans body.” After recently becoming a US citizen, Cassils says they “believe in the fierce spirit of resilience.”

“The performance wasn’t at all what I expected,” says Mason, a fourth-year student from Edmonton. “The anticipation was crazy, especially having to wait in the dark. It did make me pretty emotional at times, because I got to know Cassils a bit before . . . . there was this overwhelming amount of emotion being strewn across the room with everyone in awe.”

As one of the last artists to put the final touches on the sculpture just before the performance, Mason says the most striking part was knowing how hard the clay was. “To smooth out just a bump would take 20 minutes with a lot of pressure — and sometimes we would still be unsuccessful. It was extremely tiring and tough to manipulate the clay . . . to see Cassils destroy that sculpture in just 30 minutes says enough about the passion in their heart for what they were fighting for.”

“This experience was definitely something that I am thankful for and has inspired me to move into performance art in the future,” says Brushetta.

While the long-running Visiting Artist program is an important part of the Visual Arts department’s educational experience, it’s rare that students get such intimate hands-on time with an artist of Cassils’ stature.

“It definitely helped open my eyes more and helped me be more creative,” says Mason.

Brushetta agrees, noting that Cassils’ performance was “everything I had expected and more . . . I am honoured to have been a part of such a memorable experience.”

Cassils appearance at UVic was presented in collaboration with the Visual Arts department, Open Space and Legacy Art Gallery Downtown, with support from BC Arts CouncilCamosun College Visual ArtsUVic Libraries, and UVic’s Chair in Transgender Studies.

Cassils performance was part of the run-up to the third biennial Moving Trans History Forward conference, hosted by Transgender Studies from March 22 to 25. Approximately 300 people from the Americas, Europe and Asia converged on UVic for the conference, which also featured a keynote address celebrated Two-Spirit artist Kent Monkman, a Canadian of Cree and Irish ancestry whose work is displayed in numerous private and public collections including at the National Gallery of Canada.

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.

 

Get interactive with writing, music & art at Ideafest 2018

Whether you’re a regular part of the UVic community or simply a visitor to campus, Ideafest 2018 offers an ideal chance to explore the vast and diverse range of research and creative activity happening all around the Ring Road. Fine Arts is offering five distinct events this year, and participating in some others as well.

Rightfully described as being about “ideas that can change everything,” UVic’s week-long festival of research, art and innovation runs March 5-10 and features over 40 events on topics ranging from climate change and chamber music to Indigenous law, optimistic art, antibiotic resistance and so much more.

All events are free and open to the public — please join us at any or all of our signature Fine Arts events, and be sure to take time to explore the full schedule as well. You never know what your new favourite topic might be!

First up on the Fine Arts schedule is the annual reading night featuring Department of Writing MFA candidates. Hosted by award-winning playwright and Writing professor Kevin Kerr, All Lit Up: Creative Writing’s Bright Lights offers live readings and performances by the next generation of Canadian literati, including Levi Binnema (poetry), Sarah Hamill (nonfiction), Daniel Hogg (screenwriting), Elliott James (playwriting) and Kari Teicher (fiction).

Enjoy this lively (and licensed) literary cabaret from 7 to 8:30pm Monday, March 5, at the popular Copper Owl — one of downtown’s most unique and charming arts venues, (upstairs at Paul’s Motor Inn, 1900 Douglas). Doors open at 6:30, and this event always packs out so do arrive early. Note: no minors.

For over 50 years, UVic’s School of Music has had a long history of producing outstanding string students — helped along in no small measure by the Lafayette String Quartet, who have been artists-in-residence here since 1991. Now, you can discover the next generation of outstanding string talent with Cuarteto Chroma — Canada’s first graduate student string quartet. The event String Quartets at UVic: A Musical Continuum offers an interactive performance where Cuarteto Chroma will invite the audience to suggest how they should perform a particular piece — deciding things like tempo, vibrato and the balance between each instrument — which will allow the audience to hear the effects their choices have on the musical outcome.

Afterwards, Chroma will join the Lafayette String Quartet for an informal Q&A session, followed by a Lafayette-taught masterclass for UVic string students — that’s three opportunities to catch a glimpse of the intimate world of chamber music and explore the hidden facets of life in a string quartet.  A Musical Continuum runs 11am-2:30pm Tuesday, March 6, in room B037 and the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, both in the School of Music’s MacLaurin Building B-Wing.

Performers will include the Lafayette String Quartet (Pamela Highbaugh Aloni, Ann Elliott-Goldschmid, Joanna Hood and Sharon Stanis) and Cuarteto Chroma (Felix Alanis, Manuel Cruz, Ilya Gotchev and Carlos Quijano), as well as undergraduate string students. Interactive performance runs 11am–12:15pm in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, while the Q&A session runs 12:30–1:20pm in B037, and the chamber music masterclass runs 1:30-2:20pm back in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, just next door to the classroom.

If Bobby McFerrin’s classic singalong ditty “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” isn’t quite cutting it for you these days, art may be the answer: in troubling times, optimism can feel like a scarce commodity, but for centuries people have found hope and joy in visual art. Art and Optimism in an Age of Worry offers a lively series of short presentations as Art History & Visual Studies faculty members and graduate students will explore how artists and their works have long offered new messages of hope, healing and empowerment. While showcasing a wide range of styles and movements, they will also collectively demonstrate how art can ignite optimism and agency in your own life.

Join host and AHVS professor Catherine Harding from 5-7pm on Tuesday, March 6, in room 116 of UVic’s Engineering & Computer Science building (ECS), where she’ll be joined by fellow AHVS professors Erin Campbell and Carolyn Butler Palmer, plus grad students Holly Cecil, Gonzalo Gutierrez, Alexa Heenan, Ambreen Hussaini, and Katayoun Youssefi.

If you think Fine Arts is just about paintbrushes, sheet music and words on the page, get ready to enter the digital realm and discover a whole new world of creativity when you go Beyond the Digital Frontier: Exploring Digital and Interactive Media in the Arts. From virtual-reality filmmaking and innovations in digital art to interactive gaming, artifact handling, new theatre technology and into the recording studio with Vancouver rockers Bend Sinister, find out how UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts is a leader in 21st century creativity at this interactive, drop-in, self-guided exploration event.

Professors Kelly Richardson (Visual Arts), Kirk McNally (Music) and Victoria Wyatt (AHVS), plus technician Simon Farrow (Theatre) and both graduate and undergrad students will showcase recent innovations in the world of digital media from 5-6:30pm on Wednesday, March 7, throughout UVic’s Fine Arts Building.

And you’ve got the entire week of Ideafest to explore the Visual Arts exhibit Math Garden. Conceived of as an outdoor concept exhibition by Visual Arts instructor David Gifford, Math Garden explores some of the visual aspects concerned with popular mathematics. Topics such as amounts, shapes and change will be imagined by the undergraduate drawing class of ART 300, whose motive is to celebrate a handful of patterns that are present in this abstract discipline.

Math Garden is inspired by Mathematica, an exhibition of mathematical concepts by Charles and Ray Eames that debuted at the California Museum of Science and Industry in 1961. The self-guided exhibit in the Fine Arts Building courtyard will also include didactic panels for the purpose of intellectual entertainment, including the explanation of potentially difficult concepts through pictures and interactive sculptures and installations.

While those are our signature events, Fine Arts students will also be participating in the likes of the annual Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards (JCURA) Fair from 11:30am-3pm on Wednesday, March 7, in UVic’s Student Union Building, as well as the new creative writing contest On the Verge: Student Voices, co-hosted by UVic’s Libraries and Equity & Human Rights, from 4:30-6pm on Thursday, March 8 in Libraries room 129. And will any of our short films about creative practice in Fine Arts make the final cut of the second annual Research Reels contest? To find out, you’ll have to drop by the screening event running from 5-6:30pm Tuesday, March 6, in the David Lam Auditorium, room A144 of the MacLaurin Building.

Fine Arts Wellness Day

Feeling tired? Got the sniffles? Worried about new classes? Start the semester off with a healthy sense of well-being at our Fine Arts Wellness Day! Running 11am – 2pm on Wednesday, January 17, in the lobby of the Fine Arts building, students can shuffle off their January blahs with a variety of special events.

Wellness is an important part of both a general approach to life and student mental health. Fine Arts students often find themselves under additional pressures not shared by other students across campus, given the demands of rehearsals, instrument practice, performance and the push to be creative on top of maintaining a regular class schedule and keeping grades up.

Add to that the unique physical demands that go with being a creative practitioner and you’ve got a lot of good reasons to stay healthy during your academic career.

With that in mind, Fine Arts Wellness Day will feature a number of free services and information essential to your sense of wellness, including

  • free chair massage
  • healthy snacks (including a DIY trail mix bar)
  • a hydration station (featuring both lemon and cucumber water)
  • information about good & simple nutrition
  • tips on stress-reduction and counseling services

And don’t miss the therapy pets at the nearby Pet Cafe (2:30 – 4pm at the nearby Interfaith Chapel), as well as free yoga from 4:30-5:30pm in Hodges 104 (Residence Hub), brought to you by UVic’s SHAPE (Student Health Ambassadors and Peer Educators).

Please join us for this fun and healthy event!

 

New AHVS seminar spearheads new classroom concept

Victoria Wyatt (right) with AHVS undergrad Baylee Woodley in the new art collections classroom

From large lectures and working with TAs to a lack of one-on-one time with professors, there’s no question first-year classes can seem overwhelming to students. But the Department of Art History & Visual Studies is looking to broaden first-year opportunities with both a new classroom and a new class concept: AHVS 101 — a seminar focusing on art, images and experience — launches this month and will be anchored in the department’s new art collections classroom.

“The idea is to create a context in which students transitioning to the university can have an experiential education by interacting with the instructor and their peers in a small group,” explains AHVS professor and course creator Victoria Wyatt. “My job is to create an environment that encourages them to engage actively.”

Pull-out racks will allow for easy display and storage of art

Created with release time made possible by UVic’s Division of Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation and her department, AHVS 101 is open to just 20 students from any faculty and is already proving popular: the debut semester filled up fast, and has a healthy waiting list.

Wyatt notes that first-year students are hoping for something beyond the traditional “sage on the stage” model, where they sit passively while taking lecture notes. “They used to rely on the instructor as a source of information . . . now they look it up on their smartphones,” she says. “Rather than receiving information from an authority, they want to play an active role in navigating that information, actively discussing it. My goal is to give them some tools that will be transferable to whatever discipline they end up majoring in.”

Conceptually, AHVS 101 not only reflects changes in the K-12 education model but also provided the opportunity to create a new learning environment. Featuring purpose-built display and storage cabinets, pull-out painting racks and hanging wall, a dedicated print cabinet and rolling furniture for a flexible learning environment, the art collections classroom will allow students to engage with the paintings, prints, sculptures, and other objects in UVic’s 19,000-plus Art Collection in an entirely new way.

Rolling furniture allows for easy space reconfiguration

“As one of the leading world art history departments in the country, the new classroom gives our students the opportunity to work directly with the UVic Art Collection,” says AHVS chair Erin Campbell. “[Wyatt’s new class] was designed with the room in mind, and I believe it will be the first small-numbers, seminar-style class to be offered to first-year UVic students.”

As well as other AHVS courses, the new room will also be used for the department’s new Museum Studies minor, Fine Arts classes, and by Legacy Gallery’s art educator. “The classroom will also provide an inviting space for community members to work alongside AHVS faculty members and students with artworks from our collections,” notes Campbell.

Until now, art works had to be transferred back and forth between campus and either downtown’s Legacy Gallery or the storage facility at Queenswood, which is risky and expensive; now, work can simply be left in the room, safely stored and ready to be used. “Because we have to be really careful of security and conservation requirements, this creates an opportunity to make better use of the Legacy art collection and to have students engage with artworks much more intimately,” says Wyatt.

She also feels increased visual literacy is essential for first-year students given the diverse contexts in which we encounter art and images today. “I’d like them to gain experience in how to think about and manipulate visual images in different contexts so they develop greater acumen in looking at websites. How would they use the artwork if they’re a curator at a gallery, for example, or using it as a background in retail, or putting a banner photo on a website or a thumbnail on social media? How would they photograph it? What would they say about it?”

The art collections classroom is one of two new spaces unique to the department and UVic: also new this year is the Fine Arts interactive media lab, designed to support the growing strength of AHVS’s Visual Studies stream.

Cubbies will keep the space tidy & keep personal items away from objects

Wyatt, the 2017 recipient of the Fine Arts Award for Teaching Excellence, feels the new course is a perfect fit both for students and herself.

“This actually links into my research about relationships between Indigenous ways of knowing and paradigm shifts in western science, because it’s about non-linear thinking, how everything connects . . . . it’s about encouraging students to develop ideas of what they need to think about as they navigate complex, dynamic systems. The Internet is a complex, dynamic system, so is global warming . . . everything we need to engage with in a really serious way is a complex, dynamic system. I want to expose students to that way of thinking and hopefully it will help them as they move through university.”

Interested in finding out more? An open house of these new interactive learning spaces will be part of UVic’s Ideafest in March.

Two Visual Arts grads win national art prize

Two 2017 Visual Arts BFA graduates are gaining some national attention this month, thanks to their selection as prize winners in the annual BMO 1st Art invitational competition.

As was previously announced this past summer, recent graduates Xiao Xue and James Fermor have been selected as the national and BC provincial winners (respectively) in the Bank of Montreal Financial Group’s 15th annual BMO 1st Art! competition.

As the national prize winner, Xue wins $15,000 for her sculpture, “Something to Ponder On: A Walking Camper,” while Fermor earns $7,500 as the BC provincial winner for his digital piece, “The Collection No. 3.”

Their work was selected from 303 entries submitted from across the country, and both will have their work displayed as part of a special exhibition at the University of Toronto’s Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, running from November 16 to December 16, 2017. And both will be featured in a special spread in the upcoming Winter 2017 issue of Canadian Art magazine.

As was earlier reported, Xue won the top prize in the Rainhouse Technology Challenge in June 2017, with her camper beating out other prototype entries including a drone, satellite and submarine. And, during her studies, she was also awarded the Dr. Milada Horakova Scholarship and the Martlet Chapter IODE Prize for Scholarship in History in Art.

Xiao Xue with her walking camper

The $15,000 prize is “an amazing financial support for future projects,” says Xue, who is now pursuing her MFA at the University of Guelph and is using some of the proceeds for a “chemical-based project” on which she is currently working. “It certainly helped me move to Ontario as well,” she adds.

Xue also assisted Visual Arts professor emeritus Sandra Meigs on her complex solo exhibit, Room for Mystics, on view throughout fall 2017 at the Art Gallery of Ontario. “It was very fun to figure out the technical issues — including electrical, coding and woodworking — and I am very glad it all worked out,” she says. “Sandra is an excellent role model and I am extremely glad to have the chance of working with her.”

Local Times Colonist art columnist Robert Amos featured Xue’s walking camper project in this April 30 article, and while he wrote about both artists in in this October 8 article, he mostly focused on Fermor’s video art projects, which show the human cost of first-person shooter video games. And while the BMO exhibition will feature a colour photograph of Fermor’s “The Collection No. 3,”  the overall work is in fact an 18-minute video.

Fermor describes being named the BC winner as “really affirming. It tells me that what I am exploring in my art practice is not just something that only I find interesting.”

Indeed, Fermor says the inspiration behind his winning piece came from a fascination with “what we embrace, generate within ourselves and ignore” when we interact with specifically narrative-driven video games.

“This piece came about from working with the game Dishonored 2 and thinking about what was going on between the fictional environment that I was enticed by the game to buy into and what was actually there,” he says.

James Fermor’s “The Collection No. 3”

While he’s unsure of what kind of long-term impact this prize may have (“none of my work has had this much exposure before and so I am not sure what to expect”), in the short term, he feels the award “really enables me to pursue my art practice beyond what I did in school.”

As for the prize money, he plans on putting it toward future projects. “Things like getting more equipment for developing content or purchasing a game that I want to explore and experiment with.”

It’s not the first time Visual Arts students have won a BMO 1st Art prize. In 2011, the winner of the BC provincial prize was undergraduate maegan rose mehler. “I had picked up a copy of Canadian Art magazine a couple of years ago and put a tab beside the BMO 1st Art! award and thought, ‘I should apply for this’ — then totally forgot about it,” mehler said at the time. “I just found it again recently, because I save all my art magazines, and realized that’s exactly what I did. It was a pretty focused two years, so it’s pretty cool that that happened.”

Celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2017, the annual BMO 1st Art! competition recognizes visual arts excellence amongst post-secondary school students from across Canada. Deans and instructors of undergraduate certificate, diploma, and degree arts programs from colleges and universities across the country were invited to select three outstanding graduating students from each of their studio specialties to make submissions to the competition.

“Since this competition’s inaugural year, we have been privileged to celebrate and share the works of 198 promising young artists from across the country,” said Dawn Cain, Curator of the BMO Corporate Art Collection. “Over the past 15 editions of the competition, we have been captivated by the creative range and artistic vision represented in the submissions we receive each year. We look forward to providing this unique opportunity to students for years to come.”

This year’s judges include Hugues Charbonneau, Director of Montreal’s Galerie Hugues Charbonneau; Naomi Potter, Director/Curator of Calgary’s Esker Foundation; Pan Wendt, Curator of Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre Art Gallery; Kim Simon, Curator of Toronto’s Gallery TPW; and Dawn Cain, Curator fo BMO Corporate Art Collection.

The exhibit continues until December 16, 2017. Click here to see the winning entries by all the provincial winners.