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.”
When my family first moved to Canada, we visited my grandparents’ house and loaded all of my dad’s childhood things into a moving van.
A large amount of these boxes were filled with old first edition Dungeons and Dragons modules and rule books, a collection which has continued to grow since my siblings and I began playing with our dad.
We’ve played together for over 10 years now and, even though I live on the opposite side of the country (I am originally from Nova Scotia), we still play over Skype every weekend . . . which makes me one of the few university students up at eight a.m. on a Saturday.
WRIT 324 is a course on writing for interactive media taught by David Leach. 2018 was the second year the course had been offered and it drew over 40 students. Leach took us through the history of interactive media from which-way-books, to ZORK, to VR Rollercoasters all while teaching us the techniques writers use to encourage engagement and player investment.
We had smaller assignments throughout the term, but our final project was the true test of our learning. The project was left completely open-ended to encompass the wide variety of interactive media we had been introduced to over the year. This gave me the perfect opportunity to use my years of Dungeons and Dragons experience, as well as my love of horror stories.
I had previously written small adventures for campaigns in the Ravenloft Domain (a world overrun with undead and evil), but I underestimated the time it took to write a full murder mystery with its own specialized mechanics.
I included a prophecy card game that would determine the order of the murders, a map of the manor, statistics for where characters would be found in the house, room descriptions and personality outlines for each character. Just this information and the story outline took over 35 pages — which is a bit much even for a third-year project. Ultimately, I worked with Leach to determine which parts of the module were essential to the project requirements, which allowed me to polish these sections and give him a bit less to read in the end.
WRIT 324 gave me an experience I didn’t expect to have in university: to work on skills surrounding both a long time passion and my degree. It also gave me an experiential lesson in the amount of work a complete piece of writing can take.
If I could take the class again, I certainly would, though I don’t know if I could come up with a project I’d be as proud of as my module, Sylvia’s Misery. If anyone loves video games and has taken writing classes (or can argue their way as an exception to the rule) I completely recommend this course and the freedom it offers for you to explore your interests!
—Written by Writing undergraduate student Ali Barr
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)
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 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.
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.
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 Continuumoffers 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 Worryoffers 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 CatherineHarding 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.