Life skills assist Visual Arts grad on journey from worker to working artist

While university may be the logical choice for many high school students, not everyone finds their path right after graduation: many opt to spend some time working or traveling before deciding on a specific field of study.

Recent Visual Arts grad Brandon Poole was principal photographer for “The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim” project in Ontario’s Algonquin Park in 2017 (photo: Paul Walde)

Brandon Poole made just such a choice, spending his 20s as a carpenter and electrician, hitchhiking across Canada, living on a sailboat; and the classes he did take (philosophy, photo journalism) didn’t lead to any specific path. It wasn’t until he decided to shoot a series of photos in downtown Vancouver’s back alleys that he had his academic epiphany.

“I was trying to find a way of resolving my myriad of skill sets without leaving anything behind,” says the 31-year-old Poole, graduating this month with a BFA in Visual Arts. “I like working with my hands, and I need an output that’s not just about writing and concept; it needs to be combined into a more overarching mode of work. Art school solved all those problems.”

Accelerating through his degree in just three years, Poole put his time in the visual arts department to good use. More than just taking classes, he also applied for (and received) BC Arts Council funding, took on a variety of workstudy positions at UVic — including darkroom technician, faculty studio assistant and lab assistant in the Studios for Integrated Media — launched his first solo gallery exhibit, The Principle of Original Horizontality, at the local Fifty Fifty Arts Collective (which he described as “kind of a mad science project,” in this Monday Magazine interview), was the undergrad representative on a faculty hiring panel, and was nominated for Vancouver’s inaugural Phillip B. Lind Emerging Artist Prize in 2016.

He also spent a good part of this past summer working with department chair Paul Walde on his latest site-specific intermedia project, The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim. Poole traveled to Ontario’s Algonquin Park where he put his camera skills to work as the primary videographer documenting Walde’s complex project, as well as handling logistics and equipment purchases.

Poole and his Fifty Fifty exhibit (photo: Monday Magazine)

“All of these opportunities provided me with a well-rounded understanding of what’s possible in an academic situation for arts-based work, as well as the outside opportunities that exist,” he says. “It’s simply more skills to bring to the table for whatever I choose to do next.”

As for what is next, Poole says the next logical step is pursuing an MFA back east. “I draw a lot of strategies from journalism, from photography, from the building industry and architecture — and the outputs of those are videos, photographs, sculptures, and drawings, all of which get tied together in a specific space. The works aren’t enough on their own; the space is always highly considered.”

For a guy who never would have described himself as an artist before attending UVic, Poole has indeed found his path. “I really think the undergraduate program here is fantastic,” he says. “It’s especially useful for encouraging the cohesion of skills and interests.”

Visual Arts MFAs connect across institutions

Sometimes the most inspiring work occurs while students are still enrolled in university. Consider MFA Connect, an inter-institutional visual arts exhibit that literally connects UVic Visual Arts MFA candidates with fellow graduate students at UBC Okanagan.

Works by Conner Charlesworth & Crystal Przybille

Organized by second-year UVic MFA candidate Marina DiMaio, MFA Connect runs November 6-10 in UVic’s Audain Gallery in the Visual Arts building; the first part of the exhibit ran October 10-20 in the FINA Gallery at UBC Okanagan’s campus in Kelowna.

MFA Connect is like a conference for visual arts,” says DiMaio. “Other departments make these kind of ‘connections’ all the time, but when we get together we share a visual language. This is about challenging each other’s research, getting our research out into the world, creating our own opportunities, establishing communities, and continuing the larger conversation of the place of the visual arts in an academic institution.”

As emerging artists and creative researchers, it’s essential for MFA candidates to connect with both local and international art centers, and to encounter and share visual methodologies. With that in mind, MFA Connect aims to deepen and challenge graduate student practices, as well as equip the larger academic communities with new records of interdisciplinary understanding.

David Michael Peters helps install the exhibit at UVic

“The academic community we are temporarily placed in while being in an MFA is perhaps the most valuable part of being here,” she says. “We have an immediate network of support, of individuals striving towards similar goals with a common passion for creative research.”

The first in what’s hoped to be a series of MFA art exchanges, MFA Connect will showcase the work of six UVic MFAs — Conner CharlesworthLeah McInnisDavid Michael PetersEvelyn Sorochan-RulandXristia Trutiak, and Di Maio herself — and five UBCO MFAs: Steven Thomas Davies, Jessica Dennis, Joe Fowler, Crystal Przybille and Meg Yamamoto.

“Conceptually, we are all working in very different ways,” DiMaio explains. “You will find some similarities in the general tendencies of each program toward materiality, craft, and the handmade — the show is filled with objects pointing toward a physical human experience — but this show ultimately finds its affinities in the ongoing conversation of visual art as a form of research.”

Xristia Trutiak

Pieces on display will tackle concepts ranging from discussions of labour and conversations with the history of art to investigations into process and material politics, explorations of internal and external gender identity, studies of soundscapes and perceptual experience, the mapping of place and possessions, and an examination of Indigenous rights and truths.

“We’re only in our MFAs for two years,” DiMaio concludes. “That goes by fast and we need to make the most of our time here and take advantage of all the opportunities that are available to us.”

MFA Connect runs 10am-4pm Monday-Friday, November 6-10 in the Visual Arts Building’s Audain Gallery, with a closing reception beginning at 4:30pm on Thursday, November 9

Sacred art, sacred teachings

Rande Cook at UVic (Photo Services)

It has been a busy couple of years for Rande Cook. Beyond his duties as chief of Vancouver Island’s ’Namgis Nation and his commitments as an in-demand contemporary artist with an international practice, Cook just completed two back-to-back terms as the Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with the Visual Arts department.

“Two years in the position allowed me to really reach students,” says Cook. “I was able to delve into the role art plays in politics, and got them to dive deep within themselves. I pushed my students a lot and they seemed to appreciate that — the feedback at the end of the year said it was one of the more profound classes they had ever taken, because it challenged them internally.”

More than just creating a challenging course, however, Cook found the Audain Professorship provided him with the chance to bring his own artistic training into play.

Viewers at Cook’s Audain Exhibition

“Having the opportunity to share what I do from a strong First Nations background was key,” he explains. “Bringing that knowledge into an institution where students don’t really understand traditional teaching gave me the chance to share the real foundation of what the art is: that it comes from a sacred place, that the teachings are sacred.”

Cook is the sixth artist to hold the Audain Professorship, following the likes of Jackson 2Bears, Michael Nicol Yahgulanaas, Nicholas Galanin and Governor General’s Award-winner Rebecca Belmore.

As he reflected in this interview following his first year in the position, “I wanted to design a course around the work I’m doing right now, which means looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the murdered and missing Indigenous women, Idle No More, the REDress project, the round dance movement . . . about healing and bridging.”

Rande Cook speaking at the art education conference

Now he feels two years in the position allowed him greater freedom to explore key concepts. “I could break down the art form into its elements and show them how to put it back together. It was like dissecting a symphony: a violin can play anything, once you learn it, but it’s up to you to decide the song and how it should be played.”

Beyond his time in the classroom, Cook was also frequently seen around UVic in his role as chief, participating in events at First Peoples House, drumming for ceremonial openings, speaking at educational conferences, and taking part in discussions about greater indigenization on campus.

Cook also presented a retrospective of his work in October 2016 as the annual Audain Exhibition. Held each fall in the Audain Gallery, Cook’s Accumulation was timed to coincide with Intersections, a combined conference by the BC Art Teachers Association and the Canadian Society for Education through Art. A highlight of the event, Accumulation also provided context for remarks by Cook, who led a workshop at the conference — which also featured a keynote address by Michael Nicoll Yahgulaanas, a former Audain Professor himself.

Collaboration Mask, seen at the Audain Exhibition

Among the pieces on display at Accumulation was a mask collaboratively created with local artist Carollyne Yardley. Aptly titled “/kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n / Collaboration Mask,” the piece is a good example of both Cook’s connections with Victoria’s greater arts community and his contemporary take on traditional art forms.

“in an era of reconciliation, art has once again become a node through which native and non-native engagement is flourishing through agendas of healing, understanding and respect . . . ‘/kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n / Collaboration Mask’ is an aesthetic response to this cultural resurgence in Canada,” writes Fine Arts alumna Dr. Andrea Walsh in this short essay about the piece.

And does he think an important part of the Audain Professorship is to have a presence both in the community and across campus? “I really do,” he says. “I don’t find there’s a lot of true Northwest Coast representation in Fine Arts — there are people who study and teach it, but authentic Northwest Coast artists like myself are rare. Having people in those positions who can speak to that is important.”

Cook also feels it’s important to transcend academia’s traditional definitions. “There are no walls within our culture. I sat in a lot of meetings where people were saying, ‘We want to indigenize the university, how can we incorporate more indigeneity?’ But we don’t have walls between history and music and practice . . . if someone in the Audain position could keep that idea alive, it would be very beneficial.”

Cook (centre) at the opening of UVic’s Michael Williams building

Much like the bridges he builds with his art, Cook feels reaching new communities is an important part of his role as chief and educator.

“Overall, the Audain position gave me the opportunity to share a deeper, profound understanding with everyone — not just the art form, but where it comes from and what it’s about. You can see native art all over the place now, but there’s a deeper meaning to it . . . especially when you’re wanting to learn, to develop the skills.”

 

Busy fall for Visual Arts faculty

It’s a busy season for our Visual Arts professors, a number of whom have exhibits of new work on view, both locally, nationally and internationally.

Robert Youds, “City Cut Flowers”

Visual Arts professor and alumnus Robert Youds presents City Cut Flowers, a solo exhibit of new works, until Sept 30 at Winchester Galleries Downtown (665 Fort). Featuring three related painting projects and two light-based works, City Cut Flowers explores picture/objects as imagined and remembered fragments drawn from our urban world. Each piece explores the core perceptual conditions of light, shadow, colour, surface, and their communicative relationship to our aesthetic, cultural, and ideological values.

“I have been thinking about consciousness in our time, and that age-old question: how do we as individuals shape it?” says Youds. “For example, is a home a home without personal choices evidenced through the careful spatial choreography of pictures, colours, surfaces, and light? Where do our aesthetic dispositions evolve from? Can the growing digital and AI realms alter our future understanding of the physical world or will they simply reinforce the same elements through a different means?”

Youds also has another solo exhibit coming up this winter: For Everyone A Fountain runs Nov 17 – Jan 2, 2018, at Open Space. He’ll be hosting an artist’s talk at 2pm Saturday, Nov 18.

New work by Daniel Laskarin

Visual Arts professor and sculptor Daniel Laskarin presents his latest solo exhibit, ruins and reclamation, which continues until Oct 7 at Deluge Contemporary (636 Yates). His work combines industrial forms with elements of minimalist sculpture, material exploration and the lyrical sensibility of visual metaphor. He describes his work as means for thinking through the world, a process by which he might give sensory experience to consciousness.

Objects and materials, combined and manipulated, form things that find their own order in a condition of disorder and yet refuse that which orders everything. Independent materials congeal to create an interdependent network, resulting in unique forms that generate a complex and shifting subjective experience. His diverse media incorporates photography and video, optics, robotics systems, installation and sound. He has been involved with set design, public image projections and large-scale public commissions in Vancouver and Seattle, and has exhibited in Canada and internationally.

Kelly Richardson’s “Leviathan”

New Visual Arts professor Kelly Richardson is in the midst of a very busy few months, with work in a variety of exhibitions. Her hyper-real digital films of rich and complex landscapes that have been manipulated using CGI, animation and sound, have caught the eye of galleries around the world. Her latest solo exhibit, Kelly Richardson: The Weather Makers, runs at Dundee Contemporary Arts in Scotland from Sept 23 to Nov 26. Weather Makers was previewed in this article from The Herald newspaper, which describes her “thought-provoking, post-apocalyptic art in its spectacular large-scale form” as both “visceral and provoking” and “a wonderful fictional and imaginary element tied in to stark scientific fact and research.”

Weather Makers features three of Richardson’s video works and a series of chromogenic prints, Pillars of Dawn, which posits a desertscape of environmental desiccation in which trees and plants have been physically crystallized by some unknown environmental event. “The questions that she’s asking about the way we’re mistreating the world around us, about global warming, the constant consumption of resources and how we’re going to manage after mismanaging it for so long are so incredibly pertinent and urgent right now,” says DCA curator Eoin Dara of Richardson’s show. “Magnificent and complex, Richardson’s work asks us to consider what our future might be like if we continue on our current trajectory of planetary pillaging and consumption, and why we have allowed ourselves to arrive at such a moment of global environmental crisis.”

Richardson also has work at the following group exhibits this fall:

“Embassy 2017” by Cedric Bomford & Verena Kazimierz

Visual Arts professor Cedric Bomford and department LTA Verena Kaminiarz are working together on “Embassy, 2017” an outdoor project for the Calculating Upon the Unforseen portion of Toronto’s upcoming Nuit Blanche on Sept 30. “Embassy, 2017” is described as a large-scale structure “designed to adapt to the site where it is located; which can be seen as opportunistic, parasitic and political . . . Given the current trend of hardening nationalism around the world, it seems fitting to reflect on notions of national identity. Forever in progress, Embassy requires visitors to complete the structure in their minds.” The piece was featured as a highlight of the Toronto Star’s Nuit Blanche preview article.

Professor Emeritus Sandra Meigs opens her latest solo exhibit this fall. Room for Mystics will run at the prestigious Art Gallery of Ontario starting October 18. A recipient of the Governor General’s Award in 2015, and the 2015 Gershon Iskowitz Prize, Meigs was also recently named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Her new installation, Room for Mystics (which includes work by School of Music Director Christopher Butterfield), emerges from her Iskowitz Prize.

For over 35 years Meigs has created vivid, immersive, and enigmatic paintings that combine complex narratives with comic elements. She derives the content of her work from her own personal experiences, and develops these to create visual metaphors related to the psyche. Meigs will provide an overview of her work and speak about her new installation, Room for Mystics, at an AGO public talk on Oct 18—but more locally, she’ll also be speaking as part of the “Treasures & Tea” series at UVic’s LIbraries from 1-2pm Wednesday, Sept 27 in room A003 of the McPherson Library.

Meigs will talk about what it was like to be a painter in the ’70s and ’80s, and why the donation of her archive from that period to UVic’s Special Collections might be of interest to researchers. She will also show a brand new artist flap book project she collaborated on with poet Ron Padgett.

Sessional instructor and noted local artist Charles Campbell is involved in a pair of international exhibitions this fall: Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago at Los Angeles’ Museum of Latin American Art (running Sept 16, 2017 – February 25, 2018) and En Mas: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean at San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora (Sept 20, 2017 – March 4, 2018).

And busy MFA alumni Lindsay Delaronde, and Hjalmer Wenstob were both involved in the One Wave Gathering on September 16. As Victoria’s Indigenous Artist in Residence, Delaronde had a featured performance, while Wenstob worked with local Indigenous youth to create four longhouses on the lawns of the BC Legislature. Wenstob’s involvement was mentioned in this Victoria News article.

Finally, the department’s acclaimed Visiting Artist program is in full swing again, with a number of guests coming in this fall:

  • Amie Siegel (Sept 20) – Ranging from photographs, video, film installations and feature films for the cinema, American artist Amie Siegel’s work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions across the US and around the world.
  • Léuli Eshrāghi (Sept 27) – The work of this Sāmoan / Persian artist centres on ceremonial-political renewal, languages, embodied futures, diasporic and local indigeneities.
  • Valérie Blass, “She Was A Big Success”

    Valérie Blass (Oct 4) – This Montreal-based sculptor contrasts notions of visibility and invisibility, as well as the boundaries between volume and surface.

  • Kimberly Phillips (Oct 25) – This writer and curator spent the past four years as the Director / Curator of Access Gallery, a Vancouver artist-run centre committed to emergent and experimental practices. She recently joined Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery as curator.
  • Dominique Pétrin (Nov 1) – A multidisciplinary artist living and working in Montreal, Dominique Pétrin was recently longlisted for the prestigious Sobey Award, and has exhibited across Canada, France, the US, Belgium and the UK.
  • Patrick Howlett (Nov 22) – Abstract painter Patrick Howlett is a UVic MFA alumnus and has exhibited nationally and internationally, and is currently based in London, Ontario.

All Visiting Artists talks happen at 7:30pm in room A150 of UVic’s Visual Arts building, and all are free and open to the public. Please join us!

 

Sandra Meigs joins Canada’s academic elite

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

Sandra Meigs, 2017 (UVic Photo Services)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Art History alumni fuel Integrate Arts Festival

It’s not often you find an off-campus arts event that’s almost exclusively organized by Fine Arts alumni and students, but that’s exactly what you’ll find when you peak behind the curtain at 2017’s Integrate Arts Festival.

Originally dubbed the Off-The-Grid Art Crawl, Integrate is now organized annually by the Integrate Arts Society — where two of the three current Board of Directors are Art History & Visual Studies alumni (president Brin O’Hare and vice-president Alanah Garcin). Even better, eight of their nine planning committee members also have ties to the AHVS department: development coordinator Regan Shrumm & operations coordinator Stephanie Dermann are both alumni, while communications coordinator Kristi Hoffman, partnership coordinator Megan Quigley, art coordinator Zahra Kazani and event coordinators Olivia Prior and Margaret Lapp are all current students. Rounding out the pack is art director Anna Shkuratoff, a recent Visual Arts alumna.

AHVS grad & Integrate president Brin O’Hare

IAS president Brin O’Hare credits AHVS for providing an “initial awareness” of the vibrancy of Victoria’s art scene, and says it helped push her — and many of Integrate’s team — to become involved in the festival.

“I think UVic’s Art History program, and particularly their graduate program, facilitates students awareness and involvement in this community,” she says. “For example, field trips to the Legacy Gallery and Kilshaw’s Auctioneers, and work experience within the arts community, are often available to students, and many courses use local artists, galleries and organizations as case studies for learning as well. This provides students with an opportunity to become aware of the arts community within Victoria.”

Now in its 11th year, the Integrate Arts Festival runs August 25-27 at a number of downtown locations and serves to do exactly what it’s name implies: integrate various galleries and exhibition spaces with a series of exclusive events, performances and tours.

Centered around an en-masse art crawl, it encourages interaction with artworks and performances by local artists, as well as the exploration of local galleries, art spaces, and artist-run centres. Best of all, Integrate remains a completely free festival celebrating Victoria’s diverse arts community.

To see a complete list of events, performances, parties and tours, be sure to check out the complete festival program.

Putting her academic training to good use, O’Hare — who worked as a research assistant for AHVS professor Carolyn Butler Palmer and graduated with an MA in 2014 — feels her work with Integrate provides a good opportunity to correct the “misguided perception” that art history is solely a study of the past.

“To give a personal example, my focus was modern and contemporary Canadian art. As a UVic Art History student, we did, of course, study artists of the past; however, we also focused a great deal on living, contemporary artists. A particular interest of mine — which was fostered by my studies at UVic — is how art historical traditions and concepts of the past play a role in shaping the practices of contemporary artists. This interest to a great extent pushed me to become more familiar with the artists working in Victoria and to help further awareness of our city’s amazing arts community by getting involved in the festival.”

Laura Gildner

Given that two of Integrate’s goals are to raise awareness of Victoria’s arts scene and to help facilitate the growth of diverse, emerging artists within the community, their collective Fine Arts background is serving them well — especially when you consider that a number of the festival’s featured artists are alumni of the Visual Arts department, including Courtney Chaney, Colton Hash, and Romi Kim, plus current students Laura GildnerLeah McInnis and Libby Oliver. Also on view at various galleries and locations during the festival will be work by alumni Maddy Knott, Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane.

Artist Laura Gildner, for example, will be guiding a participant-driven performative walking tour between selected Integrate exhibitions in the downtown core from 1 to 2pm Saturday. Fueled entirely through anecdotal recollections sourced by interviewing strangers throughout Victoria, the piece — titled “Public Displays of Affection” — will examine layered intersections between the body, identity and art as they relate to urban geography.

Libby Oliver

There are also a number of workshops and special events planned, ranging from performance art and artist talks to dance, podcasting and zine-making workshops, . . . and, of course, the de rigueur opening night party running from 7-10:30pm Friday at Integrate HQ in the Bay Centre.

One highlight features alumna artist Courtney Chaney offering a performance of “Habitat,” which focuses on “the relationship between human and nature by allowing the viewer to encounter an exposed vulnerability within the space as the performer embodies a fetus or seed through direct contact with composted soil.” You can see that from 7-9pm Saturday at Integrate HQ.

Whether you go for the whole weekend or just take in one or two exhibits, Integrate offers a fantastic opportunity to catch some of Victoria’s emerging artists and to see our dynamic Art History alumni in action.