New Audain professor examines art as act of reconciliation

When Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman’s Witness Blanket was unveiled at the University of Victoria in 2014, it was clear the large-scale installation would quickly become a national monument and spark reflection and conversation about residential schools, settler-Indigenous relations and reconciliation. Now, Newman will continue the conversation as the sixth Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with UVic’s Department of Visual Arts.

Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman installs the Witness Blanket at UVic ahead of its unveiling in 2014 at a global conference hosted by the university. Photo: Suzanne Ahearne

“This is breaking new ground for me,” says Newman. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to convert the experience of mentorship into a more formal educational setting.”

UVic promotes teaching that reflects the aspirations and calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including addressing issues most relevant to Indigenous people and working with Indigenous communities and organizations to understand, preserve and celebrate traditions, knowledge and cultures.

A former UVic School of Music student, Newman will be the first Audain professor to hold a new three-year position with the department. He will also play a role in the award-winning ACE program with UVic’s Gustavson School of Business, which supports the entrepreneurial practices of Indigenous artists.

“As a master carver, Carey Newman has extensive knowledge of traditions and teachings, as well as a keen interest in contemporary design and digital processes,” says visual arts chair Paul Walde. “Not only is he an extremely well-established artist, but he has strong connections in different mediums and disciplines, both nationally and internationally. With him in the department, we know we would all learn a lot—faculty and students alike—and we look forward to how we can be enriched by that dialogue.”

The artist in his studio in 2013/14, working on one of the cedar panels for the Witness Blanket. Photo: Media One.

The master carver for the Cowichan 2008 Spirit Pole, Newman had another piece, “Dancing Wind,” featured at the 2010 Olympic Games. For over 20 years, he owned Sooke’s recently closed Blue Raven Gallery. He is also an accomplished pianist and singer who has performed at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards and with Pacific Opera Victoria, where he is currently a board member.

Best known for his 12-metre-long Witness Blanket—created and assembled from 600 objects and artifacts including pieces of residential schools, an old drum and a shoe—Newman spent four years travelling across Canada with the installation that evokes the atrocities of Indian residential schools and a national journey toward reconciliation. Newman is excited to bring ideas of reconciliation into his classes at UVic.

“I’m interested in looking at how artists can take on the issue of reconciliation through their own relationship with Canada,” he says. “That way, it’s not limiting it to Indigenous people but is encouraging anyone, even international students, to relate to it.”

Established by a $2-million gift from philanthropist and UVic alumnus Michael Audain in 2010, the position has brought distinguished practicing artists Rande Cook, Nicholas Galanin, Michael Nicol YahgulanaasJackson 2Bears, and Governor General’s Award-winner Rebecca Belmore to teach in the visual arts department.

 

Paul Walde wins REACH Award

This May, UVic’s second annual REACH Awards celebrated UVic artists, scholars and scientists for their extraordinary contributions in research, creative practice and teaching—whether from a field school in Cuba or a performance atop a glacier in BC’s interior.

Paul Walde

That’s where this year’s Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression comes in: the 2018 recipient is Visual Arts chair Paul Walde, whose Requiem for a Glacier performance and subsequent gallery installations have earned him international attention.

“This year’s REACH Award recipients again demonstrate the strong link between research and learning,” says UVic President Jamie Cassels. “They share and advance knowledge and wisdom in a range of areas. UVic is privileged to be home to such a talented and dedicated array of people.”

While the history of Canadian art has been built on our relationship with landscape and the environment, Paul Walde has fused that artistic legacy with decidedly 21st century concerns and practices by exploring unexpected interconnections between landscape, identity and technology.

“Both the Visual Arts department and Faculty of Fine Arts are tremendously privileged to have such an important artist and educator shaping our program,” says Dean Susan Lewis. “Paul Walde’s art draws attention to the important landscape that makes up our province and nation.”

 

Walde’s “Glacier”

Since joining UVic in 2012, Walde has enhanced the student experience while expanding his reputation as one of Canada’s leading extended media artists. 2014’s Requiem for a Glacier saw him take a 50-piece orchestra and chorus to the top of BC’s threatened Jumbo Glacier (Qat’Muk) and, while the performance earned international headlines at the time, the subsequent gallery installation continues to impact viewers across Canada and Europe—notably this spring’s exhibition in Paris.

“We want[ed] to call attention to this project and recognize its significance as an artwork that advocated for environmental awareness,” says nominator and Visual Arts colleague Jennifer Stillwell. “Paul’s extensive and thoughtful career has made a large impact on the landscape of Canadian visual art. His distinguished achievements and the social impact of his work are worthy of celebration and recognition, both within our institution and beyond.”

The awards were presented at a special on-campus evening ceremony on May 24.

School of Music professor Suzanne Snizek was the 2017 winner of the REACH Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression.

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.

Two MFA exhibits: one downtown, one crossing borders

Following a series of on-campus solo exhibitions in the Audain Gallery this spring, this year’s graduating MFA artists have taken their work downtown for their final public exhibit.

Titled In Toto, the annual Visual Arts MFA graduation exhibition runs May 4 to May 14 at 821 Fort Street, between Quadra and Blanshard, with a special opening reception at 7pm on Friday, May 4.

Update: the MFA show will now return for one day only, 11am-2pm Sunday, May 27, as part of the City of Victoria’s Fort Street Celebrations. The MFA show will be used as the venue for a public drop-in session discussing the use of vacant store fronts as art spaces. Live music & refreshments will also be on hand to celebrate the opening of the bike lanes,

Featuring the work of David Michael Peters, Marina DiMaio, Leah McInnis, Connor Charlesworth and Evelyn Sorochan-Ruland, In Toto offers 10 different pieces, ranging from painting and sculpture to installation and media works.

Interestingly, the same storefront was home to the HeARTspace exhibit in the fall 2017, a pop-up art gallery featuring the work of people who have died from overdoses, as well as tributes to them; that exhibit was organized by UVic interdisciplinary PhD candidate Marion Selfridge.

The free exhibit is open noon to 4pm daily.  

In addition to this exhibit, MFA candidate Marina DiMaio has also organized the second in the MFA Connect exhibit series. Running May 13-19 in the Audain Gallery in the Visual Arts building, this second iteration reconsiders the long-standing tradition of Mail Art through an entirely digital correspondence. This conception of MFA Connect integrates the work of six MFA students from Newcastle University in England and six UVic MFA students in a group show that will then travel to the Ex Libris Gallery in northeast England.

MFA Connect is like a conference for visual arts,” says DiMaio in this article about the inaugural MFA Connect exhibit in November 2017. “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.”

In addition to Marina DiMaio, MFA Connect also features work by UVic’s Connor Charlesworth, Leah McInnis, David Michael Peters, and Evelyn Sorochan-Ruland, plus Xristia Trutiak. Participating artists from Newcastle U include Shaney Barton, Elizabeth Green, Peter Hanmer, Paul Jex, Hania Klepacka and Gill Shreeve.

Could this be the beginning of ongoing creative alliances between Newcastle University and UVic? Only time—and inspiration—will tell.

Annual Visual Arts BFA show fills building with art

Always one of the most exciting events of the year for the Department of Visual Arts, the annual Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) graduating exhibit is back and ready to showcase the work of nearly 40 emerging artists.

This year’s exhibit is titled Good Grief! and kicks off with a special opening reception at 7pm Friday, April 20. Expect to see over 50 pieces of art by the BFA students on view, ranging from sculpture and painting to drawing, photography, digital and multimedia. The pieces below are just an example of the kind of work that will be on view.

Good Grief! runs 10am to 6pm daily from April 20 to 28 in UVic’s Visual Arts building — if you can’t make the opening, be sure to pop in while the exhibit is on.

The annual BFA exhibit is a highlight of the year in Fine Arts. Much like School of Music students with their final concerts and Theatre students with their mainstage performances, the BFA show is an important milestone in the training of Visual Arts students.

“The work represents the self-directed nature of our program, where students learn to invest in their own research using a variety of artistic mediums to bring their projects to fruition,” says Visual Arts professor and faculty supervisor Megan Dickie.

The show is free, open to all members of the public and is fully wheelchair accessible.

Click on the images below to see the pieces in full.

 

Victoria artist Rick Leong joins Visual Arts faculty

When the call went out in search of a new professor for the University of Victoria’s Department of Visual Arts, applications came in from across the country — yet the latest person to join the celebrated teaching faculty is an alumni artist who ultimately came from our own backyard. Starting July 1, 2018, the Victoria-based Rick Leong will become UVic’s new assistant professor in painting and drawing.

Rick Leong

“It feels like an incredible privilege to come back to a place where I learned so much as a student, to be able to contribute to the education and formation of the next generation of artists in this community,” says Leong. “While I grew up in many different places, I never really felt attached to any one place until I found Victoria.”

A painter who uses the language of landscape to explore experiences of space and place, Leong’s practice is drawn from observation and influenced by historical Chinese art forms.

“I believe in fostering innovation through interdisciplinary experimentation, and that painting and drawing can form a powerful foundation from which to explore ideas and methods,” he says. “I’m passionate about painting, but I’m also always looking for ways that painting can inform explorations in other media.”

After receiving his BFA from UVic’s Visual Arts department in 2003, Leong earned his MFA from Concordia University in 2007 — after which his thesis work was acquired by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. A finalist in the Royal Bank of Canada’s Painting Competition (2008), he has also had notable solo exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Montreal’s McClure Gallery and the Anna Leonowens Gallery in Halifax, as well as participating in many group exhibitions at various Canadian and international spaces.

Being based in Victoria hasn’t slowed Leong’s career at all, with work held in the permanent collections of the Canadian Art Foundation, Canada Council Art Bank, Foreign Affairs Visual Art Collection, the Collection de Prêt d’oeuvres d’art, Musée National des beaux-arts du Québec and the AGGV, among others.

“The island is definitely the place I call home, and it is in large part because of the people and relationships that I have made here,” he says. “Home is where your community is.”

Leong’s “Hidden Hunger” (2016)

Leong joins the current full-time Visual Arts teaching faculty alongside Cedric Bomford, Megan Dickie, Daniel Laskarin, Kelly Richardson, Jennifer Stillwell, Robert Youds and Paul Walde,

“Known for his immersive layered paintings, Rick Leong is an artist of national repute and his work represents a unique voice in Canadian painting,” says Visual Arts chair Paul Walde. “He joins a department with a rich history in painting, boasting distinguished alumni and faculty in this area of research, and we have no doubt that he will enhance this reputation both here in Canada and abroad.”

Leong is looking forward to having “a positive impact” on Visual Arts students.

“It is incredibly rewarding to think that what we do as teachers creates a stronger community of creatives through individual development as well as fostering community relationships,” he says. “I will strive to enrich students’ education experience, encourage diverse perspectives and voices, and contribute to the Visual Arts Department’s goals of excellence and innovation.”

Leong’s latest solo exhibition will open at Montreal’s noted avant-garde gallery, Parisian Laundry, on May 31, 2018.

Currently marking its 50th anniversary, UVic’s Department of Visual Arts has produced such acclaimed contemporary artists as Governor General’s Visual Arts Award winner Kim Adams, Sobey Prize winner Christian Giroux, Aimia/AGO Photography Prize winner Erin Shirreff, sculptor Jessica Stockholder, photographer Althea Thauberger and 2017 BMO 1st Art! Invitational national prize winner Xiao Xue.