We all know the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Art & Design 2.0. will have you thinking again.
The second in a series of three exhibitions celebrating the University of Alberta Department of Art & Design’s 50th anniversary in the FAB Gallery until November 28, 2015, Art & Design 2.0 features the work of the department’s technicians. As the show demonstrates beautifully, these technicians have contributed immensely to the continued quality and success of the department.
Alumni often credit the professionals that work behind-the-scenes in the studios and shops with getting them through their fine arts or design degrees. Many of the technicians are alumni themselves.
I wanted to shine the spotlight on the unsung heroes of the Art & Design department, so I asked the technicians to tell me a bit more about the work they do here at the University of Alberta and their artwork featured in Art & Design 2.0. Here are some of their responses.
Note: feature image is a cropped photo of Campbell Wallace’s acrylic and oil painting entitled “Don’t F#@% With Destiny.”
Nick Dobson (‘90 BFA)
I am a contract academic instructor in the printmaking division, teaching relief, intaglio and etching courses.
Currently, I am replacing Steve Dixon as a printmaking technician. In this capacity I demonstrate intaglio, relief, etching and photo-printmaking techniques; assist students in manifesting their print projects; conduct the business of the division and maintain general order in the studio.
My sculpture, consisting of matches, plexi-glass and fusing is burned in order to generate the images I make. The sculptures are designed with several considerations in mind: their shapes and configurations are inspired by vessels commonly used in the oil industry; they are constructed in order to burn intensely and in a short period to generate compelling flame patterns and leave interesting ashes. I am very interested in controlling mark-making remotely. It is important to me that this process be cyclical and demonstrably so—hence the exhibition of sculpture and print together.
I work in the Industrial Design Studio as a technician. I am one part of a team of technicians here.
I’m what I call the low-tech, as I stand clear of all of the fabulous digital work we do and concentrate more on the physical work. Primarily I work with the first year (300 level) design students, the furniture students and those grads brave enough to venture into the studio.
I’ve got a bit of an eclectic looking collection of objects here, but there is a common thread, I promise.
The core of the project is the book, a biography of my uncle that I began writing about two years ago. He was one of a generation of uncles who didn’t return from the battlefields of World War II. The desk was in many ways a starting point as it was the top graphic that began the research that cumulated in the writing of the book. The bike represents my attempt to experience this history rather than simply read about it. There were a few powerful moments that enabled me to touch experiences that were also part of my uncle’s short life. The bike, a 1940 CCM “Motorbike,” is a restoration of one similar to my uncle’s and has been partly restored to new, and partly left in the state that only 75 years can attain. As a whole this project is by far the most personal work I have ever done, or ever will do I expect.
Micheal Cor (‘10 BFA)
I work in the sculpture department as a part time technician. I assist in the operation of the wood shop and am primarily responsible for the steel sculpture studio.
Being the technician in the abstract sculpture department is interesting because the goal in the program is to teach visual language rather than technical skills. This makes the role as a technician interesting to say the least. It’s been a great experience for the short time I’ve been with the university.
I spend a lot of time living with my work. It moves through my life and it takes shape around it. I try to invoke parts of my life in the work, if not just by having it around, then by personifying it with people or stories from my life. The cut piece in the show has had many variations. It represents a close friend and has grown with each variation. Other works like the constellation drift become more like tokens of different experiences.
I am a Technical Demonstrator for the Printmaking Division. There are two of us here and we split the studio into half, while I take care of lithography and screen printing techniques, my associate takes care of intaglio and relief printing techniques.
Aside from managing both the undergraduate and graduate printmaking studios in the Fine Arts Building, I supervise the students technically as they fulfill their course requirements, assisting and advising the graduate students as they perform research and prepare for their thesis exhibitions.
I am also expected to be well informed in current studio practice and exhibiting and maintaining my own work to the degree that I can also be a good professional role model for the students. My skills and expertise are extended into the community as well, where I contribute to a number of Artist Run Centres in Edmonton, both SNAP and Latitude 53 as well as to various international exhibitions independent of and supported by my colleagues in the department.
The main focus of my contribution and my latest piece, Neighbourhood Renewal is a transitional work that is heading me into a new direction, a change for me that will generate some new work for an upcoming exhibition in Mexico City in 2016. The more traditional prints on the wall to the left of the main piece and the work on scrolls are supporting pieces that have lead me to the latest piece. All of the work is based on food in one way or another.
Food is one of the cornerstones of cultural identity, and for me my love of food has provided me with intimate opportunities to engage and learn about other cultures. The resulting relationships provide a rich personal context in which to visually explore aspects of cultural adaptation.
In my most recent project, FeiJiaCun I was able to travel to Beijing where I focused mainly on migrant workers who worked in what I call the “street kitchen”. While in Beijing I interviewed and documented street venders at busy urban intersections and the families who run makeshift BBQ restaurants or small businesses out of their homes. The resulting images from these experiences resonate with an insight that is born from the subtle gesture of a stranger walking into view or the complex interweaving of aromas from unfamiliar foods and unfamiliar sights.
And so, upon encountering my work for the first time you might consider accusing me of cultural appropriation or of supporting colonialism or worse yet categorizing me as a cultural tourist. My response is to re-consider my work under the guise of cultural adaptation or about constructing identity. I see my work as an extension of the regard I have for the culture I have embraced and the desire to explore and understand it. My studio practice is focused on my own interpretations both anthropological and ethnographical of, not only food culture, but of a reflection on my own cultural heritage and my, perhaps ours as human beings, and my/our ability to adapt.
I am very aware of a few of the anthropological and ethnographical interpretations that could be constructed due to my working methodology, however, after reading, among many other texts, Routes by James Clifford, I am clear about my intentions. I am not an anthropologist, or a scientist, or a sociologist or a social worker. I am motivated by a need to uncover my identity, I want to position myself in such a way that the viewer too can appreciate the simple beauty of a culture that is on the brink of cultural extinction. Of course this extinction is not restricted or limited to China, many other cultures are quickly becoming “the same” as everything else. And so my collaboration with nostalgia is about a longing for identity, unique cultural identity. My search for a personal identity and the problem it addresses mirrors a crisis in cultural identity that was perhaps initiated by the colonialism of my/our families’ decades and centuries ago.
As the head Technician for the Sculpture Division I spend much of my time demonstrating the technical aspects of sculpture production and helping the students see their projects through to completion.
The basic processes involved include moldmaking and casting, fired ceramic sculpture, welded steel and woodworking but have expanded to include many other materials and concepts.
I am also responsible for maintenance and repairs of all the studio equipment and facilities, ordering or purchasing equipment and supplies, maintaining a budget, record keeping and general administration.
It is not unlike managing a small manufacturing firm where the products and a majority of employees change every four months.
The works I have chosen to represent me in this show are not sculptures as might be expected, but pots.
When I was first approached in 1985 by professor Neil Fiertel (emeritus) to join the team in the Sculpture Division I had been making a living as a potter with my wife, Rita, for more than a decade and was not at all sure I wanted to give that up for a regular paycheque. Some of the pots shown here were made during that time and therefore represent a place-marker for me, something I want to return to in retirement after a thirty year hiatus. I have kept up my pottery practice while working at the university but it has not been my central focus.
The pots themselves have been made using a variety of forming and finishing techniques. The black vessel on slate was made in porcelain and fired in an electric kiln with a commercial glaze. The four pots on the shelf are raku fired, a modified Japanese technique where the pot is glazed and placed in a small propane fuelled kiln. When the glaze melts it is removed with long handled tongs and placed in a bed of combustible material. The resulting oxygen-starved atmosphere has a dramatic effect on the color and surface. When the desired effect is achieved it is removed and quenched in water or nearby snowbank if available. The last three pots were primitive, or sawdust fired. They were made of porcelain, burnished and fired without glaze in a smouldering sawdust filled pit in my garden for three days.
Pottery has been produced in various forms and techniques throughout history (and indeed prehistory) for many purposes from domestic to ritual. As such it is often used as a signifier of any given culture’s economic, technological and spiritual development. The pots I have displayed here were realized using processes from the most basic hole in the ground to a computer controlled electric kiln and now share a gallery space with works of art. I feel therefore that they, in some very small way, represent ‘something’ about where we, and I, are in this time and place.
Campbell Wallace (‘00 BFA)
I’m the Technician Demonstrator for Visual Fundamentals and Drawing/Intermedia, and primarily I get to show students how to use the various tools in our workshop…everything from hammers to band saws.
I give advice and guide students through assigned projects from their instructors, and in the case of the Drawing/Intermedia graduate students, I help them with any shop issues that arise in their personal research.
Along with the workshop, I organize the day-to-day operation of various Fundamentals and Drawing studio spaces, critique rooms, and offices that we have located throughout the North Power Plant and HUB Mall. At the start of every term, I also need to make sure all the equipment and spaces are repaired and prepped for the incoming classes.
The four paintings I have in Art & Design 2.0 at FAB Gallery represent an ongoing series of acrylic and oil paintings made from appropriated found photographs. These particular paintings are from a growing sub-group I’m thinking of as the Party Paintings (many of which were in a show at Latitude 53 this past summer). They show scenes of mostly unknown people (at least, to me) who are “getting down” at a party, or possibly “coming down” from one. I’m trying to capture spontaneity with the images chosen, as well as an open-to-interpretation narrative which makes subtle references to some of my favorite ‘bits’ of art history.
Event title: 50th Anniversary Exhibition: Art & Design 2.0
Exhibition dates: until November 28, 2015
Venue: FAB Gallery (1-1 Fine Arts Building, University of Alberta)
Hours: Tuesday to Friday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday: 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Closed Monday
For a full list of University of Alberta technicians featured in Art & Design 2.0 please see the show page: https://uofa.ualberta.ca/events/50th-anniversary-exhibition-2