A look into the practices of visual art students and the upcoming Audain shows

The Peak interviews visual art students about their processes, and previews their artwork

Photo couresty of Singulart.

Written by: Kaila Bhullar, Peak Associate

For visual art students, the year-end art shows at the Audain Gallery are a culmination of their hard work. With the shows for 3rd and 4th year students approaching, The Peak sat down (virtually) with 3rd year student Paige Smith and 4th year student Vitória Monteiro to get a few teasers on what we can expect to see in both shows. 

Their responses have been edited for clarity.

Paige Smith (she/her)

Photo courtesy of Paige Smtih.

Paige Smith is an experimental filmmaker and visual artist based in the stolen territories of the Coast Salish peoples, including the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, also known as Vancouver, Canada. Paige received her BFA in film in 2018, and is back at SFU completing a Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Visual Art. 

She is interested in the crossover between visual art and the world of cinema, and exploring how the two interact and influence each other. This can be observed thematically throughout her work. Paige describes her projects as an integration of both film and visual art, and is particularly interested in the materiality of mediums. The Peak spoke with Paige to dive into her mind and get some insight on her creative practices

The Peak: Tell us a bit about your work. 

Smith: My artwork has been presented in a variety of venues, from cinemas to art galleries, including the Dawson City International Short Film Festival (2020), Vines Art Festival (2019), Richmond World Festival with Cinevolution’s Digital Carnival (2019), and the Victoria Shorts Film Festival (2019). My most recent short film Watching Us is currently being distributed by Video Out Distribution

P: What initially drew you to art?

Smith: I’ve always found it easier to communicate my ideas through visuals than through written or spoken language. At a young age, I found drawing, painting, and photography, and they each quickly clicked in my brain. I am dyslexic, which affects the areas of my brain that process language, and growing up, I often struggled to express myself or get my ideas across to others. I think creating art visually has helped me find alternative ways of communicating and expressing myself in a way that works better with how my brain functions. 

P: How would you describe your artistic style? 

Smith: My artwork uses reflexive techniques while investigating viewer perceptions and interactions with art. I ground my work in research, and have particular interests in ecology, sexuality, and antiquated technologies. My artwork is experimental, often the result of hypothetical questions I had about the medium based on my research. 

I often structure my work after the scientific model: beginning with a question, a hypothesis, conducting an experiment, and then recording my results. As my work continues to expand beyond the theatre space of the cinema, it’s begun to explore more questions related to the agency of artwork and how artwork can reflect societal truths to its viewers. 

P: Can you describe what your creative process looks like?

Smith: I often have thoughts ruminating for a while — like a seed — and I can’t quite pin them down. My ideas usually come to me as visual images. The ones I can’t get out of my head are the ones I usually make into artwork. From there, I do research and keep my eyes open for new connections. I try to take in a lot of different types of art during this time. I like to call making the artwork, making soup. Somehow, it really feels like that. Throwing in all the different ingredients, tasting it as it goes, making something yummy that you share with others. Like a warm feeling.

P: What are your preferred mediums? 

Smith: I love to create images in any way possible, usually by drawing, painting, photographing, and filmmaking. I originally attended university to study film, primarily working with digital filmmaking tools. After graduating, I began to explore a combination of installation and video art. I’m particularly interested in CRT TVs, and have been using them both within my films and as the material itself of the art piece. 

P: I read on your website that you completed your BFA in film at SFU in 2018, and are now back pursuing a Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Visual Art, can you expand on this? Did this shape, evolve, or influence your craft at all? 

Smith: My undergrad degree in film has distinctly shaped my craft and how I think about artmaking. I was introduced to a lot of different types of filmmakers that I still reference and who continue to inspire me today. Some of my favourites include Tsai Ming-Liang, Satoshi Kon, Chantal Akerman, and Marlon Riggs. My artwork will always be influenced by cinema and my love for it. I love the light of the projector, the communal experience of feeling artwork with an audience, the big screen. The farther away my artwork goes from traditional filmmaking, the more I learn to appreciate the magic of the cinema and film in general.


P: What themes do you explore in your work, and what about them interests you? 

Smith: My artwork explores a variety of themes, but one thing that ties them together is my fascination with using reflexive techniques to investigate viewer perceptions and interactions with images. For example, my short film Watching Us examines the power viewers have to change what images are created and seen, specifically in relation to pornographic images. I wanted to examine the cyclical nature of image consumption; how our desires feed into what images we produce, and how the images we produce, in return, shape our desires.

The themes I tackle are often related to my personal curiosities and concerns: topics such as voyeurism, the climate crisis, feral cows, or depth perception. My artwork is my form of research and communication. I attempt to situate myself and reflect back my findings to my viewers.

P: For the upcoming Audian shows, can we expect to see a similar style of work? Will it reflect some of the concepts you’ve worked with in the past? 

Smith: Our cohort is currently studying with artist Heba Y. Amin. We are working with her to create a broad overarching theme that will frame each of our artworks within the exhibition. As a class, we have been looking at a variety of topics and artists whose works relate to image agency, politics, colonization, and surveillance.

I’m planning on expanding previous research I’ve completed about sensitive ecosystems within the Lower Mainland of Vancouver, which connects to my concerns about the global climate crisis. I plan to use some materials I’ve previously worked with before, such as CRT TVs, and will continue to push the viewer to question their interaction with the artwork. I’m interested in the crossover between technology and ecology. I want to repurpose antiquated technologies to reconnect viewers with the ecological moment. 

P: As a final word on art, if you could go back in time and give yourself some advice pertaining to your art, what would you say?

Smith: Don’t allow perfectionism to stop you from creating. Don’t compare yourself to your peers, instead learn from them and collaborate with them. Measure your artistic success by your own growth and happiness as an artist.

Vitória Monteiro (they/them/she/her)

Photo courtesy of Vitória Monteiro.

Vitória Monteiro is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice focuses on experimentation and materiality, with an emphasis on repurposing. Their works explore a number of vast concepts that are linked through a desire to better understand the nature of knowledge and the self. 

In our interview with Vitória, they open up about their academic journey and personal struggles, which we can see directly influences their process and style. Vitória is preparing for their cohort’s approaching grad show, and to get a bit of insight, we asked them about their creative process. 

P: What initially drew you to art?

Monteiro: I was originally majoring in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies (GSWS) at SFU, which I really enjoyed, but I’ve always been involved in the fine arts. I’ve explored theater, art, and music for my whole life, so it felt unfair to myself to not take my passions seriously and invest in a fine arts education. 

I nearly dropped out of university in my second year, I have a severe learning disability, and at the time, I had undiagnosed ADHD. I’ve always struggled with school, and by then I was doing really poorly in my classes. I used to think that the transition to art from GSWS came out of necessity, but I think I was always meant to go to art school and never allowed myself to. I’ve been diagnosed and am getting treatment for my ADHD, which makes the academic side of my courses less of a burden. I am grateful for how it all happened because going to art school is the best decision I have made. 

P: How would you describe your artistic style? 

Monteiro: I try to approach my work with curiosity and a process-based methodology. Deeply examining the material I’m working with is [central in my work] because my relationship to the material is the driving force. This experimental approach makes the process really exciting for me because I don’t get bored trying to recreate something I see in my head, but rather allow the material I work with to grow and guide me. 

P: Do you like presenting concrete ideas in your work, or do you prefer keeping it more abstract and open to subjective interpretation? 

Monteiro: It depends! In my first few years of art school, I really focused on audio-visual works that conveyed a strong point of view. I wanted a reaction from them, or a confrontation of some sort. These days I really value the ambiguous quality that art can have. Since I moved into a more material practice, I find myself feeling less entitled to impose my own ideas, because it feels like a collaboration with the materials. 

P: Can you describe what your creative process looks like?

Monteiro: My process these days is messy. When I make paper pulp out of recycled paper, I usually cook the paper down to really break it down, and then I blend it in batches to make a [substance] that I either pour into a big vat of water and pull sheets from, or I strain the pulp and take out most of the water, add liquid glue, and make a paste that I can use to make sculptures. 

For plant fiber paper, I bike down to the beach and harvest beach grass. Then bike home and clean the grass, and cook it in a huge pot with water and baking soda for the fiber to break down (usually about 8–10 hours of cook time). Then I beat the fiber with a meat tenderizer for about 15 minutes. Finally, I blend it to make a versatile pulp. It’s a long process!

P: What are your preferred mediums? How did you initially discover/become interested in these mediums?

Monteiro: My focus lastly has been on handmade paper. I’ve been deep diving into its different processes, since there are a lot. My initial draw to it was how process-based it is. There are many steps involved in making a single sheet of paper. I was craving a practice that I could do with my hands/body. It’s such a fascinating material because there is so much you can do with it. I never really saw myself as a sculptor before, but the process clicks so well with my brain. 

Before I started working with paper, I primarily worked with audio, visual, and projection art, but I was really missing the mess and remanence that working with physical materials gives you. I didn’t like the lack of paper trail, since I couldn’t look back on my process. This is not to say that audio/visual art isn’t about process, but rather the way I was approaching it was very product/outcome based, and I felt like something was missing. 

P: What concepts do you explore in your work? What about them interest you?  

Monteiro: A theme I’m working with right now is how material can be acting as something it is not, much like humans do. Since a lot of my work uses recycled paper, such as old readings, texts, shopping lists, my work explores themes of indexicality, translation, and citation and in doing so proposes a new way of reading. Working with pulpy materiality provides a new realm for knowledge to inhabit. 

This space is silent, inarticulate, abstract, and is an archive of words that no longer can be interpreted in the traditional way. We have to imagine correlations in order to form new images, thoughts, and ideas. Since they no longer present themselves before us physically. But like the words that exist in the pulp, these images remain conceptual. 

This [abstract form of] reading is achieved through the intermingling of various texts which range from assigned theoretical readings, artistic manifestos, and academic books, to shopping lists, personal photographs, and letters. I try to combine words, ideas, and thoughts that may not have come into contact with each other without my intervention. 

P: What inspires you as an artist? 

Monteiro: Working with something that would have been thrown away otherwise and giving old paper a second life is awesome. Also engaging with academic texts (like class readings) — as someone with learning disabilities — reading is hard for me. So taking these institutional forms of knowledge and blending it all up into an abstract realm, feels like a cheeky way of engaging with academic text. 

The Peak: For the upcoming Audian shows, can we expect to see a similar style of work? Will it reflect some of the same themes you’ve worked with in the past? 

Monteiro: Yes! I’m really trying to deepen these themes and concepts, and further explore how the work I make acts as a storage system, or as an archive of the recycled texts that exists within it. I’m very excited for the show, it’s the first time me and my cohort will have the opportunity to show our work at the Audain in person, so this really means a lot to us.  

P: As a final word on art: if you could go back in time and give yourself some advice pertaining to your art, what would you say?

Monteiro: Trust yourself. I was so scared deciding to switch to visual art from an academic focused discipline. Taking yourself seriously as an artist is so hard to do, and it involves a lot of inner work to be honest. My imposter syndrome kicks into high gear when I start talking about my own work, so I need to continuously remind myself that the work that I do is important. Art is so unbelievably valuable for emotional processing, activism, and connecting with others — it really is an act of love. When we take that love seriously and give it the respect it deserves, we are not only respecting ourselves, but also setting an example for other creatives around us to do the same, and I think that’s pretty sweet. 

Audain Shows

To see more of Paige’s work check out her website: https://www.paigesmithfilm.com/. For more of Vitória, check out their art instagram @vetosea. Be sure to keep an eye out for some of their artworks in the year end Audian shows. The 3rd year show (Paige) is March 18–25, and the 4th year/grad show (Vitória) is April 15–25.

To read the full interviews, be sure to visit www.the-peak.ca.