MFA at the University of Waterloo!


 – Like snow sliding of the roof of the Gushul Studio, I am in transition. –

I haven’t mentioned it here yet for a few reasons, but I am moving to Ontario very soon- Waterloo, actually, to pursue my MFA at the University of Waterloo!  I am incredibly excited about it, yet, at the same time, it is very bittersweet.  There’s a lot of lasts happening right now, as I am committing to the move.  I will miss my wonderful life here, but know deep down inside that this is right, this is the next step.  I’ve gotta go, to see what’s in store for me yet.

Now that the initial excitement has worn off, I am getting nervous.  Not so much about being there (well, maybe a little), but about the big changes that are happening in my life.  I don’t know hardly anyone in Ontario, nevermind Waterloo.  I am nervous about getting everything arranged, so that I (hopefully!) don’t run into any big problems.  I’m nervous about packing up what I want to keep, take with me, and sell or give away.  I’m nervous about how I’m going to get rid of all my stuff.  (There’s nothing like moving across the country to realize how much stuff you have that you probably don’t need.)  And I’m in a weird place with my work right now- I will be just finishing up the animatronics project for the IMR before I go, and I’ve started on some new work, but at this point, I really don’t know what I’m doing yet.  (Which, I keep telling myself, is part of the journey of grad school- my work will change no matter what I’m doing now- I don’t have to have it all figured out.  In fact, it’s probably better if I don’t, although it’s really uncomfortable and against my nature for me to feel unprepared.)

The new MFA’s are ‘strongly encouraged’ to take advantage of the school studios when they become available in August, which I plan to do.  So I will have some time to get settled, and even make some work before the semester even begins.  I will be staying in a residence building just for graduate students, which I have already lined up for the beginning of August.  The time feels like too short and too fast all at once – this is actually happening!


This one took me a little longer than an evening, to work out the details of the mechanics, finding a way to do it so that they did what I wanted and didn’t interfere with each other.  I think the motion on this one is exactly as it should be!

I’m not sure exactly where this is going, as I’m not intending to make too many of these little toys.  I am finding learning about the mechanics interesting, and am now getting quite good at being able to make what I want in my little woodshop of a studio.  I’m looking at a few other kinds of things for methods of constructing things- weathervanes, marionettes, etc.  I’d love to get some sound in there as well- music box style.    I am envisioning this combining with other things in my repertoire, once I feel I’ve got some basic skills and knowledge of the material and process.  I think this is the beginnings of “post-IMR” (although I’m not quite done with that yet….).

Stay tuned for more!

Flying Pigs

Flying Pig (Jennifer Akkermans)

Here’s something I did just the other day (see the video). I wish I could manage to be this productive every day.  Or, more days than currently.  It’s been an uphill battle lately.  (I’m at 15 rejections, and my recent health problems have set me back a bit.) Maybe that’s why it’s a flying pig- everything I want to do seems so incredibly daunting right now.  That’s natural, I guess.  Fly, little pig!  Onward and upward!

Anyway, it’s not the most perfect thing I’ve ever made, and if I were to do it again, I’d definitely make some changes, but it did the trick of helping me learn about constructing these kinds of things.  It was a good idea to start simple and build on it, although my ideas are way more complicated than I think I’ll ever have the skill to make.  I’ve been doing a lot of sketching and drawing, trying to capture all the crazy ideas, some of which I hope come to fruition.  This is the time to be thinking ideas, before I know what my technical skill can and probably can’t make- before I design projects to fit my mechanics.  (I’m thinking large, and eventually my little skill saw just might not cut it… pun intended!  Best $35 I’ve ever spent!)

Filmed in my messy studio… of course.

Anyway, building things….. making a mess…. playing again!

2012 in Review

2012 has been an excellent year for me.  Let’s recap.

The Institute of Morphoid Research at the Art Gallery of Calgary –  This was an amazing opportunity.  I showed some of the Morphoids in cages, and my ‘documentary,’ Morphopodia.  As an entertaining aside, a friend of mine has a young son who reports having made Morphoid environments in the AGC school when visiting the gallery.  It’s, and I quote, “a triceratops with feathers on it’s butt,” who eats eyeballs and seashells.

The AGC Artist Talk – I did a Q&A Style artist talk on December 6th, about my exhibition.  It was actually a lot of fun.  I quite enjoyed the Q&A style, as it was less formal, meant less prep work for me, and therefore was less stressful to prepare for.  I was excited about it, but not too worried about it, because there’s no subject I know more about than my work.

The New Alberta Contemporaries (at The Esker Foundation) – I felt very privileged to be a part of this exhibition- it was the first exhibition at the Esker Foundation, made up of 44 artists, recent graduates of the 4 schools in Alberta granting arts degrees (ACAD, the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta, and the University of Lethbridge).  I also particularly enjoyed the opening, where I had an animatronic bacteriophage that I used to draw people into conversation with me.  (The looks on their faces were priceless….)

The Bacteriophage Dissection – This was a time intensive project, right from the beginning.  In 2011, in the St[art] Residency, I starting building Morphoid innards. It took quite a lot of thought and studio time to develop the structure for the insides and the Dissection.  (Come to think of it, I still need to ‘explain’ everything from that…)

Meet the Morphoids, my show at the Untitled Arts Society, is where I started on the informational panel idea.  I have also used this in the AGC show, and will likely use more in the future.

I’ve been working for the Alberta Society of Artists as their Artistic Coordinator since January 2012.  I’ve learned a ton, met a lot of interesting and wonderful artists, and have worked on quite a few interesting projects.

Also of note this year, is doing the cover of the Hanna History Book and the Centennial (and drinking with my mother and other people in the cemetery), and the launching of the IMR Gift shop.

Up soon (hopefully), goals for 2013!


Bacterio Circuit

This is a short video of how the bacterio circuit works, after I finally managed to solder it and keep it working! (The bacterio that many have you have seen was a circuit taped up to a breadboard- yes, I admit it!)

The silver thing right in the middle is a vibration motor, which is also what is making the noise.

Phases of Practice

I seem to be going into an experimentation phase.

Like a lot of artists, I go through phases with my work.   Productive phases (grooves), where everything seems to roll along smoothly, almost pulling me with it, unproductive phases (ruts, like the one I’m finally seeming to get out of), where I’m stalling, and everything in between.  Experimentation phases, where I’m trying a lot of things, but not actually making any finished work, and research phases, where all I seem to do is read and write about ideas and what’s going on in my head.

As you may know, I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting out of a rut in the last few months.  Now, it feels like I’m at least doing stuff, trying things out, ordering a couple different kinds of supplies to play with (such as Arduinos), and at least moving.  I haven’t been able to make any more “finished work” in a while, but that’s natural, I guess.  Now that I’m playing with things again, that will come.

So what have I been doing?  Lots of experiments with the Arduino Uno I bought. Making things blink, playing with servo motors, and making slow progress.  I am no where near being able to do what I want to do with it, but you’ve gotta start with the basics, and then work from there.  I’ve shared a lot of my research in the last few weeks, but not much of the progress I’m making.

Here’s a video of something I’ve been playing with….

You can see the servo in the box in the middle there, and and the blue thing (plugged in with the USB) is my Arduino. It draws it’s power from the computer for now (I need to get it set up with battery power), but the signals that control the servo are coming from the Arduino. You can also see my notes on the blue mock-up, as to how I’ve threaded each of the four legs, varying the movement. I want to try this again, exploring some more options, as the threading has a direct impact on the type of movement in each leg.

In this example, I have the Arduino controlling the servo by time intervals. I have also been playing with sensors to influence the movement, but that will come later.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s some exciting things to come, when I get some of this figured out.  The thing about electronics, is that it’s not like other media- it either works, or it doesn’t, there’s not really any inbetween. It can be really difficult to get things to do what you want, but when you do, it’s SO great!

The New Alberta Contemporaries!

The opening for The New Alberta Contemporaries was the other day at the Esker Foundation.  It was a spectacular event- they really pulled it all together in the end.  It was quite the opening, not only were there the 44 of us artists, curator, Esker staff, founder (Jim Hill) and guests, but there was a live band, and spectacular food.  I’ve never been to an opening quite like it.

As I managed to pull together an “animated” Morphoid, the other day, I brought it along to the opening.  Wearing my labcoat and passing around the Morphoid was an excellent way to start a conversation with people.  (I also love the lab coat for openings because the pockets are perfect for postcards and brochures, and so I’m not holding them all night, but have them when I need them.)  Most people were unsure about holding the Morphoid- some asked me if it would shock them or bite them or something.  It would, however, make noises, and/or vibrate when I rolled it into people’s hands.  Seeing the surprised looks on their faces was half of the fun of the evening.

I’m glad I pulled that together, although it wasn’t really planned- I wasn’t really intent on it.  The other day, I just felt like working on it, as I’ve been playing with it for a while. When it finally worked, I thought the timing couldn’t be better- it was meant to be.  And then I had no excuse not to bring it; I remember Caterina (the curator of The New Alberta Contemporaries) calling me audacious, and so, of course, I had to have the balls to bring it, and it actually worked throughout the whole evening.  Still working, actually, which I am finding quite amazing.

The construction is quite complicated- more than you would think.  And since I can’t solder (which I now realize may have been one of the reasons I decided not to major in jewellery), everything is taped together, and then sewn right into the Morphoid.  This sounds easy, but when you’re inserting a circuit and a motor into a stuffed thing, you can’t just throw it in there and expect it to work. The pressure of the stuffing on the motor was enough to cause it not to work.  I rigged up a system with an off balance motor, with a container to protect the “rotation,” and stuffed everything (all the electronic components, including the full breadboard, two battery packs, and motor contraption, sensor, and then another circuit with the sound chip) inside, and sewed it all up, trying to avoid disconnecting things, too much pressure, and lumps in the wrong places.  In the end, it worked, and it worked well.  I was pleased.

I met a few artists whose names I know from around- a few of us seem to run in the same circles, although apparently not at the same time.  I talked with a few more artists that I sort of know, and am looking forward to getting to know better.  I talked with a few artists I know pretty well, namely, the ACAD crowd, which was fun, as always.

Overall, a spectacular evening.  The only thing I would have changed if I could have, would have been to make it a public opening- it was disappointing to have to tell people who were interested in going that they couldn’t, because I didn’t have another ticket.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from the evening, but I’m sure a few will show up from friends/ the Esker.  Here is a short video  about Jim Hill’s vision for the Esker Foundation.

Stay tuned for the dissection!

Morphoid Alive!

A short video of my success today… a physically animated Morphoid!

It has two separate circuits in it, one for the sound, and one for the vibration.  Both are affected by their relationship to light.  The only thing I don’t like is the rattle, but for a first go, I’m pretty happy with it. (Now, I need to learn to solder… right now it’s all taped together on the inside!  Temporary is okay for a prototype, but if I’m going to make more, I gotta learn to solder…!)


I’m still here!

I apologize that I haven’t been as active on this blog lately, but I have a good excuse!  I have a new job!  I’m working for a local arts group, and it has been quite the learning curve!  It is a really good job for me, and seems like a great fit, but because it’s new, it’s taking me some time and energy to settle into the role. So that’s where most of my energy has been going lately.

I’m working on finding a better sense of balance.  Because the new job is working between home, the office and other places for meetings, etc, I am finding it a bit of a challenge to separate work from studio time from down time.  As a result, my studio practice has been temporarily (*I swear!*) on the back burner (which is a little strange for me).  I will pick it up again soon, but it did happen to happen at a natural time to take a bit of a break, so I don’t feel guilty about it.

And, as timing would have it, I have a show up right now. I’ve probably mentioned it before- it’s called Meet The Morphoids, in the Untitled Art Society’s +15 window in the EPCOR Centre.  The opening was last night.  It wasn’t my usual crowd that went, but I did run into some people I haven’t seen in quite a while, and it was great to talk with them, and to go have a beer.  It was a nice treat.

Anyway, let me see if I have some images of the show on this computer. This is in no way an excuse for you not to go see it. What do you think?

Just a reminder that if you work hard enough….

Recently I found this rejection letter…. from the first time I applied to ACAD in 2004. (Excuse the photo quality; the letter is a little beat up.)  Anyway, I’m sure I was really upset to receive it, but looking back, I know I just wasn’t ready at that point in time.  It’s quite funny to me now, as I worked incredibly hard during my time at ACAD, volunteering a lot, and putting a ton of effort into my work and my classes, eventually earning the Board of Governor’s Award for my department.

I take this letter as a reminder that just because someone else says no, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do something, just maybe not in that time or way.  Maybe you’re not ready for it.  Maybe someone else is more qualified.  Maybe you’re just not right for the situation.  It’s a reminder to me that I am capable of doing whatever I want to do, but will sometimes need to fill in what I don’t have or modify my approach. It really does depend how bad you want it, and what you’re willing to do or give up to get it.

And persistence is worth more than anything.