Wednesday, August 5, 2020

'I was never bored because I always had the ability to create something': Reflections from Visual Artist Ada Denil

Millions of thanks to Ada Denil, past and current Talent Trust recipient, for sharing with us her memories, accomplishments, mentors and more!

Ada works in a wide variety of mediums in her practice of mainly sculpture and printmaking, which both inherently include drawing. Metal has become a central material in her work, as well as limestone more recently. 

In 2020 she was shortlisted for the NSCAD Student Art Awards, and nominated for the ISC Outstanding Student Achievement In Contemporary Sculpture Award. She is the recipient of several scholarships including the NSTT Susan Wood Award, the AJC Abraham Leventhal Memorial Scholarship, David Lanier “Big Hat, No Cattle” Sculpture Scholarship, Margo and Rowland Marshall Award for Sculpture, and the Lyell Cook Scholarship in Sculpture. She has shown work locally in Halifax, NS, at the Corridor Gallery, Argyle Fine Art and the Company House, along with participating in several student showcases at NSCAD University. 

What are your earliest memories of your art?
For as long as I can remember, my parents were actively exposing me to artists, galleries, public art and of course making art constantly. Instead of gifts like toys when I was little, I was most often given arts and craft supplies. Most importantly, my parents would both sit and make things with me a lot of the time. That's just what we did for fun; I was never bored because I always had the ability to create something. I still feel that way.

What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?
My biggest personal accomplishment was the completion of my final sculptural work last December. That work is also, I suppose, my biggest success in that it led to a nomination for the Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture award, and it has been shortlisted for the NSCAD Student Art Awards (the winner hasn't been announced yet).

The piece is a massive hand-pumped industrial heart, which (when installed) powered the "vascular system" of the NSCAD Port Campus. The main body is made of iron rods, bent to describe the form of a human heart. Industrial tarps were used to create the surface between the lines defined by the iron, and bicycle gears are used to describe the exit and entry points for the veins and arteries. The veins, plastic tubing, are the most exciting element, reaching out of the heart and weaving upward into the industrial architecture of the space (the Port campus has all these beams, and pipes/air vents, and they are all painted white, so it offered a really great backdrop for this). At the top, the handle of a barrel pump juts out, and the viewer is invited to activate the sculpture. When that pump is activated, red oil moves through the system of veins. After someone walks away, the oil will keep flowing slowly for a time, and eventually it will come to a rest until the next viewer activates it. 

It's about participation and input in our environments. These things are integral to the creation of spaces that we all want to be in, work in, and to make, share and experience art in. Spaces are only truly activated when those who inhabit them meaningfully engage with them. This piece is meant to both anchor and connect the environment (the NSCAD Port Campus in this case). The need for the work to be activated by the viewer is important, as well as the fact that if it is then left untouched it will slowly return to a static state.

In my time at NSCAD I've really pushed myself, in a positive way, to do things that I wouldn't necessarily have the means to do otherwise. It's really a fantastic opportunity, being an art student at a school with such amazing resources and experienced faculty. The idea for this work came from an intense feeling of personal momentum combined with the desire to see the NSCAD studios really activated. It's a plea and a reminder to the other students and to myself: To use this time we have and to use it well, to experiment, to get excited and creative, to push boundaries (mainly our own) and when it comes down to it: To make art. If we want our space to be more inspiring, we need to make that happen, I think we can alter the feel of the campus simply by being active within it. It's really as much a personal reflection as it is a call to action.

The title of the work, Vascular System: NSCAD Port Campus, is specific to the location it existed in, it's not a cryptic title: The meaning behind the work is "mysterious" enough. I think the simple, straightforward title allows the viewer to move on immediately to contemplate what is going on in the physical work in front of them, the sculpture itself is the focus.

There is video footage and also some still images of the installation on my website:

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years, in relation to your art?
I have many ideas, and many pursuits in mind that could play out in the next 5 years. Some of that time will be spent continuing my Fine Arts degree at NSCAD. Outside of formal education and practice, I have been and will continue to develop my home studio. Essentially my "plan" is to continue creating art. At the core of it, that's what it's about for me. I think that by fully committing to make art (i.e. be an artist) first and foremost, and by continually searching for opportunities to show work, work with community organizations and the like, that doors will open and I will be in the position to step through.

- Are there any unexpected positives that have come out of pandemic related to your art? How have you managed practicing your art during the pandemic?
Yes, actually. Since the pandemic hit I've mainly been staying out of the city, living on the South Shore of Nova Scotia with my partner Glenn. I feel very lucky to be out here, and it's been really great in a lot of ways in regard to making art. Being in a rural area I've been able to build myself a stone carving area in the driveway (and I can be as loud as I want out here). I've also recently acquired a small welding unit and am working on setting that up so I can get back to working with metal, probably also in the driveway. I do miss the ease of walking into the NSCAD studios and having all the equipment just ready to go, but It's been really great to figure out this puzzle of a home studio. Covid has essentially pushed me to prepare more fully for post-university art making, which I think is really great.

Another positive, in a way, is that the pandemic has sort of facilitated a heightened awareness (for everyone, I think) of social issues and inequalities. It's pushed me personally in the direction of activist art. It's "positive" in that people have time to really think about the issues that exist, to research and to pay attention. I think art and artists have to play a major role in this, and I am currently figuring out what that means for me personally.

Who are your mentors and how have they influenced your art/career?
There are many people within and outside the "art world" who continue to act as mentors for me in some way or another. I am extremely lucky to be the third child in a family of really creative people. My parents are both artists, with a vast amount of experience (both attended NSCAD in the 1970s, and my Dad returned to complete his MFA there in the 1990s after living in the Netherlands and attending Jan Van Eyck). They have had a huge influence on my approach to art making, each in their own unique ways. One major thing that I've learned from them from a young age is that there are many ways to be an artist. My Dad is a very talented cartographer (which is an understatement), and my Mom runs (now virtual) camp programs for youth incorporating art with technology (Artech Camps). My siblings are both creative, and strikingly different; My oldest brother works in AI and technology that I honestly don't understand, and the middle brother is a ceramics artist. Essentially I suppose I'm just trying to get the point across that my family is full of creative influence, and I was very lucky to have parents who let me decide (from a very young age) what I wanted to pursue in life. That sort of early autonomy over my life continues to influence my approach to art making.

Another keystone mentor for me is Randy Engelberg, who I have lived with since I began studying at NSCAD. Randy also attended NSCAD when my parents did, and is still living and working as an artist. Living with an established, active artist has had a great effect on my development throughout my time at school. I don't take it for granted that I am able to go home after a long day in the studio, or after class, and be able to actually discuss the nuances and details of what I have been immersed in, and have the confidence that I'm being heard and understood through common experience. On top of that, the dynamic created by our hugely varied practices/approaches, and stages of our lives, is always a source of exciting conversation.

I could probably go on for quite a while if I were to list too many more individuals, although they all deserve recognition from me. Of course, I feel it necessary to mention that many of the faculty at NSCAD have been cornerstone mentors for me. In particular; David Howard, Thierry Delva, Donnie Thompson, Steve Higgins, Ian McKinnon, Chris Woods, Charley Young, David B Smith... and surely others that are escaping my mind right now who have been no less influential. They all have, in their varying ways, acted as mentors for me. 

You can see more of Ada's work here:
Vascular System of NSCAD Port Campus (Youtube):

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Spitting rice and more: Reflections from Flutist Amelia Bruce

Flutist and Talent Trust recipient Amelia Bruce recently took time to share reflections on her music and practice with us.

Amelia is currently completing her Masters in Music Performance from McGill University and is also the recipient of the Talent Trust 2019 Raymond Simpson Award.

What are your earliest memories of your art?

I started playing the flute when I was six years old, and one of the very first memories I have is sitting in my home spitting rice across the living room haha. This was an exercise my first teacher had me do to learn to tongue and make a sound. I remember having so much fun spitting my rice day after day, and for weeks my family and I kept finding hidden grains of rice all over the floor!

Another early memory I have is at a studio recital when I was around 10 years old. I was playing a really difficult piece from memory. I remember being so nervous and thought my fingers would completely forget the piece once I got on stage. I remember it going well and feeling really proud of myself! 

What has been your greatest challenge in relation to your art? Why?

Although there are many challenges that come with being a musician and performer, one of my biggest challenges up to date is consistency in practice time. When holidays, vacations, and especially summer break roll around, I sometimes find it quite difficult to stick to my practice routine. I remember specifically after my first year of my Bachelor's degree in flute performance and coming home for the summer, I really slacked in my practice for those few months. I definitely noticed I had to work longer and harder in September once I went back to school, and since then I've tried to keep a more consistent practice routine, although I definitely still have lots of work to do! A couple of things that I find help me stick to my routine are firstly, keeping a practice journal where the night before I write out a specific practice plan for the following day, and giving myself small breaks throughout my practice for the day.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 year, in relation to your art?

In five years time, I hope to have performance opportunities including chamber and orchestra work, while keeping up with a private flute studio. I have always loved performing so I am hopeful to continue to find performance opportunities in the future. I have also always had a strong interest in teaching, as I have worked with children for many years in various ways such as nannying, music and sport. I am currently teaching private students, and I am excited to continue doing so over the next several years!

What aspect of your art/practices 'fills your cup' the most?

The aspect of my music "fills my cup" the most is giving a performance that I know was the best I could deliver in that moment. Feeling as though my hard work and practice has paid off, along with hoping I touched someone in the audience, gives me confidence, motivation and discipline to keep enjoying and improving myself as a musician!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

'Don't expect applause': Reflections from cellist and composer India Gailey

India Gailey is a cellist and composer who draws from many eras and genres to craft poetic narratives of sound. Before lockdown, she'd finished her master’s degree at McGill and begun performing solo concerts of new music across the country. She is also a member of New Hermitage, an avant-jazz ensemble that improvises the soundtrack of a post-apocalyptic world. 

She is the recipient of five Nova Scotia Talent Trust Scholarships, including the Yuh Lih and Marion Kuo Award for Instrumental Excellence (2017). 

India recently shared reflections with us on her music, memories, challenges, practicing during a pandemic and more!

What are your earliest memories of music?
I remember living art from a very young age. My mom had started learning to play the cello while she was pregnant with me, and I remember watching her practice. I did a lot of drawing and painting, wrote a lot of stories, and was very into dance and ballet. My parents listened to a pretty diverse array of music, which was great for dancing. When I was three or four, I remember making up songs… I would go into a corner of the yard and sing about dolphins or flowers or sadness in the bushes. I think it was around this time that I started to really love Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and I wanted very much to play the violin so I could play “Spring”. When I was seven, I got to start learning to play a tiny fiddle. Before I began lessons, I remember playing my own very avant-garde version of Vivaldi. I finally arrived at the cello when I was ten. The student cello my mom had been using years earlier was still around, and it was taller than I was, but I wanted to play it. My childhood friend Owen was also learning to play on a giant cello, so he gave me some tips and we played fiddle tunes on our giant cellos together.

What has been your greatest challenge in relation to your music? Why?

Interacting with some of the toxic aspects of our society. Making a living.

I think I am a late bloomer in some ways. Our society likes early bloomers. For a while I was dampened by inadequacy, continuously internalizing the message that I should have already achieved grand impressiveness by the age when I was actually just beginning. After establishing some robust workaholism, I managed to overcome that particular doubt enough to realize that music was what I wanted to do and I could actually do it. Then there was the attitude of, if you want to play a classical instrument well, you have to fit into a particular mould, train in a very particular kind of virtuosity, play the Mendelssohn Scherzo excerpt the very best, play a Haydn Concerto the very best. There is value in that, but I have never been interested in wrapping myself purely in that genre. So was that ok, how would I navigate the world? Then, the rumours are true, it is super tough to make a living as a musician, at least in the young stage I’m at. But I don’t want to just make a living, I want to make art! I am supposed to solidify myself into a product for a world where artists are often expected to give away their work for free. And at the same time, art is so much more than monetary value, so I wish I could give it away for free. But the frustration of operating in a broken system is hard.

How have you managed practicing during the pandemic?

Inspiration has operated in waves much more extreme than in before times. Sometimes I’ve wanted to practice for hours, and other times I’ve played little ditty and called it a day. I have gone through periods of feeling so utterly lost in this realm devoid of live performance that it was like, well, I might as well just be a rock. Just sit here and hibernate while the blazing sun destroys my innards. But it has also been a luxury, to actually honour whatever honesty is arising about motivation or lack-thereof, and when I catch wind of a curiosity, to have the space to explore it. That’s what I’ve been doing, just following my curiosity. Sometimes that’s meant playing drones all afternoon, other times it’s been sight-reading willy-nilly through pieces I never learned, painting with watercolours, or sitting and listening to the birds. Right now I seem to be in a more energetic phase, wanting to compose, practicing the same piece for multiple consecutive days, and working to make projects real.

What quote best describes your commitment to music?

“Don’t expect applause.”

This is one of 59 slogans written by an Indian Buddhist named Atisha who lived about a thousand years ago. It has arisen in my mind a lot. I aspire to make music that touches people and cuts through to the essence of being human. Though, being in a delicate emerging stage of career, I’ve often looked for confirmation from other people. Accolades and recognition are certainly helpful and pleasant, but there were times when, no matter how much encouraging feedback I received, I couldn’t quite believe I was good enough or offering enough. Music is the path I’ve chosen, and I feel that choice is healthy when it is made out of love, not out of a bottomless need to prove my worth or usefulness, just pure love for the music and the world. So, I think “don’t expect applause” is to abandon seeking acknowledgement, which allows so much more appreciation to arise if acknowledgement does come. And of course, this slogan has gained new layers of meaning in the era of COVID. Since March, the only time I’ve heard live applause has been at Black Lives Matter demonstrations. It was magical.

To explore India's music visit:

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Jane Archibald and Abigail Sinclair: Live from LAMP

Talent Trust recipient and emerging artist, Abigail Sinclair has spent the last few weeks studying with soprano Jane Archibald, who is also a former Talent Trust recipient, at the Lunenbury Academy of Music Performances (LAMP).

From LAMP:

Enjoy a beautiful 20-minute program featuring singers Rhian Merritt, Abigail Sinclair and Emmanuel Solomon and pianist Ian Tomaz performing works by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Gabriel Fauré, John Duke, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Paolo Tosti. To begin, just click here.

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Thursday, July 9, 2020

Becka Barker: VANS Mentorship Program

Former Talent Trust recipient, Becka Barker, is one of four VANS (Visual Arts Nova Scotia) mentors for their 2019-2020 Mentor Program.

Remote Possibilities, the 2019-2020 Mentorship Program Exhibition, runs July 8 - August 2 at the Craig Gallery, with a mentee artist talk Saturday, July 11 at 2 p.m. For more information click here.

Becka Barker won NS Talent Trust scholarships in 1999 and 2000 for Super8 and 16mm film. Her work has screened across North America and throughout several countries across East Asia. She focuses on hand processes and collaboration.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Mike Hirschbach honoured as Remarkable Canadian!

The Talent Trust would like to extend a huge congratulations to former scholarship recipient, and long time friend of the Talent Trust, Mike Hirschbach (Artist Director of Halifax Circus) who has been awarded a Meritorious Service Medal (Civil Division)

This honour, one of the highest in the country, “has been conferred upon you (Mike Hirschbach) by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, as a testament to your outstanding achievement and service to the nation.”
The citation reads: “In 2005, Mike Hirschbach started the Circus Circle outreach program, a safe space for youth affected by homelessness, street life, addiction, and mental illness. Unique to Atlantic Canada, it allows participants to experience positive and creative recreation, learn new skills, and build self-confidence, all while establishing meaningful connections and increasing resilience".
Mike told the Talent Trust that "at some time, I’ll be invited to the official ceremony where I’ll receive a medal. In the meantime, I keep thinking of all the supportive people who work beside me every day who make this recognition possible; the wonderful teachers I work with at Halifax Circus, the youth who show up every week despite set-backs in their lives to practice, rehearse, invent and create, and my friends and family who’ve been my rocks during both good and difficult times".
For more information about Halifax Circus you can visit their website. You can also learn more about their social outreach program, Circle Circus, by clicking here.
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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

O Canada Performances!!

A little something special in celebration of Canada Day! 

We hope you enjoy these performances of O Canada performed by Talent Trust recipients:


Laura Johnston bio:
Born in raised in Sydney, soprano Laura Johnston now resides in Prospect Bay. She is currently pursuing a Master of Music degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland studying with voice professor Dr. Caroline Schiller and vocal coach Eldon Murray. Laura is also studying privately with New York’s Neil Semer. Recent performances include: Soprano soloist with Chebucto Symphony Orchestra’s Messiah from Scratch, Casilda in Opera Nova Scotia’s production of The Gondoliers, and Duchess in the MUN Opera Workshop’s production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Will Todd.

Sherry Chen bio:
I began playing the piano when I was six years old. Now, I have been playing the piano for over seven years. I love playing the piano and one of my favorite parts about playing the piano is that there is so much wonderful repertoire to learn. My favorite thing to do as a pianist is performing my music. I think that every performance is an opportunity to improve and showcase my abilities as a musician. Sometimes, I work on difficult sections and passages for a long time in my practice so I have the confidence to play the best I can. As an artist, I like to play works that I connect to, even from the first time I hear it. As a pianist, I find it important not only to simply play a song but to also understand the meaning behind it is.

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Donate today!  (smile)