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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