UBC IS A PIONEER in teaching across disciplines. Its focus on integration is epitomized today by the fusion of teaching and learning in digital media arts, visual arts, code-based art, social science and the humanities.
Mixing those disciplines, the Bachelor of Media Studies (BMS) program at UBC Okanagan gives students the opportunity to combine artistic, technical and analytical skills to understand new media and the impact of technology in society.
“This multidisciplinary degree trains students to be leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship,” says instructor Miles Thorogood, who’s helped design a program involving the creative arts, including design and visual arts, and media studies, with courses that have elements of computer science through creative code development.
“Students are able to work on projects where we find intersections between visual arts and computer science knowledge, which is unique to what the BMS program has to offer,” he says.
“Another thing we do is gauge students’ interest in the different roles needed in a creative team, in a collaborative environment.”
During their academic experience, students have the opportunity to experiment with ideas and technologies in a team-based environment. Student training allows them to contribute to innovative digital-media design and work with industry partners such as BC-based Bardel Entertainment Industries and Kinematic Soup, as well as Kelowna Museums.
— Miles Thorogood (@MilesThorogood) March 29, 2018
Collaborations come in increasingly new and varied forms. For example, Kinematic Soup approached Thorogood to find a student who was able to understand the visual language of storytelling, along with sound-design skills, and scripting languages and coding. The work required programming camera movements and fly-throughs in 3-D video game environments.
“Students are able to work on projects where we find intersections between visual arts and computer science knowledge, which is unique to what the BMS program has to offer.”
UBCO students have also worked with the Kelowna heritage museums in designing and developing engaging interactive museum exhibits. They created a large multi-touch surface that allowed museum visitors to explore different map views of geography and culture in the Okanagan. Students programmed the code, built the display unit, and created the graphic design for the different mapping layers.
“Our students have the opportunity to develop a portfolio of skills and experiences to become creative, articulate, culturally informed, and critically reflective people,” Thorogood says.
“Working in collaborative teams on innovative, socially and economically relevant projects provides this great opportunity.”
Lark Spartin has had a passion for filmmaking and video editing since a young age, growing up in California.
North of the border, spending her formative years in West Kelowna, Spartin was pleased to discover that UBC Okanagan’s Bachelor of Media Studies program combined both visual arts and computer science.
“Before the program, I had my mind set that I wasn’t going to like the computer aspect,” she says. But after a few classes, the fun and creative facets with computers really clicked.
Spartin has worked on numerous creative projects, including building a virtual etch-a-sketch and a generative visual-art piece using computer algorithms.
“It’s great to be in a visual arts class and know what’s going on underneath the hood.”
Interested in the technical aspects of filmmaking, she has added a documentary film course to her slate of undergraduate studies. The “Digital Documentary Production” course is focused on the writing and structure of a film. Combined with her BMS courses, Lark is more comfortable using her skills with editing and animation to add production value to various projects.
“It’s great to be in a visual arts class and know what’s going on underneath the hood.”
Throughout history, Indigenous people have been depicted as savage or primitive. Romanticized notions portray them as being “one with nature.”
UBC Okanagan Professor Stephen Foster says these kinds of misrepresentations are not just North American, they reflect an eerie worldwide stereotype.
Foster is an accomplished video and electronic media artist of mixed Haida and European background. At UBCO, he focuses his research and visual work in areas of electronic media, themes of indigenous representations, past or future, and notions of simultaneity and transformation.
“I am interested in the underlying motivations of how we make presumptions or look at the world,” he says. “We often see images and take them for granted—we don’t think about the context behind the images of Indigenous representations.”
That context is at the core of Foster’s artistic practise and research in themes of Indigenous representations.
Foster organizes the Summer Indigenous Art Intensive, a month-long residency that gathers artists, curators, writers and scholars to engage in contemporary ideas and discourse—a place for new ideas rooted in Indigenous art-making.
“We often see images and take them for granted—we don’t think about the context behind the images of indigenous representations.”
In the 2016 summer intensive, Foster met visiting artist David Garneau, who invited him, graduate student Jon Corbett (Métis descent), alumnus Jordan Bennett (Mi’kmaq, MFA 2015) and others rooted in Aboriginal-based knowledge, into the project “Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound”—now on exhibit in New York.
“Transformer” is the work of 10 artists who use light, digital projection, installation and experimental media to draw viewers into a world of traditional and nontraditional indigenous experience, spanning and combining ancient artifacts and in-the-moment new media.
Foster’s installation in the exhibition, Raven Brings the Light, imitates shadow play that an adult might perform for a child on a camping trip with hands and a flashlight.
The piece references the Haida story of Raven, who brings daylight to his dark world by transforming himself into a boy and tricking his grandfather to release the light.
“The use of a high-tech tent embodies this idea that in modern society we do not experience the world directly,” he says.
“We see it through a mediated experience, we see it through our technology, or other means. When you are in the tent, you are in darkness, when you are out of the tent you come into the light.
PhD student Jon Corbett is a professional computer programmer and sessional instructor specializing in new media art.
His video work, Four Generations (2015), is also featured in the “Transformer” exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
His work focuses on bridging computational art with Indigenous ways of knowing.
By bringing in Métis cultural concepts of time, place, ancestral knowledge and relationships to oral histories, he’s creating digital and virtual Indigenous spaces with underlying computer code.
Four Generations is a slow, spiralling motion installation using computer-generated pixels to create “beaded” images of Corbett’s family and community members. A video still taken from his work was also used on Smithsonian banners and museum tickets.
“It is somewhat of a surreal experience,” he says, “not just to be included, but to have my work so prominently displayed on much of the exhibition’s promotion material—especially seeing my grandmother gazing majestically over the streets of Manhattan is a powerful, spectacular image. It’s emotional to me because it symbolizes the greatness of her life and her heritage—not necessarily a reflection of my artistic ability.”
Corbett adds that he’s both humbled and pride-filled to know that he is an active participant in one of the world’s greatest centre for modern and contemporary art.
“To be identified as an artist that is breaking new ground in digital media art—not just as an artist, but as an Indigenous artist—is very special to me.”
Corbett completed his MFA at UBC Okanagan in 2015. As a doctoral student in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies, he is co-supervised by professors Stephen Foster (visual arts) and Christine Schreyer (anthropology). His previous work has been exhibited in Italy, Bulgaria, Croatia and Japan, and in numerous Canadian exhibitions.
Currently he’s working on a project called Wisak, an “Indigenous digital media toolkit” that unites Cree language and First Nations cultural components with natural-language-oriented computer programming concepts. Wisak will be a human-computer interface model that gives Indigenous artists a greater opportunity to bring together traditional Indigenous art forms and media technologies.
“Seeing my grandmother gazing majestically over the streets of Manhattan is a powerful, spectacular image.”
The first tool you need to take part in UBC Okanagan’s newest design space is imagination.
Borrowing principles from community-based maker spaces, the UBCO Maker Space is part learning, part prototyping and part fabrication. It is designed to support everything from new ideas to creating models using high-tech resources such as 3-D printing with low-tech materials, like duct tape and glue, to help encourage creative thinking.
But, according to Susan Crichton, Director of the Faculty of Education, the space is more than just the tools located within its four walls.
“UBC Okanagan’s Maker Space is created to offer the UBC Community an opportunity to pursue creative solutions to address the challenges of our time,” says Crichton.
“Innovation is arguably the single most critical factor for our future, and a research-intensive university like UBC must support creativity and imagination amongst its members—our students, staff and faculty.”
“Innovation is arguably the single most critical factor for our future.”
The Maker Space provides access to many tools and technologies including hand tools, printers, CNC hotwire cutter, multi-axial CNC rotors and other modelling/simulation tools. Since it opened in December 2017, students have explored ideas such as creating better night visibility for bike riding with a wearable body pack that signals direction change, and creating toys that improve attention spans for children.
The Faculty of Education, School of Engineering, Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, and Okanagan College’s Women in Trades collaborated with the support of UBC Okanagan to design the trans-disciplinary space that is open to everyone and anyone with an idea to explore.