ABOVE: Steven Nunoda, Amnesia Cases, installation view, The Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art 2002, Edmonton Art Gallery.
Cliff Eyland: MAZE is an exhibition that features new tenure-track and one recently tenured faculty. For people who don't know, could you tell us what "tenure-track" and "tenure" mean, and could you tell us about how you became a tenure-track professor?
Steven Nunoda: Well, "tenure" means that a professor has a permanent position. "Tenure- track" means that I have a probationary appointment -- I have to prove to the administration that I'm worthy, so to speak -- that I'm able do the job of teaching, researching and serving the university.
Cliff Eyland: Do you identify primarily as an "artist" or as a "professor" or both?
Steven Nunoda: Short answer: Yes. I am an artist and/or a professor.
Cliff Eyland: Can you tell us about how you became a professor? As a young artist did you think that you'd become an art professor?
Steven Nunoda: The process went sort of like this, I studied, got a BFA from the University of Western Ontario, and an MFA from the University of Calgary. After that it's like the directions to Carnegie Hall: Practice, practice, practice. I taught and worked in Calgary for more than ten years while applying for positions all over the place -- finally getting one here in 2006.I've actually wanted to be an art professor since I was an undergraduate. I realized that if I wanted to do work that was not particularly commercial, I'd need a second vocation to support my art. My university instructors were excellent role models for this, and working as a teaching assistant and a technician at the U of C really confirmed that being an art professor was what I wanted to do. I guess you could say this is my dream job.
Cliff Eyland: What is it like to be an art professor in Winnipeg?
Steven Nunoda: It's a great place work. This is a cultural community with a long history and plenty of activity and a city with many resources at hand. Being at the university makes it easy to get information about what's going on. There's a lot of interest in and acceptance of the arts here.
Cliff Eyland: Art professors teach, serve on administrative committees and do research. Their research -- that is, their art -- is part of their job, but research always competes with committee work and teaching. How do you reconcile all that?
Steven Nunoda: Difficult question: I feel I haven't found the perfect balance yet. Teaching and service make a lot of demands on my time and creative energy. I have to carefully set aside certain times to be in the studio. I've also had to become accustomed to working on projects which I can shelve and pick up later. On the up side, there are definite benefits to professorship -- the recognition of the importance of your research and the availability of institutional resources that can help you get your work done. The best part is teaching -- I find that working with my students gives me fresh ideas and perspectives.
Cliff Eyland: How is your art related to what you teach?
Steven Nunoda: There's a direct relation. I see my work as problem posing and problem solving. Like most artists I work to balance expression, form, craft, material and meaning. This is a lot like what I teach in Foundations, introducing students to the basics of design, visualization and concept development. I'm a technical generalist and I often have to acquire new techniques to suit the ideas I'm dealing with. I think that gives me an insight into what my students experience.
Cliff Eyland: What happens or will happen if your art leads you away from what you teach?
Steven Nunoda: I really can't see that happening. There aren't many preoccupations that can be placed in an exhibition that can't be framed in the classroom. With first year students, the more they are exposed to, the more choices in art open up to them.
Cliff Eyland: Can you talk about your art and your own history as an artist?
Steven Nunoda: I see my work as a series of long-term, thematically interrelated conceptual projects. These projects produce suites of works that explore different models of presentation. Although I generally work in sculpture and installation, the work is physically and aesthetically diverse and it acquires form to suit the subject. I may use nearly any medium; from woodcarving to found-objects, from oil painting to digital imaging, from text to time-based strategies. My current projects deal with questions of culture, visuality, memory and family life through intimate dioramas and video projections on constructions. I also seem to be moving towards more formal work.
I've been working and exhibiting since I was an undergraduate, mostly locally. I received an emerging artist's grant from the Canada Council in 1998. My work has been included in a range of juried and group exhibitions, including Canadian Neo-Dada at the Art Gallery of Windsor, Ontario, curated by Robert McKaskell in 2000 and the 2002 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art curated by Catherine Crowston and Diana Sherlock. My solo exhibitions include Mercator's Projection of the Mind at the Stride Gallery in 1997, and in 2001, Invisible Waterfall at the Nickle Arts Museum, University of Calgary, curated by Christine Sowiak.
Cliff Eyland: Can you talk about your art in this exhibition?
Steven Nunoda: The Amnesia Cases is an ongoing suite of small, numbered cases containing objects, images texts and dioramas. They are displayed as elements of installations in a number of arrangements, often with other artifacts. Most recently they have been exhibited with two large shipping crates that act as storage units during exhibition and include tables and chairs -- sort of a show-in-a-box. The cases are opened in rotation during the exhibition.
The cases started in 1995 with a database of seventy-five titles and anecdotes that became a card catalogue of the project and its cases. This set of cross-referenced cards is a kind of evolving record of my interests, and it contains all of the possible subjects in the project. To date there are nineteen crates, eighteen of which will appear in Maze.
A database is type of artificial memory, or mnemonic system: it has the illusion of exhaustiveness, but contains gaps where there is missing or forgotten information. These gaps are spaces for the viewer's creative act. The entire project is a matrix for interpretation that casts the spectator as a detective who reconstructs a chain of events according to his or her own experience and imagination and the evidence given. The evidence is made up of obscure places, missing or enigmatic objects and partial texts. I suppose it really is a sort of a maze.
Gallery One One One, School of Art, Main Floor, FitzGerald Building, University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus, Winnipeg, MB, CANADA R3T 2N2TEL:204 474-9322 FAX:474-7605