How did you become a Research Coach? What was that process like?
I was approached by Lea Bucknell, who knew that I had an interest in casting and installation work; she was planning a project for her first-year sculpture class that incorporated both of these elements. Casting is a fairly in-depth medium, and she thought it would be beneficial to have an extra set of hands to assist the students. She also knew that I would enjoy the process of researching and experimenting leading up to teaching the class.
After Lea approached me, we submitted an application to the Research Office that outlined the project and my intended role. A few weeks later, we heard back that it had been approved.
Tell us about the project that you worked on with the class, take us through the semester step by step.
The project was called Plaster Dupes, the result being a mini-exhibition of the students’ work. The plan for VISA 1030 intended that the students learn basic mold-making techniques and create cast objects from both found molds and molds created using AljaSafe. The students were also asked to experiment with and consider what material and surface treatment best complimented their subject matter. We provided the class with plaster and cement as options, though they were not limited to these choices. The final component of the assignment was for the students to consider and create a unique display mechanism, pushing them to consider options beyond the traditional white plinth.
The first step for me as a Research Coach was to learn about the materials we were going to use in the project: AljaSafe, Plaster of Paris, cement, and a variety of found molds. I explored these materials in-depth so that I understood the potential pitfalls and benefits of each, as well as to provide examples for the students to see.
I also spent time researching artists who use cast objects and others who consider display integral to their work, collecting images to use as examples in class later on.
First, I focused on understanding AljaSafe, as it was the only material that I had never used before. I researched the nature of the material and its potential applications online, as well as having a one-on-one tutorial with Lea. The material itself is quite simple to use; however, I soon realized that ensuring the release of an object from the mold would be a potential hardship with this process. I experimented with a variety of objects—some ranging from simple, easily moldable shapes to borderline-impossible forms. This experimentation allowed me to help guide students later in the semester.
Next, I experimented with found molds, focusing mainly on Plaster of Paris as my medium but also trialling cement. This was a very rewarding process for me, as I found the ambiguity of casting the interior space of an object captivating. I tried a huge range of found molds once more, learning again that the necessity is the safe removal of the mold from the cast object. Failures also came with materials that absorbed too much water, adhering themselves to the plaster as it set. At this stage, I began researching colour additives for plaster and conducting additional experiments. I tried a range of additives, measuring and recording as I set them in a silicone ice cube tray. These coloured cubes acted as examples for the students later in our demonstrations.
Lea and I then introduced the assignment to the class, providing a presentation of artist examples and descriptions of the technical processes of casting. After this, I assisted the students during the brainstorming phase and helped them come up with ideas for objects, found molds, and creative displays.
After introducing the project, we provided the class with a demonstration on both AljaSafe and the found molds; all the objects Lea and I had cast in our experiments over the past month were brought in. I introduced and explained all the examples, highlighting the success and failures of each.
The following weeks were work periods for the students, and I assisted them as they worked through the casting processes, helping and guiding them as they operated their own experiments.
The final stage was the installation of the mini-exhibition, where I helped Lea problem solve and curate the works in the space.
What was it like to work alongside your faculty mentor? How did you collaborate?
Working with Lea was a fantastic experience. She is so knowledgeable, and I learned a lot throughout this process and am grateful for her mentorship. We met every week before her class and many weeks outside of class time too.
I provided an extra set of hands during the somewhat chaotic stages of initial casting by the class, as well as supplying additional research towards presentations.
I ran a second demonstration for students who were absent on the original demo day, allowing Lea to attend to the rest of the class while still ensuring these students got caught up.
How did the students engage with research, and did anything surprise you in the process?
The students were excitingly creative when it came to their projects; their willingness to try something new and potentially fail was great to see. The students also tried things I had not considered and used our experiments as inspiration but took things in their own direction.
How did you mobilize the students’ research?
The students’ research was realized in the mini-exhibition we installed in the sculpture studio.
What would you like others to know about the Research Coach program?
The Research Coach program was an entirely rewarding experience that allowed me valuable access to a faculty member I wouldn’t have had a one-on-one engagement with otherwise; the structure pushed me to delve deeper into subjects and topics in which I was already interested. Teaching what I learned to students ingrained this knowledge in me and gave me a lot of confidence in what I learned.
Engaging with first-years was fun! It’s thrilling to see students who are becoming excited about taking a similar path to the one you’re on. Answering their questions and being able to provide them advice about their future also felt good.
What’s next for you in research? What are you feeling curious about?
In my own practice, I am researching and experimenting with installation. For my 4th year BFA exhibition, I’m planning on a large-scale, multi-projector video installation work with sculptural components. The installation component of the Research Coach position correlated well with this curiosity, and I am excited to expand on it.
At my position at the Kamloops Art Gallery, I am currently researching how I can be more impactful with single facilitated visits to the Gallery. I’m curious about how I can make children engage with art!