Par Johanne Adam
Last spring, Master of Fine Arts student Justine Skahan spent a month in Italy taking in the very best of art. Thanks to a Stonecroft scholarship, of which she is the first uOttawa recipient, she worked at the Canada Pavilion of the Venice Biennale international art exhibition, and took an art course in Venice given by the Department of Visual Arts.
Indeed, the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa has received a major donation from the Stonecroft Foundation for the Arts in support of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program. This donation will finance a scholarship to send an MFA student to the Biennale and will also fund an annual artist lecture series in partnership with the National Gallery of Canada.
As a result, Justine travelled to Venice, the Queen of the Adriatic, to enjoy not only the city’s famous gondolas, canals, churches and museums, but also its world-famous Biennale, an international exhibition of contemporary art, which is celebrating its 56th season this year. This highly prestigious artistic gathering, which takes place in May every two years, presents contemporary works from around the world.
In Venice, Justine had the pleasure of meeting up with BGL, the contemporary art collective comprised of Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière, who represented Canada at the Biennale this year and whose huge, and humorous, artistic installations invade their exposition and public spaces. Justine was a guide during the preview week reserved for artists, curators, donors and the delegations of the 89 countries represented at the Biennale this year. Originally from Montreal, Justine helped the visitors navigate through the BGL installation, entitled Canadissimo, which occupied almost the entire Canada Pavilion and which featured, among other representations, a typical Quebecois dépanneur (convenience store). Justine explained to foreign visitors how to interpret the “topsy-turvy selection of food, lottery tickets and hardware” typically found in this type of store.
During her second week in Venice, Justine toured the city along with her classmates and two professors from the Department of Visual Arts for an intensive art course, which aimed to immerse the students in Venice’s rich medieval and Renaissance architectural and artistic heritage and to introduce them to the latest contemporary art exhibited in the other Biennale pavilions. “I think I must have seen more works of art during this week than in all my years of studying fine arts,” said Justine, who, at the end of her time in Venice, decided to take take two extra weeks to visit the museums of Rome and Florence before returning to her work in the studio of the Department of Visual Arts.
This intensive Italian experience has had a major impact on the 30-year-old artist. “All these classical and contemporary works prompted me to reassess my potential as a visual artist and to realize that artistic creation is truly limitless.”