VISA 101 “BFA Studio Practice”

The following is a new course I developed for a team-taught first year cohort course.  Other faculty, namely Dana Claxton, Marina Roy and Barbara Zeigler, collaborated on their contributions.

Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory  – VISA 101:  BFA Studio Practice

Introduction to a broad range of contemporary studio practice, based on faculty members’ specializations. Intended for 1styear BFA VISA students.

This course introduces specialized BFA majors to the material, theoretical, and practical issues in Art and image making by way of developing an art practice.  Professional art practitioners will educate and describe their process of creating a practice and focus on current research interests, and ability to draw upon art historical, philosophical, political, materials, and other areas of interest to the execution of an artwork.  Topic will range greatly towards the unit investigations presented by various strategies based on the faculty team.

VISA 101 is a team-taught course which will be broken up into an introduction and three shorter “mini-courses,” each of which will address the specialties of four different faculty members teaching three weeks each.  Faculty members will introduce their personal methodology, approach, selection of materials, and philosophy that informs their artistic practice.  The course will be conducted in various forms, including assignments and critiques of artworks, research, writing, discussions, studio workshops, lectures, field trips, etc…  Students are also encouraged to go beyond the classroom, and take advantage of UBC’s Visiting Artist talks, as well as talks and events in the Vancouver art community. This class is exclusively for BFA students.

Christine D’Onofrio
Marina Roy
Barbara Zeigler
Dana Claxton

VISA 101 is an introductory studio survey course where students will learn, discuss and investigate fundamental formal, material and aesthetic concepts of art making towards an art practice.  The objectives of the class are:

  • Engage in process-oriented approach to studio arts.
  • Explore a variety of techniques and mediums.
  • Open avenues of creative thought and execution beyond pre-conceived ideas.
  • Investigate a variety of methodologies to creation of an art practice.
  • Develop means to employ critical thinking and problem solving skills towards diverse topics.
  • Develop awareness to visual, verbal, and written visual communication.

A considerable amount of work, inside and outside of class time is required to complete the assignments.  You are expected to put in a lot of practice time and further research in order to become comfortable with the concepts.  Live inquisitively!


Week 1:       Introduction to the course, the program, the faculty, and tour of the facilities.
                         Review Syllabus & Student Introductions.
                         Orientation & Safety Demonstration of the Studios

UNIT 1 – Barbara Zeigler:  Concepts in Contemporary Print Media

This three-week session will provide students with a brief overview of the evolution of printmaking from the historical to the contemporary. Students will be shown traditional 2D lithographic, relief, intaglio and screen prints, as well as contemporary approaches to these media that also include digital printing and 3D applications. The interface of digital imaging, photography and print media will be discussed, as will artist’s books and works employing printed matter. Students will complete a studio project through which the printmaking concepts of the monotype and the multiple will be explored. At the completion of this three-week module, their work will be exhibited on the display panels within the Print Media Research Centre.

Week 2:

1.     Introduction: (1) Illustrated PowerPoint, Historical to the Contemporary Print Practice; and (2) sample prints from the AHVA Permanent Collection shown and discussed.

2.     Orientation to the printmaking facility: (1) tour of the printmaking shop; and
(2) selected safety equipment and procedures explained.

Project / Monotypes and Multiples:  (1) project theme discussed and descriptive handout distributed; (2) out-of-class reading assignment clarified; (3) supplies required explained and supply packs distributed.
Demonstration: How to begin.
Work Period: Project begun in class.
Homework: (1) complete plate construction as required; (2) cut and prepare stencils; and  (3) read assigned reading.

Week 3:

3.     Discussion:  1) the out-of class reading; and (2) example artist’s books and printed matter works shown.

4.     Demonstration: Printing:  1) how to begin (i.e., inking your plate and the use of stencils); (2) soaking and blotting paper; (3) registration and multiple plate printing procedures; (4) drying prints; and (5) clean up.

Work Period.    
Homework: (1) complete required prints and bring to next class for critique. 
* Please Note: Until you are familiar with the facility, printing is allowed only during the hours that the technician is present in the shop (i.e., M-F 9 to 5).

Week 4:

/ Curation:  1) signing, titling, numbering, and cleaning prints.
Work Period: (1) complete print curation.
Group Critique of your completed prints.
Prints submitted for assessment.

UNIT 2 – Christine D’Onofrio:  Words as Image
Over the past century, modern and contemporary art have addressed and used text as a formal property or use in artwork. Text represented a fundamental conceptual shift in art practice, wherein the production, motives and intent of works may be seen to be in part, or wholly founded upon a linguistic basis. Literary and artistic movements of the past century used text and printed word to convey meaning through graphic and pictorial poetry.  Soon enough, appropriated and typographic performative, linguistic processes, experimentation and abstraction, as well as absurd and anti-aestheticism tactics relocated text to a material, visual, form.

This unit uncovers how meaning is created and understood through the organization of language and the transference of signs through words as image. 

You will be introduced to the idea of word as image in a lecture that goes through an Art Historical review of text in art over the last century to contemporary practices.  Artists presented in the lecture include; Joseph Kosuth, Mel Bochner, Robert Smithson, Sophie Calle, Carolee Schneemann, Susan Hiller, Xu Bing, Glenn Ligon, Richard Prince, Kay Rosen, Nathalie Melikian, Fiona Banner, Raymond Pettibon, Tauba Auerbach, Ken Lum, Steven Shearer, Claire Fontaine, etc…

A mixed media project will be assigned on the first day, and due on Week 7 for in class critique.

Week 5:

Lecture:  Word/Image
Discuss Reading:  Drucker, Joanna  Figuring the Word:  The Art of the Written Image

Assign:  Literary Terms – Visual Project

Week 6:

Gallery Trip

Week 7:

Presentation & Critique of Language Works

UNIT 3 –  Dana Claxton:  Micro-Introduction to Performance

This micro introduction to performance art will provide the students with an overview of performance art beginnings and locate the practice within ideas of the socio-political body. This performance unit will introduce students to body art, action based practices and how artists have implicated the body as an instrument to become art itself through media, dance and text. Performance art, as a genre within the production of art, is open and feral, diverse and unpredictable. The class will view significant works from the 1960’s to current practioneers and locate the practice within ideas of self, society and world making.

Week 8:

Lecture:  On Performance Art
Discuss Readings:  Guillermo Gómez-Peña In defense of performance art
Amelia Jones Body Art Performing the Subject  Chapter One
Assign:  In-Class Performances for next week

Week 9:

In-Class performances

Week 10:

Reflection on Performances from last week

UNIT 4 –  Marina Roy:  Animation as transformative process and optical illusion
This section of the course will focus on the use of different media to create an animation sequence.  Using drawing, painting, collaging and bricolaging materials (e.g. cut paper and printed matter, found everyday materials, objects and plasticine), you will manipulate materials, capturing them a camera, scanner, or computer, to give the impression of material, formal, and spatial transformation across time.

Additive and subtractive approaches to media will be explored. The digital scanner, camera and simple digital software can be used to bring the elements into animation mode.
Production of a narrative arc is not necessarily the object of this project, but the idea of material or formal transformation. The final product will be experimental rather than conventional in terms of animation style.

Inspiration will come from a number of historical and contemporary animators, which we will watch in class and at home. You will also find inspiration for the project in a reading by Elizabeth Grosz titled “Deleuze, Bergson, and the Concept of Life.” The concept for your animation must somehow relate to the reading.

Week 11:

Watch animations and attend animation workshop (demonstration of techniques);
Homework: reading Elizabeth Grosz Deleuze, Bergson, and the Concept of Life.

Week 12:

Discussion of reading; work in groups on a number of processes.
Homework: work on your animation

Week 13:

Presentation of short animations in class

You are able to use the mezzanine studio area, on the second floor of Somerset building, as a common area to work on your projects beyond class time.  You may also use the large studio, Room 107 or Room 200, when there are no classes being held.  The building itself closes at 9pm.  Be careful not to disobey the work alone policies, and be sure you are always in good company when you are working.  Be careful about leaving your work in these common spaces, as we cannot guarantee that they will be safe, many people have access to these areas.  Although you are able to use these areas, you must abide by the rules set up to these areas, and you must also keep these areas clean and tidy, be careful not to ruin or stain the floors or alter the areas in a way that cannot be returned to its original state right after you use it.  Also, there is NO SPRAY PAINT to be used indoor, whatsoever, in any of the buildings.  As a general note, you should also be safe with the use of spray paint and only use it in a very well ventilated area, or outside.  Finally, the objective of this course is to think beyond conventional materials, this is strongly encouraged.  However, be aware and take responsibility of how those materials are handled, set-up, put away, and disposed of.  Some materials that are simply not allowed by institutional regulations are:  noxious or toxic substances, ecologically difficult to dispose of substances, living animals, fish or bugs, materials subject to mold, no fire, explosives, or open flame, no uninspected electrical devices, or any other substances that may pose a danger to anyone else.  All substances used in projects that are safe must be labeled, and disposed of properly. If altered devices are to be used, the technician, Kevin Murphy, or Christine must inspect them.  If materials that can become hazardous are to be used, (i.e. meat, milk, bread etc) then they must be set up for critique, documented through photographs or video, and then taken down after critique. You may send you documentation to Christine and your Teaching Assistant.  Finally, vandalism or any altering to University buildings or property is strictly prohibited.

Each instructor will assign and grade his or her own assignments, readings, critiques and in-class assessments.  The grades earned for each component will be collated across instructors for a final grade for the course. As a general guideline, we will monitor comprehension and applications of methodologies used in completing assignments as well as level of challenges the student undertakes.  There will be an evaluation of the assignments on the basis of quality, originality, appropriateness, presentation, creativity, attention to subject matter and credibility as an artist.  As well, formal aesthetics such as composition, framing, technical proficiency, and adequate use of materials and their implications will be assessed. Specific project evaluations: 

  • 20% Technical Proficiency
  • 20% Meeting of Project Goals & Overall Success
  • 30% Presentation, Formal Delivery & Craftsmanship
    •30% Conceptual Framework, Risk-Taking, Originality & Creativity

Participation considers the activity of the student during critiques and conversations, reading discussions, respectful attitude towards other’s in the class, active engagement in the class work, individual progress and response to challenges put forth by the instructor. Each instructor will have further details of specific project requirements concerned with focus, method, and individual breakdown. This will be described per unit, in class.

Unit  #1 Print                           20%
Unit  #2 Text                            20%
Unit  #3 Performance           20%
Unit  #4 Animation                20%
Gallery Review                        10%
Participation                              10%
TOTAL                                         100%

All assignments are due at the start of the studio class for the week.  Assignments will be accepted up to fourbusiness days after the due date with a letter grade deduction for each day, unless the instructor has granted an extension or a Doctor’s note is supplied.  This means that an A+ work handed in 3 days late will be downgraded to a B+. You may hand in the assignment in the faculty member’s mailbox in Lasserre 403, but be sure to have an official date stamped on it or it will be dated the date it is picked up.  Furthermore, not participating in a critique is detrimental to your critique grade, as well as your own personal growth and education.  Even if you do not have something to show you are expected to join in critiques.  If you must miss a class, I suggest you speak with your lab leader or lecturer in advance and ask someone what you have missed. Students with more than 3 unexcused absences are subject to a 3% deduction of their final grade per absence thereafter.  Being an hour (or more) late may be considered an absence. In general, this class is intensive and it is not wise to miss it at all.  There is not an on-line replacement for the lectures or demos. If there are emergency or extenuating circumstances, please go to student services with a doctor’s note to officially document the situation.  Academic advising is a useful tool the University has set up to deal with special circumstances.  Do not be afraid to use it in any capacity, from stress management, to special cases etc.


90-100%= A+
85-89% = A
80-84% = A-
76-79% = B+
72-75% = B
68-71% = B-
64-67% = C+
60-63% = C
55-59% = C-
50-54% = D
0-49%    = F

Distinguished work
Original thinking, superior grasp of subject matter
Evidence of extensive knowledge base
Evidence of critical capacity and analytic ability
Reasonable understanding of relevant issues
Familiarity with subject matter, competent performance
Understanding of the subject, and solve simple problems
Not seriously faulty, but lacking style and vigor
Acceptable but uninspired work
Adequate work
Inadequate work for credit value (Fail)

If you must miss a class, you must approach the instructor in advance to set up other arrangements for what you will miss.  If you miss a class, you are responsible to find out what you have missed.  Students with more than 3unexcused absences are subject to a 3% deduction on their final grade per absence thereafter. Being more than an hour late to class results in an absence.  Three late days also results in an absence.  If a student has missed more than 50% of lab time, it will be considered as 50% of the material as not covered and be subject to failing the course.  In general, it is not wise to miss or be late for this class, as it is particularly intensive for for in-class learning and collegiality, therefore you should make every effort not to miss it at all.  If there are emergency or extenuating circumstances, please go to student services with a doctor’s note to officially document the situation. For various needs or situations, I advise that you go toAcademic Advising. Arts Advising is a useful tool the University has set up to deal with special circumstances.

Art making is a complex and often controversial practice that covers a range of topics from various perspectives. The classroom is a place for the open discussion of ideas and issues. The points of view expressed by the instructor represent a professional perspective on art historical or contemporary issues. If at any time you wish to discuss an issue, please feel free to contact your instructor.

University of British Columbia has many resources available online as per their Academic Integrity guidelines.  You can complete an interactive online tutorial here: