Integration of Research and Teaching

Denise Kenney

As an educator Kenney has been very successful in integrating her research and teaching.   While it might be common for students to co-author papers in academia, in Performance it is rare that undergraduate students (or even graduate students) have the opportunity to work alongside their professors or professionals in the creation of a new work.  In Creative Writing or Visual Arts this would be tantamount to co-authoring a short film, sculpture or installation.  The process requires extensive negotiation and mentorship, but the benefits to the students are many.  Not only do these projects build students’ professional portfolios for future career opportunities, but through collaborative creation with professors and professionals, valuable experiential learning regarding form, content, and methodology occurs.  Kenney’s research projects have also provided extra-curricular learning opportunities for students in the form of workshops, funding for projects, and work-study.


The SSHRC funded Eco-Art Incubator project,  for which Denise Kenney is a co-investigator alongside Nancy Holmes, has provided funding and national and international educational and professional opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students.  The Eco Art Incubator is a structure meant to re-configure artistic practice through identification of the Okanagan region’s unique resources and its geographical location, generating a regionally unique art-making structure in a peripheral centre.  It is designed so that students see themselves at the “centre” of important artistic research, a place where they are intimately involved in current and innovative theory and practice even though physically they are in a peripheral region.  This initiative includes The Recyclopedia, an open source digital archive of eco art projects that can be shared, recycled, and re-used for future projects, furthering the connection between artists, place, and past and ongoing projects.

Like The Eco Art Incubator, Inner Fish Performance Co., a not-for-profit society established by Denise Kenney and Neil Cadger in 2010, is also dedicated to offering funding and national and international educational and professional opportunities for emerging interdisciplinary students. It was created so that students could create work and apply for funding under the auspices of an already established not-for-profit organization.


Under the auspices of The Eco Art Incubator or Inner Fish Performance Co., the following projects have employed students as Graduate Research Assistants, Undergraduate Research Assistants, or Work Study Employees.


Vivarium 1:Scar Sites was a project designed to influence the kind of public art projects being proposed by local artists and commissioned by the City of Kelowna.  A four-day workshop was created to generate public art proposals for Knox Mountain, a beloved (and contested) iconic site in the city of Kelowna.  The City of Kelowna, interested in hearing proposals for the site, co-sponsored the event and fifteen local artists, including one undergraduate student and six graduate students were selected for their interest in making eco art in the Okanagan.   These artists and students were invited to take part in a four-day practicum in eco-art with curator Beth Caruthers, culminating in collaborative projects that are created in response to Knox Mountain park, a specific site in Kelowna.  June, 2012.


The short digital film Bee Line celebrates the bee as an important entity within the miraculously-interdependent world we live in.  Women and girls of all ages (worker bees are only female), including six undergraduate and six graduate students, were invited to learn about the process by which bees dance “maps” to locate nectar, pollen, water and tree resin and to represent this information in a physical performance of some kind.  It was an invitation to return to the ancient practice of mimesis, and the community engagement during the creation of the film was as much the product of the work as the resulting film itself.  This project was funded through the Eco Art Incubator (SSHRC), the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, Media Centre, UBC O.


MFA Graduate student Gabriel Newman’s thesis project Social Potluck combines theatre, storytelling, community-building, community art and community food action in one performance project.  The incubator and Kenney’s theatre company Inner Fish Performance Co., in collaboration with Key City Theatre and Mandala Centre for change produced this project in Port Townsend, Washington, November, 2012.  Previous explorations of Newman’s model focused the project on communities in the Okanagan and took place over months. The Port Townsend project provided the opportunity to: test the feasibility of compacting Social Potluck into a ten day period; examine the effect of adding a second performer (Kenney) to the project; explore the integration of media into the work; and focus on a completely different community to see if the project can work outside of the community in which it was created.


Three undergraduate students and two graduate students collaborated with colleague Neil Cadger and Denise Kenney to create and perform Green Space, the story of a man, a woman, and a house, told by six people and 150 two-by-fours.  It was an interactive performance work in which the characters literally colonize the space with help from the audience and eventually build themselves into a box.  Green Space is a continuation of Inner Fish Performance Co.’s investigation of Dick and Jane, a restless urban couple struggling with their relentless need for greener grass. The story is told in an open space and the audience is free to move throughout the experience.  The piece is a hybrid of installation/performance art and traditional theatre staging.  It was performed in 2012 at the Canoe Festival, Edmonton, and Kelowna Art Gallery.


Five graduate students and one undergraduate student collaborated on the short live performance and culminating film Chainsaw Ballet that combined 80’s style music video with chainsaw choreography to satirize our nostalgic relationship to logging and the mythology of our dominance over nature.  The film has been screened at Vertigo Gallery and Vernon Art Gallery, Vernon, Mammoth Lakes, California (Seven Summits Award Winner), Minstrel Café, Kelowna, and in August, 2012, at SPANE, Toronto Islands.  This project was funded through a Hampton Research Grant, The Canada Council, and the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, UBC Okanagan.


Currently one GRA and one URA are assisting Kenney for the documentary film New Monaco, a film designed to act as poetic witness to the five-year transformation of 125 acres of rural Okanagan land into an innovative mixed-use community.  Through time-lapse photography, interviews, and the long-term archiving of events, this documentary follows a real estate development process from its groundbreaking beginnings through the first stages of its realization.  This project is funded through SSHRC, the Okanagan Sustainability Institute and The New Monaco Enterprise Corporation.


Currently two GRA’s and one URA are working on The Okanagan Aesthetic Project, a valley-wide art project designed to facilitate grass-roots visions and local knowledge and to explore ideas about beauty, place and appropriateness of design and development in the Okanagan Valley.  The research question of the Okanagan Aesthetics Project is:  “Can artists, in collaboration with industry and community partners, identify an Okanagan aesthetic and can this aesthetic be articulated powerfully enough for such a vision to drive sustainable and environmentally sensitive development?”   A series of artist-run interactive installations provoking and soliciting creative community feedback are being established at various locations throughout the Okanagan.


Turf the Turf is a project designed to bring attention to our neighborhoods, but more specifically to our built environments and their relationship to nature (our yards).  With matching funds and project management from the Eco Art Incubator, the City of Kelowna commissioned sound artist and recent MFA Graduate Maggie Shirley to develop a public bike tour of creative front yards. MP3 sound files featuring gardener and homeowner interviews, music, soundscapes, and engaging questions and clues can be played at each stop on the route. The tour functions both as one-off facilitated group tours and as a permanent tour, documented through a brochure with a map of the route, information and downloadable sound files.  Front yards are zones that are both public and private. By encouraging individuals to use these spaces in new ways, Turf the Turf promotes a culture that values front yard gardens as a progressive solution for food production and public engagement.


The Soundcan Project was collaboratively created by Professors Kenney, Cadger and Creative Writing Professor M.V. Smith to experiment with indoor and outdoor public spaces as performance venues for live art.  The intention was to interrupt habit and challenge traditional and sanctioned cultural exchanges.  In May and June of 2011, six public interventions in Europe were created, performed and recorded for a documentary film depicting public intervention practices and their goals and outcomes.  These included performances in Utrecht, Gent, Bielefeld and Berlin.
 One Graduate Student and two undergraduate students participated in the tour.  The group first performed Instant Artifacts at the opening reception at the Performance Studies International Conference in Utrecht.  They also performed a number of street interventions in Utrecht itself, the most successful happening in a courtyard (Neude Janskerkhof) beside St Martin’s Cathedral.  In Gent, Belgium they created and performed a number of interventions with Craig Weston from The Primitives and Koekoek, a street theatre group Weston created within the infrastructure of the social-cultural centre De Vieze Gasten.  In Bielefeld, Germany, site-specific installations were created and perfomred in Theater Labor’s large theatre complex as part of their Junge Triebe festival.  In Berlin the group performed in Gorlitzer Park where they were filmed by documentarian Volker Meyer-Dabisch as part of a documentary about the old East German railway terminus turned park.  Additonal Kelowna performances at the Summerhill Winery Fertility Festival involved an additional graduate student and undergraduate student.


IGS Interdisciplinary Workshop, taught by Denise Kenney, is an interdisciplinary studio course with a focus on collaboration and the creative translation and integration of disparate inspirational sources to produce a hybrid work. In 2012, the course culminated in an eco art participatory hammock installation Three Sheets to the Wind, a work that invited participants to share what it means to be connected in an oscillating ecosystem. Three Sheets to the Wind was supported by Kenney’s SSHRC funded Eco Art Incubator project which helped to finance its presentation at the 2012 ALECC (Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada) Conference.  Kenney also invited (and helped finance) two of the three students to present their work with her at the 2012 Module Dance Symposium:  Ethics in Aesthetics- For an Ecology of the Arts of Both Environment and Body, held in Tilberg, Netherlands.  The presentation generated a great deal of interest in FCCS at the conference and presenters and participants were impressed that this project was generated from within a graduate course and that students from such disparate disciplines were able to work together at a graduate level.