Work-In-Progress (i.e. #WIP) is an AGGV podcast that offers some insight from behind the scenes to curatorial and educational projects and collaborations that could be seen as open-ended or process-based — highlighting some of the experimental and exploratory work that is taking shape both inside and outside of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s physical gallery spaces.
In this episode we are joined by Canadian composer Anna Höstman to discuss the intersections between curating and composing that arose during her time collaborating with Dr. Heng Wu, Curator of Asian Art at the AGGV, on the 2022 Reverberations exhibition — an intergenerational, cross-disciplinary and cross cultural project where Höstman chose to reflect on sculptures by Elza Mayhew from the Gallery’s permanent collection.
Learn more about the #WIP Podcast at: https://anchor.fm/art-gallery-of-grea…
Learn more about Reverberations at: https://aggv.ca/exhibits/reverberations/
This podcast series is generously supported by a Canada Council for the Arts Digital Now Grant.
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is located on the traditional territory of the lək̓ʷəŋən speaking peoples, today known as the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations. We extend our gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to live and work on this territory.
Videography and editing by Marina DiMaio.Work-In-Progress (i.e. #WIP) is an AGGV podcast that offers some insight from behind the scenes to curatorial and educational projects and collaborations that could be seen as open-ended or process-based — highlighting some of the experimental and exploratory work that is taking shape both inside and outside of the Art Gallery of Greater V …
Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds
Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds
Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds
Expectation for the Audience
Expectation for the Audience
Expectation for the Audience
Opera Called Cells of Wind
Opera Called Cells of Wind
Opera Called Cells of Wind
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Heng: Welcome to Work In Progress, a podcast hosted by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria,
also known as the AGGV, where you will hear from artists,
curators, gallery staff, collaborators and even different hosts
as you listen to each episode.
This series is generously supported by a Canada Council
for the Arts Digital Now grant.
My name is Heng Wu, Curator of Asian Art at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and I’m your host for today.
This episode was recorded and produced
on the traditional lands of the lək̓ʷəŋən speaking people,
also known as the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. In this episode, we are joined by Canadian composer
Anna Höstman to discuss the intersections
between curating and composing that surfaced
when Anna first began collaborating with the AGGV
on the 2022 Reverberations exhibition. It aims to bring fresh eyes and minds
to reflect on works from the AGGV’s permanent collection
through an intergenerational,
cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural project.
Artists, makers and creators were invited to select works from our collection that
they felt a resonance to and in turn
share their own work, bringing to conversation
a diverse range of expressions.
This project is an opportunity to present
and share our collection in meaningful ways
and to create new relationships
while maintaining existing ones with folks in our community.
We hope to offer our collections as a resource,
as a means of bringing voices and interpretations
from a range of perspectives, disciplines,
and generations into the exhibition space.
So among the invited artists features Anna Höstman our guest for today.
Anna composed a musical piece titled For Elaza in response to Elza Mayhew’s bronze sculpture from our permanent collection
titled Board of Ten. Good morning Anna. Thank you for joining me. Perhaps you would like to start us off
by introducing yourself?
Anna: Good morning Heng. Thank you. I’m really happy to be here
and talking more to you about this project.
Yes. My name is Anna Höstman. I actually am from the West Coast originally.
I was born in Port Hardy and grew up in a little town
called Bella Coola on the mainland.
Recently, I’ve come back from living for ten years in Toronto
and really happy to be back
on this beautiful West Coast island
and in our city of Victoria.
Thank you for that introduction Anna. It’s so great that you’re here in Victoria. Reverberations has just recently opened at the AGGV,
and I know you’ve already had a chance to walk through the gallery spaces and see all of the work in person, but for listeners who are tuning
this podcast, and who might not be able to see the work in person, I thought we would start off by playing a one minute excerpt from your
For Elza composition. [Music with subtle sounds from voice, viola, piano, electric guitar, electronics, musical saw and cornet]
That was stunning! Thank you for allowing us to share it Anna. Perhaps you’d like to share a little bit about what it was like to experience the work
in person in the gallery. For me it was beautiful. I have let myself in that exhibition space several times after the opening, and every time, I got
such a great enjoyment. It was just beautiful: Mayhew’s sculpture was right in the middle of the room, and your music was filling the room
almost seamlessly, weaving itself between the space surrounding the sculpture. It was such a great beautiful harmony.
So I’d like to know how you felt, how did you like it?
Anna: Yes, I love it. I was there the day it opened, which was really nice and very exciting to
see everything come to fruition after so much planning
through weeks and weeks going back and forth.
And I found it a really moving exhibition. I love how it opens up into the community and invites
people to come in and give their impressions
and how it builds relationships
with artists that are outside the art gallery. Yes, I was just really touched
and honored to be a part of this project, and
I hope to go back again soon and see how,
see how things are doing.
Heng: Great, I’m so happy to hear you say that. Yeah, for the Reverberations project
you have chosen Elza Mayhew’s Board of Ten
and composed a piece for it.
So first of all, maybe could you tell us a bit
about your consideration behind this choice?
Like the AGGV holds a collection of over 20,000 pieces. So why Elza Mayhew?
Yeah, I mean it’s, it’s kind of an interesting question
because when we were first talking about this project,
you invited me to have a look at the collection and I thought,
okay, you know, I’ll sort of leaf through it
and something will jump out at me.
And I had no idea the collection was so big. And so
so I was a bit overwhelmed. And I just kept sort of circling back through different things
and in fact,
Elza Mayhew did jump out at me,
and there were a couple of reasons why.
Firstly, I really resonated with her love for the West Coast and that’s really apparent in how she talked about the West Coast
and her sculptures themselves, although a lot of them are quite large and totemic in stature.
Like, for example,
I’ve seen a couple at the university having been a student there, and I’ve walked by her Coast Spirit,
which is in front of the library
as well as Bronze Priestess. And they’re, you know, they’re very solid and
quite beautiful. It’s almost like they look over the university in a way.
But when I saw these little sculptures of hers,
I just thought, oh, these are
these are so warm and they’re so playful. And it’s almost as though they’re speaking to each other
like a little conversation, almost like a little opera.
Like you immediately start to imagine this kind of dialog
they might be having with each other.
And I found that very beautiful. So it kind of stimulated my imagination.
And I thought this
might be something that I could respond to. Heng: Yeah, that’s very interesting to know,
because the AGGV also holds some other pieces
from Elza Mayhew, which are quite big in size and yeah,
I mean, we are very interesting to hear
you talk about like why exactly this piece “Board of Ten”
I like what you have said like “they’re in conversation, dialog, they’re
talking to each other.”
It’s just like music. So yeah. Anna: Yes, it’s interesting because I guess… and I don’t know
that I was actually thinking about this ahead of time
but in creating a relationship with another work,
sometimes the work is so complete that as a musician, for instance,
as a composer, I might not be able to find a way into it. Whereas with the “Board of Ten” I suppose because
the elements of it, these figures, there’s
so much space in between them.
I felt like it was a very active, a very textural work already, and I felt that the music had a space
that could respond to it and it could be…
be ways that I could find my own voice within it. And so that was,
I think part of being drawn to this particular piece
because of course music is also created from elements
that form relationships.
And so it had a sort of connection there. Heng: I like it. You have said it in like a very beautiful way.
Like when you are talking about that I have this whole picture of “Board of Ten” in my mind
and that’s right,
like it leaves so much space for you, probably, to compose, to create. Anna: Yes, yes.
Heng: Okay, so like once you have chosen this piece,
you have decided to make music for this piece
we are curious to know, like, what are the following steps?
Could you also share with us the whole…
should I say, composing process, you have worked through to make this piece?
Anna: So I think that primarily spending time with it.
So having it in my space here.
I came to see it at the gallery and took some video of it
and so then I had a kind of visual sense of it
and had that in my space as I was writing and a kinesthetic sense of it as well
because it’s very physical
and the pieces themselves
have a kind of rougher texture on the outside.
But they are very dense. And so to me that has a kind of kinesthetic presence.
And so as I started composing, I was looking for ways to kind of build it up,
build up the composition in layers.
So I began with viola and voice and
piano, and this was primarily
because I thought these all worked together very well. The viola and the voice are very similar.
The viola is kind of a deeper and richer sounding violin.
And the voice is wordless. So it’s not superimposing
any kind of layer of narrative over it.
It’s acting as an instrument as well. And then the piano is a kind of
continuous repetition, like footsteps,
perhaps going through time. So I worked with these three primary instruments.
And then I wanted to…
because Elza, when I was reading more and research
and more about her philosophy and how she thought about things,
she talked a lot about the human experience
and her pieces as being openings into a human. Humans
entering and exiting.
I loved this idea, and I wondered how I could do that in music, more so than I was already
working with in terms of the layering.
And so what I thought I would do is invite further musicians to comment on what I had already created and recorded.
So I sent this recording around to various musicians and they just sort of improvised their own response,
their own reverberation, if you will.
And then they sent me back their recorded responses. And then I kind of
chose from this little sort of catalog of improvizations
and filled in a few gaps.
And some of them are mostly like echoes. And so they were just kind of a further layer.
So I really loved this way of opening it up to a broader community and being content with the response,
but also using that material
as a way to form another relationship in the work. So yeah, that was sort of my approach to creating the piece.
Heng: Yeah, thank you so much for sharing this working process, but I’m just like so glad to hear
you talking about your process,
which is also involving connection with people, with you, the other musicians and actually it’s really like
echoing the working process of this whole Reverberations project. Like we are connecting with different communities, different people through the whole working process.
So, I mean, I’m so glad that you point this out. Anna: Yes it was a really fun way to work
and it’s actually not a way that I have worked before.
And so this was a kind of new way of exploring composition
in this particular piece,
which came directly because of the idea of Reverberations.
So that was kind of a fun little new direction
that I had taken in this work.
Heng: It’s kind of a reverberation, right? The whole process is a reverberation. Yes.
Heng: Okay, so I’m also curious to know, like for this composition,
for this piece you have composed,
like can I say it’s more concept oriented? Like, did you already had a concept in your mind
when you were composing?
Anna: Well, I think it’s fair to say that it is kind of conceptual work,
although it’s also very much a foray into sound
and into my response to her sculpture. So it’s not a piece that I would say,
you know, I created a score as a concept,
and then it’s just a kind of performance of that score.
I think that the sounds themselves that I chose
and that I worked with and how I put the sounds together
were very much informed by the sculpture.
And that’s more on a sensory level. So perhaps it’s fair to say that in the end
I can sort of look back at it and think of it conceptually. But the music itself
was composed from a place of response to sound.
Heng: Okay, oh, that’s good to know. But can you also talk a bit like…
has your perception about Elza’s work changed? Like after your composition,
after you composed this piece? What do you think about…?
Anna: That’s an interesting question. Has my understanding of Elza changed
because of the process of writing this piece?
Yeah, absolutely. And I suppose creating an artwork
is a process of spending time considering somebody or something else, an object,
perhaps, or a person or
an experience or a place, a landscape. And so you spend time considering and
holding that object within your sights and
reflecting on it. And so that is very much
something that stays with you afterwards. So I do feel that,
you know, I really loved the experience
of being able to get to know her work,
but it’s not like I was just… it would be different
if I was just sort of reading and researching about her.
But when you create a work,
you actually feel like you’ve been very attentive
in your own way because of course, I know very little about Elza Mayhew, but I know a little bit more than I did before.
And I feel very enriched through knowing more about her. Heng: Oh, great. Thank you.
Okay, so next question. Probably it’s a layman’s question
because I don’t really know a lot about music,
but can I ask, is music narrative? Like for me, I would guess so, but I would like to hear from professionals like you.
Do you include narrative in your composition? With your composition, are you telling stories, or sending messages to the listeners or just aiming at providing some beautiful treats to their ears?
Anna: Hmm. So, tell me more about what you believe
narrative to be for you.
Heng: Yeah. Like, for me, I’m a curator in all kinds of museums. So when I’m making an exhibition, I always try to
not just put artifacts or artworks there for the audience to comprehend by themselves.
I’m always having… for each exhibition I’m making, I’m always having something to tell the audience.
There will be a big idea behind the whole curating process.
Okay, for example, the Blue and White exhibition that is still on at the gallery
I’m trying to use that exhibition
to tell a global story of blue and white porcelain.
So this narrative aspect,
is always in my curatorial thought or practice.
So I’m interested to know for your composition,
when you are composing some music,
are you trying also to have some this
storytelling aspect in your creation?
Anna: As a composer, I’m really interested in particular themes and they come back again and again in my work. And one of those is nature and landscape, but
the sort of psychological dissonance
within landscape and nature.
It’s just, there’s sometimes
disquieting aspects of our natural world.
So for example, I created a string quartet called Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds,
which is this phenomenon
that scientists discovered in Madagascar where there would be
as birds sleep at night,
these giant moths would settle on their eyes and they would insert little proboscis into their eyes
and drink their tears
and you know, like this kind of an image is very…
it’s like this kind of micro horror that goes on in nature,
but it shows also how these different elements of nature work
together to be able to survive.
And so I’m often drawn to these kind of little places of dissonance in the natural world.
And another piece that I wrote was called Skins Dissolving, and this was a site specific piece for Amplified Flute Choir.
And it was done within the Beaty Biodiversity Museum,
which is in Vancouver.
And they were having an exhibit called Skin and Bones and it was looking at our complicated relationship
with the animal world.
So I find this a really interesting place. And it often informs the kinds of pieces
that I’ll write and the kinds of material
that I’ll work with in composition. So I suppose in a way that is my own personal narrative
that then comes into my work,
into the things I’m interested in.
And so I would in that way, I would definitely say that’s where I find meaning within
my own work is through research and these types of things.
Heng: Okay, yeah. That’s interesting to know. Yeah, like because I’m… Okay my next question… maybe it’s also related to the previous one.
But like in the museum field
when we are making exhibitions or developing programs
audience is always in the center of our minds. So I’m also curious to know,
do you have a target audience in your mind
when you are composing? Or should I say, like,
is it more like you are telling something
and sending a message to the audience
or is it more about expressing yourself in your music?
Anna: I guess in a way I feel that if I am interested in something,
other people might be interested in it as well,
and I don’t target things
to specific audiences. So I suppose it’s more that I allow myself to
follow my interests
in what I want to compose and audiences are very…
I feel that audiences are very intelligent
and well sort of educated and
if they don’t like the music, they might still be interested
in the idea behind the music. Or if they do like the music,
then that’s wonderful.
But like, I’m not trying to write something
that people would specifically like, so to speak.
So I think in that way there’s a kind of freedom to write in a direction
that I feel is interesting from for myself.
Yeah, if that makes sense? Heng: Yeah it does, because like, I think I totally agree, like
even for us, when we are making exhibitions,
we’re not trying to really to just think,
to see something that people really want. But, I guess still there are some serious knowledge on scholarship aspects associated with the exhibitions.
So yeah, I think what we… Okay, I’m speaking from the museum field,
from the curating side,
like what we are trying to do is just try to provide, should I say, provide the facilities for the audience to best enjoy or appreciate
the final work, either
the exhibition or the presentation of the works of art.
So yeah, I totally agree with you what you have just said. Oh yes.
But then I also want to know
specifically for this time’s composition
what is your expectation for the, again, audience? What is your exact expectation for the audience
who comes to the gallery
to listen to your music while viewing the Board of Ten? Do you have any expectations for them
or do you totally leave it open to them to…?
Anna: Well, I love that it is in the Lab [Gallery] because I think it’s a beautiful space
and it is very evocative.
The color is very evocative within that space. I love how you come up the little walkway
and then you can peer into the room to the clear glass.
And you look at this, in a certain way, it almost reminds me of a chess game or something, you know? Like is it a game?
You know, it kind of has that sort of quality,
that game, like quality. And then I hope that people will come in and engage
and with the sculptures and try to
feel what they’re feeling when they see them. And as they’re hearing the music.
And that it’ll be an experience that is unique for them,
that they might not be able to connect anything else that they’ve ever seen or heard before.
Or maybe they will make connections with something. I hope that they’ll discover more of Elza’s work as a result.
Yeah, just enjoy it. Heng: Yeah that’s very… Yeah, speaking of that,
because this piece and your music
is presented in our Lab [Gallery]…
We called it a lab like a small exhibition space. But we did have
to take off the vinyl on the gate. So like you said, when the audience came to stand outside of the gallery
they can see through the clear glass door to see the piece. Yes. This is a way we have made to invite the audience in.
Anna: Yes, it’s very nice. It’s like this little box that you’re looking into, like a
little theater or something,
and you’re just peering through into the theater
Heng: Okay, so how do you think about this collaboration with the AGGV?
Do you think, through this collaboration… how should I say… Do you think this collaboration with the AGGV this time will impose any influence
on your future composition practice? Anna: Oh. My goodness [laughter]. Do you mean will it influence the next pieces that I write, in some sort of way?
Heng: Yeah, I mean, like basically… normally you are working on this… like music is like an art for the ear, right?
But this time you are collaborating with the Art Gallery
and you are more into this visual side.
So I would guess, like you probably all also have work included in this visual aspect in your work
when you are composing.
So I’m just curious to know,
would this type of work have any influence or any…
anything in your future composition practice? Anna: Well, I’d definitely love to work again with visual art in some way.
I created an orchestra piece based on Emily Carr’s paintings. Four of Emily Carr’s paintings: Spring, Pine Trees and Blue Sky.
Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky, and Untitled (Seascape). The last two are from 1935.
And I loved that process as well. It was very similar where I was just trying to kind of
resonate with the work and then come up
with a kind of musical corollary or relationship
or just explore my feelings in having those paintings
and seeing those paintings and experiencing those paintings.
And so that piece and this, this process are sort of similar and it would be interesting
to go forward and work that way again. I find it very enriching.
And it also… Every time something new is brought into the composition
process, it changes you.
It changes sort of, you know, it asks questions, it creates a little challenge,
it creates a little problem.
And your process is finding the answer to that challenge
or that problem
And so you develop a new set of skills to try to kind of
solve that and create something meaningful. So yeah, I look forward to pieces that kind of are like that.
That kind of create that set of relationships
that ask new questions, basically.
Heng: Right. Thank you. So then… So what works have you been working on recently?
I think our audience would probably want to know more about your compositions.
Anna: Sure. Yeah. So one piece that I’m really excited about is…
this has been a piece
I’ve been working on for several years, actually, all through COVID,
it is an opera called Cells of Wind
And this is finally coming to its workshop stage this July in Toronto.
It’s just an hour long piece,
but it’s based on a theater artist
by the name of Lena Constante,
who was a Romanian theater artist. And she lived in the 20th century as well.
She was unfortunately confined to prison because she went through some puppet trials of Stalin.
she hadn’t done anything wrong, but she still knew somebody who was on the wrong side of the political community.
And so she was confined to prison
and was in solitary confinement for nearly a decade.
And so I created this opera with FAWN Chamber Collective,
which is an experimental opera group in Toronto.
It’s for six instrumentalists and eight singers. And talking about a piece that sort of stimulates…
that creates a problem
and then stimulates you to do a new kind of form of,
I guess, score, in this case, the whole score is graphically notated,
so there’s no actual specific pitches.
But I used this idea of her as a theater artist
and her delight in creating set design and in creating tapestries.
And so the score basically is a grid and then across it are all of these different sort
of visual designs that come out of her tapestry work.
And so that will be a really neat project
to kind of hear eventually and see how it sounds.
Heng: Yeah, we look forward to it. Anna: Yeah. So that’s… I’m just working on parts for that right
now, it’s taking a very long time.
Yeah, exactly. Heng: Okay. I think I also want to hear from you like… before you joined… before you…
Oh sorry… before this collaboration did you know a lot about the AGGV?
Like what is your idea, should I say, about the AGGV?
Anna: Yeah, I mean, I have had a growing
I suppose interest in the AGGV in the last little while
because of this project.
And I really, I had visited there a couple of times. Okay.
Well I had been there to see the Emily Carr collection and then a few exhibits that came through that
I thought were really interesting.
But in the last… of course
I’ve only been back in Victoria for the last three and a half years
and not much was happening because of COVID 19.
And so I haven’t really been there at all.
But yeah, I’m really excited by this exhibit and also by the podcast and by different community endeavors
that the AGGV seems to be involved with. So yeah, I think it’s really exciting.
Heng: Thank you. For those who want to learn more about Anna’s work,
head over to annahostman.net
And for more information on the AGGV’s Reverberations exhibition, please visit aggv.ca. Thank you all for listening.
Thank you Anna. Bye.
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