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Victoria Verge - Where Are You From?

Location: King's Point, NL
ArtsNL Program Funded Under: Professional Project Grants Program
Amount Funded: $4,000

Victoria Verge studio space

 

Project Dates: May 15, 2015 to December 31, 2016
Artist Website:
http://www.victoriaverge.weebly.com
Artist E-mail:
vjverge@telus.net

Inspired by her own past, mixed media visual artist Victoria Verge has embarked on a new project that centres on the lives of modern day military families – but more specifically the children. She grew up living the experience so often shared by many young members of a military family on the move. Her intention is for this new collection of work to highlight often overlooked stories, and how little control military children have over their own life – being born into transience, forced to adapt and adjust on a regular basis to new places, people, and routines.

This feeds directly into the titular question Verge poses with her new developing work; “Where are you from?” becomes an increasingly difficult question to respond to as time goes on – complicated by a growing list of past postings that often change for these families every two to three years, with some even being international.

Despite the nomadic lifestyle, continually uprooting and settling in isn’t the only factor that affects the lives of children in military families. Depending on the posting, children often live fearing for their deployed parent or parents safety (or life), and they are forever faced with establishing new friendships with their peers in each new place.

Detail of a ship in a painting

Detail of a ship in a piece in progress.


That connection will form the basis for Verge’s project as she has endeavoured to search for, find, and reconnect with a variety of her childhood friends using social media. She plans to have each one plot out the places that their own family was moved to over the course of their youth. Verge will then use each uniquely plotted map as the foundation for an individual art piece. The person’s portrait and story will be visually represented in each finished piece. As a collection, the series will shed light on shared experiences and draw connections between them, while highlighting the work of modern Canadian Forces members.

Aside from her own lived experiences, Verge received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus, which she completed in December 2015. Her body of work to this point has expressed war related themes in a historical context; combining what is often historical and nostalgic imagery with her own modern military experience, causing juxtaposition that pulls the imagery out of nostalgia, contemporizing it.

Her past work has already been included in a number of exhibitions in the province, at the Art Mur Gallery in Montreal, and internationally in the United Kingdom. She conducts her professional practice from her studio in King’s Point, and in our latest feature we checked in to see how the pieces are developing for Where Are You From?

Q and A with Victoria Verge...

ArtsNL: Can you share a little more about your own childhood experience in a military family?

Victoria: Well, I was born in Calgary and at the time my Dad was still a Private making his way up the ranks and my Mom was a new mom in a new city. They were both “fresh off the rock” and it was with that diligent and wholesome “Newfie” sensibility that I was raised - even though I didn’t actually move to the province until my late teens. I had four more moves after Calgary, which really isn’t a lot in comparison to other military families, but it still felt like we were always on the road. Especially considering that every summer, no matter where we were living in Canada, we’d pack up and drive to Newfoundland; years that we lived in Alberta made for a 56-hour car ride, with me and my sister in the backseat. To this day I have no idea how my parents did it!

For the most part though I really enjoyed the lifestyle, it was always hard to leave friends behind but it brought me and my family closer together. What was much worse than leaving school friends however, was watching a parent leave - the feeling of a loved one going away and not knowing how or when or if they’ll come back is the worse feeling in the world. Quite honestly, it’s what most of my artwork stems from.

ArtsNL: When you started to seek out past contacts you had as a child, how did that process unfold?

Victoria: I really went into this process not knowing what to expect, I was hoping that with social media the search would be easier; which it was, but I learned quickly that just because you send a message doesn’t mean you’ll get an answer. I attempted to contact about fifteen old friends that I found and only about half of those got back to me.

Detail of a truck in a painting

Detail of a truck in a piece in progress.


ArtsNL: Once you explained the project to those you did manage to reconnect with, what were their reactions? How many are involved so far and how many do you hope to have in the final collection?

Victoria: I received so much support from those who did get back to me, it was definitely one of the highlights of this project. Not only did I get the chance to reconnect with people from my past, I also had the opportunity to get them involved in my life again, even if it is just for a short period of time.

The half dozen original participants I did have actually helped me a lot in extending the project. Originally, I planned to do between ten and twelve paintings. So after only receiving about seven active participants I started asking those people if they could get me into contact with some of their old military friends which worked really well. This makes the participants only partially from my past but it adds an extra layer of connection showing how tight knit the military community can be. I’ll be finishing the project with ten active participants but I am hoping to keep adding to the collection in the future.

ArtsNL: Looking at your past work, there is a lot of mixed media – what ones do you work with the most, and what are your most or least favourite ones to utilize?

Victoria: My goal with any piece that I’m working on is to do my idea justice, whether that’s through painting or collage, clay or metal work, or a combination of materials. I always start with an idea and go from there, my materials don’t choose my subject matter, the subject matter decides the material.

However, I do tend to gravitate towards painting and most of my pieces do have a painted aspect, like the portraits in this project. But, two-dimensional work doesn't always feel finished to me so sometimes I’ll attach found objects to my paintings or work them into a large installation piece. For me the more layers I can add to a piece the better!

ArtsNL: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as you have developed this body of work and how have you overcome them?

Victoria: I’m going to be honest and say that my biggest challenge so far has been time management. I wanted to have all of these paintings finished within the eight month time period I gave myself but I soon came to realize that when you’re not in university time can get away from you and work; family and relationships sometimes have to come first. But with each old friend or new contact that messaged, I managed to keep on track and keep my goals in mind for this project.  It’s this community of people that really kept me going, it’s not only my story that I want to put out there, but our story. 

Victoria Verge painting in progress

A piece in progress.


ArtsNL: Where is this body of work ultimately destined for, and how will people be able to see or interact with it?

Victoria: Ultimately the goal is to exhibit these pieces in a gallery here in the province at first. I was looking into places like The Rogue Gallery at Eastern Edge in St. John’s and the Rotary Arts Centre in Corner Brook. But, I’d love to exhibit this collection along with a few other past pieces in a solo exhibition nationally some day. It would mean so much to me to have the story of military children on display in a national gallery maybe in Ottawa one day!

ArtsNL: Why do you think this body of work will be important and what statement or story do you hope will come to light the most?

Victoria: I think the lifestyle that military children experience is important to bring to the foreground. While the stories of veterans are ones of great importance I feel as though there are those of us who have been born into this world and have a completely unique story that has yet to be told. Not only is our story one of hellos and goodbyes, but one of fear, loss, longing, excitement, adventure and pride. These are common denominators that unite us as a community but are also feelings that the general public can relate to. I feel that everyone can hear these stories, see these portraits, and relate on some level to our lifestyle.

ArtsNL: Given the Honour 100 celebrations this year, have other groups or organizations become aware of your project – if so what have their reactions been and have any partnerships formed?

Victoria: Unfortunately no, not yet anyway. I think that given my secluded location and the fact that I am such a recent graduate has really kept me under the radar until now. But I would love to have the opportunity to work more closely with larger organizations to tell similar stories through my art.

ArtsNL: Aside from your own thesis or message behind the work, do you think this collection has an educational value attached to it and if so what can it teach students (or even adults)?

Victoria: I think the added educational message behind this work would be that there is always another story, and that it’s worth looking at things (in this case war) through the eyes of more than just one group of people because sometimes the most truthful insights can come from where you would least expect them.

ArtsNL: How does creating your artwork help you work through your own experiences? And, how does it further your abilities and understandings as a professional artist, as well?

Florian profile photo

Traces of War by Victoria Verge


Victoria: Making art, especially art of this nature has helped me understand that my life experiences are actually worth talking about. They may not be unique to me, but they express the lives and concerns of so many people like me. Also, without this passion and ability to make art I don't think that I would know as much as I do about my father’s career. We have gotten into so many conversations that I feel I never would have had if it wasn't for my art practice. It has not only done that but also helped me understand myself; I really get the chance with my art to analyze my feelings, both past and present, about my upbringing and how that shaped the adult I am today.

ArtsNL: Can you talk about some of your previous work – a piece or two you particularly like because of its meaning or the creative process attached to it?

Victoria: Wow, that’s not an easy task; there are so many pieces I like for different reasons. I’d have to say one of my favourite pieces is Traces of War. This piece consists of a large piece of canvas with John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” written on it in Morse code which I then shot 100 times and then left in a trench, in the ocean, and in the air for several days at a time. This piece really focused on my frustration towards war, how the First World War was said to be the war to end all wars. It’s my representation of how little progress we have made, how war is never really over and how it’s always been one of our biggest struggles. The making of this piece also gave me a brief look into my Dad’s world, he brought me out to the shooting range for this piece and it was my first time ever firing a gun. Needless to say after 100 rounds my arm was sore but it was definitely worth the experience with my Dad.

ArtsNL: What other projects have you considered or have planned for the future? Do you anticipate exploring subject areas outside military/war?

Victoria: Right now I’m really focusing on doing this project justice and finishing up with time to find a space to exhibit in the summer. I’m hoping to get accepted to do my MFA this fall so my focus is also on that right now. And, as for exploring new subject areas, I am definitely open to that. I’m actually extremely interested in oddities and antiques, and the Victorian art of collecting (cabinets of curiosities) which is something I focused on in my final year of my BFA. In a way I think it ties into my military work, everything I do has a slight sense of nostalgia, I like to think that I’m collecting and documenting memories and experiences.

A second Victoria Verge painting with a portrait

Another of the pieces in progress.


ArtsNL: How does the ArtsNL funding from the Professional Projects Grants Program help?

Victoria: The funding from the Professional Projects Grants Program actually helped me so much, I really don’t think this project would be more than a note in my sketchbook right now if it wasn’t for the grant!

With the funding I was not only able to buy the supplies I needed to do this but I was also given the reassurance that this was a project worth doing and that really gave me the jump start I needed to focus on this piece and get to where it is right now. It is quickly becoming a reality and with just a few more finishing touches it will hopefully be something that other people can also experience.

ArtsNL: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Victoria: Thank you so much for taking the time to tell my story.