Whether he’s designing an app for an augmented reality project or creating a “hugging robot,” Andrei Feheregyhazi’s curiosity takes his artistic practice to new and exciting places.
“My curiosity about exploring what is possible with a new art form always overcomes my fears about pursuing it,” said Feheregyhazi (BFA’03, MFA’17). “Fears like ‘I’ve never done anything like this before,’ ‘I’ll be starting at square one again,’ and ‘this seems really hard’ always fall like dominoes before the mighty force of ‘I wonder what would happen if I did this?’ ”
Feheregyhazi, a Saskatoon artist who studied in the Department of Art and Art History in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), has been praised for his recent work that fuses art and science.
Earlier this year, he developed a room-scale augmented reality installation at Saskatoon’s PAVED Arts gallery. Augmented reality digitally enhances the real world—Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters are examples—and Feheregyhazi wanted to incorporate the technology into his art. As a result, his PAVED Arts creations enabled viewers to walk through animated 3D spaces and immerse themselves in his work in new and interesting ways.
To promote his project, Feheregyhazi created colourful artwork on hand-printed cards. To augment the cards, viewers downloaded the BrellaBot AR app—which Feheregyhazi also created—from Apple’s app store or the Google Play store. Once the app was downloaded and started, a smartphone camera pointed at the front of the cards brought a tree image to life in 3D.
For Feheregyhazi, who previously worked in animation, film, painting, sculpture and drawing, augmented reality presented new challenges. He admits he “didn’t know the first thing about creating an app, or even programming” when he began. He also worried that even if he did figure it out, “what if the work was just no good?”
“But, there was that ever-present voice in my head: ‘Imagine what would be possible if it does work,’ ” he said.
Feheregyhazi was surprised to find out how easy it was to learn the basics of creating an app to implement augmented reality.
“There are some very smart people making things easier, so artists like myself can focus on actually creating art,” he said. “On top of that, augmented reality utilized all the different skills I had acquired over two decades of constantly trying new things and merged them into a single art form with so many possibilities. It’s as if I was training to create work with augmented reality the whole time.”
In addition to themes of technology, Feheregyhazi’s art addresses the individual, solitude, exploration and place. For example, a past show he created, centred on a pedal-powered hugging robot, touched on many of these concepts.
Feheregyhazi credits his USask education with feeding his curiosity; in the College of Arts and Science, classes such as philosophy, religious studies and political studies gave him an opportunity to explore different viewpoints and new ways of thinking.
“When I wanted to build the Hugomatic—a hugging robot— (USask) provided a robotics club that I could join and learn new things outside of my curriculum and artistic practice. Certain professors in the art department constantly encouraged and pushed my explorative tendencies during both my undergrad and my master’s (degrees),” he said.
“There were even a couple of professors who let me make documentaries instead of writing essays—which turned out to be a lot more work. I would say there’s a good chance that without (USask), I would be more risk averse and, as a result, much less curious.”
If you’re a fan of Feheregyhazi’s artwork, there’s good news: You can now wear it. Feheregyhazi has designed prints and T-shirts under the BrellaBot name and has plans to create a broader range of augmented reality clothing and prints in the future. He also wants to bring his augmented reality artwork to the public sphere through pieces such as murals.
“I love transforming space, and augmented reality offers a nondestructive way to drastically change a city, office, library or any number of spaces … I’m excited to see what is possible,” he said. “Also, since it’s in the public, everyone who moves past it can’t help but see it. I like the idea of having the art meet people in their space, rather than expecting people to go to the art’s space. I believe art is a public service and should be accessible to the public.”
Like Feheregyhazi, renowned artist Ruth Cuthand (BFA’83, MFA’92) is another USask graduate whose creativity is encouraging people to look at things in new ways.
Cuthand uses her work to explore social, environmental and historical issues such as contaminated water and living conditions on First Nations, disease, colonialism, and relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Cuthand, who was born in 1954 in Prince Albert, Sask., and is of Plains Cree, Scottish and Irish ancestry, decided to become an artist at the age of eight when she met artist Gerald Tailfeathers. Her first art materials included the 18-inch squares of orange paper that were thrown out in the processing of the Polaroid chest X-rays that she and other students received during routine tuberculosis screenings.
Over the decades that have followed, Cuthand has built up a large body of work in a wide variety of media, including drawing, painting, photography, sculpture and video. In 2013, she was awarded a Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Award. In 2016, she was recognized as one of the College of Arts and Science’s Alumni of Influence.
While Cuthand has received much acclaim at home and internationally—for instance, her art was the focus of an exhibition at Remai Modern earlier this year—it wasn’t always easy for her to focus on her artwork and to find time for herself.
“For me it was a really long road,” she said. “I was a single mom with two kids … I had to work and try and make art and raise a family at the same time, so a lot of the work was slow.”
Cuthand changed mediums throughout her career as she tried to figure out a way for art to fit into her life. Now that her children are adults, she feels her art career has “really regenerated.” Remai Modern, for example, has described Cuthand as “one of Saskatchewan’s leading artists.”
“It’s given me time to do things like bead, which is time consuming,” said Cuthand, who is known for creating intricate beaded images of disease, such as small pox, cholera and tuberculosis, which reference colonization and trading, and their impact on Indigenous people.
Cuthand, who lives in Saskatoon, is now inspiring future artists on the USask campus, where she is an artist-in-residence as part of a new University of Saskatchewan Art Galleries program. She has been introducing students, alumni, faculty, staff and others to beading through informal drop-in lessons in various USask buildings for more than a year.
USask alumna Joi T. Arcand (BFA’06) is one of Cuthand’s many fans, describing her as a contemporary artist who has “paved the way for people like me to come up.”
Arcand, who was raised on Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in central Saskatchewan, has been lauded for her diverse artwork that celebrates Indigenous cultures and challenges the way language is privileged.
In 2018, Arcand served as artist-in-residence at Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatoon. It was a big year for her, as she was also a finalist for the prestigious Sobey Art Award—considered to be Canada’s preeminent contemporary art prize.
When asked why her work resonates with viewers, Arcand said “that’s always a hard question to answer, because I make work based on what I’m interested in.
“So when other people are affected by it or inspired by it, I’m always surprised. You make your art for an audience, but it does come from a personal place. So when it’s received positively it’s always a nice feeling,” she said.
“I think, particularly in recent years, my work has gained attention because people are now willing to talk about certain things regarding Indigenous cultural revitalization. I think it’s also a bit of timing, more support for Indigenous artists and luck—but also perseverance, not giving up.”
Arcand said all of her work comes from personal histories or narratives “that are intrinsically linked to my identity.” Her 2019 solo exhibition at USask’s College Art Gallery 2, titled she used to want to be a ballerina, exemplified that; Cree syllabics, neon signs, music by Buffy Sainte-Marie, images of dance and art zines were featured in the show, which Arcand referred to as a celebration of Indigenous girlhood.
“It feels really great to be showing on campus, and it does feel like a full circle,” said Arcand, who currently lives in Ottawa. “It always feels good to show the work at home, because that’s where I come from and where I draw all of my inspiration from.”
USask alumnus Zachari Logan (BFA’05, MFA’09) is currently based out of Regina, Sask., but, like Cuthand and Arcand, his work has been seen and admired by viewers well beyond Saskatchewan’s borders.
During the summer of 2019, for example, his art was exhibited in Italy, and he has a fall show coming up in Atlanta, Ga. Logan attracted international attention almost immediately upon completing his master’s degree; in fact, his MFA work went from the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery on the USask campus to a gallery in Paris, France. That turn of events was “unforeseeable,” said Logan, who didn’t envision having such an interesting artistic life when he was younger.
“I always said, ‘I want to be an artist.’ But what that entailed or what that meant I wasn’t fully aware of,” said Logan. “I just knew that I liked to draw, for example. There was no plan. I had no idea that this would sort of be part of my life as an artist, showing internationally the way that I have.”
Since graduating from USask, Logan has maintained a studio practice focused on drawing, painting, ceramics and installation. His work can be found in public and private collections throughout the world, including Remai Modern, National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario and Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art (NYC), among others. In 2015, he was named one of the College of Arts and Science’s Alumni of Influence.
Logan’s earlier work explored historical tropes of accepted maleness and challenged ideals of masculine representation by using his own body as a catalyst. Although he has moved from nude self-portraiture to more landscape-based work, his body is always present in his creations as he explores ideas of place and memory.
“The idea of land or representations of landscape cannot be separated from body, so I’m interested in the notion that land is body; there is no way to separate the two,” he said. “As beings on this planet, we are not above other species; we are one of billions of species, and our supremacy is constructed.”
In the fall of 2018, Logan’s representations of nature and transcendence were on view at USask’s College Art Galleries, where his work was shown alongside that of acclaimed New York painter Ross Bleckner. While the artists’ styles differ esthetically, there are grounding qualities in their work, such as a focus on flora and fauna and on conceptual issues of life and love, death and decay, visibility and invisibility, and sexuality and selfhood.
Logan, who described having his work showcased at his alma mater as “a huge honour,” acknowledges that being an artist is “a bit of a courageous act.” For example, he said, there is a “general misunderstanding and lack of funding in many areas of the arts.” Still, Logan is up to the challenge of expressing himself through art, and he’s inspiring others while he’s doing it.
“Curiosity is one of the main ingredients of a fertile artistic mind,” he said.