York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts has a new dean. Shawn Brixey, a highly-regarded educator, administrator, artist and researcher, took up his appointment July 1 following an extensive national and international search.
Brixey brings to his new position an outstanding record of academic leadership and partnership development in interdisciplinary arts and media technologies, and a strong professional profile as a creative artist and innovator working at the intersection of art, science and technology.
Brixey came to York from the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, where he was associate professor of Digital Arts and Experimental Media. He held UW’s distinguished arts award, the Floyd and Dolores Jones Endowed Chair in the Arts, from 2009 to 2013. Prior to that, he headed UW’s groundbreaking Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS), which he co-founded.
At DXARTS Brixey led the development of the Center’s strategic vision, research and educational mission, spearheaded the creation of pioneering interdisciplinary BFA and PhD programs, and helmed the Center for Advanced Research Technology in the Arts and Humanities, a campus-wide, project-based creative technology research centre embedded in DXARTS.
Prior to UW, Brixey served as founding director of the Berkeley Center for New Media and founding chair of the Digital Media Program at the University of California – Berkeley, where he was also engaged in the multi-campus Digital Arts Research Network. He previously held appointments at San Francisco State University, University of Kentucky and University of Michigan.
Brixey sees the wide-ranging interests, forward thinking and entrepreneurial spirit that inform his own work mirrored at York.
“I’m both delighted and excited to join York as dean of Fine Arts, to support and advance the extraordinary enterprise this Faculty is engaged in,” he said. “As North America’s second-largest research university-based arts school, our possibilities are boundless. Our stellar faculty, our exceptionally diverse and talented student body, and the breadth, depth and excellence of our programs offer us unparalleled opportunities to pioneer new forms of creative expression, artistic research and cultural invention at the nexus of the arts, media, performance and design.”
“York’s Faculty of Fine Arts is at a transformational moment,” Brixey said. “We’re uniquely positioned to build an innovative new vision for the arts – one that synthesizes the traditional scholarly and disciplinary rigour of established forms with bold new creative propositions that nurture interdisciplinary daring, collaborative research, hybridization, innovation and sustainability for the 21st century”.
As an artist, Brixey is best known for his trailblazing, complex experimental media artworks that synthesize physics, astronomy, cosmology, biology and advanced computing. He holds a BFA in interactive sculpture and experimental media from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MSVisS in advanced visual studies (design, architecture, media science and engineering) from the Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his boundary-pushing art reflects the convergence of all these disciplines.
Alchymeia, a nanotechnology and bioengineering public artwork for the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, used naturally occurring steroids from the bodily fluids of Olympic athletes to stimulate the growth of spectacular, multi-coloured ice crystals in whose atomic architecture human biological material was physically embodied.
Chimera Obscura, commissioned for the world premiere of the touring exhibition Genesis | Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics, examined issues of genomic research through the creation of a massive online multi-user data-driven organism. The electronic trail of virtual information genes left by online visitors, remotely piloting a tele-robot through an elaborate real-world maze in a museum created from a human thumbprint, generated a mutable internal map constructed of hybrid virtual and real spaces.
Eon, a telepresence project using text-to-speech synthesis, harnesses sonoluminescence – the conversion of sound in liquid into light – to create a form of material poetry from the interaction of matter and energy. Participants send short, tweet-like poetic emails to an exhibition site, where they are converted into voice-encoded ultrasound to produce a tiny, brilliant light source: “a star in a jar” that radiates words as light. Specially designed headphones allow museum visitors to listen directly to the “starlight”, hearing their own original words or the voices of virtual visitors from around the world, while Internet visitors can experience live-streamed video of the same phenomenon.
Brixey’s current project is Radiant Arc, an interactive environmental art installation for the University of Alaska Museum of the North and the 2014 Arctic Winter Games in Fairbanks. The work entails the cloning of ancient ice-core samples taken from North American glaciers that are rapidly disappearing due to global climate change. The resulting ice crystal clones will form a constantly shifting, brilliantly coloured, three-dimensional luminous arc along the museum’s exterior façade. Designed as a kind of poetic time-machine, Radiant Arc extracts fragile moments from the earth’s prehistoric past, and dynamically re/creates them in the present.
Brixey has exhibited his art, design, performance and media technology works around the world. He also publishes in these areas and lectures widely on emerging issues relating to contemporary arts, culture, media technology and higher education.
Brixey is an executive member of the Sensorium: Digital Arts and Technology Research centre in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York and creative director of the Seattle-based Center for New Cinema. He has served as chair of the New and Virtual Media Directorate for the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, and currently sits on the International Scientific Advisory Board for GRAND (Graphics, Animation and New Media), a National Research Council of Canada Network Centre of Excellence.
York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts is a premier centre for education and research in the visual, performing and digital arts. The Faculty offers hands-on professional training integrated with academic studies in all the fine arts disciplines: dance, design, digital media, film, music, theatre and visual art/art history. Undergraduate and graduate degree programs encompass emerging and established practices in all of these art forms, and the synergies between them. At all levels of study, students work in superb facilities with professional artists, researchers and scholars who are leaders in their fields. Alumni of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts are forging career success in all areas of the creative economy, locally, nationally and internationally.
Amy Stewart, Communications, Faculty of Fine Arts, York University
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