Location | Paris: Meet Field School Faculty Member Nancy Duff

Meet Nancy! Working away on the Documenta itinerary while enjoying a few drinks in Kassel, Germany
(photo courtesy: Kyubo Yun)
Tell us a little about yourself—your teaching areas and interests and/or your background and how you became connected to the Paris field school?

I have wide ranging art interests and expertise, and my teaching reflects this.  I teach all levels of Drawing, Painting and 3rd and 4th year Open Studio, together with 2nd and 3rd year Cultural Theory and a variety of other 3rd year studio seminars, including Subversive Art, Public Art – and coming to a classroom near you soon:  tada – The Graphic Novel: Sequential Storytelling with Critical Content.  Currently serving as Chair of the Fine Arts Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, my goal is to contribute to making our BFA program rigorous, unique, and highly desirable – with an excellent national and international reputation.

What was unique or memorable about experiencing Paris with a group of students already interested in and/or practicing art making?

Nancy poses at the moveable feast for Kyubo in a contemporary
update to the barmaid in Manet's infamous A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1882)
(photo courtesy: Kyubo Yun)
Experiencing anything in a group is like seeing through insect eyes that have multiple facets.  Watching students respond to art that they have only seen in reproductions, watching them experience a new cultural environment, and helping them operationalize a disciplined approach to reflecting on these experiences visually and in writing has been most enjoyable.  I, too, had a unique experience seeing the world through their eyes, especially as we sat together drawing. A very memorable experience was the moveable feast, for which we had divided the students into 3 groups, given them money to buy food for appetizers, main course and desserts. Seeing how they worked together to shop, prepare, present and host the meal and coming as guests with wine pairings, was loads of fun.  Bed runners had been converted to table décor, cots had been turned into sofas; the food presentation was highly aesthetic and also delicious!

How did you see students connecting what they were learning about the art and history of Paris during the time of the Impressionists with their writing and studio projects?

In the instructional half of the course that was based at Kwantlen, the students produced very interesting and well-conceived and executed projects in relation to aspects of Art Historical Modernity that they were learning about.  They installed two exhibitions in the Kwantlen Art Gallery and the Arbutus Gallery, both of which garnered much positive response from the Kwantlen community. For the Field School half of the course, without studios or facilities, the students were asked daily to respond in writing and visually to specific questions based on our itinerary.  Of course, these sketchbooks were very experimental forms, and much more reactive than analytical, reflecting the being-in-the-moment of the experience.

Nancy planned and organized  two exhibitions at Kwantlen Polytechnic University of student art work
based on the combined themes of the two field school courses prior to our departure to Paris
(photo courtesy: Dorothy Barenscott)
Which of the activities during the trip stand out to you? Any special highlights or memorable moments for you?

On our first day in Paris, Dorothy and the students colluded in a crazy surprise:  my sister, Jane, and her partner Maria, were at the pyramid entrance to the Louvre, when I had been expecting to meet with an administrator.  Jane had secretly celebrated her 50th birthday in Paris, and on this, their last day, we invited them back to the moveable feast where they got to meet the students they hear about all the time. I was very lucky to have my partner, Corrie, join us in our 2nd week abroad.  A former emergency room nurse and nurse educator, her expertise always brings a sense of relief to any unanticipated health concerns.  Having completed the readings for the Art History course, she really enjoyed seeing Paris through the lens of this particular history, and she was also very impressed by the student work, as an invited guest to the critiques.  In Paris, we spent a couple of lovely afternoons on our own: one in the Place des Vosges, and another in the Marais where, on a sunny outdoor terrace, we ate actual French onion soup! The drawing salons, being on the Paris Metro with the students joking around – getting to know them a bit better – was quite delightful.  I really appreciated seeing them spontaneously help one another.  We had a fabulous group, and despite a few inevitable dramas, the group became close, cohering as its own entity.  These kinds of experiences change us, in how we look at the world, at art, at each other.  Hopefully they make us more open, curious, analytical, friendly and compassionate.
Nancy, Corrie, and Dorothy stopping traffic along the Champs-Elysees with the Arc de Triomphe
in the background. (photo courtesy: kind stranger using Dorothy's camera)
On the strength of a personal connection (thank you Annetta Kapon at Otis in LA!) we made contact with a highly respected art school on the outskirts of Paris – Ecole Nationale Superieured’Art Paris-Cergy  (the school from which Orlan recently retired!!)-- with whom we hope to develop opportunities for student exchange.  They invited us to a student exhibition of work based on a similar concept to what our students had been doing in the course:  a conversation with specific works from a particular art historical collection.  I think our students were very interested to see the work of their contemporaries, and they subsequently made themselves at home, participating happily in some performative projects – perhaps even contributing to the success of the event.I feel very fortunate to have been able to help develop this paired offering at Kwantlen, and for it to have been so successful.  This was largely because of the students, who I admire and respect.  Also, I owe a great deal of gratitude to Dorothy Barenscott, who did so much research for our itinerary, and was a great traveling colleague (whose husband Brian was unfortunately unable to join us).  Our friends Andrea Reynolds and Sandra Schinnerl in the International Office were a great help in organizing our accommodation and travel, and we had the pleasure of spending some time in class and in Paris with Andrea, who now has a much better idea of what it is we do. 

Nancy's much anticipated "salons" were well attended by students looking to sketch, chat, and reflect on their
activities at the end of the day. Nancy and others sketch Shannon as she performs a butoh dance
(photo courtesy: Dorothy Barenscott)
With the success of this 6 credit, 3rd year Studio/Art History offering, we hope to develop an annual Field School that will become a signature flagship of the BFA degree.  Next year: NYC and Venice – here we come!  For 2014, perhaps Chicago and Berlin …