• Kaleidoscope

Interview Series: Where are they Now?

Featuring: Megan Feniak, written by Renee Alkass

Megan Feniak, a University of Guelph alumni, is an artist who works in sculpture and woodcarving. After graduating from her MFA in 2021, she continues to create work that looks at the power of effects, gestures, and the positioning of the body in ritual and belief.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself entering your first year of a studio art degree?

Try everything, and don’t limit yourself. I never took sculpture classes because I was intimidated and just thought I wasn’t a ‘sculptor.’ I took lots of drawing and textile-based classes because I felt more comfortable with those processes at the time. I used to avoid the things that seemed intimidating and looking back I wish I had taken advantage of more of the facilities and support from technicians and instructors right from the beginning.

What has been the most insightful lesson you have learned regarding a career in the art field since your graduation?

Something I’ve been thinking about and working on is just patience and consistency. Things aren’t going to happen for you overnight, and it’s lonely sometimes. It might feel hard to resist the urge to post something online just to feel seen. But recently, I’ve been thinking about how to approach work with a longer timescale in mind and finding a rhythm in which you can sustain your own work without sharing it for a long time. I think the instant gratification of social media affects our relationship to our work, and the amount of care and attention we devote to it, and lately, I’m really thinking about how to guard against that.

Do you have any other nuggets of wisdom or encouragement for studio art students, especially during this time of COVID-19 and restricted access to studios?

That is tough, I found I really struggled when we had restricted access to the studio. If it’s possible, I think it’s really helpful to keep a space for making your work that is separate, or that you can mentally separate in some way. I often leave my phone in another room so it doesn’t interfere with my train of thought, and I have this funny ritual where I put my shoes on to signal to myself ‘ok now I'm at work, I’m in the studio’ and when I take them off I know that’s the end of the day and I’m home to relax or make dinner.

My only other nugget of wisdom is that exercise actually helps so much. I avoided it for years but this year I discovered it really helped me manage anxiety, lifted my mood, and helped me find more clarity in the studio.

Your project titled “Listily Lean” is complex and beautiful. What was your inspiration and creative process like for this project? Can you give any other artists creative advice for putting together a large-scale project like this?

This exhibition was the thesis work that marked the end of my master's studies, during which I had been looking in-depth at a few different figures in Christian mysticism. With these mystics, there was always this interesting problem of one's self getting in its own way, and this became the central thread running throughout the body of work.

In terms of the creative process, I think each work comes about differently, so there isn’t one recipe for how it looks. But there are often long lulls in the studio of just playing with materials or processes without the pressure for it to become anything. There are lots of tests and half-finished works that will never get shown that helped me develop other works. Parallel to that, I try to spend a lot of time reading and taking in material that inspires me – sometimes this feels seasonal. For a while, I don’t feel like making work, and I just focus on research and writing. Then after a while, it switches and all I want is to be in the studio using my hands again. It feels really good when you can find the right rhythm.

For a project like this, some planning and a lot of time spent familiarizing yourself with your materials are necessary. To make the curving wooden rope I really had to learn the limits of the wood I was working with. Spend a lot of time with your material, let yourself be bored in the studio – boredom can push you to do weird things and make discoveries. It can also keep you learning new techniques and skills, and because of that, you’ll always have those in your back pocket. It will open up the range of ways you can play in the studio.

Part of Listly Lean. For full exhibition, visit http://www.meganfeniak.com/listily-lean

Do you have any words for someone who is struggling to figure out what they are doing with their art practice?

You don’t need to have it all figured out right away, and it’s for the best if you give yourself time and grace to discover those things. I think it’s also natural for those things to change – as you grow and change, your work will too.

I would feel lost sometimes, worrying about what others expect or think is good work. I am too easily influenced by others’ opinions, so times when I feel uncertain about what kind of artist I am or what my practice should look like, I find it helpful to just think about what kind of work I dream of seeing. What kind of work would I love to see? What kind of experience do I want to have? What do I wish existed in the world? And that has always been a helpful guiding compass for me.

Head over to Megan’s website to see her own practice http://www.meganfeniak.com/ and her Instagram to keep up to date with her upcoming work @fenny__.__

Renee Alkass is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Creative Writing. She is appreciative of art in all forms, but she has a special interest in writing short stories. Renee is a literary editor for Kaleidoscope Magazine, and the Where Are They Now? series has made her feel appreciative to hear words of wisdom from the alumni students at U of G.

If you are an alumni from the College of Arts at the University of Guelph and are interested in sharing where you are today, please email the team at Kaleidoscope at kaleidoscopeguelphu@gmail.com to be interviewed.

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