Interview Series: Where Are They Now?
Featuring: Monika Hauck, written by Isabella Savedra and Amy Hanstke
Monika Hauck, a University of Guelph Alumni, is an interdisciplinary artist and currently works at the university as a Print and Digital Technician. Her audiovisual collective, VERSA, combines her partners audio and Hauck's visual art. By dropping coloured ink into water that is influenced by sound waves, the pair creates a live sensory experience through sound, movement, and psychedelic visuals.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself entering your first year of a studio art degree?
I would have told myself to be less concerned about the final results of a project, I frequently got hung up on how I would best achieve what I thought would be the ideal final vision without understanding that the process of getting there is actually a significant part of the journey. It took me a long time to unlearn that and is now a crucial aspect of my practice, I very rarely have an end result in mind and I focus much more of my energy on the process of discovery and play. I would have also told myself to spend more time in the studio, more time connecting with other students in my cohort, building up those valuable relationships centred around discussing your art and practice, collecting, receiving and giving feedback.
What was the best piece of advice you received from a studio art professor at Guelph, and how has it impacted your creative practice?
I don't know that it would qualify as advice per-se, but doing yoga as part of my Extended Practices classes with Diane Borsato was one of the best and only times that mental and physical health and wellness as being connected with my art practice was truly cemented. It's something I think about often, and I don't know that I would have developed such a positive relationship with overall wellness as being essential to an active art practice otherwise. Doing yoga in this non-traditional setting was uncomfortable for many at first, but over the course of the semester, it led to building up a lot of trust in my fellow classmates, as well everyone's minds were much clearer and focused when it came time to discuss our work.
What has been the most insightful lesson you have learned regarding a career in the art field since your graduation?
If you want to be a visual artist in today's world, you also have to be prepared to be an entrepreneur with a small business and that means wearing a lot of different hats - sometimes those hats are going to be uncomfortable to wear, or brand new, in the form of skills you might not know yet. You have to find a way that you can feel good about doing the thing that you love in a way that generates an income and that's something a lot of people (artists in particular) have a hard time with. However, there are also many ways to have a career in the arts that isn't just selling work in the traditional way. I would suggest tackling it the same way you would a new project, try out lots of different techniques, step back occasionally to evaluate what's working, what's not working, and don't be afraid to scrap aspects that don't feel right.
How long have you been working at UoG and can you tell us more about your role as the Print and Digital technician?
I started in the role of Print/Digital Technician in 2018. I mostly oversee large format printing, use of the new laser cutter and I'm just a general resource for students in all classes. There are some classes/disciplines that I work more closely with - printmaking, photography, specialized, and MFAs in particular. I kind of see myself as a go-between for more interdisciplinary explorations when students want to try things that aren't squarely in one discipline. I love seeing the different processes and phases that students go through in identifying a direction in their work - it's a very rewarding position and I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of that process with students.
Can you tell us about your audiovisual collective, VERSA? How did it start and how has the pandemic affected your work?
VERSA began in 2015 in response to a micro-grant offered by Kazoo! Festival and Ed Video Media Art Center. The grant encouraged people to come up with a project that would be performed at Kazoo! Festival that would combine music and visuals in an innovative way. My partner Alex Ricci, who is a musician, and I came up with the project idea to visualize sound using cymatics (vibrational patterns) in liquid using ink. From there we turned it into a full-fledged instrumental music performance with responsive psychedelic visuals and marbled monoprints that capture the cymatics. This practice also grew into one that encompassed doing large scale projection installations as well as live visuals for other musicians and artists. When the pandemic hit, live music shows ended basically immediately. Luckily we had many projects going on in the background so we have been busily working away on new recordings, developing an improvised music practice and have many plans for when shows become possible again.
In addition to your job at UoG, and your work at VERSA, you also create your own art; can you speak to your experience on balancing these pursuits? Do you have advice on avoiding burnout for other artists?
For me, I am able to separate the work I create for VERSA from my own personal practice, but in the grand scheme of things I'm using my full toolset of skills for all the projects I'm working on and building up new skills as I go. Luckily I love moving between disciplines and working on multiple things at once. When I get bored or frustrated with one project, there's another one waiting for me to work on. I try not to let the number of projects or pressing deadlines overwhelm me, and I would say that the most important thing to remember is that even if you are frustrated with a project or a composition, you need to listen to your body - if you need rest, rest! Taking time away from work shouldn't be viewed as explicitly unproductive, I try and see it as taking time to gain a new perspective and gather new energy, which is just as valuable as working on a piece directly. It's also important to find ways to get inspired when it's not flowing from you directly - get on Pinterest, go to a (virtual) gallery, pull down some of those dusty books from the university you haven't looked at in a while.
Do you have any upcoming plans for your work, either as an individual artist or within VERSA that you would like to share?
VERSA is going to be going through an exciting transitional phase (including a name change!), but I can tell you that new recordings and videos are on the way, we're hoping to announce more very soon. Also, we'll be performing our first show since the pandemic on April 23rd at the Guelph Civic Museum, so keep a lookout for that as well!
I'll be installing a show at Necessary Arts in April as well, called "Take What You Can". It's actually an idea that I had in university that I'm re-mounting. It will feature a collection of photographs of objects that my maternal grandmother left behind when she relocated back to Poland. It serves as a bit of a conceptual portrait but also just a meditation on the material objects that make up someone's daily life.
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?
Having a studio is a luxury, and certainly facilitates bigger bolder work, but it doesn't need to define your practice as an artist. Finding a routine where you can make a little bit of work every day will have more meaningful implications for your art practice than having access to a fully equipped studio. A big open studio is nice to have access to, but it doesn't mean you can't make great work from the confines of your home. Artists are some of the most adaptable people I know and I already know that the students working from their homes are making work that is as good, maybe even better than the work that could have been made in the studio. Also, this is temporary, so if you can establish good work habits in your home environment, it will enable you to make even better use of your time in the studio. Just make, make, make, and be willing to try new things as you go along. Also, be sure to get some fresh air and sunshine - easier to do now that spring is inching closer, but very important nonetheless! Find some reason to get outside if you can!
Isabella Savedra (she/her) is a fourth-year English major and Studio Art minor. She is a queer artist and writer currently based in Guelph. She is one of the co-editors of Kaleidoscope and is excited to hear about what former art students are up to!
Amy Hanstke (she/her) is a fourth-year Philosophy major and Creative Writing minor. Her special interests include Writing fictional and poetic prose and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Recently she has taken over the interview series Where Are They Now? And plans to continue and expand on the goal of inspiring students.
If you are an alumnus from the College of Arts at the University of Guelph and are interested in sharing where you are today, please email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org to be interviewed.