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Mapping my bio background

I’ve been asked to participate as a panelist tomorrow night at the Vancouver Island School of Art (VISA) Slide Room Gallery, which opened an exhibition today called “Victoria: Site Unscene.”  The exhibition showcases “over 100 photographs that reveal an interesting and unusual side of Victoria – views not portrayed in tourist brochures or other municipal promotional material,” and I’m honoured to be asked to participate.

In preparation, the organizer asked for some biographical material to help him formulate an introduction.  I wrote something that provides way too much information for his purposes, but in the process came away with an interesting arc that’s interesting to me.  It culminated with me committing in writing to my new “identity” as a Founder (of a company).  Now, there’s no pretending it’s not a real thing.

No “biography” is ever complete, and no sketch is ever just a sketch.  It’s a story.  You tell a story.  I told a story.  But in the process, I learned something about myself.  I might eventually start to figure out how I can own my story, how it can stop being a foreign thing to me.

Given the theme of “Site Unscene,” place-specificity, and my own history as an immigrant (several times over), this particular biographical note — which ended up being focused on place — gave me a better map of where I’ve been, along with some indications of where I might yet go.

Here’s what I wrote:

Ok, starting at the (Victoria) beginning: I’m an immigrant, came to Canada from Germany as a child, lived first in Winnipeg, but grew up in Victoria in the late 60s and early 70s.  (In fact, I lived right at Quadra & Bay, then on Prior St., bought licorice at the Dutch Shoe, went to S.J. Willis for Junior High — which makes me a “Quadra Village” native!  Then attended Victoria High, and graduated from Oak Bay High.)

Wanted to become a designer, but ended up at the Munich Art Academy, studying sculpture.  That (praxis) lasted for a while, until I started reading (theory!) (Benjamin, Frankfurt School).

Returned to the West Coast, eventually ended up at UBC, where I took a BA Hons in Art History (’83), and subsequently an MA in Art History (’86).  Advisor: Serge Guilbaut (who wrote about the NY School).

For personal reasons, moved to Boston in 1985; applied to Harvard, studied with T.J. Clark (who had been Guilbaut’s advisor at UCLA).  T.J. Clark was famous for writing about Courbet and the 1830 revolution in France, and subsequently writing about Manet and Haussmann’s Paris.  I also taught for Clark at Harvard, as well as for several other professors (Henri Zerner, Anna Chave).

Took my PhD in Art & Architectural History at Harvard, 1991.

Taught at MIT, Brown University, and Harvard Extension School.

My book, Reconstructing the Subject; Modernist Painting in Western Germany, 1945-1950, was published by Princeton University Press, 1995.

Had various articles published in peer-reviewed journals; was an invited speaker at symposia, etc.; and was a co-author of German Marks; Postwar Drawings and Prints Donated to the Busch-Reisinger Museum, a book about Harvard Art Museums’ collection of German art (published by Harvard University Press, 1998).

Left academia in Jan. 1999 (almost 10 years ago!), because (1) that world is too restrictive (“how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”); and (2) I began homeschooling my kids (in 2000).

Moved back to Victoria in 2002, was by then no longer an academic.  (But wasn’t quite sure what I was instead.  Still not sure; such is the hold of “professional” identity.)

Kids began taking courses through South Island Distance Education School (in Saanich).  I began to serve on that organization’s Parent Advisory Council and its School Planning Council (starting in 2003).  Did that for 4 years, during which I worked closely with the principals (there were 2) and the vice-principals, as well as some of the senior teachers, to shape South Island Distance Education School (SIDES) as a 21st century advanced distributed education provider.

I think there were some successes!

In April 2003 I became part of the blogging network started at Harvard’s Berkman Center by Dave Winer (technologist, media hacker).  Initially, I blogged about all the lefty issues that had agitated me when I left the US and moved back to Canada.  (Of course, living in Canada makes one take a more critical look at some of those beliefs, but that’s another story.)  I soon became involved with an international group of bloggers (none of them from Harvard/ Berkman, but rather from the loopy world of the Cluetrain Manifesto and Web 2.0).  Blogging has been life-changing: I wasn’t “born digital,” but as a two-time immigrant, I feel I have become a three-time immigrant who’s nearly completely naturalized online.

In early 2005, I became involved with my neighbourhood association: that year I served on the Rockland Neighbourhood Association (RNA) executive board, in Land Use and on the Newsletter.

Left RNA in Jan. 2006 and joined the CRD’s Arts Advisory Council (AAC).  The AAC is a volunteer board that adjudicates project grant and operating grant applications to the CRD’s Arts Development Office.  I still serve on the AAC  and consider what I do there really important.

For the past two years I’ve been a non-voting member of the Downtown Residents Association (DRA), and I do my best to keep up with everything that DRA deals with.

In Oct. 2006 I began writing a monthly column for FOCUS Magazine (ongoing). My articles are about urban development and urban form in Victoria.

In March 2008, I organized together with technologist Mark Lise Victoria’s first DemoCamp, where Victoria’s creative technologists came together in a downtown setting to demonstrate (“demo”) their entrepreneurial ideas. We’re holding a second DemoCamp on Oct. 30, and it’s my intention to expand DemoCamp to include creatives from other sectors.

Earlier this year, I incorporated a company called MetroCascade with my husband and another partner: we are developing a web-based local-news aggregator.  (I’ll be “demo-ing” MetroCascade at DemoCamp on Oct. 30 by the way!)  MetroCascade is a hyper-local news aggregator that lets users find out what’s going on in their locality/ their city (and we’re starting specifically with Victoria).

We think Victoria is an excellent place to launch because there are so many creatives in our city, and we think that connecting people up with other people will make everyone more awesome, more informed, and better able to kick ass.

We want you to kick ass: that’s our goal.

(Yes, I was channeling Kathy Sierra in that last bit, but I really mean it, too.  She’s one of my heroes.)

In previous biographies (told mainly to myself), I wondered how I, as the first person in my family to go to university, ended up with advanced degrees, and how I could have “failed” so badly, having opted out of an academic career.  I’ve been wrestling with that failure, not least because I never was able to make sense of the prior “success.”  Putting the story on a map like this makes both issues (failure and success) less relevant.  The places (real and virtual) and what you do there matter more.


  1. Wow,
    What a good surprise. I am very proud of you..if I may. Maybe one day we should meet again and have a drink. I am still at UBC and doing things. All the best seeing that you are doing fabulously. Serge

    Comment by Guilbaut Serge — October 24, 2008 #

  2. Serge? Quelle surprise… Yes, if I ever get off “the Rock” and over to Vancouver in the next little while, I’ll get in touch. Thanks for stopping by! (You always were a lot more human than some of those other academics I met along the way.)

    Comment by Yule — October 24, 2008 #

  3. PS: for microblogged updates of what I do, follow me on Twitter:

    Comment by Yule — October 24, 2008 #

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