NSCAD professor wins GG Award
February 28, 2012

Jan Peacock, Professor in the Department of Media Arts and Director of the MFA program, has been awarded a 2012 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts. (Photo by Martin Lipman, Canada Council for the Arts)

Imagine an artistic medium constantly evolving—where the equipment has changed from heavy and cumbersome to light and compact; where formats have been made obsolete every few years.

But video artist Jan Peacock has always embraced the new while remaining true to her poetic vision.

“You do have to keep flexible in terms of moving into new terrain,” says the NSCAD professor in the Division of Media Arts. “That and learning how to use new equipment all over again,” she adds with a laugh.

Prof. Peacock’s groundbreaking work and contributions to contemporary Canadian art have caught the attention of the Canada Council for the Arts. She has been named one of the winners of the 2012 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts. The announcement was made today in Toronto.

Her prestigious company includes:

• Margaret Dragu, performance artist
• Geoffrey James, photographer
• Charles Lewton-Brain, artist-goldsmith (Saidye Bronfman Award)
• Ron Martin, visual artist
• Diana Nemiroff, art gallery director and curator (Outstanding Contribution)
• Royden Rabinowitch, sculptor
• Jana Sterbak, visual artist

In addition to a $25,000 prize from the Canada Council, the winners will each receive a special issue medallion sponsored by the Royal Canadian Mint. In March, the 2012 laureates will be introduced in parliament and an accompanying exhibition will go on display at the National Gallery of Canada.

Prof. Peacock is delighted to be among such distinguished company and thrilled to finally tell people about it. She’s known about the award since October.

“On behalf of all my colleagues here at NSCAD, kudos to Jan on this significant award and our thanks to her for the contributions she has made to our students both past and present,” says David B. Smith, President of NSCAD University.

“Canada’s top awards continue to recognize NSCAD faculty and alumni for their significant contributions to Canada’s cultural landscape,” he adds, pointing out that this year’s winner of the Saidye Bronfman Award, goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain is a 1978 NSCAD graduate. Last year, the honour went to silversmith Kye Yeon Son, NSCAD professor of jewellery and metalsmithing, and in 2003, to NSCAD Professor Emeritus Walter Ostrom, ceramicist. Multi-media artist Rita McKeough (MFA ’79) is a 2009 Governor General’s Award winner for Visual and Media Arts.

“This speaks highly of NSCAD’s profound influence and the calibre of our faculty and our alumni.”

From Barrie, Ont., Jan Peacock began exploring the medium of video in 1977 as a student at University of Western Ontario. “It was basically a video camera and a deck in a corner of a room and someone pointed out to me, ‘Here’s how you turn it on.’ So, I would sit there and tell stories,” she says, adding she would get editing help from journalism students.

By the time she was making applications to grad schools, she included some of her tapes and was astounded to realize they were a big reason for her acceptance at the University of California at San Diego. Not only that, she was expected to teach the medium to undergrads. “Boy, I better learn some more about how this works,” she says. “It was terrifying but I did learn a lot in a short period of time.”

Compared to today when video is ubiquitous, in the late 1970s, early ‘80s, video was not a mainstream art form. But while the technology was unwieldy, the artist could shape it to her own vision, using it to express ideas in abstract ways. In 1982, when Prof. Peacock started to teach at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD), she was one of the first full-time female faculty to work in non-traditional media.

“I don’t think I would be the artist I am without NSCAD,” says Prof. Peacock, also the director of NSCAD’s MFA program. “It’s the centre of a huge and historical network and it’s absolutely vital to my existence—and has been since day one.”

Her work has been exhibited throughout Canada, as well as in France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Poland, and other countries, and is found in national and international collections. Constantly experimenting with video through editing, narrative structure, observed and performed action, and spoken and written text, she has completed over 20 impressive works in the areas of single-channel video and video installation, including the seminal Reader by the Window (1993). She has won awards at various festivals, such as the Atlantic Film & Video Festival and the Chicago International Film & Video Festival. In 1997, she received the Canada Council's Bell Canada Award for video art. As a curator and scholar, she has written extensively about video and contemporary art.

“Jan Peacock is among a generation of internationally acclaimed Canadian artists from the ‘70s who focused on ways to explore the then relatively new medium of video both formally and conceptually,” wrote nominator Tanya Mars, a performance artist and recipient of a 2008 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2008. 

"Her work attacks big questions, with no pat answers, with the voice of the poet."