A NSCAD graduate is the national grand-prize winner of the BMO 1st Art! Award with a film she produced over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anna Kuelken made the acclaimed 17-minute video titled Father Like Son after pandemic restrictions forced her to move back to her parent’s farm in Alberta to study remotely.
“I’m not sure I would have made this film if the pandemic didn’t happen,” admits Kuelken, who says she attempted to work from her Halifax apartment for about eight months after the pandemic clamped down on public gatherings.
However, since students were not permitted to collaborate and were instead confined to work solely on projects, Kuelken returned to Fort Assiniboine to begin making Father Like Son.
“I always say my storytelling begins at home and begins at the farm,” adds Kuelken. “(So) in that weird aspect, it actually worked out that I was able to go make the film that I wanted to make.”
Father Like Son provides a brief glimpse into life on a small farm in rural Alberta and how a dedicated family works together, the death and butchering of an animal, and its effect on the family’s youngest members.
“I just thought that this would be nice for us to have later on to watch and to show a small portrait of life on a farm that touches on the broader subjects of certain things, like agriculture, the oil field and industry, but show the people behind the scenes,” says Kuelken about the origins of the film.
“My parents are my biggest inspiration. They are just such wonderful people and I love how my dad sees the world and sees the piece of land that I grew up on and is a steward, cultivating it in a way that is not harmful to the environment.”
Selected as the national winner among submissions from more than 100 post-secondary institutions across Canada, Kuelken will take home a $15,000 cash prize as well as have her work featured in the second virtual BMO 1st Art! Exhibition by The Art Museum at the University of Toronto from November 15 to December 10.
“It feels really good (but) it was a very strange feeling. I had never won anything of that significance,” says Kuelken, noting that she intends to put the prize money towards paying off her student debt as well as purchasing filmmaking equipment.
Celebrating its 19th year, the BMO 1st Art! Competition is funded through the BMO Financial Group, which invites deans and instructors of undergraduate-level certificate, diploma or degree programs to submit art from students of graduating classes to be selected by a panel of established judges.
Having now graduated from NSCAD with the top BMO 1st Art! prize, Kuelken says she has thoroughly enjoyed her time at the art college, in spite of COVID-19 putting a slight damper on the experience.
“It was just really open and inclusive and it helped you be an artist, which I really appreciated. I didn’t feel like I was there to just pay tuition,” says Kuelken, who graduated in April. “It was really nice and it sucked when the pandemic hit because I thoroughly enjoyed going to school.”
Kuelken wasn’t the only NSCAD student to make an impression at the BMO 1st Art! Competition either. Sculptor Max TS. Yang was selected as regional winner for his installation entitled A Family of Ill, which is described as an “autobiographical work addressing the strain that divorce has on families.”
As the Nova Scotia regional winner, Yang will receive an award of $7,500 and have his work displayed in the second virtual BMO 1st Art! Exhibition as well.
As for Kuelken, she is now back in Alberta planning her next project which she hopes will make just as big an impact on audiences. Still in the early phases, Kuelken has interviewed author Trina Moyles (Women Who Dig: Farming, Feminism and the Fight to Feed the World) and will focus on women in the agriculture industry.
“I’m trying not to approach it in the boring documentary way,” adds Kuelken. “But in a way that’s poetic and beautiful but still gets the point across.”
For more information or to view the BMO 1st Art! exhibition, visit the website.