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New award nurtures artists to push creative limits

SQUATTED CONSUMING, found objects/digital sculpture (March 2023)
SQUATTED CONSUMING, found objects/digital sculpture (March 2023)

Melding found objects with images on video screens, multimedia artist Kaleb Thiessen is blurring the lines between physical and digital art works. In recognition of his keen ability to push creative boundaries, this spring he became the inaugural recipient of the Serein Properties Award in Visual Arts, the first award of its kind at SFU to recognize students with a talent for sculpture and installation arts.

“It is truly an honour and so meaningful to receive this award, particularly during this last stage of my undergraduate journey,” says Kaleb, who recently completed his fourth and final year in SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts (SCA) visual arts program.

“The financial support is greatly appreciated, however, knowing my efforts and creative practice are valued and that someone believes in my talent—that they believe art is worthwhile—is even more powerful. It’s motivation to keep doing what I love.”

Serein Properties—which was founded by an SCA alumnus—has generously made a five-year commitment to annually fund the new award and it will be disbursed in the fall semester.

Kaleb initially studied communications at SFU, but also craved a creative outlet and was drawn to SCA’s cohort-style program in visual arts. He also notes being encouraged from a young age to explore his artistic side.

“My family has always been supportive of my art and engaged in the arts themselves. I have grown up with family involved in music, acting and dance. My dad worked in graphic design for years, and my sister is currently in the dance program at SCA. My mom also completed her BA at SFU. She teaches kindergarten in Burnaby and did a master’s degree with a focus on teaching through the arts.”

Within SCA, Kaleb found a platform to explore digital and physical realms, combining found materials and screens to create thought-provoking installations that blur the lines between art and function, and of physical versus digital modes of display.

His works, like SQUATTED CONSUMING (March 2023) and Piece!(       )Peace? (March 2024) have served as poignant reflections on consumerism, technology, and the passage of time, for example. Through these interactive sculptures, Kaleb invites viewers to reconsider their relationship with technology and the material world, challenging them to engage with his art on a visceral level.

Throughout his artistic and learning journey at SFU, Kaleb has ventured beyond campus by participating in the SCA Berlin field school.  

“Being in an international city with my peers, experiencing art and learning about Berlin’s history, was a life-changing experience. It was amazing to gain new perspectives on art—especially thinking about how art can commemorate a complicated past or shape the future,” he says.

For the 2024 SCA graduating exhibition in April, he collaborated with 16 fellow artists in his cohort to put together Look Both Ways, which raised metaphysical questions about collective consciousness, the meaning of existence, archival authority, and loss.

The horizon is looking bright for Kaleb, and he is excited to be applying for artist residencies and to keep making art.

“It really does make a big difference; receiving recognition through this award is something I can carry forward with me as I continue to push my creativity, exploring the materiality of objects and technology’s role in changing our understanding of ourselves and its place in art.” 

This story is part of our summer 2024 edition of Engage, our magazine celebrating the impact of SFU’s donor community.
To read more stories, please visit the Engage landing page.