Exploring connections with Melany Nugent-Noble
Combining her love for arts, technology, government, and communications, Melany Nugent-Noble has carved out a niche for herself.
Starting out with a design diploma, Nugent-Noble was working for the government full time when she began Athabasca University’s (AU) Bachelor of Professional Arts program in Communication Studies. Because she was working and studying, it took her a bit of time to complete, but she found that it was helpful to apply her learning to her work.
Working in the bureaucracy
Working with the Ministry of Education for the Government of Alberta, she was a desktop publisher and helped to lay out provincial exams for school-aged students. She then moved on to the Government of British Columbia in public education, working in anti-racism and multiculturalism.
After her years within the bureaucracy, Nugent-Noble wanted to focus on her art again—and her degree from AU helped to make that possible.
“Because I did the Bachelor of Professional Arts majoring in communication, I kind of think about my degree as the glue that has stuck all my experiences together and helped me transition from one world to the next,” she said.
Back to school and art
She decided to go back to school once again to focus on her art through a master’s degree in fine arts that she completed in 2015. Today, she works part-time at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art in Kelowna as the Assistant Director and is working on her artistic practice in a full-time capacity since leaving the public service in 2015.
“In every sense of the word, I’m a real interdisciplinary artist in that I work across different mediums. I work a lot with technology and interactivity, but I also work a lot with making art books, publications, speeches, government texts and archives,” Nugent-Noble said. “That really comes from my time with the government and looking at communications as well.”
From Nuit Blanche in Winnipeg, to local exhibitions in the Okanagan to the Art in Law Program in New York City, she’s been a part of a number of interesting projects that combine different mediums.
She is exploring an interesting space and is challenging some of the assumptions one might have about how art fits within places like law, administration, and government documents.
When you think about bureaucracy or law, art isn’t necessarily the first place your mind would draw a connection to.
“In terms of art in government, where people would normally see those two things are miles apart, I see connections.”
“Invisible threads are the strongest ties"
Nugent-Noble excels in connecting science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) in playful and engaging ways.
Take an installation project she has been working as a great example. Entitled, “Invisible threads are the strongest ties,” this project uses technology to connect individuals within physical spaces as a part of their daily routines and behaviours. Strangers are given beacons that glow when they are close to another person’s beacon as they carry on with their daily lives.
“The beacons will translate this proximity into a sensory experience for each depending on their relation to each other by using lights that grow brighter when people are closer, and dimmer, or off when further apart,” she said. “The participants will not have any other indicators of proximity such as direction, or identity of the other participant without intersecting with them directly.”
It is a way to create feelings of community, curiosity, and connection through art and technology.
“It’s looking at how you can get to know people within your community and to jolt us out of our everyday routines within public spaces,” Nugent-Noble said. “I became interested in it when I was doing my master’s degree that has since evolved and I’ve done a couple of residences around it. It’s really turned into my own learning process, from learning how to build the beacons to STEAM educational support documents and pieces.”
This is a new process and project for her that she is very excited about. Society has felt more divided than ever, so examples like this are an interesting and engaging way for people to make connections where there might not be any before a person participates in a project like this.
“How can you create a safe space for people to connect when they may not have an opportunity?” she said. “It’s also about playing. When you’re playing you have an opportunity to push boundaries and give yourself permission to connect with someone you might not normally talk to without a beacon.”
The idea of independent learning has been something that Nugent-Noble said was such a big part of her time with AU. The “Invisible Threads” project is something that continually pushes her to learn, even outside of a formal institution.
And she said the habits she developed through her time with AU are definitely things she leans on every day.
"Invisible Threads" amidst pandemic response
As people and communities are physically separated because of the COVID-19 pandemic response, Nugent-Noble’s “Invisible Threads” project seems more relevant than ever. The glow of a beacon while staying isolated would feel comforting.
Obviously though COVID-19 has also meant some changes for Nugent-Noble as well.
“Some opportunities have been put on hold, while other new opportunities are emerging,” said Nugent-Noble. “I’ve actually had the chance to retool and to explore new directions. For instance, the material I would normally use isn’t available right now, so I’ve learned how to make silicone molds to make the shells.”
This summer, she will be working on this project fulltime as Kelowna’s inaugural Artist in Residence and folks in the Kelowna area are encouraged to participate.