This story is published in YFile’s New Faces Feature Issue 2019, part one. Every September, YFile introduces and welcomes those joining the York University community, and those with new appointments. Watch for part two on Sept. 27.
Nine new faculty members will join the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD): Shital Desai, Tammer El-Sheikh, Jennifer Jimenez, Susan Lee, Aaron Kelly, Gavin McDonald, Yifat Shaik, Ingrid Veninger and Holly Ward.
“Welcoming new colleagues is always a pleasure, and these new faculty members bring exciting new dimensions to programs throughout AMPD,” said Sarah Bay-Cheng, dean of AMPD. “Their diverse talents, experience, and dedication to teaching will support our students to develop their own visions and skills as they prepare them to transform our world.”
Shital Desai joins AMPD as an assistant professor in the Department of Design, with research interests in inclusive design solutions in assistive adaptive technologies for children and people with accessibility needs, including older adults and persons with cognitive impairments. She is interested in how people interact with new and emerging technologies such as mixed reality technologies. She investigates how people, especially people with cognitive impairments, use new modalities such as gestural interactions and various sensory cues.
Prior to joining York University, Desai was an AGE-WELL (Toronto) research Fellow from 2017 to 2019. She was awarded her PhD in interaction design from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia, and has taught courses at QUT in the areas of interaction design, culture and design, capstone studio, and research methods. She is a recipient of several awards and grants, including AGE-WELL Innovator of the Future, an AGE-WELL Catalyst grant, a Design Research Society bursary, an Australian Postgraduate Award and a QUT Excellence Award.
Desai is currently affiliated with the Inclusive Media & Design Centre at Ryerson University and the Dementia Aging Technology & Engagement lab at the University Health Network’s Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, where she collaborates on various inclusive and accessible design research projects. She is a co-investigator in the AGE-WELL Catalyst grant “Investigating feasibility of Mixed Reality technologies for people with dementia.” She is a member of the World Health Organization’s Dementia Knowledge Exchange peer review network, where she shares her expert knowledge on dementia and technology in strengthening policies, service planning, and health and social care systems for dementia.
Tammer El-Sheikh is an assistant professor in the Department of Visual Art & Art History. He is returning to Toronto this year after more than 10 years in Montreal, where he taught within the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University and received his PhD in art history from McGill University.
His writing on art has appeared in scholarly journals, edited volumes, exhibition catalogues, and print and online art magazines. At the undergraduate level, he’ll be teaching Introduction to Art History, Art of the 60s, and Art of the Near and Middle East, as well as a large-enrolment blended course called Art in the City. He also leads the graduate seminar called Methods in Art History.
Jennifer Jimenez, a community-engaged artist with an extensive career as a national and international scenographer for live performance, joins the Department of Dance. She holds an MA in advanced theatre practice from the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama in London, U.K.; a BFA in theatre production and design; and a BEd from York University.
Jimenez has received an OAC Chalmers Award, has been twice nominated for the OAC Pauline McGibbon Award in Design and is a member of the Associated Designers of Canada. Her research explores the intersection between participatory and inclusive performance, community development and interdisciplinary practice. As co-founder/executive director of non-profit organization Aiding Dramatic Change in Development since 2008, she has worked towards sustainable community development and engaging groups locally and internationally in participatory arts and dialogue. She is a member of the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR), the Hemispheric Institute’s Disability and Performance working groups, and the IFTR Scenography working group.
Aaron Kelly (BFA Theatre ’01, MFA ’19) has worked professionally in theatre production and design for 25 years, designing shows across North America, the South Pacific and France. He joins AMPD as an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre.
In addition to his design work, which primarily focused on dance, theatre and event lighting, but has included set, projection and sound design, he has also worked extensively as a production manager and stage manager.
Kelly was the production manager and technical director of Factory Theatre for nine years, where he collaborated with and supported some of the most established theatre companies in the country and the most exciting and innovative companies forming in our communities. It was these experiences that led him to York to work with emerging theatre artists six years ago as a part-time faculty member and full-time staff. In 2019, he was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Theatre.
Susan Lee holds a BFA with a specialized honours in dance and an MFA in choreography from York University. She joins AMPD in the Department of Dance.
Her professional career spans 25 years, originating with roles in numerous works by established Canadian choreographers, which have been performed across Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Portugal, Sweden, Singapore and Indonesia. Lee’s research and teaching interests focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and improvisation in performance. Her recent work integrates video projection and real-time-based interactive technologies in a variety of settings.
As contract faculty in York University’s Dance Department, she has taught courses in technique, choreography and improvisation, and has been the director of the York Dance Ensemble since 2015.
Gavin McDonald (BFA Theatre ’00) has been a lighting designer and production manager for theatre, dance, music, exhibitions, events and opera for 20 years, working across the country as well as the U.S. and the U.K.
He was also a production co-ordinator at the Harbourfront Centre for the past eight years, before joining York Univeristy’s contract faculty in 2018.
In 2019, he was appointed an assistant professor in lighting and media design in York University’s Department of Theatre.
Yifat Shaik is an assistant professor in the Department of Computational Arts and an acclaimed game developer whose focus is on creating personal autobiographical work and the use of systems, data, and game mechanics in social interaction and political activism. She completed a master of design degree in 2014 at OCAD University.
Shaik’s work explores the way “play” can become a powerful way to talk about and examine social structures, especially using mechanics as the primary tools of subverting the meaning of well-established video game systems. As an independent game developer, she is currently working on several projects, including: Real Army Simulator, an anti-militarization game about the mundanity of military service; the Mattress of St. Dundas, a game about gentrification in Toronto (funded by Ontario Creates); and the Engine is the Message, a series of small experimental games that are done in nontraditional game engines.
Since graduation, Shaik has been working as an instructor and course director in institutions including OCAD University, Sheridan College and the Toronto Public Library, and since 2016 she has been a course director in York University’s Computational Arts program. She is co-director of Dames Making Games Toronto, a member of the Different Games Collective and was head organizer of the Different Games Toronto conference in 2017.
Ingrid Veninger holds an MFA from York University and has been a part-time AMPD faculty member since 2012. She joined the full-time faculty at York University in July as an assistant professor in the Department of Cinema & Media Arts.
Born in Bratislava, Slovakia, and raised in Canada, Veninger has been celebrated as “the DIY queen of Canadian filmmaking” (Liam Lacey, the Globe and Mail). Since 2008, she has produced 10 feature films with premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Rotterdam, Locarno, Slamdance, Whistler, Rome, Hot Docs, Karlovy Vary and MoMA in New York. With retrospectives of her work in Ottawa at the Canadian Film Institute and in Santiago, Chile, at FEMCine, Veninger received the WIFTS International Visionary Award, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists EDA Award for Best Director and the Jay Scott Prize awarded by the Toronto Film Critics Association.
A member of the Directors Guild of Canada and participant in the inaugural TIFF Studio, Berlinale Talents and Rotterdam Producer’s Lab, she has been a mentor at the Canadian Film Centre and a screenwriter-in-residence at the University of Toronto. An advocate for gender parity, she initiated the pUNK Films Femmes Lab in 2014 to foster six narrative feature films written and directed by Canadian women, sponsored by Academy Award winner Melissa Leo. In addition to touring film festivals with her 2019 feature El Mundo o Nada (The World or Nothing), Veninger continues to lead filmmaking workshops and participatory master classes in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.
Based between Toronto and Heffley-Creek, B.C., Holly Ward is an interdisciplinary artist working with sculpture, multimedia installation, architecture, video and drawing as a means to examine the role of aesthetics in the formation of new social realities. She joins AMPD as an assistant professor in the Department of Visual Art & Art History.
Stemming from research of various visionary practices such as utopian philosophy, science-fiction literature, visionary architecture, countercultural practices and urban planning, her work investigates the arbitrary nature of symbolic designation and the use-value of form in a social context.
During the academic year 2009-10, Ward was the artist-in-residence at Langara College, where she commenced the Pavilion project – a 22-foot geodesic dome serving as a catalyst for artistic experimentation involving artists, writers, designers and Langara College students. The Pavilion has since been moved to rural Heffley Creek, B.C., where it is currently under construction as a long-term, interdisciplinary life-as-art project, being performed in collaboration with artist Kevin Schmidt.
Ward has produced solo exhibitions at Artspeak, the Morris & Helen Belkin Gallery and the Or Gallery in Vancouver; the YYZ Gallery in Toronto; Volta 6 in Basel, Switzerland; and others. She has participated in group exhibitions in Canada, Chile, England, Mexico, the U.S., Norway and South Korea.
She previously taught at Emily Carr University of Art & Design, Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia Okanagan.