How do you turn a painting into a podcast?
That's no riddle. Claire Scherzinger created a sci-fi saga based on her artwork, and here's why
Earth is dying, and a strange new planet is humanity's only hope. That's the basic idea driving Arca-45672, and as the premise of a sci-fi podcast, it's not exactly a trillion light years away from the oodles of space operas that have come before it.
But it might be the only one that started as a painting — or paintings, really.
The series — which arrived on Apple Podcasts (and everywhere else you stream your audio dramas) in late May — is the brainchild of Claire Scherzinger, a recent grad of the University of Victoria's MFA program in visual studies. Bored with the abstract work that put her in the running for the 2015 RBC Painting Competition (she received an honourable mention that year), Scherzinger decided to break away from the "western art canon" stuff she'd studied so hard during her undergrad to pursue a long-time passion: science fiction.
Her paintings became more representational, populated by alien organisms and luminous flora. By 2017, these "one-off sort of sci-fi paintings," as she describes them, led her to develop the groundwork for her own fantasy universe.
Game of Thrones has Westeros; Avatar has Pandora. She has Arca-45672. And that particular world is a monochromatic jungle dominated by a palette of slick blues — sometimes shadowy, sometimes glowing like neon.
Take a look.
"The reason I do what I do is I'm interested in the future and thinking about the future," says Scherzinger. "How can we use metaphors to think about how we exist today as colonizers, as destroyers of the environment? That's really important to me."
Painting can get some of those ideas across. "And paintings are great," she says. "But your audience is very limited — or it can be very limited, especially if you're starting out."
I wanted to make something that could just touch more people.- Claire Scherzinger, artist
After finishing her BFA at OCAD U, Scherzinger exhibited work at a number of galleries, including a 2016 solo show at Mulherin Toronto. Still, she says, "I was getting a little frustrated. I had the hardest time operating in Toronto, trying to get people to get a sense of what I was doing and why I was doing what I was doing."
"I wanted to make something that could just touch more people because there weren't that many people coming to see my work in a gallery."
Something like a free podcast.
Scherzinger says Arca-45672 definitely doubles as a marketing tool for her paintings. But she sees it more as a branch in a larger, interdisciplinary project. Its narrative, the story of a special mission to a mysterious exoplanet in the "Proxima Centauri system," was essentially developed while she painted.
Scherzinger describes her thought process as a kind of make believe. If she paints a watery blue atmosphere, for example, she'll start asking herself how her planet got that way. Those sort of details then get written into the script. "[I'm] really just letting my mind wander in terms of coming up with a backstory for how these people or characters or creatures came to be," she says.
That story could have been told any number of ways: a book, a collection of unusually wordy didactic cards. But she's a podcast fan. She says she was streaming Homecoming (the hit podcast turned Julia Roberts series) while she painted the "Exoplanet Arca-45672" series.
"I was blown away by what was even capable in podcasting. I just didn't know at the time that you could get this level of atmosphere in an audio medium," she says.
When she realized U Vic had a recording facility available to students, Scherzinger pounced on the opportunity to produce her own series. She shot out a nine-episode script in November of 2018. By January, she was recording with a production team. (Fellow students Kirsten Sharun and William Lynch serve as director and audio engineer, respectively.)
Since its premiere in late May, the podcast's reach is still relatively humble. It did, however, crack the top 100 arts podcasts on iTunes Canada in its first week. The story, Scherzinger says, can be enjoyed without seeing the paintings — and those paintings, she explains, are not meant to be literal illustrations of what you hear on the podcast.
"For me it's all part of a process," she says. "In my paintings, I want to deal more with the landscape aspects of narrative and the sublime. The podcast lets me deal with human narratives."
After Arca-45672's first nine episodes wrap, Scherzinger will keep on trekking through the show's universe. She's planning more paintings — some of which may appear at an upcoming exhibition at the Varley Art Gallery in Markham, Ont. She's also developing an interactive "web-based project" and, with luck, a second season of the podcast.
"I anticipate for at least the next two to three, maybe four years, it will still all be about this world," she says. "Honestly, there's still so much I have left to explore."
To hear the podcast, visit www.arca45672.com.