Visual Arts MFAs connect across institutions

Sometimes the most inspiring work occurs while students are still enrolled in university. Consider MFA Connect, an inter-institutional visual arts exhibit that literally connects UVic Visual Arts MFA candidates with fellow graduate students at UBC Okanagan.

Works by Conner Charlesworth & Crystal Przybille

Organized by second-year UVic MFA candidate Marina DiMaio, MFA Connect runs November 6-10 in UVic’s Audain Gallery in the Visual Arts building; the first part of the exhibit ran October 10-20 in the FINA Gallery at UBC Okanagan’s campus in Kelowna.

MFA Connect is like a conference for visual arts,” says DiMaio. “Other departments make these kind of ‘connections’ all the time, but when we get together we share a visual language. This is about challenging each other’s research, getting our research out into the world, creating our own opportunities, establishing communities, and continuing the larger conversation of the place of the visual arts in an academic institution.”

As emerging artists and creative researchers, it’s essential for MFA candidates to connect with both local and international art centers, and to encounter and share visual methodologies. With that in mind, MFA Connect aims to deepen and challenge graduate student practices, as well as equip the larger academic communities with new records of interdisciplinary understanding.

David Michael Peters helps install the exhibit at UVic

“The academic community we are temporarily placed in while being in an MFA is perhaps the most valuable part of being here,” she says. “We have an immediate network of support, of individuals striving towards similar goals with a common passion for creative research.”

The first in what’s hoped to be a series of MFA art exchanges, MFA Connect will showcase the work of six UVic MFAs — Conner CharlesworthLeah McInnisDavid Michael PetersEvelyn Sorochan-RulandXristia Trutiak, and Di Maio herself — and five UBCO MFAs: Steven Thomas Davies, Jessica Dennis, Joe Fowler, Crystal Przybille and Meg Yamamoto.

“Conceptually, we are all working in very different ways,” DiMaio explains. “You will find some similarities in the general tendencies of each program toward materiality, craft, and the handmade — the show is filled with objects pointing toward a physical human experience — but this show ultimately finds its affinities in the ongoing conversation of visual art as a form of research.”

Xristia Trutiak

Pieces on display will tackle concepts ranging from discussions of labour and conversations with the history of art to investigations into process and material politics, explorations of internal and external gender identity, studies of soundscapes and perceptual experience, the mapping of place and possessions, and an examination of Indigenous rights and truths.

“We’re only in our MFAs for two years,” DiMaio concludes. “That goes by fast and we need to make the most of our time here and take advantage of all the opportunities that are available to us.”

MFA Connect runs 10am-4pm Monday-Friday, November 6-10 in the Visual Arts Building’s Audain Gallery, with a closing reception beginning at 4:30pm on Thursday, November 9

Two MFA exhibits: one downtown, one crossing borders

Following a series of on-campus solo exhibitions in the Audain Gallery this spring, this year’s graduating MFA artists have taken their work downtown for their final public exhibit.

Titled In Toto, the annual Visual Arts MFA graduation exhibition runs May 4 to May 14 at 821 Fort Street, between Quadra and Blanshard, with a special opening reception at 7pm on Friday, May 4.

Update: the MFA show will now return for one day only, 11am-2pm Sunday, May 27, as part of the City of Victoria’s Fort Street Celebrations. The MFA show will be used as the venue for a public drop-in session discussing the use of vacant store fronts as art spaces. Live music & refreshments will also be on hand to celebrate the opening of the bike lanes,

Featuring the work of David Michael Peters, Marina DiMaio, Leah McInnis, Connor Charlesworth and Evelyn Sorochan-Ruland, In Toto offers 10 different pieces, ranging from painting and sculpture to installation and media works.

Interestingly, the same storefront was home to the HeARTspace exhibit in the fall 2017, a pop-up art gallery featuring the work of people who have died from overdoses, as well as tributes to them; that exhibit was organized by UVic interdisciplinary PhD candidate Marion Selfridge.

The free exhibit is open noon to 4pm daily.  

In addition to this exhibit, MFA candidate Marina DiMaio has also organized the second in the MFA Connect exhibit series. Running May 13-19 in the Audain Gallery in the Visual Arts building, this second iteration reconsiders the long-standing tradition of Mail Art through an entirely digital correspondence. This conception of MFA Connect integrates the work of six MFA students from Newcastle University in England and six UVic MFA students in a group show that will then travel to the Ex Libris Gallery in northeast England.

MFA Connect is like a conference for visual arts,” says DiMaio in this article about the inaugural MFA Connect exhibit in November 2017. “Other departments make these kind of ‘connections’ all the time, but when we get together we share a visual language. This is about challenging each other’s research, getting our research out into the world, creating our own opportunities, establishing communities, and continuing the larger conversation of the place of the visual arts in an academic institution.”

In addition to Marina DiMaio, MFA Connect also features work by UVic’s Connor Charlesworth, Leah McInnis, David Michael Peters, and Evelyn Sorochan-Ruland, plus Xristia Trutiak. Participating artists from Newcastle U include Shaney Barton, Elizabeth Green, Peter Hanmer, Paul Jex, Hania Klepacka and Gill Shreeve.

Could this be the beginning of ongoing creative alliances between Newcastle University and UVic? Only time—and inspiration—will tell.

Fine Arts events cancelled in response to COVID-19

In response to the ongoing and global spread of the COVID-19 virus and the advice of the Provincial Health Officer, the University of Victoria is following provincial guidelines regarding large gatherings.

These actions have been taken in consideration of the recent declaration of a pandemic by the World Health Organization, confirming that the virus is likely to spread to all countries with a corresponding rise in the risk level of all international travel. It also supports our commitment to the safety and well-being of our campus community and the health of our broader community.

As part of our response to the evolving COVID-19 situation, UVic has created a COVID-19 response website to provide the university community with the most up-to-date information — including tips for staying healthy, information for travellers, and other resources for students, faculty and staff.

Cancelled events

Following the advice of the Provincial Health Officer, gatherings of more than 50 people are now cancelled. These events involving Fine Arts faculty, students and alumni have been cancelled:

  • The Children’s Hour, Phoenix Theatre
  • Belfry Theatre’s SPARK Festival
  • MFA Connect: Floatation Devices exhibit
  • Legacy Gallery downtown (including Urban Regalia FLUID exhibits)
  • Yvonne Blomer book launch (March 18)
  • Heng Wu guest lecture (March 19)
  • Sonic Lab (March 20)
  • Betsy Tumasonis AGGV guest lecture (March 22)
  • Vocal Jazz Ensemble (March 22)
  • Visiting Artist: Chantal Gibson (March 25)
  • Chamber Singers (March 28)
  • Faculty Concert: Connie Gitlin (March 29)
  • Gendered Threads of Globalization symposium (March 27-29)
  • UVic Wind Symphony (March 27)
  • Don Wright Symphonic Winds (April 2)
  • UVic Orchestra (April 3)
  • Middle East & Islamic Studies Consortium conference, UVic (April 4)
  • Mallory Tater reading, Munro’s Books (April 9)

Livestreaming events

The School of Music will be live-streaming a limited number of degree recitals in the coming weeks: please see their events calendar for specific details.

Stay up to date

Please see UVic’s COVID-19 website for all the latest information on UVic’s response to this health crisis.

Dennis Gupa: from sea rituals to applied theatre and science

Dennis Gupa in February 2021. (Photo: John Threlfall)

The idea of artists working with scientists is nothing new to Dennis Gupa.

A PhD candidate in UVic’s theatre department, Gupa is also the current artist-in-residence with Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a UVic initiative. He sees the artistic residency, launched by the Faculty of Fine Arts and ONC two years ago, as a natural fit with his doctoral focus on Indigenous sea rituals, climate change and sustainable ecology.

While Gupa’s term at ONC will wrap up this spring, he’s also finishing his doctoral work in applied theatre under the supervision of theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yetka, whose experience in community-engaged research includes projects in Indigenous language revitalization through theatre with children in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, young people in Brazilian favelas, young women in rural areas of Cambodia and students with special needs in schools in The Netherlands.

As with any applied theatre practitioner, Gupa also wants to use the tools of theatre and drama to help bring about social change and build a sense of community—and, in his case, to attempt to grapple with the gravity of global warming especially in the island nations of the world.

Applied theatre, traditional knowledge and climate crisis

Having grown up in the Philippines, Gupa has witnessed firsthand the threat of extreme weather events. With his country being a former colony—extending across 7,600 islands and known for its maritime history, marine diversity and Indigenous population—the parallels between the Philippines and Vancouver Island are clear to Gupa. He says this is probably the reason he decided to do his grad studies at UVic.

“By looking at the experience and knowledge of local people—who have been experiencing these climatic events for so many years, but are not really given a lot of opportunities to tell their stories—we can learn from their knowledge and wisdom,” he says. “Our poetries and songs renew our kinship with the ocean.”

Gupa’s research focuses on traditional ways of knowing, as well as storytelling and applied theatre, and how these elements can be drawn into important discussions and dialogue in support of social justice, community participation and climate action.

A youth theatre project in 2015 co-directed by Gupa for a rural high school “glee club” in the Philippines. (Photo: The Perfect Grey | ASEAN Center for Biodiversity)

And he very much believes in bringing people together to share stories. Gupa says, “I create interdisciplinary work with a kinship among knowledge disciplines. One of the fascinating functions of an artist is being an interlocutor, bringing people together to share our stories.”

He conducted field work in the Samar-Leyte region of the Philippines, working closely with local elders on the island community of Guiuan, where the super typhoon Yolanda in 2013—one of the deadliest on record—first made landfall.

Strengthening connections between art and science

Sharing stories is exactly what Gupa has in mind with the ONC initiative: recently repositioned as an opportunity for Fine Arts graduate students, the ONC artist-in-residence program exists to strengthen connections between art and science, and ignite cross-disciplinary exchanges around the major issues facing oceans today.

“This residency program comes at a time of crisis in ocean sustainability,” ONC chief scientist Kim Juniper. “Science-art collaborations such as this one bring together the insight and power of two ways of looking at the world, and will hopefully lead to new understanding and greater benefits for our ocean and our future.”

While the pandemic is complicating Gupa’s original idea to create an immersive, ONC data-fueled performance experience involving the Filipino diaspora community—including playwright Karla Comanda, classical singer Jeremiah Carag, Philippine-based composer Darren Vega and Vietnamese-Canadian actor Thai-Hoa Le—Gupa is still hopeful about uniting these two worlds during his spring 2021 residency.

“How can we share our stories with the scientists, and what does that mean to them to listen to immigrants?” Gupa ponders. “How does our history of exile connect with the history of climate disaster? We’ve never really tapped into that or discussed it in a scientific space.”

For Gupa, the ONC residency is less a challenge and more a cumulative opportunity between his artistic and academic pursuits.

“There’s a lesson in fluidity that this water is teaching me and I’d like to bring that to the fore in my work … it’s not just a fascination, but water is so embodied in my work as an artist. It’s beautiful but it’s also dangerous. We cannot wait any longer for inclusive and deeper collaborations to make things better for all living things in this earth—both seen and unseen.”

Ces Bersez, Dennis Gupa, & Francis Matheu in “Murupuro/Island of Constellations” at Prairie Theatre Exchange in 2018. (Photo: Migrante Manitoba FB web page)

Social justice for the seas

“When we think of the water, I think of social justice,” Gupa adds. “As an archipelagic country surrounded by water, the Philippines have been suffering from ocean disasters due to climate change: resources are depleting, coral are bleaching, fish are dying and the waters are warming so the fish don’t have food. So what do they do? They migrate, just like Filipinos—fish are the first climate refugees.”

Gupa has also been looking at how climate change has impacted Canadian Filipino diaspora communities, with whom he created and then toured a highly collaborative theatrical production in 2018 (Victoria, Vancouver, Winnipeg).

Gupa performing the mask of Imelda Marcos during his production of “Murupuro”. (Photo: Fiona Ngai)

Interdisciplinary conversations on global issues

In addition to collaborating with ONC at UVic, Gupa was a visiting graduate research fellow at UVic’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society in 2019/20 and a recipient of a 2017 student research fellowship from the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives at UVic. He is also a Vanier Scholar.

“Scientists spend hours in their labs thinking about their work, similar to what theatre and performance artists do in their rehearsal spaces,” he says. “We’re all exploring and searching for meaning; this kind of interdisciplinary conversation simply lets us be better adjusted to global issues.”

Gupa also spent a decade at the University of the Philippines Los Baños where, in addition to teaching theatre, he was named the first head of the Office of Arts and Science Fusion Program.

In 2011, Gupa received a grant from the Asian Cultural Council (established by John D. Rockefeller III) for six months in as the director-in-residence with Ma-Yi Theatre Company in New York City.

His collaborative work has also won support from the British Columbia Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, World Bank Manila Office/Australian Agency for International Development, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity and the Dharmasiswa Scholarship through the Indonesian government’s Ministry of Education, among many others.

Gupa has an MFA Directing (Theatre) degree from UBC and an MA (Theatre) from University of the Philippines.

Gupa wearing a traditional Filipino malong at a local beach in Victoria. (Photo: John Threlfall)

Follow the social media feeds of both Fine Arts and ONC for developments on the artistic residency this spring.