When you’ve worked on a project for three years, are close to the finish line and then have your efforts suddenly interrupted by something that is out of your control, your spirits might be, to say the least, dampened. But although this year’s BFA Digital Arts student exhibition took a different turn, students and lecturers joined forces to put together their first ever virtual art exhibition, and unexpectedly turned an experience full of uncertainties into an opportunity of positive firsts.
On the day of the launch, Newspoint spoke to Dr Trevor Borg & Dr Matthew Galea, two lecturers who are part of the curatorial team of this virtual exhibition, for some final words as everyone positions themselves for launch.
How has your experience of teaching these students been, pre-COVID-19? What was the level of excitement before you knew of the online shift?
The Degree Exhibition is a milestone that the students and lecturers within the Department look forward to every year. It is the culmination of three years of hard work that are manifested in this annual showcase. The level of excitement this year was no different. 35 students, each presenting their own individual projects and artistic research can be quite challenging from a lecturers’ and curators’ point of view. We are glad to say that our students have been a very resourceful group and they have adapted to the situation in a very short time, if anything the COVID-19 pandemic brought about more maturity and cooperation.
How did the students react to the idea of the digital exhibition, and does their reaction augur well in terms of their capability of adapting to change in the working world?
After the initial shock and of course the uncertainty of the new context brought about by the pandemic, our students responded very well. The shift online of course entailed some major rethinking of certain pieces, in a time when the students are working on finalising their practice-based research, whereby the actual practice constitutes half of their dissertation.
As art students, they are capable of creatively adapting and evolving according to the ever-changing reality out there. Since we already work very closely with technology, that is continuously changing, our students were well prepared to ride this wave and we are confident that they have the required skills and a degree of resourcefulness that will see them through any scenario that may arise in their future career.
Having 35 emerging artists share a space would be considered, under normal circumstances, a bit hectic. There are differences of opinion and various areas of expertise. How did you manage to keep everyone happy?
It is probably impossible to keep everyone happy. Large group shows require a lot of cooperation and negotiation. The most important factor, we believe, is having a shared goal and through teamwork what may appear as a hectic balance between a number of disparate elements that perhaps would never fit together, would ultimately lead to something bigger than the sum of its parts.
Can you elaborate a bit about the themes being explored in this digital exhibition, and whether they were chosen by the artists themselves?
Students individually choose their own research direction and how this would translate into a practical project. This year the exhibition will showcase a diverse range of media and practices touching upon a number of diverse thematic areas. Some of these include: body modification, surveillance, the duality in relationships, mental health in a digital age, gender identity, dance, sound/image synthesis, portraiture, artificial intelligence, phobias, software design and homelessness.
Is the exhibition just an opportunity to network and meet future employers?
It is more than that. Other than giving the students a platform to showcase their research, the exhibition presents an opportunity for the dissemination of ideas and experiences.
An exhibition is a statement, it is a snapshot of what is going on not only within our Department, in terms of artistic research at a first degree level, but also to demonstrate how our students think, respond and engage with society and the world around them. Being online also propels the exhibition beyond the limitations of a physical space by opening up new horizons beyond our shores.
How do you intend to carry on with next year’s lectures and exhibitions? Will there be any changes to how the study-units will be taught?
This is still to be determined, however, even prior to the pandemic, we had already been considering a shift towards a blended-learning approach. We believe that a number of positive outcomes have and will continue to emerge from this experience and some of these developments will become part of our programme of studies. All in all, we can still predict that the Digital Arts Degree Exhibition will remain a highlight in our local cultural calendar.
Tune in to the launch of the exhibition, to take place 29 May 2020 at 18:00, via Facebook.