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PURE Award winners 2016: Marina DiMaio

Visual Studies major explores the sublime


Marina DiMaio reviews visitor responses to the notion of the sublime as explored in her recent exhibition, as supported by a PURE award. Photo by Nikki Reimer, University of Calgary

By Jennifer Robitaille

The University of Calgary’s Eyes High strategic statement reads “students will thrive in programs made rich by research and hands-on experiences”. The integration of teaching and research is a priority in this vision and the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience — also known as PURE — is an important initiative that reflects this commitment.

Each year undergraduates can apply for the prestigious PURE Awards, which provide financial research support to some of the university’s most promising students over the spring and summer months.

The program is designed to give undergraduate students the opportunity to learn how to develop research projects, undertake independent research and contribute to knowledge in their respective fields.

In this Q&A series, we hear from the 2016 PURE Award winners from the Faculty of Arts.


Name: Marina DiMaio

Degree sought: Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) with a major in Visual Studies and a studio concentration.

What is your research topic?

A visual and written precedent analysis of the sublime attempting to define the contemporary sublime and question its relevance. I’m tracing the sublime of the Romantics throughout the modernist period and into the present day etching suggestions of iconographic images of the sublime on a single copper plate as a visual form of tracing and preserving history.

What attracted you to this particular research project?

My past encounters with the etching process informed the early stages of this research and attracted me to this project because, in my experiences with intaglio, I’ve found that the etching plate itself can be used like a history book where the marks on the surface mirror words on a page. When I engage in traditional creative processes such as intaglio I feel as though I am preserving history.

Why is this research important?

It is important for a number of reasons, but first and foremost, as a project that pulls from art history, art theory, and visual methodology and finally manifests itself in a public gallery setting, it allows us to ask and define ‘What is the relevance of the contemporary sublime and does it have to be tied to the historical sublime?’ on a rare openly collective level that is unique to artistic research. So this project also relates and adds to the ongoing discussion of visual art as a form of research.

What do you hope to achieve with this research?

I’ve always been personally interested in researching visual manifestations of spirituality/faith/belief systems/mystery as they relate, or do not relate, to larger cultural values. Through this research I hope to 1) clarify the historical sublime to my viewers, 2) question the correlation between the historical sublime and the contemporary sublime, 3) illuminate the relevance of the sublime in 2016 through a collective defining of the sublime, and 4) create a context within the notion of the “sublime” to openly consider notions of spirituality/faith/belief systems/mystery and their relevance to contemporary culture.

What do you like most about your field of study?

The visual arts have always infatuated me because creative research is not just about making visual objects, it fosters interdisciplinary learning and has allowed me to ask questions, formulate ideas and understand new concepts through materiality as a form of primary research. I may start a project through the traditional form of intaglio, but encounter a range of theory, art criticism, history, curation, new visual techniques and written methodologies along the way.

What advice would you give to other students considering applying for PURE Awards next year?

Spend your time formulating a clear research question. Once you have your clear, concise and manageable research question the other aspects of creating a research application will fall into place.