An in­sider’s view of the post­grad­u­ate stu­dent art ex­hi­bi­tion

Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE - Nikki Petroni Leanne Lewis Di­aphanous

The Mas­ter’s in Fine Arts course was opened by the Depart­ment of His­tory of Art, Uni­ver­sity of Malta in Oc­to­ber 2014, ex­actly two years ago. The course was de­signed by Dr. Giuseppe Schem­bri Bonaci who con­sulted with a num­ber of for­eign pro­fes­sion­als from lead­ing art acad­e­mies.

The first group of stu­dents to grad­u­ate com­pleted the course only a few days ago af­ter suc­cess­fully de­fend­ing their dis­ser­ta­tion projects in the pres­ence of mem­bers of the Depart­ment and the ex­ter­nal ex­am­iner Dr. El­iza Bon­ham Carter (Royal Academy of Arts, Lon­don).

The course was com­pre­hen­sively de­signed to in­cor­po­rate his­tory, the­ory and prac­tice for stu­dents to de­velop in­tel­lec­tu­ally as well as tech­ni­cally. They were made to en­gage with con­tem­po­rary aes­thetic and philo­soph­i­cal de­bates and tackle th­ese ques­tions in their prac­ti­cal tasks. It was this main el­e­ment of the course that posed the great­est chal­lenge to the stu­dents. Dr Schem­bri Bonaci’s ob­jec­tive was to es­tab­lish a well­rounded course that would en­cour­age stu­dents to be knowl­edge­able, con­sci­en­tious and highly-skilled.

I was given the op­por­tu­nity to work with the stu­dents from the be­gin­ning of the course as I at­tended lec­tures and led tu­to­ri­als on Mal­tese and in­ter­na­tional modern art. The stu­dents were in­cred­i­bly ded­i­cated and spent all their time de­lib­er­at­ing aes­thetic and so­cio-po­lit­i­cal is­sues, analysing how to trans­late th­ese same is­sues into cre­ative art­works. Watch­ing them ma­ture ar­tis­ti­cally, in­tel­lec­tu­ally, and also per­son­ally, over a two-year pe­riod was re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing. The MA Fine Arts Fi­nal Projects ex­hi­bi­tion show­cased this on­go­ing process of re­search and prac­tice. It was held be­tween Septem­ber 15 and 25 at Splen­did in Strait Street, Val­letta City Gate and the Ad­do­lorata Ceme­tery (the lat­ter two clos­ing on Septem­ber 30 and Oc­to­ber 1 re­spec­tively). The end re­sult evinced their hard work and growth, but, more im­por­tantly, dis­played their tran­si­tion into in­de­pen­dent cre­atives.

The group of five stu­dents pro­duced art­works that con­tended with present-day val­ues and ideas and their vis­ual man­i­fes­ta­tion. Each one ex­plored dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als and tech­niques to pro­duce hang­ing works, in­stal­la­tions and pub­lic art, work­ing with a num­ber of tu­tors who guided them through­out the process.

Jeremy Amaira’s se­ries of char­coal draw­ings ti­tled Ap­pear Miss­ing dealt with the sub­ject of death and power by link­ing the in­evitabil­ity of mor­tal­ity and man­made sys­tems that jus­tify the killing of mil­lions of in­no­cent peo­ple. This in­ter­sec­tion of the nat­u­ral and the man­u­fac­tured, that which was framed by Michel Fou­cault as biopol­i­tics, ex­poses the sub­jec­ti­va­tion of the hu­man body to power. Jeremy ex­plored this philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion vis­ually by blur­ring form and ob­scur­ing the vi­sion of parts of the draw­ings by con­ceal­ing them with trans­par­ent pa­per. He de­con­structed bound­aries and vis­ual clar­ity, show­ing that, con­trary to the seem­ing or­der of po­lit­i­cal la­bels, the hu­man body it­self is un­de­fin­able.

Mor­tal­ity and hu­man suf­fer­ing were also in­te­gral to Clint Calleja’s large wooden sculp­ture Modern Ir­reg­u­lar Arg­onauts in­stalled at the Ad­do­lorata Ceme­tery. Clint vi­su­alised the un­re­lent­ing strug­gle of mi­grants cross­ing the Mediter­ranean Sea to es­cape vi­o­lence and war in their home coun­try by cre­at­ing a wooden boat in­scribed with Mal­tese sur­names. Be­ing aware of how peo­ple have be­come de­sen­si­tised to the news of mi­grant cross­ings due to the ubiq­uity of such sto­ries in the me­dia, Clint turned an anony­mous boat into some­thing fa­mil­iar, giv­ing it a Mal­tese iden­tity to pro­voke the lo­cal viewer to em­pathise with the plight of mi­grants. It was also a com­ment on shared his­to­ries of mi­gra­tion and the un­fixed na­ture of hu­man iden­tity.

Noel At­tard like­wise pro­duced a large pub­lic sculp­ture in­stalled at Val­letta City Gate called It-Taraġ. The iron and con­crete piece ad­dressed the cur­rent state of pub­lic mon­u­ments in Malta and how th­ese have been used to pro­mote ideas of na­tional iden­tity and the shap­ing of pub­lic space. The com­plex, up­ward-thrust­ing struc­ture pur­posely de­fied fig­u­ra­tion to un­der­line the col­lec­tive role of pub­lic art pieces. Noel tasked to lib­er­ate pub­lic art, and by im­pli­ca­tion also pub­lic space, of na­tional ref­er­ences that are ex­ploited for po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage. It com­mu­ni­cates with the uni­ver­sal­is­ing voice of ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism and main­tains the rel­e­vance of ab­strac­tion within the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal con­text, de­spite the con­tra­dic­tory use of ab­stract art by po­lit­i­cal pow­ers to pur­sue global dom­i­nance.

Re­birth was a piece pre­sented by Matthew Far­ru­gia which in­te­grated ab­strac­tion and or­gan­ised de­sign. It was an an­a­lytic work that en­tered into the cre­ation of art by means of nat­u­ral pro­cesses. Matthew’s ob­jec­tive was to pro­duce a work whose form was de­ter­mined by chance, re­ly­ing on the el­e­ments to ma­nip­u­late his orig­i­nal piece. It un­der­lined the art­work as a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween artist and na­ture. This was linked to al­chem­i­cal the­o­ries on the ren­der­ing of form and the philo­soph­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions of ma­te­rial prop­er­ties and their mal­leabil­ity. A metal struc­ture was built to link four sculp­tures to the cen­tral ob­ject to show the trans­fer­ence of en­ergy from the four el­e­ments to ob­jects, es­sen­tially en­sur­ing the con­tin­u­a­tion of life and its man­i­fes­ta­tion in vari­able forms.

The last project was an im­mer­sive in­stal­la­tion by Leanne Lewis which was pro­foundly con­cerned with na­ture and the de­struc­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment. Di­aphanous con­sisted of hang­ing chif­fon strips upon which were printed draw­ings of trees. Leanne used her per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of view­ing the cut­ting down of a tree to com­ment on the global prob­lem of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion due to ram­pant in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and dis­re­gard for the world around us. The del­i­cate em­bel­lished chif­fon strips evoked a sense of tran­quil­lity and seren­ity, an ex­pe­ri­ence in­tended to re­mind us of the ne­ces­sity of na­ture to hu­man well­be­ing. The work un­der­lined the in­sep­a­ra­bil­ity of man and na­ture. En­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues have be­come cen­tral to con­tem­po­rary art that is crit­i­cal of ne­olib­er­al­ism and cli­mate change, and Leanne’s work, by par­tic­i­pat­ing in this in­ter­na­tional di­a­logue, em­pha­sised the global pre­pon­der­ance of this trou­bling is­sue.

It is es­sen­tial that art deals with lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional so­cio-pol­i­tics and en­gages with its sur­round­ings through aes­thetic con­sid­er­a­tions. I do be­lieve that all five stu­dents man­aged to achieve this dif­fi­cult bal­ance of cre­at­ing vis­ually and in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lat­ing pieces. Hav­ing vis­ited a num­ber of ex­hi­bi­tions by fine arts grad­u­ates in Lon­don held an­nu­ally by the lead­ing art acad­e­mies, it may be opined that the Mal­tese stu­dents were able to com­fort­ably com­pete with stu­dents from the Royal Academy, the Slade, Cen­tral Saint Martins, and all the other ma­jor in­sti­tutes.

A con­sis­tent at­tribute ev­i­dent in the MA Fine Arts Fi­nal Projects ex­hi­bi­tion art­works that I have not ob­served else­where is the ap­proach to art as a po­lit­i­cally-com­mit­ted prac­tice. One of the pri­mary pur­poses of art is to make one think by ex­pos­ing them to cur­rent is­sues, philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions, or to new per­spec­tives on re­cur­rent sub­jects. Th­ese stu­dents were taught to be per­cep­tive, to an­a­lyse and to be crit­i­cally in­vested in their art, el­e­ments that are em­bod­ied by all th­ese projects. If this is the re­sult of their first ex­hi­bi­tion as mas­ter’s grad­u­ates, then I am hope­ful that they will con­tinue to de­velop and pro­duce good and in­tel­li­gent works of art.

Noel At­tard It-Tarag

Clint Calleja Modern Ir­reg­u­lar Arg­onauts

Jeremy Amaira Ap­pear Miss­ing

Matthew Far­ru­gia Re­birth

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