Vic­tor Agius in Faenza

Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE - Nikki Petroni

For the past six years, art in­sti­tu­tions in the North­ern Ital­ian city of Faenza have been or­gan­is­ing a week-long fes­ti­val called the Set­ti­mana del Con­tem­po­ra­neo (Week of the Con­tem­po­rary) to show­case new work by se­lected in­ter­na­tional con­tem­po­rary artists.

The 2016 Set­ti­mana del Con­tem­po­ra­neo was en­ti­tled Am­bi­ente Come? (What En­vi­ron­ment?). The sub­ject was ex­plored by var­i­ous artists us­ing con­tem­po­rary me­dia, amongst them video, per­for­mance, pho­tog­ra­phy and mixed me­dia sculp­tures, at a num­ber of sites around the city. Be­sides the MIC, other par­tic­i­pat­ing in­sti­tu­tions and or­gan­i­sa­tions in­cluded Museo Carlo Zauli, TESCO, ISIA di Faenza, and six ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dios based in Faenza.

This year’s edi­tion, held from 7 to 16 October, was the first to be or­gan­ised un­der a holis­tic cu­ra­to­rial vi­sion and theme. Dr. Irene Bi­ol­chini, who com­pleted her doc­toral the­sis on the Span­ish artist Miquel Barceló un­der the tute­lage of Dr. Giuseppe Schem­bri Bonaci, was elected as cu­ra­tor of the en­tire fes­ti­val, as well as be­ing the cu­ra­tor for the show at the Museo In­ter­nazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza (MIC). She has di­rected ev­ery show at the MIC since the fes­ti­val was es­tab­lished and also worked at the mu­seum for some years. This in­sti­tu­tion is the largest ce­ram­ics mu­seum in the world which houses a col­lec­tion of some 60,000 pieces.

An­other first at the Set­ti­mana was the solo ex­hi­bi­tion of Goz­i­tan artist Vic­tor Agius at the MIC. Artis­tic ex­change be­tween Faenza and Malta was es­tab­lished in the lat­ter half of the twen­ti­eth-cen­tury by artist Gabriel Caru­ana, who stud­ied and col­lab­o­rated with other ce­ram­i­cists in the city. Caru­ana was the first Mal­tese artist to ex­plore the medium of ce­ram­ics as an art form, ex­pos­ing its po­ten­tial to move be­yond the con­fines of its util­i­tar­ian func­tion and cat­e­gori­sa­tion as solely a craft skill.

The ce­ramic arts tra­di­tion in­sti­tuted by Caru­ana in Malta gave birth to an in­no­va­tive scene of ce­ramic pro­duc­tion. The re­cent small-scale ex­hi­bi­tion hosted by the Gabriel Caru­ana Foun­da­tion at The Mill in Birkirkara, De-Form Re-Form (see ‘The Legacy of Gabriel Caru­ana’, Malta In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day, July 10, 2016), show­cased an ex­cit­ing se­lec­tion of works by con­tem­po­rary ce­ram­i­cists who all in­di­vid­u­ally ex­plored the phys­i­cal, tech­ni­cal and mor­pho­log­i­cal po­ten­tials of the medium. Caru­ana’s im­por­tance to mod­ern ce­ramic pro­duc­tion will be the topic of dis­cus­sion at the up­com­ing in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence or­gan­ised by the De­part­ment of His­tory of Art called ‘The Mediter­ranean Re­cep­tion of Lu­cio Fon­tana’s Baroque Con­tin­uum’ which will be held at Val­letta’s Isti­tuto Italiano di Cul­tura on De­cem­ber 15, 2016.

Vic­tor Agius is one artist who has built upon Caru­ana’s for­mal and con­cep­tual legacy. More sig­nif­i­cant than the use of ce­ram­ics is the over­lap­ping in­ter­est in or­ganic form and the prin­ci­ple of chance as an in­trin­sic de­ter­mi­nant force in the life of an art­work. Whilst Caru­ana’s ap­proach is linked to the phi­los­o­phy of the sub­con­scious artis­tic ac­tion, Agius’ cre­ations re­veal pro­found ex­is­ten­tial de­lib­er­a­tions, ques­tions that are present in all his works. This pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with cos­mo­log­i­cal forces also makes Agius an in­her­i­tor of Josef Kal­leya’s philo­soph­i­cal-the­o­log­i­cal artis­tic thought. He is an in­cred­i­bly ver­sa­tile artist, and has worked in tra­di­tional me­dia as well as per­for­mance, au­dio-vis­ual in­stal­la­tion and earth­works.

Agius worked in Faenza prior to the present event. Kapitell, which was in­stalled at Pjazza Teatru Rjal, was a piece that ac­ci­dently caught fire in Gozo whilst Agius was work­ing on it. Pho­to­graph doc­u­men­ta­tion of this in­ci­dent and the fi­nal in­stal­la­tion were shown in Faenza to­gether with an 1873 en­grav­ing of the Royal Opera House on fire and an im­age of the MIC when it was bombed dur­ing the war, thus link­ing Agius’ per­sonal story with the his­tory of the the­atre and that of Faenza’s ma­jor mu­seum.

For his show at the MIC (15 October to 13 Novem­ber), Agius cre­ated a se­ries of works that in­ves­ti­gate the spe­cific theme In­di­vidui Univer­sali (Uni­ver­sal In­di­vid­u­als). The artist pro­duced sculp­tures out of found ob­jects and tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als that act as vestibules of both per­sonal and col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. Be­ing bought up in very close prox­im­ity to the Ġgan­tija Tem­ples has pro­voked a per­pet­ual in­ter­est in prim­i­tive ma­te­rial and sym­bolic cul­tures, and the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. He is knowl­edge­able on the in­ter­na­tional con­tem­po­rary art scene and in­te­grates cur­rent artis­tic de­vel­op­ments into his work, how­ever Agius’ way of work­ing main­tains an in­ex­tri­ca­ble at­tach­ment to his na­tive land.

His re­la­tion­ship with Mal­tese cul­tural life, from pre­his­tory to the present, is cou­pled with uni­ver­sal spa­tio-tem­po­ral con­sid­er­a­tions. His art is per­cep­tive, si­mul­ta­ne­ously vis­ceral and beau­ti­ful, and deeply fa­mil­iar. Agius’ in­stal­la­tion for the Md­ina Biennale 2015-16, Ak­tar Pawli­jiet, is a won­der­ful ex­am­ple that shows how the artist en­gaged with Malta’s Chris­tian cul­ture, Medieval and Baroque art, the lo­cal land­scape, and con­tem­po­rary evo­ca­tions of his­tory and time. Sim­i­lar holis­tic qual­i­ties are present in the works of cer­tain Mal­tese mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary artists, al­though each con­ceived dif­fer­ing aes­thetic tra­jec­to­ries. They in­clude Caru­ana, Kal­leya, An­toine Camil­leri, Ge­orge Fenech, Vince Briffa and Nor­bert At­tard.

Bi­ol­chini hand­picked Agius be­cause of his or­ganic cre­ative process of in­ter­twin­ing the in­di­vid­ual and the uni­ver­sal. He trav­elled to Faenza to pro­duce works on site and to use lo­cal ma­te­ri­als. Th­ese were re­lated to death, spir­i­tu­al­ity and pre­his­toric forms. IlMewt, for ex­am­ple, com­bined a tra­di­tional lime­stone base and tree roots to ex­plore the con­trasts of per­ma­nence and ephemer­al­ity, mor­tal­ity and im­mor­tal­ity. It por­trays the strug­gle be­tween na­ture and man-made ob­jects, both of which are eter­nally present yet vul­ner­a­ble due to the loom­ing threat of de­struc­tion.

An­other work, Pre­sepju II, rein­vented the tra­di­tional com­po­si­tion of the Christ­mas crib, a ubiq­ui­tous im­age in Malta. Agius aban­doned fig­u­ra­tion to fo­cus on ma­te­ri­al­ity. The sculp­ture is made of rus­tic stone, tree roots, sheep’s wool, straw and 24 carat gold, and is placed on a car­rara mar­ble slab. The choice of ma­te­ri­als is de­lib­er­ate; they are typ­i­cally found in cribs lo­cally. How­ever, Agius sub­verted the em­pha­sis on sen­ti­men­tal re­li­gios­ity as seen in tra­di­tional and pop­u­lar rep­re­sen­ta­tions of bi­b­li­cal fig­ures and scenes to por­tray na­ture as the epit­ome of spir­i­tual life. The use of gold and car­rara mar­ble af­firms the rich­ness of the re­li­gious nar­ra­tive and its per­va­sive mean­ing. The en­tire sculp­ture is a state­ment against the mimetic and the pro­vin­cial and ad­dresses con­tem­po­rary ques­tions on re­li­gious her­itage and faith. This piece is now part of the col­lec­tion of the MIC.

His works were dis­played along­side those of Ital­ian artist Valentina D’Ac­cardi. The ex­hi­bi­tions were con­ceived of as two in­ter­con­nected solo shows. D’Ac­cardi’s in­stal­la­tion, River, was a mul­ti­me­dia nar­ra­tive piece that trans­ported the viewer from the pub­lic me­dia world into the in­ti­mate do­mes­tic life of the artist. Us­ing the news story of the dis­cov­ery of a fe­male corpse in the river, she grad­u­ally went deeper into the event through a se­ries of news­pa­per cut­tings, pho­to­graphs and draw­ings to re­veal that a pub­licly known and dis­cussed is­sue was at­tached to her per­sonal bi­og­ra­phy (the vic­tim was the artist’s grand­mother).

Agius’ next project will be held on 2 and 3 Novem­ber at St. Agatha’s Cat­a­combs in Ra­bat. The in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary per­for­mance called Lay­ers is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Agius, com­poser Mariella Cas­sar-Cor­dina, au­thor Im­manuel Mif­sud, and curated by Vince Briffa. Other mu­si­cians and artists will also par­tic­i­pate in this two-day on-site in­ti­mate per­for­mance.

Vic­tor Agius, Il-Mewt, Found lime­stone base, roots and beeswax

Vic­tor Agius, Pre­sepju II, ex­hib­ited along­side ce­ram­ics dis­played at the MIC

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