Par­al­lel Ex­is­tences, The No­tar­ial Ar­chives, A Pho­tog­ra­pher’s In­spi­ra­tion

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - BOOKS -

Pho­tog­ra­pher: Alex At­tard; Ed­i­tors: Joan Abela and Emanuel But­tigieg, Pub­lished: Kite Group, www.kite­group.com.mt Year: 2018 Hard­back Pages: 272

Par­al­lel Ex­is­tences. The No­tar­ial Ar­chives: Alex At­tard A Pho­tog­ra­pher’s In­spi­ra­tion, edited by Joan Abela and Emanuel But­tigieg forges a novel book where pho­tog­ra­phy, art and his­tory in­ter­lace to weave a new ta­pes­try held to­gether by a com­mon thread: the “frag­ments” found at the No­tar­ial Ar­chives in Val­letta, Malta. At the heart of this vol­ume is the artis­tic pho­tog­ra­phy of Alex At­tard. Through the pho­tog­ra­pher’s lens, a num­ber of manuscripts – in par­tic­u­lar a se­ries of con­torted manuscripts, wit­nesses to the rav­ages of time, na­ture and hu­man com­pla­cency which ap­par­ently had no im­me­di­ate pur­pose be­cause of their lam­en­ta­ble con­di­tion – sud­denly found pur­pose. Th­ese pho­tos, to­gether with this book, are an at­tempt to deal with the chal­lenge pre­sented by our own in­ter­net age where the past is both more in­ti­mate and more re­mote, read­ily found and just as read­ily for­got­ten. An ar­chive is much more than stor­age space, how­ever it is only when its pulse teems with re­searchers that this space may claim the ti­tle. At­tard pro­vides a new way of look­ing at ar­chives and demon­strates that an ar­chive is not just for re­searchers but can also act as a place of in­spi­ra­tion for artists. The book is di­vided in two parts. The pho­tos in Part I draw upon what once was, to cre­ate some­thing new; the es­say by At­tard him­self ex­plains the ge­n­e­sis of his artis­tic pho­tog­ra­phy, while five es­says by artists and art crit­ics that ac­com­pany this part pro­vide a stim­u­lat­ing and cre­ative in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the pho­tos. The chap­ters in Part II, writ­ten by nine lead­ing ex­perts in their fields, tease out what can be done with the ma­te­rial that sur­vives in a bet­ter state. Rang­ing in fo­cus from 11th to the 20th cen­turies, th­ese es­says pow­er­fully il­lus­trate some of the many re­search pos­si­bil­i­ties that the No­tar­ial Ar­chives lend them­selves to. It is hoped that this first no­tar­ial ar­chives-in­spired artis­tic ven­ture will lead to many more and that the his­tor­i­cal stud­ies will en­tice other re­searchers to walk through the doors of the No­tar­ial Ar­chives. We know where we are if we know where we came from: thus the frag­ments of the past are the light that shines upon the whole­ness of the present.

Ground-break­ing work Gio­vanni Bonello Pres­i­dent of the No­tar­ial Ar­chives Foun­da­tion

The derelict, un­kempt and mis­treated No­tar­ial Ar­chives of Malta had their re­nais­sance at the hands of some­one who was both a vi­sion­ary en­thralled by the past and an an­tiques ad­dict glued to the fu­ture. Joan Abela gave the ar­chives the kiss of life when their last ves­tiges of vi­tal­ity were drain­ing out, and pre­cip­i­tously. To­day, what had re­ceived life in ex­tremis, is flour­ish­ing enough to give life to oth­ers. This book is one re­sult, born from what up to quite re­cently many dis­missed as ter­mi­nal.

Par­al­lel Ex­is­tences pays trib­ute to the im­plau­si­ble cre­ativ­ity of the pho­tog­ra­pher Alex At­tard who, in the No­tar­ial Ar­chives, dis­cov­ered un­bear­able beauty in de­cay, har­mony in dis­or­der and en­ergy in de­tri­tus. A pho­tog­ra­pher who shuns what meets the eye and finds rel­e­vance in what the eye ig­nores or re­jects. A pho­tog­ra­pher of a par­al­lel ex­is­tence, the poet of junked re­al­ity. At­tard, more par­tic­u­larly his ground-break­ing work, has in­spired a num­ber of toil­ers in the aes­thetic and philo­soph­i­cal vine­yards to trans­late into words the aethe­real lan­guage of that haunt­ing spirit.

Abela and Emanuel But­tigieg have con­verged their dy­namisms to bring about the first col­lec­tion of es­says in­spired by, or re­lated to, the No­tar­ial Ar­chives. A har­vest of orig­i­nal works all an­chored to the res ges­tae of our an­ces­tors, mostly bi­lat­eral con­tracts and uni­lat­eral wills; in other words, the ir­re­press­ible in­ter­ac­tions of life and the in­evitabil­ity of death. Frag­ments from the 11th cen­tury, the vo­cab­u­lary of so­ci­ety, landed prop­erty and men­di­cant or­ders, land­marks that are no more, the pres­ence of Jewry in an al­most hos­tile con­text, new dis­cov­er­ies in baroque sculp­ture, ves­tiges of the evo­lu­tion of the theatre from no­tar­ial doc­u­ments, mu­si­cal scraps, or more, hid­den in bind­ings and the still rather thread­bare his­tory of pi­o­neer­ing pho­tog­ra­phers in Malta. It is quite fit­ting that this book should record the doc­u­men­tary sources of the ear­li­est Mal­tese pho­to­graphic ac­tiv­ity by ladies at the same time that it records the work of a Mal­tese pho­tog­ra­pher who has pushed the fron­tiers of the avant garde as far as they could go.

As pres­i­dent of the No­tar­ial Ar­chives Foun­da­tion I am unashamedly proud of all this. The Foun­da­tion ex­ists to pro­mote var­i­ous ideals, prin­ci­pal among oth­ers, to en­sure that the rich and unique col­lec­tion of no­tar­ial doc­u­ments en­trusted to its care is pre­served and pro­tected in a pro­fes­sional, ef­fi­cient and ac­ces­si­ble man­ner for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of re­searchers and the gen­eral pub­lic. Other ob­jects and rea­sons of the Foun­da­tion in­clude as­sis­tance in es­tab­lish­ing a cen­tre for his­tor­i­cal and sci­en­tific in­ves­ti­ga­tion for the study and dis­sem­i­na­tion of in­for­ma­tion con­tained in the No­tar­ial Ar­chives, and to turn the ar­chives into a state-of-the-art con­ser­va­tion hub.

One of the statu­tory ob­jects of the Foun­da­tion is more­over to is­sue publi­ca­tions and pro­duce au­dio-vis­ual ma­te­rial to spread knowl­edge about the ar­chives, and to or­gan­ise ex­hi­bi­tions that will help the Foun­da­tion fulfil its so­cial vi­sion. This book goes some way into launch­ing this fur­ther part of the Foun­da­tion’s statu­tory func­tions.

See­ing un­der one cover the first re­sults of re­search al­most ex­clu­sively in­spired by the No­tar­ial Ar­chives gives both grat­i­fi­ca­tion, and, more im­por­tantly, hope. To re­sort to a cliché, this is just scratch­ing the sur­face. There are two kilo­me­tres of vol­umes shelved at the Ar­chives, a vir­gin gold mine of ev­ery pre­cious ore and gem, still to ex­plore and to en­rich those who do not mea­sure wealth solely on the money mar­kets.

‘Par­al­lel Ex­is­tences. The No­tar­ial Ar­chives: Alex At­tard A Pho­tog­ra­pher’s In­spi­ra­tion’ will be avail­able from The Book Fes­ti­val be­tween 7 and 11 Novem­ber at The Mediter­ranean Con­fer­ence Cen­tre Val­letta or visit www.kite­group.com.mt

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