The Malta Independent on Sunday

Con­tem­po­rary Art and the Senses

- Au­drey Rose Mizzi Arts · Pablo Picasso · Andy Warhol · Belgium · Can · Austria · Mdina · Saint Paul · Malta

In art mu­se­ums, quite of­ten, a vis­i­tor sits and ad­mires a par­tic­u­lar work from afar. How­ever, how can such mu­se­ums in­voke our other sen­sory re­sponses? Art has dras­ti­cally changed in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury es­pe­cially in the post-World-War II era. Wars, geno­cides, protests and rulers in­spired artists to vis­ually ex­plore what could have hap­pened, what could have been, or else to con­vey a mes­sage that could not be put into words or said out loud. Par­adise as it once was painted can­not be achieved with­out change. Mas­ters such as Pi­casso and Warhol have tried to cre­ate works in re­sponse to such changes as well as en­dan­ger change, but, are their mes­sages un­heard by con­tem­po­rary au­di­ences? Guer­nica can be con­sid­ered vis­ually dis­turb­ing by a viewer in the Museo Reina Sofia yet it shows a re­al­ity that is be­ing lived nowa­days. Warhol, on the other hand, cre­at­ing vis­ually pleas­ing prints of dif­fer­ent an­i­mals that were on the verge of ex­tinc­tion. He ti­tled them En­dan­gered Species. Nonethe­less, have things re­ally changed from then?

Can art be done dif­fer­ently in or­der to elicit au­di­ence re­sponses from dif­fi­cult sub­ject mat­ter? Can art be­come a multi-faceted ex­pe­ri­ence by evok­ing senses to stir the nec­es­sary re­ac­tion from the vis­i­tor? The ex­pe­ri­ence of in­ter­act­ing with art is fast chang­ing, even though art is still be­ing pro­duced us­ing tra­di­tional me­dia. The au­di­ence is no longer sim­ply vis­ually chal­lenged but con­fronted with con­cepts that deal with sound, smell, tac­til­ity and taste.

The APS Md­ina Cathe­dral Con­tem­po­rary Art Bi­en­nale has chal­lenged its vis­i­tors’ senses in many dif­fer­ent ways in pre­vi­ous edi­tions. Artis­tic di­rec­tor Giuseppe Schem­bri Bonaci has al­ways held a dy­namic vi­sion of in­ter­na­tional con­tem­po­rary art ex­hi­bi­tions. Se­lected art­works have ful­filled such aims. For ex

am­ple, vis­ually pleas­ing and colour­ful were dis­plays by James Alec Hardy. Hardy uses elec­tronic equip­ment in his in­stal­la­tions as a phys­i­cal el­e­ment to an ab­stract con­cept. His video in­stal­la­tions are a marvel to look at and in some, Hardy also in­cor­po­rates sound. In 2015, his in­stal­la­tion, set in the grand stair­case of the Md­ina Cathe­dral Mu­seum was an in­trigu­ing in­ter­ac­tion of colour, move­ment and sound. The vis­i­tor was first at­tracted by the sound of static com­ing from Hardy’s in­stal­la­tion but then they are also vis­ually pleased to see primal sym­bolic forms of cir­cles, squares, tri­an­gles and lines on a con­stant loop. The same ex­pe­ri­ence was re­peated in the sec­ond edi­tion, were the Byzan­tine re­mains within the subter­ranean vaults were trans­formed into an ethe­real space. Hardy used old tele­vi­sions and mag­ni­fy­ing glasses to in­crease the pro­jec­tions within the space. This un­earthly am­bi­ence al­lowed the vis­i­tors to view the area as an­other di­men­sion. The sound of static echoed through­out the dark room in an al­most dis­turb­ing yet at­trac­tive man­ner.

Sound can also be ma­nip­u­lated to be­come a piece of art on its own. It can con­vey a mes­sage with­out even one visual to ex­plain what is hap­pen­ing or why it is hap­pen­ing. struc­tures [md­ina] saw Robert Stokowy roam around Md­ina and ab­sorb the spirit of the city through its sound­scape. As Stokowy ex­plains, “…the spirit is what gives life to the phys­i­cal struc­tures but also the in­tan­gi­ble, im­ma­te­rial na­ture of the struc­ture it­self.” Through his re­search in writ­ings, draw­ings and di­a­grams with sound record­ings as raw ma­te­ri­als, the artist man­aged to cre­ate an in­stal­la­tion that cap­tured sound of the city of Md­ina and its char­ac­ter. Vis­ually, the vis­i­tor saw only the bare walls of the beau­ti­fully con­structed subter­ranean vaults. Noth­ing in­ter­fered with sound ex­cept the in­ter­ac­tion of a few peo­ple pass­ing by. The vis­i­tor could sim­ply stand in the room for a few min­utes and ex­pe­ri­ence Md­ina through the artist’s re­search. It would then in­flu­ence their per­spec­tive on the city and how they con­nect with Md­ina and its his­tory.

Tac­til­ity, on the other hand, is dif­fi­cult within a mu­seum con­text, how­ever, it can­not be ruled out. An artist that works with earthly ma­te­ri­als can evoke that tac­tile qual­ity that the vis­i­tor is not used to see­ing in more re­fined sculp­tural rep­re­sen­ta­tions. Vic­tor Agius en­com­passes just this with his Ak­tar San Pawli­jiet in the 2015 edi­tion of the bi­en­nale. With his use of raw clay, soil, ce­ram­ics, stones and peb­bles, straw and twigs amongst many other ma­te­ri­als, he gives that tac­tile qual­ity to his sculp­tures that the vis­i­tor would want to just touch and feel the hands of the artist at work. In this case, it’s not only the sub­ject that in­trigues them but the beauty of the man-made tex­ture of the sculp­ture it­self. Agius worked with mud and soil to cre­ate dif­fer­ent forms of St Paul, an im­por­tant fig­ure in Malta’s past. The crude ma­te­rial used not only shows the tex­ture that comes out in its purest form, but also shows the frail­ness and fragility of the sculp­tures. The rugged­ness of the rep­re­sen­ta­tions al­most in­vites the vis­i­tor to touch and ex­pe­ri­ence the sculp­tor at work.

Art ex­pe­ri­enced with all five senses can res­onate an ex­pe­ri­ence that will only leave the au­di­ence want­ing more. They can­not sim­ply stand there and ad­mire works of art. They have to in­ter­act in a di­a­logue that is far greater than a gallery space or a room within a mu­seum. The all rounded ex­pe­ri­ence has to be over­whelm­ing enough to at­tempt to bring about change. The 2020 edi­tions of the APS Md­ina Cathe­dral Con­tem­po­rary Art Bi­en­nale will dis­play dig­i­tal works such as video, sound and light in­stal­la­tions ac­cord­ing to the di­rec­tion con­ceived by Schem­bri Bonaci for the up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, with the as­sis­tance of Nikki Petroni, Tonya Le­hti­nen, Alexan­dra Camil­leri, Han­nah Dowling, and oth­ers.

 ??  ?? Art­work by Vic­tor Agius at the 2015 APS Md­ina Bi­en­nale. Photo: Vic­tor Agius Art­work by James Alec Hardy at the 2017 APS Md­ina Bi­en­nale – Photo: James Alec Hardy
Art­work by Vic­tor Agius at the 2015 APS Md­ina Bi­en­nale. Photo: Vic­tor Agius Art­work by James Alec Hardy at the 2017 APS Md­ina Bi­en­nale – Photo: James Alec Hardy

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