The Malta Independent 20 November 2017, Monday

The Mdina Biennale, M.A in Fine Arts and the Gazacide

Monday, 3 November 2014, 14:45 Last update: about 4 years ago

The relationship between Malta and France is an ancient one. It is an enduring, turbulent, emotional and profoundly progressive relationship. However, on the other hand one could say it has been concealed and paralysed by the echelons of past powers and, to a certain extent, even from those of the present. It is so well camouflaged that one cannot help feeling disconcerted when encountering the undiscovered depths of these reciprocal historical bonds within our collective memory. This inevitably occurred due to the intelligent and cunning politics of the British regime and its vigorous efforts to detach Malta from Continental Europe: from Italy, of which Malta formed an integral part of one of its kingdoms, from our relationship with France, which dates back to the Roman Empire, if not further, and even from Eastern Europe. With such a political strategy, British imperial power succeeded in isolating us and promulgating the credibility of a direct genetic lineage. Notwithstanding, I now wish to arrive at the contemporary period and to analyse a short yet exciting, in my opinion, happening which I experienced last August. My art and my work are connected to both the Department of History of Art, today a comprehensive entity which even includes postgraduate studies in the visual arts, and also to the Mdina Biennale, which has presently taken, and continues to take, a profoundly international spirit under my direction.  Significant participants hailing from numerous countries, which include England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the United States, Russia, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and others, will be participating in next year's international contemporary art event. It is important to state that all the selected artists have made a name for themselves in the art world, both in their respective countries and overseas.One important objective is to establish a bridge between the Mdina Biennale and the MA in Fine Arts course at the University of Malta so that these artists would be able to share their experiences, talents and experimentations with the MA students. This is a vital step for Malta's future artists to maintain a broad vision of international currents to be able to overcome the country's isolation and open up horizons so that the Maltese themselves may form part of these global currents. This may sound pretentious; however, for those who are unaware of present conditions, such an attitude not only isn't pretentious but contrarily is a very modest artistic 'political' position.When I began to revive contact with old friends from my Paris, Fontainebleau and Moret-sur-Loing days, and thanks to my brother Brian, I established an important connection with Olivier Plique: a Frenchman who possesses a phenomenal love for Malta and Gozo. He quickly acted upon my rather unorthodox ideas and critical stance regarding the restructuring of the Mdina Biennale and on how this should somehow develop into an important source for my academic position within the University of Malta. Being a pragmatic person, Plique instantly drew up an intensive schedule of meetings with French artists and also with artistic institutions. He discovered other links for the growth of a beautiful chain of exciting exchanges. I met Denis Pondruel, an artist with a philosophic orientation, and we immediately discovered a common language, especially when I saw his chamber-model, each one connected to a philosophical expression that in one way or another cultivated human thought. One "enters" into the space of Heidegger, of Valéry, of Celan...and for his Mdina piece, Denis has managed to beautifully interpret the Biblical story of Salome.  Presently, I do not wish to enter into visual detail since Denis is in the process of working on this project which will be exhibited inside the Mdina Cathedral during the weeks of the Biennale in 2015. Gildas Le Reste creates work on moist paper-material, purposely applying ink to reveal the images he is searching for. He is an immensely powerful and provocative artist. After days, or rather months, of discussing with him we arrived at a consensus for Gildas to create a "contract" with the Icon of St. Paul which graces the historic spaces of the Mdina Cathedral Museum. I am myself extremely excited in anticipation of seeing this type of dialogue-echo with Maltese artworks. 

Frédérique Lucien chose a modernist form to confront the idea of the ex-voto. She also decided to establish an artistic dialogue with this paradigm of visual relationality of man with transcendental and metaphoric powers.Bernard Cousinier is an artist who is creatively dedicated to carrying out artistic and aesthetic research on selected spaces. He devises particular "installations" for every space that he chooses. In Mdina there is an ancient subterranean chamber in the Cathedral Museum which is ready to embrace this challenge presented by a 21st century Modernist form. The discussions with Philippe Richard and Vincent Côme are currently in progress. With the former, the discussion centred on the possibility of discovering what kind of artistic relationship he may draw up with the heritage of de Messina and da Saliba, two artists from the Early Renaissance which are strongly affiliated with Malta. This connection has regrettably not been studied properly, something which I cad commented on years ago. Fortunately, today this task is being undertaken by Charlene Vella, a member of the Department of History of Art who is carrying out extensive research on this subject.Vincent Côme has not yet arrived at a concrete decision on his project for the Mdina Biennale, even though we have spoken on diverse possibilities at length.Sylvie de Meurville, who specialises in forms rendered from Baroque textiles, is creating an incredible artwork out of such materials. Obviously, as stated earlier, it is difficult to elicit detailed descriptions at this point in time because of the importance of allowing the process to develop unperturbed and also for reasons of prematurity, since the artists are still working on their respective projects. Dominique de Beir constructs her works out of light and "spiritual" walls contra-posed to works that are reminiscent of books and manuscripts. Her art directly coincides with the manuscripts found in the Mdina Cathedral Museum. Philippe Desloubières conceives monuments which are abstract in form. He uses metal. He concentrates on a form and plays around with it until he makes us witness a certain direct movement in our relationship with this type of sculpture. In a parallel vein with Philippe there is Nicholas Sanhes who also creates metallic forms, yet these are produced through contra-positional weights and balances that he is able to execute by means of metallic constructions. Kasha LeGrand realises beautiful Malevichian whiteness of astonishing purity. Her art encroaches upon spirituality which appears to advance towards nothingness.Christian Jaccard creates artworks with fire, with a flame. Patrice Pantin has a methodological system which technically reminds one of incisions. It is as if he adopted the principal idea of the act of incising and invented a highly interesting practice of creation which will provoke quite a few aesthetic surprises.Finally, there is the 90 year old Master sculptor André Hogommat who greatly honoured me by deciding to allow me, after sharing some thoughts with him, to use a good number of his sculptures to create an installation, using rather anti-Rodinesque ideas. There were other artists, however, together with Olivier Plique, we decided to select those whom I have modestly introduced here for the time being. It is important for me to add some memorable happenings here. The artists were all invited to meet the Maltese Ambassador to France Mr. Vince Camilleri. The meeting was a cordial one, and many points on how to expand the artistic and cultural co-operation between Malta and France were discussed. The next step has been to develop similar connections in England. Fantastic relationships have already begun to flourish between the Mdina Biennale and ArtMoorHouse, London Art Café, and others. We have extremely enthusiastic and substantial assistance from Nadia Spita (London Art Café), Elisa Martinelli (ArtMoorHouse), Marjorie Trusted (Victoria and Albert Museum), Michael Sandle RA, Elisa Bonham Carter (Royal Academy of Arts), and others.The Mdina Biennale has its roots in the Biennale of Sacred Art which used to be organised by the Mdina Cathedral Museum. The present Biennale now goes by the name of Contemporary Art Biennale, (Mdina Cathedral). The Mdina Biennale is different from the Biennale of Sacred Art because, with myself as artistic director, it is taking a new position, a radically active one, not only in the artist and proposed artwork selection process, but also in the creative process of the works themselves by means of discussions and debates. I dream of seeing the Biennale as an integrated and "organic" project where the Biennale will itself be a work of art. I would like to also dream of its ability to transform itself into a forum, into an artistic interchange-continuum space in which artists of various media, of different cultures, of diverse languages will, together with all the Biennale's participants, find an able infrastructure which will permit collective discussion and creation. Only in this manner will we be able to resist the massacres and genocides which are unfolding today in front of our very eyes simultaneously to my encounters with all these artists. The Mdina Biennale must become a space of beauty, yes, contemporary beauty which opposes all forms of genocidal evil. And Mdina is conceived for this objective. A space which has been evolving from prehistoric times, strata upon strata, a space of concentrated multicultural and ethnic levels and layers of all forms of politics and religions. If not in this manner, I cannot visualise a role for today's art. Just like Adorno could not resolve the logic of poetry after the Holocaust, today we are losing the reason for all art against all these bursts of similar genocides.
Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci
Article edited and translated by Nikki Petroni

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