The Malta Independent 10 July 2020, Friday

High Spirits at Maltese artist’s UK solo show debut

Malta Independent Sunday, 19 August 2012, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

The latest show to open at the Space2 gallery, Watford Museum, Hertfordshire, UK features work by Malta born, UK based artist Mario Lautier Vella. The artist presents a diverse selection of drawings, paintings, sculptures, installations and video art, all of which has been inspired by daily life in his haunted home.

Originally from Qormi, Mario Lautier Vella moved to his current Hertfordshire home in 2004 but it wasn’t until July 2009 that he had his first supernatural experience there.

“Looking behind my right shoulder I saw him standing in the corner by the door, and as quickly as I saw him, he disappeared but I didn’t mention it to anyone.

“Then the noises began. Night after night I would be woken up by noises in the adjoining rooms. The hall floorboards would creak, footsteps would go up and down the stairs and you would hear a lot of strange knocking. 

“It was only after my neighbours downstairs told me that they were also hearing noises in my flat that I said something. We invited a medium around to cleanse the house but the activity continues to this day albeit not so frequently.”

The exhibition entitled Like Home is the culmination of a two year project completed as part of the artist’s Masters Degree course at the University of Westminster in London, which involved researching Victorian parlour séances. Mario then conducting his own séances in a bid to discover who or what was responsible for all the paranormal activity.

The artist also visited the county archives to draw up a list of all former residents in a bid to uncover the truth, with his findings forming the basis of an installation piece entitled ‘Deeds’.

Other pieces on show explore ideas around the uncanny in the domestic space – how our homes shelter what we wish to keep secret and hidden, where the invisible becomes visible and the familiar becomes unfamiliar. The work also responds notions of an invaded space by considering whether the uncanny can actually provide us with the means to feel safe in our private space. 

Elements including twins, doppelgangers, alter-egos, masks and mirrors, all of which are deemed uncanny by psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank have also shaped the work and are now presented as forms of protection from all that we dread, in a bid to confuse and evade what we most fear.

As well as local influences, the artist also draws upon his Mediterranean roots for other ideas of protected and blessed spaces. 

“Malta is one of the most Catholic nations in the world, and I am interested in how artwork can provide a sense of spiritual protection. It’s also fascinating how age-old superstitions and beliefs around the evil eye, luck and protection also continue to shape people’s thinking, including my own, to this day.”

The project follows his 2010 project entitled Of All That Is Seen And Unseen which centred on ghost stories told to the artist by his family about supernatural experiences they experienced in Valletta, Msida and Bormla. 

“The project continues to prove very popular with a Maltese audience who enjoy watching the interviews I have on my website where my dad talks about life in the Mandragg and the horrific experiences they had with the spirits in their homes. I am always getting emails from people who have also experienced similar things in the neighbourhood and across the island.”

Mario hopes to bring the project to Malta in the near future and is investigating funding options and exhibition venues. He is also researching a new project based around the house where he was born in Qormi and his early days spent in the village.

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