The Malta Independent 22 September 2020, Tuesday

Marie Benoit's Diary: Chronicles of an artist during Covid-19 Lockdown

Marie Benoît Tuesday, 28 July 2020, 13:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Malta’s Renaissance man, Prof. Richard England, certainly made the best of it

"It seems ironic that in this contemporary age of advanced scientific and technological progress, a miniscule virus of mysterious origin and unknown properties has managed to bring the whole world to its knees. Normal life patterns have been dramatically changed and altered and it is doubtful if they will ever return to what they were before. The spread of the virus has also served to demonstrate, another human weakness apart from the physical one; the incapability of generating any form of multinational solidarity and co-operation in reacting to a severe global catastrophe. What has emerged is an inefficient sporadic patch-work response instead of a unified world strategy. The problem is complex in as far as it entails curtailing an economic breakdown while also protecting human lives; a case of balancing life against livelihood while protecting and preserving both.

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My own personal experience during the lockdown period actually produced many positive aspects despite the imposed restrictions. The major plus mark has been the time available to share with family and further consolidate and improve intimate relationships often before regretfully neglected in a fast and rushed lifestyle. The lockdown period has also provided me with more time for creativity. It was artist Bruce Garrabrandt who reminded us that 'Creativity doesn't wait for that perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones'.

With no possibility of outings or social gatherings one found more time for not only creative thinking, new concepts but also for the manifestation of projects which for long had been on the wish list to do. Particularly inspirational was the ability to keep in touch with many of my international friends through social media and digital communication; contact with individuals I consider also as influential mentors.

The Holy Week period of the lock down was practically completely taken up with poetry writing on sacred themes.

JUDAS

 

UNDER A SICKLE MOON

ON A MERCURIAL NIGHT OF DARKNESS

IN A GARDEN PEWTER TONED

IN SORROW JESUS PRAYED

KNOWING WELL WHAT WAS TO COME.

 

THEN WHEN WITH A KISS THE DEED WAS DONE

HE WHO HAD BETRAYED HIM

IN

SHADOW OF SORROW

REMEMBERED THE WORDS

"IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER FOR HIM

IF HE HAD NOT BEEN BORN".

 

THEN AS THE NIGHTMARE OF THE DEED

CRACKED THE ENTAILS OF HIS SOUL

HE

KNEW

THAT WHAT HE HAD DONE

WOULD FOREVER HAUNT HIS DAYS.

 

ANGUISHED BY THE TERROR OF THE THOUGHT

HE TIED A NOOSE AROUND HIS NECK

AND

ON THE GALLOWS OF A TREE

SNUFFED THE CANDLE OF HIS LIFE.

 

A project which also took up considerable amount of time was the design for a church competition in Calabria in association with a young Italian architect Ferruccio Novelli. Designing sacred spaces for today, an era which demotes the sacred and promotes the secular remains a fascinating and challenging venture.

I have always attempted to follow Pliny's advice of allotting daily time for drawing 'Nulla dias sine linea'. The lockdown period allowed even more time for me to prepare and produce drawings for Metropoli e Mythopoli a Timea Rome published book on the thematics of real and imagined urbanities. Some one hundred drawings of Malta and Gozo for a forthcoming Kite publication Melita e Gaulos were also completed.  What proved to be particularly fascinating was the supervision process via WhatsApp imagery of the Dar il-Hanin Samaritan on-going meditation oasis at St Venera; a contemplative garden based on Biblical themes commissioned by the Society of Christian Doctrine, my most imaginative and appreciative clients with whom I have had an extraordinary inspirational half century relationship.

The lockdown period also allowed me time to finalize my Lazarus book, a prose-poem meditation on the resuscitation of Lazarus, surely one of the most intriguing personalities of the New Testament (my choice from the Old Testament would be Cain, on whom I am also in the process of preparing a publication. As the first human to establish a dialogue with God and the first architect with his founding of the city of Enoch, Cain remains, despite his heinous fratricide, a fascinating personality). After my Orpheus account of the master musician's abortive mission to the underworld, in the Lazarus publication I meditate and contemplate on the resuscitated personality's undisclosed four day afterlife experience. The publication questions why Lazarus recounts no tale of his other-worldly sojourn and why all remained concealed and untold.

Through prose, poetry and graphic illustrations I venture to describe what the lapidate wanderer might have experienced in afterlife, where infinity lurks and eternity dawns. It is an attempt to reveal the arcane mysteries of the post-mortem shadow land and what lies in that inexplicable beyond; a theme forever begging human cognizance; a prose-poem investigation as to why Lazarus remains silent and mute and reveals nothing of his transient four days of real time in no time. The book designed by Maria Degabriele of Sense and published by Kite due to be launched in September also features a foreword by architect Daniel Libeskind, an afterword by Paul Sant Cassia, and a sculpture by Jacquie Binns.

The Covid-19 lockdown has convinced me more than ever of the importance of making full use of one's time, even if hindered by the complex circumstances. Time remains our most precious gift. Goethe reminded us that 'every second is of infinite value'; so whatever the circumstances, 'whether it is the best of times or the worst of times', we must remember that 'it is the only time we have' (Art Buchwald)."

Thank you Prof. England. You always give us something to think about in your writings, your art and  your architecture.

 

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