The Malta Independent 3 March 2024, Sunday
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The Last Breath, from Mqabba to Paris

Sunday, 2 April 2023, 08:25 Last update: about 12 months ago

Written by Melanie Erixon

Yes, the title is correct.  The Last Breath installation by Katel Delia, which was exhibited at il-Kamra ta' Fuq in Mqabba, Dec 2021 - Jan 2022, is now on show as part of the prestigious Photography festival, Circulation(s) Festival de la jeune photographie européenne (13th Edition) in Paris, at the 104.

And yes I am writing these few lines from a cafe, facing the Seine and joined by three amazing pain-au-chocolat and coffee, while still enjoying the thrill of the VIP vernissage of the festival, last night.

It was quite something when some months ago Katel informed me that the installation had been selected to be part of this important festival in Paris.  And even more so to be invited to join her for the vernissage. 

No secret, me and Katel are very close friends and always hungry for art.  We met for the first time at Ta' Gianna bar in Zejtun, around 8 years ago - thanks to Prof Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci - on a Sunday morning, surrounded by għannejja.  After a few words in broken English and a few in broken French, It was friendship at first-sight.  Since then we have traveled together for art exhibitions, biennales, collaborated on numerous art projects and lots of other entertaining stuff.

Around two years ago, just before we launched il-Kamra ta' Fuq officially, we were chatting while walking in Valletta.  To be exact we were going to some exhibition together and she mentioned a project that she had in mind, which required a small room in total darkness and me quickly replying that we might have exactly what she needs.  Following a couple of meetings and deep discussion of the idea, concept and technicalities, it was confirmed as doable at il-Kamra ta' Fuq.

The Last Breath is a site-specific immersive installation.  It encapsulates the whole room and one enters in a surreal space (an almost otherworldly space).  The subject tackled is that of migration within the Mediterranean and the sad and alarming situation that many got too comfortable with. With the use of various media - light, sound and visuals - Delia transports the viewer to another place, where the experience of the observer will be a homage to the so many migrants who lose their life while searching for a better one. The installation offers different levels of interpretation and legibility, from the idyllic to the shocking reality.

A part of the inspiration for this installation came to Katel when she came across a map on  Migreurop's website, showing the number of persons who disappeared or passed away in the Mediterranean for the years 2014, 2015, 2016. The map shows the coordinates of these fatal incidents and the size of the tragedy.  Katel re-interpreted this information in a most ingenious way through photography and UV light. 

Katel is a professional diver and during many of her immersions she took several photos of underwater air bubbles, creating a variety of images all showing an exhaled breath.  She used these photos, printed on specific paper and mounted on foam boards in her installation.  The walls and ceiling of the installation space are transformed into an upside-down birds' eye view of the Mediterranean, which basically leaves the viewers to wander around the bottom of the Mediterranean basin, looking up to see Malta, other small Mediterranean Islands and the coast of North Africa.  The mentioned photos are used to pin the coordinates of these tragedies and the sizes of the photos are indicating the number of people who perished in each incident - from the smallest indicating between 50 - 80 persons to the largest disaster where 750 persons were lost at sea.  The setup is in total darkness and with the use of UV light, one can only see the outline of the countries and the thousands of air bubbles from the photos.  All of this transforms the ceiling into a sky studded with imaginary constellations.

 

Katel managed to create something visually extraordinarily beautiful which in reality is conveying an utterly sad and desperate situation - basically showing a cemetery at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.  We decided on the title The Last Breath as in this situation, maybe the last thing one sees is his/her own air bubbles when the last breath is exhaled underwater and each bubble can also be perceived as a metaphor of so many muted untold stories, now lost forever. 

The installation is seriously strong in multiple ways.  While it was exhibited at Mqabba, I saw visitors leaving with tears in their eyes, others who started sharing stories with us, others who recounted stories from their own experiences through their line of work dealing directly with migrants, others who wanted to donate money to organizations aimed at helping migrants and others who were at the venue but when they realized what the exhibition was about, they strongly refused to visit. All of this emphasizes what a strong message Katel Delia's art is capable of conveying.

Since 2014, 26,227 missing migrants have been recorded in the Mediterranean.

Delia has a special interest in migration, being herself part of a family who had to migrate various times to different countries along the decades and she is very compassionate towards the people who have no choice but to leave everything behind. In fact, a number of her projects are social art projects and focus on the subject of migration.  Her solo exhibitions at Spazju Kreattiv in 2017, Familja migrazzjoni. I was born there, but i live here..., in 2021, Malta - Tunis - Marseille, and the collective To be [defined] in 2018, by RIMA and Valletta 2018 Foundation are all strong installations/exhibitions focusing on migrants in various ways.

And to conclude a few words about the Circulation(s) Festival.  A great team of 9 independent curators and coordinators manage to bring together the crème de la crème of photographic projects from all around Europe, year after year.  The projects come both from invitations to specifically selected artists as well as through an open call.  The festival is not tied to a specific theme and aims at promoting a review of the current Photography state, each year, in Europe.  I had the chance to speak to Amélie Samson, main coordinator of the Association Fetart which is the creator and organizer of the festival, who mentioned that numerous projects which came through the open call were tackling the subject of the Mediterranean.  She mentioned that they found Katel Delia's project very interesting as it was an installation and even though it tackled the subject of migration, it was done quite differently than the norm as she didn't show photos of migrants nor tackled it in a documentary way, but it was more close to contemporary art.  She added that Delia's project also provided an interesting balanced contrast with another chosen project which tackled the subject of the Mediterranean.  The project Seascapes is by Aliki Christoforou and she uses a mid-19th century technique for photography printing, called Gum Bichromate.  This process produces a painterly rendered result from photographic negatives - which I have to admit is in my top 3 favorite projects from the festival.

Katel Delia is an artist actively practicing and exhibiting between Malta, France and other countries.  The Last Breath installation was a finalist for the Social Art Award in the ArtzID Community Awards 2021.

 

The Last Breath is part of the Circulation(s) Festival de la jeune photographie européenne held at Le Centquatre-Paris, 5 Rue Curial, 75019 Paris, till 21 May 2023. 


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