Maleth / Haven / Port – Heterotopias of Evocation is the title of Malta’s Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale. The team comprises Dr Hesperia Iliadou Suppiej (lead curator), Vince Briffa (artist), Klitsa Antoniou (artist), Trevor Borg (artist) and Perit Matthew Joseph Casha (architect/designer). Borg, Briffa and Antoniou discuss the themes in the show.
A: Malta’s Venice Pavilion is entitled Maleth/ Haven/ Port- Heterotopias of Evocation. How does the exhibition represent the 3 artists on display – how do they work together to create the show?
VB:The pavilion is really one artwork – one concept. We look at the concept of the port from three different historical, mythological, philosophical, political and of course artistic standpoints. The Pavilion is in reality a space in continuous flux, where we personally and collectively negotiate concept and space.
TB:Our work is linked on various levels. All the pieces speak of this “other place” which Michel Foucault termed “Heterotopia” – connecting different locations. My work, like the others, also responds to displacement and movement.
KA: There is an underlying common ground. We focus on the role of the island as a cultural nucleus of the Mediterranean Sea – both in history and in underlining contemporary concerns of displacement and migration. Drawing on the tri-fold of history/archaeology, myth/tradition and vision/expectation, Maleth / Haven / Port – Heterotopias of Evocationaims to create a locus of artistic conversation for the whole of the Mediterranean Sea … it attempts to look outwards and place Malta in a geographical and geopolitical context.
A: The exhibition draws a line between reality and fiction, looking at our ideas of “haven” in times of crises. What crises do the artists delve into? How does the pavilion seek to reflect our world as it is today in terms of social / political conflict?
VB:I personally feel that rather than drawing a line, the pavilion further blurs the separation between the various issues of social and political conflicts that in reality have been with us since millennia. The crises that the works delve into include ones of insecurity, displacement, power, belonging and exile amongst others and focus on the anxiety that such issues bring with them.
TB:My work relocates “reality” in an imaginary space. How does imagination impinge on or reconfigure the real? Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly difficult to delineate truth from fake news. How important is it to identify truth from fiction?
KA:Living in the Mediterranean amounts to living amidst military, political, economic and social complexities, enviable wealth, grievous poverties, economic fluctuations, ecological disasters, political corruptions, large transformations in the aftermath of war, and forced migrations. In examining my work Atlantropa X, crisis is perceived in the uncertainty of Mediterranean, in its construction characterised with socio-political and cultural borders which are constantly shifting. Atlantropa-Xdraws on this plural space, on a territory charged with history but also with conflicts between the different cultures and religions.
A: How will the show tie into ideas about the Malta coastline? How is the landscape mirrored in the works?
VB:The Maltese coastline is both present visually and spatially and also hinted at by the three works. In my case, OUTLANDincorporates troughs of water that lie underneath the projection frame and reflect the film. They are in the shape of salt-pans, very common on the shores of the Maltese islands. Salt pans are situated at the edge between sea and land, a liminal place that constantly changes according to the whims of nature. through architectural interiors.
TB: The work responds to place – both real and imaginary. It emerges from a cave in Malta but then it moves in different directions. It presents a huge find, a clutter of animal remains and ancient relics pertaining to lost civilizations. It merges history with imagination, hence it makes (-up) history. Is there such thing as unbiased history?
KA: In Atlantropa X,the sea’s evasiveness becomes a metaphor for the position of Cyprus between East and West, and the Mediterranean as an “in-between: place which remains open-ended and dynamic, whose socio-political and cultural borders are constantly shifting. Malta is not defined exclusively by what is happening within its borders but respectively by what is happening in the waters and the lands surrounding it…whatever that implies.
A: What does the idea of “home” mean to the artists?
VB: We all come from Mediterranean islands. The work relates to the struggle between land and water, pegging to the Deleuze’s reflection on the life of islanders, when he says that “Humans cannot live, nor live in security, unless they assume that the active struggle between earth and water is over, or at least contained.” The three works perhaps attest to this attempt at such a sense of security from historical, mythological as well as political perspectives.
KA:Drawing from my experience as a refugee, quite stubbornly, we never really became accustomed to a new location, and often refer to ourselves as “strangers in our homeland.” Loss inevitably plays a significant part in the formation of Cypriot identity. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking of refugees as people who are simply defined by the loss of their property, the houses and land they owned, their vanished crops and trees. Refugee losses cannot be counted in terms of quantities of money or property, but need to be understood as something more essential; as the loss of “meaning,” or the loss of places saturated with experience, of past patterns of social life. Refugees have lost the key structures of meaning in their lives, and as a result, their post-war behaviour must be understood as the process whereby they seek to regain them.
What do you hope viewers take away from the show?
VB:Viewers can experience the show on many levels. The Pavilion’s design is one that is all-embracing. The three pieces complement each other and present a sense of oneness, also through the collective soundscape designed for OUTLANDthat is present in the pavilion. Viewers will hopefully read through the richness of the many layers of meaning of life lived between land and sea.
The Malta Pavilion is presenting the exhibition Maleth/ Haven/ Port- Heterotopias of Evocation at the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia located in the Artiglierie of the Arsenale.
1. Vince Briffa, OUTLAND.
2. Klitsa Antoniou, Atlantropa-X.