Glass meets Malta’s representatives for the Venice Biennale

It is an unfortunate truth that one Mediterranean country often overlooked in the art-world is Malta. Anything but solely a summer tourist destination, Malta is a tiny country tightly packed with an abundance of architecture, film, and art. In fact, the prominence of the Maltese art-scene is actually on the rise, with the creation of its first Fine Arts course seven years ago revealing a new generation of young artists. This year marks the fourth time Malta will present in the prestigious Venice Art Biennale, represented by three artists Klitsa Antoniou, Vince Briffa, and Trevor Borg, with their work Maleth /Haven /Port  – Heterotopias of Evocation.

Each artist working within an overarching theme of Homer’s The Odyssey, the works are tied together yet stand completely alone, distinctive through the idiosyncratic approach of the different artists. As said in The Odyssey, “Each man delights in the work that suits him best.”

Vince Briffa, Klitsa Antoniou, Trevor Borg

The Odyssey becomes more than a symbol of the Mediterranean relationship with myth, but relates directly to ideas of migration. An epic permeated with post-war displacement, the tale becomes directly linked to the current cultural climate, not only across the Med, but world-wide. Focusing on the feeling of dislocation, The Odyssey becomes the landscape in which the artists explore Mediterranean identity and the concept of home. The space between reality and myth becomes muddled, questioning the legitimacy of any real-life haven. 

Klitsa Antoniou

Klitsa AntoniouAtlantropa-X, 2019

Cypriot artist Klitsa Antoniou contributes her work Atlantropa X to the Venice Biennale, exploring a 1920s project by German architect Herman Sörgel to partially drain the Mediterranean sea, opening the land to settlement. Proposed as a way to occupy land without forcing the displacement of others, Antoniou distinguishes the gap between history and the present through her work, featuring a bridge which crosses the Mediterranean made from 250 square-metres of seaweed.

Metaphorically replacing the act of draining with the act of building, Antoniou’s work is as cynical as it is subversive. The work is also partially-informed by Antoniou’s own experiences of refugee trauma, after the invasion of Cyprus by Turkish troops in the 1970s. Having lost her own grandfather during this time, the work is mediative and self-reflective, artistically connecting the past with the present. The work also includes footage of immigrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean, a multimedia installation featuring video and sound which she describes as a “visual collage.”

Klitsa AntoniouAtlantropa-X, 2019

Klitsa AntoniouAtlantropa-X, 2019

Although displacement has always been a theme throughout her work, in recent years Antoniou has embraced it as a core principle to her artwork. In particular looking at zones of crisis, her work is permeated with a feeling of todays cultural climate. Through her work, the sea becomes an important symbol for displacement, of both the possibility of safety and constant impending danger, a space for new life and also for destruction.

Trevor Borg

Trevor BorgCave of Darkness – Port of No Return, 2018 – 2019

Trevor Borg’s work Cave of Darkness – Port of No Return incorporates models of animal-bone and ancient artefacts into a mystical landscape. Borg plays with the myth’s sense of perspective, aiming to explore the internal conflict felt with the prospect of returning home to create new meaning. Borg has spent over a year working around Għar Dalam, a cave in Birżebbuġa known for its extensive animal-bone findings, describing his work as “both ancient and contemporary at the same time.”

Creating 3-D models and clay models of real specimens of animal-bone, as well as ancient pots and vases, the artist speaks of his own personal difficulty working with animal-waste, “I managed to acquire some of them from butchers, farmers. I’m vegetarian myself so it was painful to clean these bones.” Presenting an imaginary space through which he visualises the internal process of displacement, Cave of Darkness is a challenging reinvention of Homer’s narrative.

Trevor BorgCave of Darkness – Port of No Return, 2018 – 2019

Trevor BorgCave of Darkness – Port of No Return, 2018 – 2019

Known for intwining the poetic with the political, Borg’s work looks at real fragments of the past through a modern lens. There is almost a ghostly feeling to Cave of Darkness, but also something almost comprehensive. Bringing together both history and fiction, the work examines what was with what wasn’t.

Vince Briffa

Vince BriffaOutland, 2019, Stills photography by Jon Wrigley

Outland by Vince Briffa focuses on the portrayal of Penelope and Odysseus, before his journey home begins. The piece was filmed in the rooms above Malta’s Maritime Museum, a space which captivated Briffa, who describes it as a “film-maker’s dream.” The vast space, copious dust, and natural lighting all lend itself to the historical mise-en-scene, creating a world in which Briffa retells one of the most famous chapters of The Odyssey.

Walking through the space with Briffa, it’s easy to see why he chose it as the space for the film. It feels almost stuck in time, a place which is closed off from the rest of the world. Beyond the space, the sea becomes a crucial aspect to the film, a force which both holds Odysseus captive and is the guide to his journey home. Embodying both danger and a feeling of longing, the film looks at the concept of home and national-identity.

Vince BriffaOutland, 2019, Stills photography by Jon Wrigley

Vince BriffaOutland, 2019, Stills photography by Jon Wrigley

Known for his examination of certain dualities, Outland looks at the conflict between wanting to return home and wanting to stay. Most importantly, the film looks at the isolation tied to forced migration. Throughout the film Briffa conceptualises the idea home has lost all meaning, suggesting displacement has disrupted our feeling of nationality and identity.

Showcased at the Venice Biennale, Heterotopias of Evocation aims to create a space of mediation and self-reflection in its representation for Malta. An artistic conceptualisation of dislocation and displacement, the work is an essential piecing of the present-day Mediterranean within a mythical space. Coloured with the history of Malta and beyond, the artists incorporate their own interpretations of Mediterranean culture into the collective work. Highlighting each individual artist’s own perspective within their shared theme.

While The Odyssey tells the story of one migrant’s journey, Heterotopias of Evocation tells the stories of millions.

by Emma Hart

From May 11, 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. For more information, click here