MA dance and The Ritual (in Malta)

Two series of works by two local artists
Two series of works by two local artists

Review: Black Sea – St. James Cavalier

The opening night at ST. James Cavalier on the evening of Friday 20th saw the unveiling of two new series of work: Black Sea by Adrian Abela, and Nigel Baldacchino’s Sajda.

The Ritual video installation presented by Abela features three burnt Madonnas, each of whom was a Lady of the Oil, “Madonni Taz Zejt”. The installation includes striking film footage captured out at sea. The artist attempted to complete a pilgrimage from Malta to Libya, across the Mediterranean sea and what he is calling “the Black Sea.” Named as such for the reason that the Mediterranean is scoured for its oil reserves and also for due to the fact that a large number of black Africans are found attempting to sail North to Europe.

Abela writes a parable into the symbolic Lady of the Oil, contrasting the desire for successful oil trade with the a symbolic burning which represents the ultimate end to consume and exhaust that oil. Unfortunately, the depth of the subtext lies in a tedious study of the work’s title and the supporting text. A reading of the installation would not lead to immigration without support of the text. Abela’s social comment extends to mainland Malta as the work continues to make a statement about the prevailing religious mysticism and the superstitions that are deemed socially acceptable in Maltese culture. As such, his burning effigies shout about the limits of these superstitions as they leave national waters and then only whisper about immigration.

Two other rooms offer gallery goers paintings and prints by the two artists. Baldacchino’s artworks layer up text and images, creating stories, but the work is largely ineffective. The images owe a lot to Photoshop’s pin light layer tool and the text seems to be better off on its own. Far from being justified, Baldacchino’s images appear to be a tokenistic gesture to the customs of the conservative gallery space and as such they are neither effective nor necessary.

Accompanying his video installation, Abela’s paintings on circular boards feature conceptual symbols on a two tone background. Ships, figures, oil rigs, the seemingly obvious equations of these symbols create short and open-ended narratives. Though the perspective Abela grants the viewer is not clear. What is an observer intended to leave the gallery with? Is it a criticism, a commentary, a statement, an observation, none of these, all of them? Many of those people passing those paintings that day admitted that the subject needs to be articulated more clearly, what exactly is being shown? Why.

Despite its faults the exhibition offered some challenging ideas. Some questioning Malta’s geographical roles and the social values that Malta upholds. Notably the exhibition at St. James Cavalier succumbed to a cliché of being a male dominated arts event. All the artists presenting were male, and consistent with the social norms, the dominant subject matter in all the visual works, was in one way or another, the patriarchal Catholic church. Art should be challenging convention, it ought to be an incubator for diverse and critical thought, at any rate I look forward to the announcement of an all female exhibition for up and coming young artists in Malta.

Review: Masters of Dance – MITP

Performers from Malta University danced at Valletta’s MITP on Friday 20th. The Dance MA students study under the guidance of Jo Butterworth, an internationally renown director of performance arts, and  Mavin Khoo, whose performance experience scopes such popular contemporary artists as Akram Khan and the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company. This January evening exposition of body movement reached out into a wide range of material and presented Malta’s developing contemporary dance scene. As it is popular in Europe today, the performances on this evening used film projection and customised soundtracks to compliment the dance. Butterworth’s gave an introductory speech, concluding with the phrase, “hopefully the work will speak for itself”.

Sitting for two hours through the presentation of body movement, the audience witnessed dance that was consistently misunderstood, plagiarised, and phrased inappropriately. Styles and techniques were rapidly beaten out, ranging from references from Sasha Waltz to Keersmaeker and from Ballet to Modern. Having a basic knowledge of dance will tell you that it was developed for different cultures, during different eras, in different social systems, and was shaped periodically by different aesthetic thinking. The bundling of widely sourced references created sequences of movement that confused the crowd of onlookers. However, one of the four performances sparked a light in the audience, a performance that took a theatrical approach. The performance, entitled “Sssshh!” was engaging, entertaining, and tickled the audience. “Sssshh!” used physical theatre, a technique that helped connect onlookers to a story, and then using torches the performers guided the audience through it.

During the interval, some members of the audience began to express their feelings towards the work. One individual said “the performers were putting styles and movements together, that did not belong together.” Another man that night remarked that they saw “Mavin Khoo’s Swan Lake” appear unexpectedly in one series of dance movements. After the event I was able to speak to a group of audience members who offered their interpretations of the evening. These people, mostly in their 20s, stated that social conservatism contributed to the slow development of Malta’s contemporary Arts scene. They also opined that surrounding social prejudices and prohibitions are a demanding bed partner of the Arts and are impacting performances’ growth. That the theme of animal cruelty results in 20 minutes of dog whines and girls scrambling in ropes, whilst another theme of dreams and memories translates to literal representations of sleeping and conventional uses of mattresses, suggests that the students capacity to be “imaginative” is not encouraged by their institution. Arts desire novelty and imagination, even design requires having “an eye for it”, this evenings choreographers have to fulfill this prerequisite for being an creative.

Whilst international arts shoot forward Malta remains a sapling taking root. This presentation was below the standard existing in mainland Europe. Butterworth’s and Khoo’s challenge is to lead contemporary arts from obscurity and up the rocky road to recognition. Malta anxiously turns towards the title Capital of Culture and it is clear that further support and care is needed before the Arts scene will be presentable for this.

As Friday night’s entertainment came to an end and the audience’s polite clapping faded, an important lesson came to mind. Picasso, one of the Western world’s champions of the 20th Century, said that whilst “good artists copy, great artists steal”. Meaning that one learns his craft by imitating, and by mastering and understanding that craft he owns it. This is a lesson sorely missed.

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An Island of Thieving Cunts

This will most likely be one of my more timid blog entries, largely due to the fact that most of my anger has been dissipated whilst writing a complaint to Arriva. A complaint regarding my 72 Euro savers card that only had a two day lifespan. What antagonised my problem was the bus drivers (two different bus drivers on two different buses) Ponctius Pilate , hands in the air and dusting off the problem, attitude towards the situation. It wasn’t helpful. Additional to this, I had previously missed two other buses by just a few seconds, this was my own fault though as I had been moving between bus stops in an attempt to catch them. Instead I had either moved to the wrong stop or just hadn’t gotten to the stop in time. At any rate the entire bus episode left a bitter taste in my mouth and I just need to spit it out.

Whilst Arriva haven’t technically stolen my money [yet]  there are other people who have. This kind of experience ranges from shop keepers and grocers who charge fictitious prices – often referred to and legitimised under the classification of “tourist prices” but always and everytime correctly categorically termed “theft” – to bus drivers who don’t give change because they forget immediately, even comically, how much change you gave them. Incredible as it is, the existence of such characters persists and they are real as the pixels that form these words.

Valletta Bus Terminal
Valletta Bus Terminal

Whilst in many cases it is impossible to check the prices of things, where it is possible to take a receipt one should take one. Count the number of items on the receipt against the number you have in your shopping bag, check the totals and the gross title for consistency. If its not on the receipt don’t pay it. Obviously, though when buying bread, cheese, or vegetables from the back of a car you can’t check the prices. In which case you can only apply comparative logic to your purchases. If it sounds like too much then it probably is, don’t buy it, it is ok to change your mind.

Grocers where the price on the receipt doesn't match the gross title being charged (Valletta 13th Jan 2012)
Grocers where the price on the receipt doesn't match the gross title being charged (Valletta 13th Jan 2012)
Grocers where the price on the receipt doesn't match the gross title being charged (Valletta 13th Jan 2012)
Grocers where the price on the receipt doesn't match the gross title being charged (Valletta 13th Jan 2012)

Unfortunately Malta adopts this strange mentality that suggests that it is ok to be xenophobic and it is ok to treat “tourists” or the “non-Maltese” to different standards. Of course this is unacceptable but, as with many social standards, Malta is notably behind the moral’s and ethics of many other countries in the EU. Equally as with other developing EU countries the presence of religion within what seems to be state law creates bizarre situations where the law acts to oppress the rights of the individual to free speech or expression. These little nooks in the law system are illogical at best but they impact the way that people will act greatly and of course this appears within the stories that the Maltese might tell you. For example, a few years ago the council funded a group of Spanish street performers to perform in Valletta. The performance period was littered with incidents wherein performers were arrested by the police for appearing as a public nuisance. Whilst this isn’t anything to do with religion, it does say something about conservatism and what constitutes social etiquette.

The double standards that seem to be prevalent in Maltese society are only comparable to experiences that I have from the Istanbuli markets and street sellers. But such a comparison is dangerous and would likely offend the arrogant pride of the islanders here because, of course, Turkey (and perhaps much of the “Eastern” world) is below them.

There is one more experience that I wished to share with you. On the 12th of January I needed to go shopping and in particular I wanted onions. There is a place in Valletta called Ta Jimmy’s and I have shopped there once before. That first time the shopping list demanded dried beans. Because I am new to Valletta I haven’t committed myself to shopping at any one place, instead I spread my shopping around to create more educational excursions. Now I have to make it clear that the attitude expressed here isn’t universal despite what I have all ready said, to some extent I am being very judgemental, and it is not the precedent attitude either. However it is common enough to be of significance and to be overtly noticeable in everyday society.

I followed a black woman into the shop and as it is such a narrow shop there was no way to move past her. As we entered the shop keeper came and and with the words “out, please, go out please,” and a pointed wave of his hand, he ushered the woman out. Consequent to this, I too was ushered out. Of course she couldn’t shop here. What struck me most was the curious tone of the shopkeeper’s voice, it were as if the human being he was addressing were an animal, a dog. Directed to a human being I don’t think I  have ever heard such a tone used like this.

Ta Jimmy's where the Black woman was ushered out
Ta Jimmy's where the Black woman was ushered out

The shopkeeper’s ignorance and xenophobia is saddening and such racism should be socially intolerable. I don’t mean to be setting an example, I can’t wish harm physically or economically upon him, but of course he leaves me no choice but to boycott his shop.

Apart from all of this, things go on and I suppose that I have to appreciate the fact that my own Maltese friends are increasingly akin to rare jewels for the way that they act and think. For a penultimate sentence these words are quite soppy however I don’t intend for them to be retracted.

A Screaming Orgasm

Sometimes life seems challenging, not just because there is a lot to do but because everyone wants to peck at you whilst you work. Actually that isn’t it either, there is that fact that one should adopt a particular upward and onward stance. To the Future and Beyond! And like the global economy at the moment, the only way is up. Only, it is not just the production of money that has a downside but the constant desire for more “life-action-value” is also depressing. The simple reason for that is that one’s feelings are quite deliberately temperamental, as though nature had intended that once the human being had acquired something it should then seek to further its domain. Wanting means not having, so the more we want the less we have (logically). So my aspirations for more travel, more money, more food, simply mean that I have less and less and that isn’t really going to result in happiness. At least it doesn’t feel like it is.

Perhaps I haven’t kept to the point, if I had one to start, but the fact is that as long as I breathe the “values” laden air exhumed by the western ideological social machine that is, actually just a simple one, my native society: I will always be dissatisfied with my own value. I hope that makes sense because I want it to represent my gut feelings of insecurity when I wake in the morning.

To advance from this morbid introduction, I have taken residence in Malta’s capital, Valletta. What’s more is that I have found employment with the very amiable chief designer for tinyislandstudio.

With that I will share with you some photographs of the wraps that we ate for lunch the other day.

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