Sitting at a round wooden table, fresh cappuccino, surrounded by the cosy hum of chatter, Valletta’s Jubilee cafe has a habit of engulfing patrons in a 1940’s daydream. However I find myself in another bubble sitting opposite a vibrant character whose relationship with colour is as much a matter of professionalism as it is a character trait. This is Elisa Von Brockdorff, a 29 year old Maltese installation artist and photographer.
Elisa has been working in the creative industry as a visual artist for some time, she has moved away from tradition arts studies and has began her own contemporary explorations. Whilst she studied at BA level in Malta her further education took her away from Malta to Kent in England where she undertook an MA in Fine Art. The scope of the art-scene in the UK is rich and diverse, Elisa’s open minded approach to this scene allowed the British scene to strongly influenced her way of thinking.
Aside her art practice, Elisa works as a freelance photographer, this is how she survives, an occupation that she overtly distinguishes as different from her work as an artistic photographer. Though different, the informal exchange between discourses is present if only technically.
Distinguished influences in the visual product and generally within the work are drawn from Pop art and Surrealist artworks. Although Elisa did not say it, one could see that her uses of toys and everyday paraphernalia, the play on scale, connect her with discourses regarding the uncanny (Das Unheimliche) in Western life.
As we speak Elisa has an exhibition currently on display in the Lily Agius Gallery in Sliema, Malta. Presented at the exhibition are a collection of works that are made following a distinct method. Not all installations can maintain themselves as installations and this is where the cross-over between photography and installation really takes place. The photograph captures a moment. The moment. Where the installation makes it’s definitive statement. For Elisa, this is how her photography becomes more than the installation itself.
Describing one piece of work to me she expands on a narrative involving a wooden chair with four legs on the ground with an inflated helium balloon tied to it. The chair weights the viewer to the ground, a seated object that we have a utilitarian relationship with. The balloon pulls the chair up but it is an act in vain. The aspirations and potential of the balloon may represent hopes and dreams or positive thinking. The chair, which could be realism, will ultimately hold the balloon down to the ground and eventually it will deflate and fall. This intentional narrative relationship between juxtaposed objects is ubiquitous in her work.
How colour comes into all of this is immediately obvious as soon as one looks at a piece of her work. Photographs and installations become conductors for orchestras of colour-psychology. Such works might also be described as calamities of colour and reinventions of kitsch. In fact the adjective ‘kitsch’ is one that the artist tells me she has long since accepted as a part of her work. The blur between high and low brow culture is explored through the simple and often metaphorical reinvention of everyday objects. Some audiences to Elisa’s work will and do find contest with this approach to making work.
Even though the debate about the value and role of kitsch in fine arts has been thrown down, picked up and thrown down again, by art critics such as Greenberg (“All kitsch is academic”), this idea of kitsch being invalid persists. On another line of thought in regards to criticism connected to a kitsch identity is that Elisa’s work intensively uses found objects in her compositions. Whilst this is tangential, artists ever since the prodigious Duchamp have been using found objects and the legacy of his initial controversy has perceivable resonance even today.
The exhibition running between February and early March is not the first in Malta, though this was the first solo exhibition. Though Elisa has a number of Maltese exhibitions to her name there is one other European location where Elisa has exhibited; Luxembourg. There are future plans but there is also the price of living and living comes first.
Listen to Elisa Van Brockdorff’s interview:
My interview with Elisa is a part of a larger program that I have began with the intention of profiling the local art-scene as it is developing in the place that I live today. This is by no means a small feat to accomplish and there are many complications, many of which are to do with the process, especially when it comes to the informal presentation. However I have attempted to present the artist and their work as honestly as I can. By doing so I hope that I can contribute to a greater appreciation of what people are doing in the world.