“The work is constituted of symmetrical polar opposites, one pair of hands on each side of a long table. Each hand is clasped in a fist and one pair faces the other in a possible air of conflict, tension and preparedness to strike. Alternatively, the stance could suggest a certain playfulness between the two entities: a game where concealed things disappear and reappear.”
Last week I walked in Valletta during the early hours of the day, eagerly awaiting the 9 am bell toll to head down to the Old University Building as I was listed to attend the VIVA Curatorial School 2015. Whilst approaching Misraħ ir-Repubblika (aka Pjazza Reġina), a golden shimmer attracted my attention. It originated from a pair of bronze-cast hands forming part of the work Position of Opposition (Hands down) by the young contemporary Maltese artist Aaron Bezzina. The work was positioned centrally in the square, precisely facing the imposing sculptural monument honouring Queen Victoria; a constant reminder of Malta’s submission to the British rule.
The work by Bezzina was set up in a less prominent place and portrays a less dominant stature than last year’s Zieme by Austin Camilleri (VIVA 2014). Unfortunately, it was barely reported on the newspapers and the socially-enticing social media, such as the Xarabank portal, which featured no sensational ‘investigation’ about the matter.
Nonetheless its silence speaks loud.
It resonates in my head the echoes of Bezzina’s intent to produce an artistic installation reflecting the struggle of a population who for centuries fought to become a nation. As a matter of fact, Malta obtained its sovereignty from foreign colonists but still struggles against the megalomaniac aura surrounding politics and religion. The ‘golden’ bronze-cast hands translate the semblance cherished by these establishments, which generally are at halt, clenching their fists, in the act of analyzing how to maneuver the ‘domestic’ and ‘plebeian’ table. Mirages of promises and indulgences often mask the unsophisticated quality of the table. Hands are the catalysts of gestures. Through the movements of the hand, humankind fights, maneuvers, strike deals, betrays, complies, loves …
And what about these hands?
The work is open for interpretation. My critical analysis lays in marrying this work to the current political situation. Concurrently, I also quote Mario Azzopardi in his poem Inċest (Notturnata lil Malta):
Jien l-iżverġnat minn ommi stess
B’nifisha lewn il-bronż qadim
Tbusni għat-tul mal-fjakkli
Azzopardi’s poetic verse literally transcends what Bezzina aims to provoke through his installation. What was written on paper in the 1970’s is mirrored in wood and bronze today. Astonishingly, both works speak of a psychological stagnation that this country is still succumbed to; alienated by surveys and statistics and living the illusion of a contemporary dream. Politicians, in the name of democracy patriotically serve ‘per amor patria‘ whereas the Church is still alienated by the proclamation of honorific titles addressed to Parish establishments that adds nothing more than a nomenclature.
And what about the table?
The table in relation to the two pair of hands is ampler in size but subdued. A population in search of their own identity digging deep in a history based on political and religious bias. Baumann in 1996 identifies the elements of culture which constitutes the global contemporary (postmodern) age.
If the modern problem of identity was how to construct an identity and keep it solid and stable, the postmodern problem of identity is primarily how to avoid fixation and keep the options open. In the case of identity, as in other cases, the catchword of modernity was creation; the catchword of post-modernity is recycling.
Bauman, Z. (1996). From pilgrim to tourist – or a short history of identity. In S. Hall & P. du Gay (Eds.), Questions of cultural identity (pp. 1-17). London: Sage Publications.
Art is an important cultural element; a prerequisite in the constitution of identity. If Bauman’s affirmations were to be applied to Malta’s artistic milieu, that of post-modernity=recycling, we would be stepping backwards instead of proposing something innovative. Most of the art generated in Malta in the Modern period is recorded to be a recycling exercise of what French and USA artists produced earlier during the early twentieth century. I am not saying that in a Maltese scenario it was not effective but unfortunately what Malta produced at that time failed to contribute to a wider perspective.
Notwithstanding the contemporary art crisis in Malta, of which I shall write and explain on other occasions in this blog, I revert to my starting pointing by acknowledging Bezzina’s work as a very provoking piece of art that encourages you to stop and reflect. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the majority of the people who passed-by the work (some of them even thinking that it was a serving table owned by a nearby cafeteria) and considered the work just as a ghost that is metaphysical but physically visible. Hope is the last to die. I conclude this post in dreaming of a better future for Malta and the arts thanks to the contribution of young up and coming artists who are not compromised to claim an unbiased truth!