Malta Set to Surprise Venice in 2017

The two curators representing Malta at the 57th edition of the Venice Art Biennale: Bettina Hutschek & Raphael Vella (photo: Alexandra Pace)
The two curators representing Malta at the 57th edition of the Venice Art Biennale: Bettina Hutschek & Raphael Vella (photo: Alexandra Pace)

Malta is officially returning to the Venice Art Biennale after an absence of 17 years. VIDA speaks to Bettina Hutschek and Raphael Vella, the two curators representing Malta at the 57th edition of this International Art exhibition, to give you a better picture of what’s happening. The Venice Biennale is a hit with some 370,000 visitors expected at every edition.

What is the Venice Art Biennale?

La Biennale di Venezia, a foundation based in Venice, is responsible for organising a major global visual arts exhibition every two years, as well as other events such as the Biennale of Architecture and the Film festival. Having started in 1895, the visual arts event, (i.e. the Venice Art Biennale) is the oldest of its kind in the world. It is mainly located in the Giardini and Arsenale areas of Venice and presents the work of international artists in a central exhibition, many national pavilions, as well as a large amount of collateral events.

What kind of exposure are the Maltese to expect from this event?

The Malta Pavilion is a large, airy and very central hall in the Arsenale, so we expect many visitors. In the first few days thousands of exceptional artists, curators, critics and journalists will have the opportunity to get a preview of the exhibition. All work by artists in the Malta pavilion is featured in the official Biennale catalogue as well as our own catalogue and transmedia website. Various networking possibilities for participating artists are possible as well. Media attention is immense, with over 8,000 accredited journalists expected to cover the exhibition.

Homo Melitensis: An incomplete inventory in 19 chapters is Malta’s contribution to the 57th edition. What does it consist of?

In short, it explores the building blocks of identity at a time when so many people feel their identity ‘threatened’ by others, generally by outsiders. We thought of playing with the idea that ‘Malteseness’ is some sort of separate sub-species of ‘homo sapiens’, with its own characteristics, a sub-species that could potentially be threatened with extinction. We are looking at language, politics, history and archaeology, religious faith, saintly and other iconic figures, tourism and myths generated by it, geology, our relationship with the rest of Europe, and so on. It will be an ‘incomplete inventory’ because we believe that completeness can never be realised, which is precisely what makes identity infinitely richer, open to change. The artifacts we are including come from a rich diversity of sources, and the works of contemporary artists based in Malta and abroad will be used to present internal tensions that tug at the individual and society from different directions.

You two make up the curatorial team for Malta’s pavilion at the Biennale. What’s the duty of a curator here?

We can start by emphasising what our duty as curators is not. We are not duty-bound to present a kind of historical or anthropological exhibition – something you would find in a natural history museum. That would be too literal and would be best carried out by historians. Although we will refer to presentations of natural history, our approach is more poetic; we are attracted to the unexpected moments when one artifact finds its way to the same cabinet as another object fulfilling completely different social or artistic role. We want to surprise … so our duty is to set dialogues in motion: dialogues between objects, but also dialogues amongst visitors to the physical exhibition and the transmedia online setting, which is being created by Stefan Kolgen.

How does the project bridge with the programme of Valletta as European Capital of Culture in 2018?

The Maltese Pavilion will be part of the Cultural programme of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2017. The project will also bridge with the contemporary art programme of Valletta as European Capital of Culture in 2018.

The Malta Pavilion at the 57th Venice Art Biennale – held between May 13 and November 26, 2017, is being commissioned by Arts Council Malta in collaboration with MUŻA (Malta’s National Museum of Fine Arts, Heritage Malta), under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, Culture and Local Government.

© 2016 – VIDA Magazine – Clifford Jo Żahra