VIVA. Opening Doors to Visual Arts in Malta | HERMAN BASHIRON MENDOLICCHIO
Running from the end of August to the beginning of October 2015, the 2nd Edition of VIVA (Valletta International Visual Arts Festival), saw the Maltese capital offer up a wide range of activities, events and opportunities to reflect on the relationship between contemporary art, communities and contexts.
In terms of dimensions and continuity, VIVA is fast becoming the main event and experience concerning contemporary art in Malta. Following the success of the first edition (2014), the main aims have become to strengthen its presence in the national cultural context, to itself as a point of reference, and to create an impact on the local sector.
In a small society like Malta’s, VIVA’s role is both essential and increasingly necessary. The shortage of contemporary art events on the island, which has only very recently opened its doors to contemporary visual art, places high expectations and huge responsibilities on VIVA. Today, it is the main bridge connecting the local and international artistic and cultural contexts. In this sense, VIVA functions as a platform for the creation of exchange opportunities at an international level –between local and international professionals– as well as operating as a transversal project that is already revitalizing and stimulating collaboration between Malta’s different cultural entities.
Curated by Raphael Vella –and organized in partnership with several local organizations– the 2015 edition concentrated on three main components: 1) the exhibitions 2) the curatorial school and 3) the educational programme.
Under the title “Communities and Contexts”, VIVA 2015 attempted to understand the different meanings and values of “co-existence”, as well as to reflect on the experience of art in those spaces –physical or not– that we inhabit as individuals and communities.
According to the Curator and Artistic Director of the Festival of the 2015 edition, beyond the international connections, “a greater emphasis [was] being placed on the importance of relating the global with the local”.
Several exhibitions were organized in the framework of the festival and most of them were located at the Saint James Cavalier Centre for Creativity.
Claudia Larcher, Panorama | Die Einzige und Ihr Eigenheim
Good Walls Make Good Neighbours, curated by Raphael Vella, focused on the ambivalence, heterogeneity and multiplicity of meanings and functions of walls. Intrusion, division, separation, privation, control, protection, intimacy, privacy, border and –in a broader sense– the construction of home, neighborhood, city, country, nation and so on, are all notions related to the physical as well as imaginative concept of wall. The cycle of construction, demolition and reconstruction, appears through different perspectives in Yael Bartana’s video Summer Camp; in Sonia Guggisberg’s video installation Last Dream; in the clean and geometric photographs of David Pisani, part of his series The Walls of Perception; as well as in Duygu Nazli Akova’s beautiful video-mosaic The Hive. The works presented by Tom van Malderen, Claudia Larcher and Teresa Sciberras, investigate and experiment design and architecture, while the artworks of Zineb Sedira and Sarah van Sonsbeeck mainly focus on human relationships and on the micro and macro walls that separate lives and histories.
Another central exhibition hosted in the Saint James Cavalier Centre was The Culture of Ageing. Curated by Lennard Dost and Mare van Koningsveld, the project is co-produced by the two European Capitals of Culture 2018, Valletta and Leeuwarden, and is part of a vaster cooperation agreement between the Maltese and Dutch cities.
Ageing populations is undoubtedly one of the most critical aspects of the contemporary era –not only in Europe but also in many countries worldwide. As such, it is a reality that is provoking enormous changes and transformations at economic, cultural and social levels.
Through multiple perspectives and from different territories and cultural experiences, several artworks addressed this demographic development and its consequences.
Between artistic practice and social research, the exhibition saw its curators and artists raising urgent questions concerning both Malta and the international situation. As described in the catalogue “The Culture of Ageing is about these kinds of issues: how do societies deal with an ageing population? And what role do seniors have in various societies? With our exhibition project we research the Maltese situation, but we do also look at other cultures and we do so from various perspectives”.
Azahara Cerezo, Mediterranean Sunset (2015)
Installation – single channel video and photographs
Other exhibitions –smaller in scale and production, but equally thought-provoking– were organized in the framework of the VIVA festival. Unexplored Territories: Palestinian Video Art, curated by Iury Lech, focused on the long-lasting territorial catastrophe of Palestine. The everyday sense of displacement and dispossession or the new –forced and imagined– relations with land and landscape, are addressed in the videos of Larissa Sansour, Basma Alsharif, Khaled Jarrar, Taysir Batniji, Sama Alshaibi and Ala’ Younis.
Zvedzan Reljic, in collaboration with the researcher Elise Billiard, presented the photographic project Beltin –an attempt to define the inhabitants of Valletta (il-Belt, “The City” in Maltese) through their words and emotional descriptions; the Divergent Thinkers: Connect project was dedicated to young and emergent Maltese artists; and Position of Opposition (Hands down), an installation by Aaron Bezzina of a table with two pairs of fists defying each other from each side, was placed in the central Pjazza Regina, completing the stimulating programme of exhibitions.
Aaron Bezzina, Position of Opposition (Hands down), 2015. Photo by Elisa von Brockdorff.
Curatorial School and the Educational Programme
One of VIVA’s most interesting activities –as well as one of the most innovative for the cultural ecosystem of Malta– is the Curatorial School. The second edition of this programme consisted of a week of talks, lectures and workshops delivered by international curators, artists and researchers sharing their experiences and projects with students and participants, mostly from the local cultural sector. The lack of specific university programmes on curating, art criticism or new discourses and developments of contemporary art makes the Curatorial School an exciting opportunity and a different learning experience for its participants. As previously stated, the School acts as a bridge between the local and the global, inspiring new ideas and establishing possible long-term relationships and collaborations at an international level.
Curatorial School 2015. Photo by Chris Mangion.
Another important feature of the VIVA Festival is its focus on educational programmes. Among these activities, it is worth mentioning Imagination and the City, a course held by Christoph Schäfer; What’s your secret? / X’inhu s-sigriet tieghek?, the elderly workshop organized and run by Mare van Koningsveld and Yvonne Blaauw; and the unLOCK project developed by Pierre Mifsud in collaboration with inmates of the Corradino Correctional Facility.
Following the logic of decentralizing culture in the search for and construction of new geographical flows that escape the over-saturated centres of “contemporary global art”, VIVA and the other activities programmed for Valletta 2018 constitute significant case studies revealing new ways of understanding the relationship between art, culture and communities. Their examples also represent an opportunity to discuss and analyse, from another context and perspective, the contribution of art and culture to future developments of cities and regions, particularly in light of the growing connections between local and global features of our society.
VIVA is a learning project and experience that aims to consolidate itself by becoming both a meeting point and shared opportunity for the entire artistic and cultural sector in Malta.
 VIVA 2015 was organized by: Valletta 2018 Foundation. European Capital of Culture; Arts Council Malta; Saint James Cavalier. Centre for Creativity; Agenzija Zghazagh; and supported by numerous partners.
 Raphael Vella, “If I Were in Your Shoes: Communities and Contexts”, VIVA 2015 Catalogue. Malta, 2015. Page 5.