Walking through the pavilions in the early pre-view days, I am silenced by the heavy flow of human procession, all seeking to take in and harvest the displays. Stranger upon stranger, transient encounters and chaotic intersections become a ritualistic performance by the audience itself. As routes take shape, patterns of movement form and my thoughts slowly displace allowing gut reactions to simmer to the surface. Initially, curiosity and a child-like wonder emerge only to be replaced by a deeper, lasting emotion that sticks like glue to the fabric of my being.
Eyes are everywhere; caressing, invading, transmitting, mirroring, questioning…I ride this wave of human consumption. A subliminal conversation erupts in the crowded spaces of the main pavilion in the Giardini. I escape under the heavy curtain into a blackened space. My claustrophobia intensifies as I grope about to find an exit out into the air, underneath the sky. This grand narrative sits on my chest and a sense of estrangement creeps in. How can it be? How can I witness all this without reacting in one way or another? I too, with my acquiescent silence, am participant in this human drama.
I remember the rushing, the losing oneself and being overwhelmed at this manifestation of humanity. I sit in a post-biennale stupor trying to digest this representation of life processes, this call to activism and to the pressing demands of ecological disasters, climate change and species extinction; to the anger, love, hidden sexuality, rejection that creates divisions; to the plight of so many displaced, so many pulled apart, to all their sorrows and losses. Is it real or imaginary? Is it just a collective dreamscape projected onto the screens and walls of the Biennale, manifested in multi-media installations, artwork, modulation of space and felt in all the ridges, textures, sculptures, contractions and voids that span the narratives presented?
Remembering home, I think of Malta’s Pavilion. The familiarity of form, smell and sound stay with me. The flow of the sea, reflected in the water pooling in new saltpan designs and the smell of seaweed packed tightly in thick walls obstructing and directing passages over projected migratory routes of the Mediterranean Sea are still fresh in my mind. The immaculately white and fantastical bones arranged in an archaeological find display stand out luminescent against the video projections. The sound, a hissing and magical incantation, is reminiscent of the susurration and supplication of the elderly in church.
At the opening of the pavilion, I come across many familiar faces. Dr. Hesperia Iliadou de Subplajo-Suppie, the curator, talks of the patrida, a shared homeland. However, this homeland is more of a collective attunement rather than a physical place. It is a metaphorical, mythical space born out of a need to find commonalities in a time of dislocation, displacement and dispersion. This presents a dissonance, a fracture in the comfort of feeling at home and of being understood. This continuous threat to personal safety and security feels like seismic plates grinding each other leading to foreboding, unease and disease.
How does one reconcile this with our actual homeland? How does one represent this ache, this longing for the actuality and intensity of Malta as homeland, always in a relative flux within the containing Mediterranean? The curator and the artists, Professor Vince Briffa, Dr. Trevor Borg and Klitsa Antoniou together with the architect Matthew Casha and production manager George Lazoglou, come together with a shared vision named Maleth/Haven/Port – Heterotopias of Evocation. This is a quest for the new patrida, a heterotopic rather than utopic vision.
In the opening speech, Vince Briffa asks what it means to be human and how to redefine ourselves in relation to others, how to negotiate our notion of home and enter into dialogue not only with the land itself, but also with the water that surrounds it. Hesperia Iliadou de Subplajo-Suppie reveals that this active struggle implicitly implies hope and that this hope is transcended and articulated through art.
This is the answer to my question. We can only transcend trauma, doubt and disillusion through active struggle. Humanity betrays itself and then in one creative twist, brings to light its visions, curiosities, injustices, hurts and sorrows. This is the function of the Biennale, one that the Malta Pavilion contributed wholeheartedly to.