Published on Wednesday 6 November 2019

As an islander-artist I feel the need to move away from the island from time to time, to detach myself from my roots and immediate surroundings that can become restricting and too inward-looking.

Engaging with the international artistic scene through residency programmes might sound daunting, yet I find them a good context to challenge my artistic research and practice. But why travel all the way to Buenos Aires in Argentina? – one might ask.

Upon my arrival at the Ezeiza International Airport I was immediately confronted with the classic question, “Where is Malta?” It took the passport control officer quite some time to double-check and confirm that as a Maltese and EU citizen I needed no visa to enter the country. Such a question remained common throughout my four-week stay in Buenos Aires while I was artist-in-residence at the non-profit Fundación 'ace para el Arte Contemporaneo.

I first learned about Fundación 'ace a couple of years ago through some online platform. Since then I've been regularly following their Facebook page and receiving their newsletter. One aspect which attracted me to 'ace was their specialisation and focus on printmaking - a medium for which I always had a keen interest, a medium which I try to include in my interdisciplinary projects, and a medium which I also love sharing with my students. Fundación 'ace was included on my residency bucket-list for quite some time, but I wanted to make sure to have the right project in hand so as to make the experience as worthwhile as possible. 

At 'ace I was welcomed by a professional, dedicated and hardworking team who provided me with project consultation and production assistance. My residency project was an extension to my long-term project No Man’s Land that deals specifically with the politics of land and sea in the central harbour areas of Malta, and which kicked off at The Island is What the Sea Surrounds exhibition. No Man’s Land incorporates a number of elements, namely an alternative visual map and a performative piece at sea that includes a narrative. The bilingual narrative is being published in book format, entitled Imkejjen u Rkejjen, this November, and this is precisely what I worked on at the residency. Using the photolitho printmaking technique – a technique I first experimented with at 'ace – I worked on a number of prints that illustrate the narrative.

But why travel all the way to Buenos Aires?

With such a project that is so much related to a very specific context – a context I’ve been experiencing for the past thirty years or so, and researching in more depth for the past two years – initially it was quite challenging to review together with the team at 'ace. However, the initial presentations and discussions about Malta’s geographical politics permitted us to overcome this limitation. The physical detachment from the context and the unbiased advice of the 'ace team allowed me to develop a more objective perspective on the project.

Indeed, it was intriguing to listen to the visitors’ comments at the exhibition opening at the end of my residency. Just by looking at the prints the visitors grasped the ambience of the context, despite this being unknown to them. The project was well-received and generated many questions by the visitors who identified with similar situations in Buenos Aires. This has opened up new conversations and new contacts. And yes, I don’t exclude the possibility of returning to the city and start a project there in relation to my research thematic of urban politics.

I feel honoured to have been the first Maltese artist-in-residence at Fundación 'ace and I believe that this could be just the first of a longer collaboration between Malta and Buenos Aires. Finally, a word of thanks to all the team at Fundación 'ace for sharing their knowledge and advice, and to my sponsors Malta Tourism Authority and Arts Council Malta for their support in funding my travel to Buenos Aires.

Photo credit: Fundación 'ace, by Cecilia Candiani