Published on Thursday 6 September 2018

Maleth / Haven / Port - Heterotopias of Evocation is the title of the selected curatorial project that will represent Malta at the next Biennale di Venezia in 2019

Setting Malta, Maleth, at the centre of its theme, the project focuses on the role of the island as cultural centre of the Mediterranean Sea, both in history and in current times. The project seeks to present an exhibit which invites the audience to reflect on their own lifetime journey of self-discovery, their own search for a personal Haven/ Port. Drawing on the tri-fold of history/archaeology, myth/tradition and vision/expectation, the exhibit aims to create within the space of the Malta Pavilion a topos/locus of artistic conversation for the whole of the Mediterranean Sea.

Absolutely entuned with this year’s theme of the Venice Art Biennale as described by its artistic director, the project 'will aim to welcome its public to an expansive experience of the deep involvement… engaging visitors in a series of encounters...', leading to self-discovery. Creating a space within a space, Evoking Heterotopias invites the audience to participate in an intuitive dialogue with the artworks which are organically placed within the built shell of the Venetian Arsenal. As vessels/ islands within a sea, artworks come together, in creating a unique experience for the visitor, who is asked to traverse the exhibition space in a voyage of self-discovery that takes place in a suggestive fictitious space of controlled light and sound.

The winning team is composed of Dr Hesperia Iliadou Suppiej (lead curator), Vince Briffa (artist), Klitsa Antoniou (artist), Trevor Borg (artist) and Perit Matthew Joseph Casha (architect/designer). The production management team is composed of Mr Stephen Ciantar and Mr George Lazoglou.

The aim of the Malta Pavilion is to offer a platform through which Maltese contemporary artistic practices understood within the broadest sense of the term can be exposed, contextualised and presented to an international audience.

The 58th International Art Exhibition will be titled May You Live in Interesting Times, a phrase of English invention that has long been mistakenly cited as an ancient Chinese curse that invokes periods of uncertainty, crisis and turmoil.

La Biennale di Venezia 2019 artistic director Ralph Rugoff explained his choice for the theme:

“an exhibition should open people's eyes to previously unconsidered ways of being in the world and thus change their view of that world...” where “the meaning of artworks is not embedded principally in objects but in conversations - first between artist and artwork, and then between artwork and audience...”

Malta returned to La Biennale di Venezia in 2017 after a 17-year absence. Prior to that, it had participated with a special exhibition of Maltese Artists in 1958 and a National Pavilion in 1999.

The 2017 Malta Pavilion, entitled Homo Melitensis: An Incomplete Inventory in 19 Chapters, received international press acclaim, garnering a host of high-profile media accolades and acknowledgements. The Observer listed it as one of the five best pavilions, out of over 85 national pavilions, the Culture Trip listed it as one of “the 10 National Pavilions you can’t miss at the Venice Biennale” and Forbes magazine listed it as one of the 13 reasons to visit the Biennale Arte 2017. Over 600,000 people visited the 57th International Art Exhibition and over 5,000 international journalists attended the press preview.

A Preliminary Market Consultation (PMC) in the form of an international call for the engagement of a curatorial team to curate the Malta Pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia 2019 was published by Arts Council Malta, in its capacity as Pavilion Commissioner, under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, Culture and Local Government.

Following this, Arts Council Malta entered into a negotiated procedure as per Article 154 of the Public Procurement Regulations with 11 curatorial teams, who were given the opportunity to pitch in front of an international jury, which included a mix of high profile international names and local expertise on the culture sector. The jury chaired by Albert Marshall, Arts Council Malta chair, was made up of the following members:

  • Sebastian Cichoki (Curator of the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and in 2010, deputy director of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, speaker at the Valletta Curatorial School organised by the Valletta 2018 Foundation);
  • Norbert Attard (Director of the Valletta Contemporary Art gallery, architect and contemporary artist. He represented Malta with his artworks at the Venice Biennale in 1999);
  • Francis Sultana (London-based designer, sits on the international council of the V&A museum, board member of MICAS - Malta International Contemporary Arts Space, and Cultural Ambassador for Malta);
  • Anthony Scicluna (Vice Chairman at Heritage Malta and Chief Human Resources Officer at BOV).

The jury assessed the 11 proposals submitted and the top three proposals were shortlisted. Subsequently, in the course of lengthy discussions, opinions differed as to which proposal should represent Malta at Biennale di Venezia in 2019 and the situation resulted in a stalemate. In order to resolve this situation, a new board was set up to give a fresh outlook on the matter and to further evaluate the top three ranking proposals. This, without prejudice to article 154(1)(b)(i) of the Public Procurement Regulations.

The top three offers selected by the international jury were given the opportunity to further discuss their proposals to the following evaluation board during a final evaluation meeting held at Arts Council Malta on 6 August 2018. These board members were selected on the basis of their academic and artistic track records as well as their knowledge and experience of government public procurement procedures.

  • Dr Toni Sant (academic, director of digital media & film production at Salford University and was formerly reader in digital curation at the University of Hull’s school of arts and new media and current director of Spazju Kreattiv, Valletta);
  • Dr Michelle Cachia Castelletti (Artistic Director, Malta International Arts Festival and Director of Oxford Festival of the Arts, based in the UK);
  • Caroline Tonna (Curator, Palazzo Falson, Mdina);
  • Kenneth Zammit Tabona (visual artist and illustrator, Teatru Manoel artistic director and President of the Friends of the National Museum of Fine Arts).

The committee was chaired by Etienne Bonello (Director Corporate Services, Arts Council Malta).

The evaluation board unanimously agreed that Maleth / Haven / Port - Heterotopias of Evocation is the best project to represent Malta at the Venice Biennale in 2019, based on the reasons below:

  • The international curatorial team has a strong international track record, both professionally and academically.
  • The curatorial and management team have worked across countries together beforehand.
  • The team has previous experience of La Biennale di Venezia.
  • The proposal displays a high level of artistic excellence together with administrative, technical, curatorial and managerial knowledge.
  • The budget is realistic and reasonable and it is the best value-for-money project; the other two top-ranking projects exceeded the set budget considerably.
  • The proposed concept has clarity, is coherent and relevant to contemporary reality, and it comes across as a strong reflection of the contemporary art scene in Malta as the centre point of the Mediterranean. The concept is backed up by research and investigation, and contextualised by interrogations and supporting evidence, as well as by juxtaposed realities - virtual, factual and surreal. There are different planes at play, interlocking and interlinking with each other; different contexts and different relationships. The multi-layered, multi-sensory, multifaceted, tactile, visual, sonic, textural elements were clearly demonstrated in the proposal, as well as during the pitch.

Read the bios of all team members and the project synopsis of each artistic contribution

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