“The past is that which no longer acts, although in a sense it lives a shadowy and fleeting existence. It still is. It is real. The past remains accessible in the form of recollections, either as motor mechanisms in the form of habit memory, or, more correctly, in the form of image memories.” 1
Never had, a photography exhibition’s title, been as self-reflective as Traces of Traces; the contemporary collective which featured at St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity last month. Sparking off a concept by local artist Patrick Fenech, 10 students from the MFA Digital Arts Programme in the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences at the University of Malta, joined the lecturing artist to give light to an overall captivating set of digital, photographic images, which read through their own memory lanes, into varied kinds of surrounding, silently disappearing traces.
Spread across the upper galleries, the collection feels like a walkthrough in the realm of nostalgia where in most cases, recollections from a past instance or instances, are watched upon with a sentimental eye that recalls happy associations and a desire for the preservation of the same.
This feeling is very well transpired with works that depict things or moments that were, but which no longer are. Fenech’s series, for example, highlight traces both from the physical and metaphysical spaces. In his Newspaper’s Kiosk, Valletta and Putirjal-01 to 04 he reminds us of former structures, spaces and associated social functions that no longer exist, whereas in his missing religious icons set he delves into a socio-religious memory lane that represents a possible transmutation of a historically, religious society into a more secular one. Furthermore, with the Let’s Paint the Sand Blue series, Fenech succeeds to complete his analyses of human perseverance into preservation of a past, through this abstract landscape composed of ochre sand and flowing trails of blue – all reminiscent of Martian panoramic or details from a rusty garage door.
With a theme that is very close to heart and it’s sensitivity, Aidan Celeste and Daniel Tanti’s works stand out in their confidential stillness. Celeste builds a cinema-like narrative by projecting still panoramics onto a canvas made of the most ordinary bedroom furniture. In Building a Picture, Camera Obscura EXH 001 and 002, one is immediately struck by the traces left behind by a presumed protagonist and his presumed narrative; one which we are left to ‘trace’ and reconstruct ourselves. Much on the same lines is Tanti’s execution of Prayer and I. Here, traces of a protagonist are interplay of shadows that represent the human element and a missing sculpture of a presumed religious figure in the niche.
Less evocative are Justine Navarro and Janet Savage’s works. The transience of people in Navarro’s Tommy and Airport refer not to a physical trace but to a technically poorly reconstructed afterthought. Meanwhile, Savage’s shots are way too journalistic, thus leaving little to the viewer’s creative interpretation of the depicted traces.
The MFA students have researched the significance of traces left behind and ways to read and translate their recollections. They have touched on the evidence within all aspects of life, be it of a physical and/or a spiritual nature. The trace of intimacy and/or eroticism in Mario Abela’s Untitled Straberry and Untitled Chocolate is almost a parody to the sense of tragedy that transpires in Patrick Fenech’s Pacem in Maribus and Stanley Agius’s Fancy a Ride? and Walking on Water.
Traces of Traces sheds a light on the power of the photographic process as an archival reality; it acts in the present to revive and preserve a fading one that anticipated. The exhibition is an exercise which makes us investigate and get in touch with an existence characterised by a regenerating self-erosion. This, much in line with traces of a reality that can be regenerated in a photographic memory.
1 (Grosz Elizabeth, 2001, Architecture from the outside. Essays on Virtual and Real Space, p.121)