‘MIRRORED – Critical Reflections’ is an exhibition put together by a varied group of students from the University of Malta, as an extension to one of their modules ‘Introduction to Criticial Art’, established and delivered by Dr John Grech at the Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of Malta. The exhibition is split in two; some works are being showcased at St.James Cavalier and others at Splendid in Strait Street.
Whilst visiting the exhibition, it was slightly difficult for me to keep in mind that the students are not in fact fine art students or artists, since this is the work that one is used to seeing at a contemporary or visual art exhibition, however I felt I had to keep this context in mind in order to write a fairer review.
The works have been split onto two locations for a reason. The students had to produce a piece of work that had been inspired from the style of one or more popular fine artists. The exhibition leaflet explains that the ones who have escaped from a more “direct reference” are stationed at St.James, and others who have made a clearer reference to their artist of interest are at Splendid. The leaflet also states that “The students contextualised these movements in a broader social and cultural sphere”. Although I find this to be true for the works at St.James, which, I found to be much more thoughtful and well presented in general, I do not think it reflects the works at Splendid.
The works exhibited at St.James Cavalier seem to have been more developed in general, reflect a contemporary local context, and at the same time incorporate the artists’ personal views. The exhibits at Splendid on the other hand, felt slightly amateur. Although there were some interesting tactile qualities in most pieces, and some of the pieces were quite appealing as a standalone, the descriptions did not do them any favours. These revealed ideas that did not seem to be as properly and as intelligently elaborated as the ones at St.James. I was impressed by the fact that most students were not afraid to experiment with a variety of mixed media, both conventional and experimental, however some seemed to have just applied the technique of the referenced artist to a hobby of theirs, which, in my opinion felt slightly childish.
I felt that Keith Bonnici’s ‘Across the Road’ is one of the strongest pieces. It is essentially a concrete black space where the viewer can go inside and hear heavy breathing, signifying the suffocation caused by the constant building of new apartment blocks. The black reflects the dark shadows that these apartments cast.
Pawlu Mizzi’s ‘Death of Malta’ also has a very strong and relevant message, and Pawlu seems to have found quite a distinct visual style that identifies his work. I wasn’t so sure whether the stylised portrait fits the idea of death since it is in fact so beautiful, and therefore might not invoke any particular compassion from the viewer, but rather an interest in its aesthetic qualities. Having said that, the placement of the work and the thoughts behind it are intriguing.
I was also surprised by Jacob Grech’s ‘I did it’ because of the curious way it was presented. Jacob dropped a hidden message in a well disguised piece, although again, I did find the description of the piece to be more on the rant side, rather than being reflective.
Stephanie Galea’s ‘Blood, Toil, Tears & Sweat’ video, is an interesting piece of work, and – when you get someone to tell a story there’s a big chance that you’re going to get a piece that intrigues the viewer. The editing is quite good as well, in the way she cut from the stories of an elderly couple to speeches during WWII. The only downside I would say would be that because the video is nicely filmed (with a few shaky pans) and edited (filming overlays, colouring etc…) again feels too beautiful for the story. It verges slightly onto documentary, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It would have been interesting to see a more raw approach, but in general I think it delivers the intended message.
Overall, I felt this was an interesting exercise carried out by students and perhaps should be done more often both in traditional and digital form as an eye-opener for the participants, although I did still have the feeling that the works at Splendid were more like experiments rather than something that should have been exhibited in a fine art context.
MIRRORED – Critical Reflections is open since July 9 till August 14. The Splendid Guesthouse will be open during the evenings of the 28 and 29 July whilst St James Cavalier is open daily from 9 a.m. till 1 p.m.
Photography courtesy of Mark Scicluna