Following last year’s highly-acclaimed showcase, Malta will be once again taking part in the upcoming International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia. For the 60th edition of the prestigious event, Arts Council Malta has commissioned Maltese artist Matthew Attard to take over the national pavillion in what will be the first time that this is entrusted to a solo artist.
The installation, entitled I will follow the ship, features a new art commission that weaves together cultural heritage and cutting-edge AI-driven technology. It will be co-curated by Italian American curator Sara Dolfi Agostini and Maltese curator Elyse Tonna, both highly active on the local art scene through several institutional collaborations.
Linking Malta and Venice in a common destiny
I will follow the ship uses the idea of the sea to link Malta and Venice in a common destiny. The project does this by exploring ideas of human existence and survival at the point of convergence between history and future, physical experience and digital input.
The concept originates from the artist’s explorations into AI and drawing technology, fused with his interest for historical images of ex-voto ship graffiti, vernacular iconographies which speak of ancient local tales of faith and salvation across the Mediterranean. These ephemeral etchings are located on the stone facades of several wayside chapels on the islands and were possibly crafted by seafarers because of the religious significance and political immunity such buildings offered.
Although these ship graffiti are unique to Malta, they still resonate with many cultures whose relationship with the sea remains crucial to this day. This is evidenced by Venice’s own such inscriptions. At a time of climate change, rising sea levels, and questions of people’s place in a hyper technological world, these humble marks of hope, root metaphors deeply embedded in human consciousness, drift in the middle of the Pavillion to reveal what hides behind screens and beliefs.
While computer technology and the internet have propelled mass artistic emancipation and overturned traditional local centres of power, the meanings and values of these anonymous ship drawings still reverberate in our present times. This is the point of departure of Attard’s project for the Malta Pavillion, conceived to catalyse the attention of the spectator via technological devices which allow for digital interaction and collective speculative thinking about the future.
A competitive process
The project was chosen after Arts Council Malta earlier this year published an international call for the engagement of a curatorial team to curate the Malta Pavillion. An evaluation board composed of leading experts in the sector assessed the proposals received and unanimously decided that I will follow the ship was the best project to represent Malta in Venice.
This is not the first Venice Biennale exhibition for the 36-year-old artist. In 2009, he moved to the Italian city to collaborate with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the USA Pavillion at the Venice Biennale. He first exhibited his work in a double solo show organised in 2014 at Galleria Michela Rizzo in Venice. Since then, he has exhibited in Venice, Rome, Valletta, Genoa, London, Beijing, and Los Angeles among other cities.
Matthew is currently reading for a PhD at the Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh. His interest in the mechanisms of vision - its perceptual, physiological, and cultural dimensions – are the focus of his practice-based PhD research.
A platform for discussion
The artist’s Venice Biennale project, I will follow the ship, presents a platform to discuss notions of authorship and image-making in art, all while critically rethinking forms of agency and cohabitation to navigate the uncharted waters of the information society.
La Biennale di Venezia was established in 1895 and offers a platform for the exhibition of works by international artists. The event is today acknowledged as one of the most prestigious international cultural institutions for the presentation and promotion of contemporary art.
The theme for the Biennale, which was announced by the president of La Biennale di Venezia, Roberto Cicutto, and Adriano Pedrosa, the curator of the 60th International Art Exhibition, is Foreigners Everywhere. The exhibition will take place from 20 April to 24 November, 2024, and will spotlight artists from diverse backgrounds, especially those who belong to groups that have historically been marginalised.