I will follow the ship at the 60th International Art Exhibition in Venice
20 April – 24 November 2024
Preview: 17, 18, 19 April 2024
Arts Council Malta, within the Ministry for National Heritage, the Arts, and Local Government has announced that Maltese artist Matthew Attard shall be representing Malta at the prestigious 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia.
Established in 1895, La Biennale di Venezia is a platform for the exhibition of the works of international artists and is recogized as one of the most prestigious international cultural institutions for the presentation and promotion of contemporary art.
Speaking at the press launch, Owen Bonnici, Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, stated that this will be the first time that the national pavilion will be entrusted to a single Maltese artist. He explained that Matthew Attard's project for the Malta Pavilion, 'I will follow the ship', explores ideas of human existence and survival at the point of convergence between history and the future, the physical experience and the digital input.
Mary Ann Cauchi, Director Funding and Strategy stated that through Malta’s participation at the Biennale, Arts Council Malta shall strengthen Maltese arts and culture internationally while actively promoting the creative and cultural sector. Matthew Attard's exhibition, brings Maltese cultural heritage together with the technology of artificial intelligence. She said that it’s an honour for Arts Council Malta to be the commissioner and give its full support to such an important event in the world of arts and culture, and the Council shall strive to continue to put Malta, and its artists, on the international map.
The Artistic Project
Matthew Attard’s solo show, entitled I will follow the ship and consisting of a new art commission weaving together cultural heritage and cutting-edge AI-driven technology, will be co-curated by Italian-American curator Sara Dolfi Agostini and Maltese curator Elyse Tonna, both active in the Maltese art scene through several institutional collaborations. Maria Galea and Galleria Michela Rizzo shall oversee the Project Management.
The project explores ideas of human existence and survival at the point of convergence between history and future, physical experience, and digital input. It originates from the artist’s latest 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. Located on the facades of several wayside chapels on the islands, these ephemeral etchings in stone were possibly crafted by seafarers because of the religious significance and political immunity these buildings offered.
Matthew is working on their legacy in contemporary culture, in a series of drawings called Id-Dgħajjes tal-Fidili. The title refers to their role as vessels of hope and depository of faith. However, the term "fidil" that Attard uses in this context has a multitude of meanings. Deriving from the Latin word "fidelis", it literally means faith or faithful, but in Maltese spoken language, the term "fidil" also denotes someone who foolishly (blindly) trusts everyone, or everything.
The meanings and values of these anonymous ship drawings reverberate in our present times, where computer technology and the internet have propelled mass artistic emancipation and overturned traditional local centers of power.
This is the point of departure of Attard’s project for the Malta Pavilion, conceived to catalyze the attention of the spectator via technological devices which allow for digital interaction and collective speculative thinking about the future. In fact, the ship graffiti are unique to Malta, yet resonate with many cultures whose relationship with the sea has been - and still is - crucial, as evidenced by Venice’s own 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 Pavilion to reveal what hides behind screens and beliefs.
The theme for the Biennale Arte 2024, 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.
Pedrosa stated that ‘Foreigners Everywhere’ has a dual meaning: ‘First of all, that wherever you go and wherever you are you will always encounter foreigners—they/we are everywhere. Secondly, that no matter where you find yourself, you are always, truly, and deep down inside, a foreigner’.
After a 17-year absence, Malta returned to the Biennale di Venezia in 2017 and again in 2019 and in 2022. Prior to that, it had participated with a special exhibition of Maltese Artists in 1958 and a National Pavilion in 1999. Both the 2017 Malta Pavilion (Homo Melitensis: An Incomplete Inventory in 19 Chapters), the 2019 Malta Pavilion (Maleth / Haven /Port – Heterotopias of Evocation) and the 2022 Malta Pavilion (Diplomazija Astuta) received international press acclaim, garnering a host of high-profile media accolades and acknowledgements.
Relation between the Biennale theme and I will follow the ship
Linking Malta and Venice in a common destiny Matthew’s art Installation, I WILL FOLLOW THE SHIP, is unique to Malta yet it resonates with many cultures who have a special bond with the sea that surrounds them.
Foreigners Everywhere, the title of the 60th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, which is also an artwork by the art collective Claire Fontaine, claims a space for artists at the margins of an artworld which, until now, has been largely the expression of an elite mainly located in the Global North, to which Pedrosa opposes a Global South, combining former colonies – like Malta – and Non-Western countries. To do so, Pedrosa focuses on the cultural contributions of “others”, with both historical and contemporary figures. Others is an inclusive term that embraces outsiders, immigrants and foreigners. People who, for reasons unrelated to their art, be it from race to identity or socio-economic backgrounds, were not deemed worthy of participating in the production of culture.
This framework resonates in the Malta Pavilion, where the point of departure and our own “nucleo storico” (the name given to the special selection of the International Art Exhibition) is humble, anonymous ship graffiti, which although extremely widespread in Malta and part of its rich cultural heritage, can be also found in many other countries and dwellings across the Mediterranean basin. The ship graffito is a vernacular artwork - and at times (depending on context) attributed as an ex-voto made by an anonymous poor man - which until recently was considered to have no artistic or cultural value. As such, the decision of Matthew Attard to redraw it with the eye-tracker, embedding it with contemporary meaning, is an acknowledgement of the true power of forgotten images, whose residual value for conventional societies is offset by their capacity to bring sense to people who had no access to cultural power and the forging of artistic identity.
In addition, the ship, the most common means of transportation and travel before the industrial revolution, has constituted for centuries a temporary home for people sailing for different reasons, often emerging from unprivileged socio-economic backgrounds. A symbol of the diversity characterizing all maritime communities, the ship is first and foremost a unifying metaphor of hope for survival. The metaphor goes back to the biblical tale of Noah's Ark, in which God spares the richness of the world’s fauna alongside Noah and his family from a global flood – the echoes in our current time are deafening, as climate change and rising sea levels threaten the safety of the home and the survival of entire communities.
The 60th edition of the Venice Biennale shall mark Arts Council Malta’s 4th participation with its own National Pavilion since 2017, when Malta re-entered the Biennale with "Homo Melitensis: An incomplete history in 19 chapters" exhibition. Arts Council Malta also commissioned Malta’s participation in the 2019 and 2022 editions, with "Maleth / Haven / Port - Heterotopias of Evocation" and "Diplomazija Astuta respectively."
The Malta Pavilion in 2024 is commissioned by Arts Council Malta, under the auspices of Malta’s Ministry for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government. The Pavilion is being project led by the Internationalisation team at Arts Council Malta, headed by Dr Romina Delia, and supported by Celine Portelli (coordinator) and Dr Frank Psaila (communications).
Arts Council Malta envisions stronger global cultural relations that enable long-term sectoral development via new opportunities for international collaboration and exchange – partnerships based on mutual understanding, trust and intercultural dialogue, whereby the arts and creativity transcend borders.
Matthew Attard (Malta, 1987). His practice investigates images as social and cultural constructs. Matthew is strongly interested in situating his practice within the realm of contemporary drawing through a multimedia approach that highlights drawing’s versatile, performative, and time-based nature. His interest in understanding the gaze as a form of drawing - its perceptual, physiological and cultural dimensions – are the focus of his practice-based PhD research at the Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, funded by the Malta Arts Scholarship scheme. Raised in Malta, in 2009 he moved to Venice and collaborated with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the USA Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Later, he came back to Malta where in 2018 he obtained his Masters by Research Degree from the Digital Arts Department of the University of Malta. 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. Also, in 2017 he was selected for the 3rd edition of the Le Latitudini dell’Arte Biennale, at the Palazzo Ducale, Genoa, while in 2018 he was awarded the Under 30 Euromobil Prize at ArteFiera, Bologna. He was selected three times to show in the context of Ten Artists to Watch at LACDA, Los Angeles Centre for Digital Arts, and in 2019 he was invited to participate in Artissima Telephone at the OGR spaces in Turin. Recently, he was shortlisted for the Lumen Prize 2021. Rajt ma rajtx… naf li rajt is one of Matthew’s major solo shows, curated by Elyse Tonna at Valletta Contemporary in 2021. In 2022 he was commissioned the work Here’s How I Did Not See What You Wanted Me To See as part of the OPEN digital residency at Blitz, Valletta, curated by Sara Dolfi Agostini. His most recent solo show Ship of Fools took place in March 2023 at Galleria Michela Rizzo, Venice.
Sara Dolfi Agostini (b. 1983) is an Italian American contemporary art curator, writer, and lecturer based in Naples (Italy) and Malta. Over the years, she has researched visual culture, the politics of representation and the theory of image circulation, and curated exhibitions offline and online, public art commissions and a digital residency program – all expanding an interest in different formulations of site-specificity in the virtual domain and in real life. After collaborations with the Biennale Manifesta (2008), the International Sculpture Biennale of Carrara (2010), Magnum Photos (2012) and Fondazione Modena Arti Visive (2013-14), she was appointed co-curator of the public art commission ArtLine Milano, initiated by the City of Milan (2013-16). Later, she was curator of exhibitions and public programs at Blitz Valletta in Malta (2018-23), and she is currently curator and coordinator of the catalogue raisonné at Fondazione Paul Thorel in Naples (2021-ongoing). Since 2008, she has been a guest contributor for international newspapers and magazines, including Il Sole 24 ORE, Flash Art magazine, and Art Basel. In addition, she has been adjunct faculty member for Masters programs at Fondazione Modena Arti Visive in Modena (2016-2021), IAAD in Turin (2017), and has lectured at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (2016); the Art Program / World Bank Headquarters in Washington, DC (2016), the University of Malta (2017); Il Sole 24 ORE Master School (2010-17) and NABA, both in Milan (2009-2013). Between 2017 and 2021 she also served as honorary member of the advisory board on photography of the Triennale Museum in Milan.
Elyse Tonna (b.1990) is a curator, creative director, architect, mentor, and researcher. Her practice spans various disciplines including visual arts, architecture, design, cultural policy, placemaking, heritage and film. Currently, her curatorial research interests relate to ecological practices, the post-/Anthropocene, speculative futures, living heritage and threatened landscapes. She overlaps these with spatial awareness and sensibility to create site/context-specific, immersive and sensorial experiences. With over a decade of dedicated work in the cultural and creative sectors, her portfolio encompasses roles and collaborations with entities including Arts Council Malta (ACM), Heritage Malta, Valletta Cultural Agency, Spazju Kreattiv, Gabriel Caruana Foundation (GCF), Unfinished Foundation, Malta Society of Arts (MSA), Valletta Contemporary, no.site.studio and others. She is currently the co-curator and creative director of the GCF and is engaged in over ten curatorial commissions with various institutions. Tonna contributed towards the development and implementation of several initiatives such as the SPRING Programme for Emerging Artists with the GCF, Constellation Malta and baħħ blu for the Valletta ECoC 2018 Programme, the Regional Cultural Strategies with Arts Council Malta, and fuse, a multi-sited public art project shortlisted for the ACM Best Project in the Community. SURA, an exhibition she curated and managed, was awarded the ArtzID Best Exhibition Award (2022). She is currently a Board Member of the GCF and chairs the Visual Arts Subcommittee of the Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association. She was a Committee Member of the MSA (2014-2019) and e-NGO ACT (2018-2023). Her international engagements include fellowships with the Salzburg Global Forum and the Global Cultural Relations Platform.
Maria Galea (b.1990) is a Maltese cultural manager, strategist and art professional with a career spanning over a decade in the visual arts and cultural sector. Currently, she serves as the Vice President of MEIA (Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association), where her advocacy is dedicated to Malta's creative community. As the founder of ARTZ ID, Malta’s largest visual arts network, Maria fosters diverse creative collaborations and partnerships aimed at nurturing growth within the sector. Additionally, she directs Marie Gallery5 & Art Advisory, which she established in 2015, representing and showcasing Malta’s most renowned artists, both locally and internationally. Notably, since 2017, the gallery also represents the prestigious estate of the late artist Isabelle Borg, holds an extensive portfolio of art advisory projects and an extensive exhibition program. Maria is recognised as a Young Cultural Innovators Fellow at the Salzburg Global Seminar (2019) and was appointed as a mentor for the Creative Futures Program at the University of the Arts London in 2021. Her experience extends to serving as a board member and consultant on numerous private and public projects within the visual arts sector. She has also been recognised with a number of awards including the Best Initiative during the COVID Pandemic (2022) award, along with nominations for Best Creative Enterprise and Best Cultural Contributor. Maria recently completed a Master's Degree in Arts and Cultural Enterprise at Central Saint Martins in London, with a focused study on the socio-economic impact of the creative sectors.
Galleria Michela Rizzo, Michela Rizzo founded her gallery in 2004 with the intention to inspire new life into the contemporary Venetian cultural scene, which had been mostly dominated by commercial art galleries. After moving to Palazzo Palumbo Fossati for six years, the gallery settled in its current location of the former breweries on Giudecca in 2013. Over the years, Galleria Michela Rizzo evolved a high-profile programme through gallery exhibitions, partnerships with major local and international museums and institutions, and collaborations with historical, established, and emerging artists. The strength of Galleria Michela Rizzo lies in the synergy between the Venetian roots and international connections. The relevance of history, the contemporary socio-political scenarios, and the relationship between humanity and the environment emerge in the practices of major artists such as Fabio Mauri, León Ferrari, Hamish Fulton, Nanni Balestrini, Antoni Muntadas, Vito Acconci, Roman Opalka, Brian Eno, Barry X Ball, and David Tremlett. The correlation of time with space, nature, and landscapes are some of the themes examined by Francesco Jodice, David Rickard, Michael Hoepfner, Antonio Rovaldi, Mariateresa Sartori, Andrea Mastrovito, Kateřina Šedá, Giorgia Fincato, Federico De Leonardis, Marcela Cernadas, Aldo Runfola, Maurizio Pellegrin and Silvano Tessarollo. New technologies are then explored by the gallery’s younger artists such as Alessandro Sambini, Ryts Monet and Matthew Attard, who question the contemporary overproduction of images and information, and their consequent overconsumption. Michela Rizzo has produced numerous historical exhibitions in collaboration with institutions, such as: Lawrence Carroll at Museo Correr (2008, Venice), Tony Cragg in 4D at the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art (2010, Venice), and Barry X Ball at Ca' Rezzonico (2011, Venice) among others. In 2017, Galleria Michela Rizzo collaborated with the Municipality of Pisa for a series of exhibitions at Santa Maria della Spina, with site-specific installations by Wolfgang Laib and Richard Nonas.
The Evaluation Board
The Evaluation Board members were Perit Adrian Mamo, Artistic Director at the Manoel Theatre; Valletta; Dr Katya Micallef, Curator at MUZA- the Malta Community Art Museum, Valletta and Daniel Azzopardi, Artistic Director at Spazju Kreattiv. The evaluation was chaired by Mary Ann Cauchi, Director Funding & Strategy, Arts Council Malta.
Arts Council Malta–under the auspices of the Ministry for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government – is the commissioner of the Malta Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia.
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