essays

> EXPLORING PATRIARCHY THROUGH THE MEN IN SYLVIA PLATH'S THE BELL JAR

June, 2016



The Bell Jar, and in essence Sylvia Plath, nestle in the arms of the feminist—a tender and catatonic parable of the American mid-century woman, caught between two worlds: the institution of the American family and the liberation of the independent woman, against a background of haunting, cold war politics.

Plath and The Bell Jar are intrinsic. They cement one another a legacy; Plath’s suicide before the publication of the novel binds The Bell Jar with the roman à clef tradition, which in turn seals the tragedy (a ‘feminist’ tragedy) that is Sylvia Plath’s life. Plath’s suicide in retrospect, becomes the addendum of her novel.

The novel also nestles in the arms of Cold War politics, particularly the 50s and 60s, whose generations which bore artistic achievements that encapsulate the disquieting sense of impalpable fear that pervade Cold War America and Europe. However, many critics have made the mistake of simplifying Plath’s politics in her work, with the likes of Jacqueline Rose arguing that in taking Plath out of politics, they have also ‘taken the politics out of Plath’.1 A political education is inevitable, especially as someone, like Sylvia Plath, brought up during the Cold War period both in America and Britain.

The Cold War era, maybe even McCarthyism, fueled the internalisation of the Other, a rival, unwanted entity. But Plath’s internalisaiton also extended to her gender and her depression—this were the Other within American society at the time.




> HOW 'BEING BOTH' LEADS TO EFFECTS OF CONTRAST AND AFFINITY IN ALI SMITH'S HOW TO BE BOTH

June, 2017



But they are not easily separated: once read, the novel is difficult to read the other way round, to ‘unsee’ or ‘unlearn’ the particular sequence in which the novel is presented, either Francescho-George or George- Francescho. My novel started with Francescho’s story, which I believe irremediably contextualises George’s story. The latter was read in light of the former, and re-reading it the other way round doesn’t give the same satisfaction of the just-read—the magic is lost.

This particular experience is interesting, because it allows readers to essentially experience two different stories simply by changing the sequence of events. Experiments with this notion are plenty: within the film industry, for example, re-cutting films in an attempt to pull out a completely different story are a popular way to explore the medium for story potential (a popular example is Nerdwriter’s Passenger, Rearranged on YouTube). Smith’s novel explicitly offers us the potential of multiple stories herself, while using the format to address themes of seeing, art, history, queer and feminism, amongst others.

The two stories make the novel itself a container of ‘both’: its stories are symbiotic and autonomous, interdependent and independent, but it all depends on how they are read: ‘And which comes first? her unbearable mother is saying. What we see or how we see it?’

This is a crucial point for the novel—seeing is never as straightforward as we might think.




> SURVEY OF GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE

September, 2015



Factoring into this are the Crusades, which by the 13th century were coming to a close with the Fourth Crusade. The Sack of Constantinople, in 1204, was as much a cause for destruction of old artefacts (including the Imperial Library of Constantinople, the last of the great libraries of the ancient world); it has to be assumed that a lot of what wasn’t destroyed was shipped off to Europe as treasure, loot, prizes, gifts, merchandise. The Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade were in fact the Republic of Venice, the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France—all were in for rapid cultural upheaval and artistic refinement. Gothic emerging from the Kingdom of France, and spreading across Europe, notably the holy Roman Empire, was surely influenced by this migration of sacked good and knowledge.

Another important social facet to consider during the Medieval period is that Medieval Europe was a very buys places when it came to travelling. Most of the Gothic in Northern Europe was ‘imported’ from France—the spread of new styles from kingdom to empire was mostly conducted by travellers, merchants, pilgrims, scholars, etc. Travelling during these times was very common, especially with pilgrimages, of which many Gothic cathedrals were the destination, and merchants peddling goods across Europe.




reviews

> ART SIEVE

2016 - 2018



I started Artsieve in late 2016, as an arts criticism platform focussing on visual arts, music, theatre and other participating art froms in the Maltese cultural scene.

ArtSieve was created partially to address the general lack of art criticism in Malta, and had hoped to grow the project to include other writers and thinkers. While the project is no longer active since 2018, it can still be found online and is a little bit like a time capsule and a reminder of an ambition I had.




> A SHORT EXPLORATION OF LIB(R)A

November, 2017



Teatru Santwarju presents Lib(r)a, a physical theatre performance conceived and directed by Martina Georgina, who collaborated on the creation of the performance with fellow actors Julia Camilleri and Althea Corlett, and artist Matthew Pandolfino, at Valletta Campus Theatre (VCT) in the Old University Building.

Although Lib(r)a is not the visceral and raw performance that its predecessor Limbus was, it establishes an aesthetic for Teatru Santwarju as a meditative, gynocentric and starkly assimilated theatre. Its reliance on ambience, beautifully crafted and sparse props, symbolism, and the performer’s physicality, make Teatru Santwarju Malta’s quality physical theatre.

Lib(r)a accesses themes of femininity, balance and co-existence, weaving in three distinct characters—the Overthinker, the Temptress, and the Soother—into a loose narrative of sorts, that out






> I LOST THE WAR, TOO

January, 2017



Visiting We lost the War, I happily realised this is what artistic maturity looks like.

I was never much into Ryan Falzon’s print work. It felt phlegmatic; distanced and unemotional, as well as muted in its apparent attempt to epitomise some essence of ‘Maltese‘. The punk aesthetic in his printmaking coupled with the subject matter seemed ineffectual in tackling the width and breadth of ‘Maltese‘, or my perception of it.

But in We lost the War, not only did the medium change but with it so did my perceptions of what Ryan’s art was about. We lost the War is a tour de force in its achieving a powerful analysis of ‘Maltese‘, while managing to maintain a consistency in a style which Ryan has by now made his own. The style is fascinating in its ambiguity: child-like, yet assured and consistent—it isn’t a deficiency on the part of the artist, it is a device he uses for effect. That effect is glimpsed in the subject matter, to best capture and convey ‘Maltese‘.




exhibitions

> HERE & NOW

Valletta Contemporary
June, 2018

Valletta Contemporary show image showing Aaron Bezzina and Ryan Falzon art pieces installed in gallery

Nine Maltese artists make up the divergent cast of voices coming together for here&now; their work has something to say about our contemporary lives in these uncertain times. The title of this exhibition attests to a ‘place and time’—the present; both to be in a particular place and to exist or occur now. It is a paradox, because it’s definition implies a consistency of ‘being’, whereas in reality ‘being’ is constantly in flux, in both time and space.

This becomes evident in the Maltese socio-political and cultural landscape from where these nine artists are emerging—as is Valletta Contemporary itself. It is this landscape that connect all the artists; it is the national space they inhabit, or have inhabited, that ties them together. What they share in terms of origin testifies to the importance of their voices because the common threads between them claims them and their work, sometimes in ambiguous and subtle ways.

Can the origin of these artists affect their voice? The ‘Maltese’ vein could run through these artists work unhindered and exposed, or subdued and deeply earthed, but it is there for anyone to find. What we can be sure of is that by being defined as contemporary Maltese artists, they are inadvertently also defining contemporary art in Malta, and putting their names in that definition.

Origins are as important as they are formative; people are shaped, in part or parts, by the environment they grow up in, and artists are no different. One may find lines and patterns of connection between the art and the artist’s habitat—associations that are in turn informed by the viewer’s knowledge and familiarity with this habitat, as sometimes it is also their own.

Some connections are evident: Ryan Falzon’s work launches itself bodily into the icons and the vernacular visual language of Maltese society. What we see in his work is a reflection of where the artist emerges from, but also a cultural mirror for the viewer to connect to. His work offers a constant evaluation and critical commentary of the local cultural consciousness.

On the other hand is Patrick Mifsud, whose work is politically opaque and ambiguous in its setting. Nonetheless its own sense of abstraction lends it ample room for subjective appropriation: you can easily make it your own, to relate it to your habitat. It also fits easily in the bellicose national discourse of space and contested urbanities, between an ideal nostalgia and defined progress.

here&now will encompass themes from political commentary, to evaluations of space; from playful dismantling of intuitive processes to sex. There is queer art, digital art, minimalist art, spatialism, protest art, identity politics and neurology. It is a fitting array for a country going through so many changes.

Malta’s socio-political, cultural and actual landscapes are going through considerable transformation. It is more than evident in the news, the stories or simply in living everyday life. In the din of our little island, amplified by social media and news portals, people grumble to the sway of the media.

It can feel overwhelming, frustrating and dismaying, and yet it all seems to wash over us; we have grown accustomed to living in a progressively urbanised space, constantly in flux, as internationalised as our consumeristic diet, as umbilical as close family.

And yet, there is a sneaking feeling that all this only adds layers to what is already there: nothing has actually changed, there’s only more variety, more dimensions to what Malta ‘is’. Does this mean it is more diverse, open- minded, forward thinking and outlooking or simply more contested, diluted and more lost in translation?

Within all this, contemporary art has started to stumble upright. It is now in these interesting times that we should look forward to join the national dialogues, to address the issues and challenge the status quo. It is as ripe as ever for contemporary art to become an indelible part of these narratives and assert itself as a valuable and critical voice in the national discourse.




> THE ISLAND INDOORS

252 CC – The Cultural Centre of Ekeren/Antwerp
J2018

the island indoors flyer feating aaron bezzina, matthew attard

Malta is small. At 246km2 the island is a unseen fleck beneath Europe, along with many other unseen flecks of islands that dot the Mediterranean; Linosa, Lampedusa and Pantelleria close by, like cousins or half-siblings spawned between Sicily and Tunisia and Libya.

Malta is the centre of the Mediterranean. This is not too far-fetched a notion.

All the cultural winds have met on the island—the Semitic, Muslim, Catholic and Christian all had a foot in the cultural spasms of Malta’s history. The latter three have left a linguistic, architectural and social legacy on the island’s contemporary life. That Malta is Europe’s oldest melting pot and a central port/hub for a thousand years or two, is not an alien and unqualifiable claim.

These days Malta is doing its best—and succeeding quite well—to recapture its past; a past of melting pots and central hubs where all cultural winds meet, all in the name of economy and progress. Liberal capitalism has arrived; money is being made to attract more of it, along with the foreign workers, expatriates, asylum seekers, rich pensioners and millionaires.

In this hubbub, the sense of ourselves as Maltese, has become a throbbing undercurrent of daily life; there are many reminders, from skin colour to dress, from language to behaviour; the taxis, sightseeing buses, gaggles of school trips and expatriate workers. The sudden saturation of people in particular localities has drawn controversies, grumbling, violence and politicised rhetoric. Everyone is experiencing the effects of this influx of people—everyone is getting used to one another in this re-emergent island melting pot. Unfortunately for a lot of people, it’s an ever present process of differentiation: a play of us and them.

There are more layers to Malta today than ever before. What hides beneath the superficial ‘tourist’ Malta? Do we want to explore the complexity of Malta’s contemporary identity?

and

why bother? The answer is as complicated as the question is short. The five works of art within this room at 252 cc in Antwerp, might help glean an answer.

The four artworks offer a sense and understanding of contemporary ‘Maltese’ by four Maltese artists—Aaron Bezzina, Caesar Attard, Matthew Attard, Ryan Falzon—and two Belgian artists—Marc Thiron and Stefan Kolgen.

The works co-exist with and within this domestic setting; subtle because they take up expected space and loud for what they have to say. Fists on a table, a spectral chandelier, hog’s head, grimy prints and soundscapes—sombre and somewhat macabre, these works have something to say of Malta, brought together here under the title the island indoors.

articles

> ONE DAY IN VIENNA


published on The Malta Independent
August, 2016

In Vienna, standing in front of the Austrian parliament, I thought about history - it is an excellent place to. Out of the street it stands on, the wily hands of time have conspired to change the world. Completed in 1883, the Austrian parliament was modelled on Greek buildings from the Athenian Acropolis, effectively establishing a connection with a line of great civilisations and the ideal of democracy.

Not being aware of these things won’t impede you from enjoying the city; Vienna is a staggering medley of beautiful architecture, museums and cathedrals, streets and parks; countless things to see, do and explore, as well as restaurants, cafés and places to leisure about. Vienna is European heartland and I found it to be gorgeous. Admittedly, I am a very casual tourist, I plan nothing other than museums and set out to explore on foot to look for them, allowing myself an erratic route and time to explore anything interesting I encounter.

Although Vienna is a big city, the main attractions are built around the Inner Stadt, notably the Ringstrasse, built to replace the old city walls in the 1850s. It was a project that embraced city progress and along this street were built some of the most impressive modern edifices of the day. Today this street is a great monument to the cultural and political affluence of 9th century Vienna.



My hotel was behind Rathausplatz, the Viennese city hall, a magnificent Neo-gothic edifice of spectacular proportions, with a big park in front of it looking like its porch, on the Ringstrasse. Walking about the neighbourhood, and knowing certain information about the city I was trying to piece together the bits and pieces, and soon acquainted myself.

And here I was walking along the Ringstrasse. The Parliament stood to the left of the Rathausplatz, opposite the Burgtheater, a statue-rich theatre from 1888, whose staircases were painted by Gustav Klimt. Next to this is the Heldenplatz, Hero Square, the imperial square that is overlooked magisterially by part of the Hofburg Palace, with its imposing facade and equally imposing horseback statue of Archduke Charles keeping vigil.

Across the Ringstrasse from Heldenplatz are two identical buildings, the imperial museums: the Kunsthistoriches and the Naturhistoriches Museums, Art History and Natural History Museums. They are symmetrical, opposite each other across Maria-Theresien Square (Marie-Antoinette) and standing as showcases of national wealth. The Kunsthistoriches was the first museum I planned to visit - on the inside, a tremendously eye-dazzling place: marble and gold, laid out in intricate Rococo style filling the interior, along with beautifully painted ceilings and arches, some, again, by Gustave Klimt. The collection of art inside is astounding - one of the world's best and biggest painting collection, as well as sculpture, artefacts, armoury, devotional reliquaries, paraphernalia and other odd bits and pieces of ivory carving, gold and precious gems - literally dazzling.

Beyond Maria-Theresian Platz is the Museums' Quartier, a big complex that houses the Leopold Museum, my next destination, as well as Mumok, Kunsthalle Wien, Architektur Centrum Wien and ZoomKindmuseum, along with a number of eateries and cafes and leisure areas. It is generally a great place to hang out and potentially spend a day or two exploring all of the Quarter.



The Leopold Museum is home to over 5,000 works of modern Austrian art - Egon Schiele, Gustave Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Richard Gerstl. Apart from personally being a big fan of Schiele's work, this collection is phenomenal and a true Austrian national treasure.

Back to walking along the Ringstrasse, one encounters an opera house, the world-famous Wiener Staatsoper, where major productions are put up. But I was looking for the Albertina, just up the road to the left of Staatsoper. The Albertina is an art museum whose collection focuses mostly on prints. They have an astounding one million old master prints, as well as about 65,000 drawings, along with other collections of impressionist and modern art. Famously the museum owns the prints and drawings of Da Vinci, Dürer, Bruegel the Elder, Fragonard, Monet and other giants from art.

For the last museum destination I decided to get a taxi, more for issues of time than anything (I walked it back to the hotel, and it was quite a nice walk). The Belvedere is the most beautiful place you'll visit in Vienna. Having been the summer residence of the Habsburgs, the palace sits on a hill overlooking Vienna, hence Belvedere - with its extensive grounds, it makes for a lovely stroll. Although it has been engulfed in the growing city, it used to be on the outskirts with virgin land all around it. Inside, the museum houses a collection that presents an almost complete overview of Austrian art and thus an insight into Austrian history, from Medieval to Baroque to Modernist works of art.

I wrapped up most of my days with a restaurant visit at Café Français on Roosevelt Platz, following a suggestion by a friend - it does have amazing food. A special restaurant I tried was Do&Co on Stephenplatz, up high over the square, level with the magnificent cathedral. Having tried the famous Austrian schnitzel (pounded meat made very thin, coated with bread crumbs and fried) at a kiosk, I decided to try it at this five-star restaurant, much to my delight. Other Viennese treats include the infamous (but much-loved) hot dog stand outside the Albertina Museum and the mouth-watering Sachertorte of which you can only have enough when you pass out. I tried it at the hotel opened by the man whose father invented the Sachertorte, the Hotel Sacher Café.
The food is reason enough to re-visit Vienna, let alone the myriad of museums and constant bombarding of opulence and grandiose architecture.