Arts Council Malta, under the auspices of the Ministry for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, is pleased to present the Pavilion of Malta at the 59th International Art Exhibition of the Biennale di Venezia 2022, co-curated by Keith Sciberras and Jeffrey Uslip, featuring the artists Arcangelo Sassolino, Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci and the composer Brian Schembri.
The Pavilion will present an installation entitled Diplomazija astuta, devised as a contemporary reinterpretation of Caravaggio's masterpiece, The Beheading of St. John the Baptist (1608), preserved in the Oratory of St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta. The biblical narrative intersects with a contemporary work, tracing a line of continuity in which metaphors and thought-provoking ideas weave a complex network of allusions. The spirit that permeates the Oratory of Valletta is reproduced in the Pavilion of Malta by translating the themes present in Caravaggio's painting into a topical context with a powerful emotional impact. The viewer is now called on to traverse a space in which the tragedy and brutality of the savage slaying of St. John are replicated in the present, in a setting that combines music and phenomena related to the world of physics. The purpose is to convey a fundamental message: to heal the injustices of the past in order to transmit to the future principles of rebirth and the safeguarding of life.
Using sophisticated technological systems that activate processes of induction, Arcangelo Sassolino's kinetic installation is designed to generate small drops of molten steel channelled by a system placed above seven rectangular basins filled with water, so that they fall into each of them. In contact with the water, the incandescent metal, a vivid orange colour, hisses and cools and then disappears into the darkness. The passing of time, marked by the rhythm of the falling drops of steel, is articulated by the “percussive score” created by the composer Brian Schembri, centred on two different compositions, one ancient and the other modern. The first is Ut queant laxis, a Gregorian chant from the 8th century attributed to Paul the Deacon, composed in honour of the nativity of John the Baptist celebrated on 24 June, and adopted in the 11th century by the Benedictine monk Guido d'Arezzo to formulate the first system of teaching, reading and interpreting music. The second is Missa Mundi by the contemporary composer Charles Camilleri. The artist Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci is the author of the text engraved on a large metal plaque placed at the entrance to the chamber, with passages from the Old Testament, in particular from the Book of Ezekiel, in a mixture of Aramaic, Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic. Diplomazija astuta postulates the idea that industrial progress culminates in humanity’s faculty to self-destruct. Likewise, society, symbolised here by steel, to plan its future and fulfil it in the present, has to reach a point of dissolution. This is why steel, the supreme emblem of modernity, is melted. This action, performed here in physical terms and therefore real, but also metaphorical and spiritual, is necessary if new progress can begin.
Diplomazija astuta is haunted by the spectres of the beheading of St. John, in other words by political issues in open competition, cultural customs and the instrumentalisation of geopolitical dynamics. Through the new representation of Caravaggio's subject, rendered in a contemporary key, the biblical tragedy is renewed in what is happening now in the world. It reveals the blind spots and failures of human progress as it has been desired through the millennia: dishonesty, deception, falsehood, media indifference and the weaponising of ideas. Diplomazija astuta, rooted in creative talent and Maltese culture, elevates the potential of artistic expression to lead us through the complexity of different historical eras. José Herrera, Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, observes: “Bearing in mind the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the work in the Pavilion of Malta shows how art can interpret the ideas, ideals and aspirations of society. Here we present a transcendent cultural experience, in which the viewer imagines a path towards reconciliation. It is a source of great pride for us to present this project of indisputable relevance in the context of one of the world’s most important contemporary art exhibitions.”
The Executive Chairman of Arts Council Malta, Albert Marshall, stated in his turn: “This outstanding installation, the result of creative effort and collaboration between curators and artists, gives prominence to the Pavilion of Malta, where past and present coexist. Diplomazija astuta creates a palimpsest that relates Caravaggio's altarpiece to contemporary Maltese visual culture, with interlacing themes of unusual contemporary relevance.”
The photographs were taken by Agostino Osio - Alto Piano
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