Rabat’s Luginsland of Art opened recently with an ephemeral inaugural exhibition to celebrate the progress of the foundation’s project so far, presented to coincide with the Malta Biennale. The show, which was only open for six days in March, will reopen between May 14 and 30.

Curated by Boris Kudlička, in Space & Time, 17 Maltese and Polish artists explore the symbiotic relationship between architectural heritage, the landscape – both natural and human – and artistic innovation.

In a partially renovated Grade 1-listed neo-Renaissance villa, which provides a springboard for modern interpretations, this fascinating collection reimagines the site’s cultural heritage through the lens of contemporary art.

On entering Villa Luginsland, the house stands across a pretty courtyard, dramatic split steps leading to the first floor. Here, the first piece of art stands proud in front of the main doors, a giant vertical golden chain rising from the ground, symbolising either – or perhaps both – connectivity and strength or captivity and confinement.

A video installation showing as part of the exhibition. Photo: Brian GrechA video installation showing as part of the exhibition. Photo: Brian Grech

For me, delighted to see the incorporation of artworks within ongoing renovation works, it evokes the idea of the present rising up from the past, and the strong threads of connection between people and their surroundings.

Entering the villa, in a darkened chamber, visitors watch the growth of an olive grove, marking the importance of the olive trees in the local landscape and their longevity.  Digital Landscapes is a captivating multi-layered dynamic holographic work by Matthew Attard. In his creation process, Attard took eye-tracking drawings – that look like crazed celestial maps of the night sky – and 3D scans of the trees which he has woven together digitally in shimmering silver-white, gentle greens and gold. The result feels both transient and timeless, earthy yet ethereal.  

The exhibition continues in a chamber beyond, lined with colourful 19th-century frescos of the four seasons by Giuseppe Calì and a giant terracotta fireplace, under a richly decorated ceiling. It’s hard to pull your eyes from this magnificent décor, and director Joanna Popiol explains how important it was to have chosen artwork that is neither outshone by nor outshines the beauty of the room itself.

Villa Luginsland interior view. Photo: Brian GrechVilla Luginsland interior view. Photo: Brian Grech

The result is a wonderfully eclectic mix of pieces ranging from overtly sensual, including the lips of a mannequin and abstracted ebony thighs that resonate with the pink-conch floor, to modern and futuristic. Empty Gold Man Black by Michał Jackowski, for example, is a portrait sculpture in marble with a section removed to expose a gilded cavity within, and a breathtaking abstract mountainscape, Agate Grotto by Nicolas Grospierre.

This fascinating collection reimagines the site’s cultural heritage through the lens of contemporary art

Grospierre was inspired by the lyrical description of agate in the book The Writing of Stones by Roger Caillois, referencing Apollo, and the geological wonder of geodes in which crystals develop within rocks hidden from view – a fitting analogy for the redevelopment of the villa itself. Grospierre created a stunning photomontage to create the rock, so as not to rape the landscape, which is presented within a triangular mirrored prism.

Beautifully engineered, it’s magical from every angle, and looked at end-on, transforms into an endless kaleidoscopic tunnel. 

<em>Empty Gold Man Black</em> by Michał JackowskiEmpty Gold Man Black by Michał Jackowski

Alongside, a familiar yet futuristic sculpture, Meta Folkore Vo.1.6 by Janek Simon also draws on digital technology. Created with the assistance of AI, Simon elicited the essence of 12,000 photographs of sculptures using a neural network to develop his 3D model. Described as an artistic, technological and political fantasy, as a ‘vision of universal contemporary folklore’, it’s a fitting addition to the romantic decor.

There’s just as much to provoke thought in the next room, where towering modern totems (Micronations IV by Norbert Attard) – a comment on the dichotomy of harmony and disharmony in the world – stand within decorative 19th-century garlands of fruit cascading from the ceiling to the floor. Here too, Jakbu Julian Ziokowski presents another view on the world in Earthly journey, a painted map of the psychophysical world showing the terrain of a corporeal earthly body.

<em>Agate Grotto</em> by Nicolas GrospierreAgate Grotto by Nicolas Grospierre

Teeming with life, its cartographic lines and borders have an Australian aboriginal aesthetic: ruddy breasts in the landscape promise nourishment, and symbolic remains under the ground link back to the archaeology of the site which is explored further both here and outside in a sculpture, Earthy Legacies by Victor Agius.

Another highlight is Austin Camilleri’s ANGERISALAZYFORMOFGRIEF 1 & 2, a model of Valletta’s neoclassical Teatru Rjal with a charred back interior behind which, on a triptych of screens, this model is seen burning between the theatre’s surviving columns. (The majority of the building was destroyed by Italian Fascists in World War II). And, just as the theatre has regenerated recently, it’s interesting to see Villa Luginsland come back to life as a new cultural hub.

Austin Camilleri&rsquo;s <em>ANGERISALAZYFORMOFGRIEF 1 &amp; 2</em>Austin Camilleri’s ANGERISALAZYFORMOFGRIEF 1 & 2

The exhibition continues outside with further sculpture harking back to Greek legend in a citrus grove infused with the scent of orange blossom, birdsong, a doorway to land beyond and the promise of great future.

Luginsland of Art will be open from 12pm-3pm from May 20-24 and May 27-30. Please register before visiting via the booking link https://forms.gle/qiuATPP7TDP5A4jL7 

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