Maria Borg’s upcoming exhibition Touch Me at the Malta Society of Arts is imbued with texture and tactility, inviting viewers to rest awhile in the folds of the fabrics depicted within. Lara Zammit explores with the artist the exhibition’s many dimensions and points of contact.

Artist Maria Borg. Photo: Justine EllulArtist Maria Borg. Photo: Justine Ellul

The exhibition Touch Me with artworks by Maria Borg is composed of a series of paintings concerning the visible and the invisible. On the surface, viewers are met with images of objects frozen in time, disembodied and placeless, in a stranger’s house. Slowly, the narrative within the artworks begins to unfold, and with it viewers’ imaginations.

“The series of works in Touch Me is, in many ways, divided in two – the text paintings and the object paintings,” said Borg.

“When looking at the object paintings, such as Nap (part 1), viewers might experience a sense of voyeurism, like they have walked into someone’s house and found traces of their presence everywhere.”

Speaking about the objects in her paintings seemingly frozen in time, Borg remarked that painting is especially capable of “slowing down time, but not completely freezing it, capturing a moment in more of a photographic feature”.

“The kind of painting I do, which involves multiple layers and many sessions of painting, allows for a long process of building an image which is constantly changing. With each session, the object becomes more ‘three-dimensional’, more solid,” she continued.

She went on to reference the South African artist Marlene Dumas, who famously said that “painting doesn’t freeze time – it circulates and recycles time like a wheel that turns”.

“The objects I paint can be described as suspended rather than frozen,” Borg claimed, “maybe in a sort of dream state. There is a sense of stillness and slowness to them, which gives them a heavy, mysterious aura.”

Being more ‘presentation’ than ‘representation’ (or perhaps a synthesis of the two), Borg’s paintings seem to invite the viewer into their midst.

Upon the addition of a viewer, her paintings extend beyond themselves and into our imaginations, which in turn make them more expansive. The viewer seems to be indispensable to these works – the intervention of imagination seems necessary for these images to become themselves.

Touch Me, 2019Touch Me, 2019

Reacting to this supposition, Borg said that this relation between artwork and viewer is common to all art.

Borg’s paintings seem to invite the viewer into their midst

“I like the idea of the work being activated by the viewer’s imagination and their capacity to connect to it. In my opinion this is true of all art, and my job as a painter is that of directing the attention and focus of the viewer, but never to fully control it.”

The marriage of image and text in a portion of the exhibition’s artworks renders their narrative sequence more explicit, although never to the point of complete clarity. They still play on a plane of visibility and invisibility, as indicated by the phrases which are difficult to read. The phrases are intertwined with the fabrics from which they emerge, each exuding a sense of longing likewise imbued with touch.

“This series is an attempt to communicate and connect (to touch). The phrases and words facilitate this communication. The phrase ‘touch me’ kept coming to my mind when thinking about the series. Being in the imperative form, it calls for one’s attention, as does ‘come closer’, which is another phrase used in one of the paintings,” Borg said.

Despite their striving to communicate, however, she notes a contradiction. “In many paintings, the words are not easy to read; one must search for them in the folds of a bed sheet or behind a busy pattern. I wanted to explore this as an attempt to play with the focus of the eye, in the sense that one doesn’t know whether to look at an image as an object, or to attempt to read it.

“I also like the idea of having the things that are difficult to say being hidden deeper somehow, as if they are spoken in a murmur and one must make an effort to catch them.”

Touch is intrinsic to Borg’s artworks, which she said also reflects the tactile nature of the work. “The materials I depicted in the paintings are very tactile. We can associate them with intimacy in the case of bed sheets and clothes, material which we sleep on and fibres that belong close to our bodies.

“The object paintings, such as Nap (part 1), give off a sense of isolation. They are portraits or glimpses into a single person’s existence, a lonely bed made for one, a single pair of shoes, etc… In their mundanity, they tell a simple story,” Borg said.

Speaking about the strong personal dimension in her artworks and their nevertheless universal appeal, Borg said she believes they “touch upon feelings and experiences that affect most people in their lives, like those of loss, isolation and longing.

“In the painted phrases and words, I reflected upon my own thoughts and feelings – they are very much me. But I also want to leave space for everyone else to feel them and own them, to connect with them.

“By leaving some of the story out, I am hoping that the viewer can relate to the work more on a more personal basis. I often describe my paintings as unfinished stories, in that I write a chapter, start a story, and leave the rest up to interpretation,” she concluded.

Touch Me was curated by Michael Fenech and is showing at the Malta Society of Arts from June 3 to 24.

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