Using 72 tons of plywood, Portuguese artist Sancho Silva has created a tunnelled passageway and balcony for his installation that should take visitors on a surreal journey.

The form provides the architecture that houses 23 boxes measuring 60cmx60cmx60cm, with installations created by nine Maltese artists.

The exhibition of works, which opened at Biagio Steps in Marsamxett Street, Valletta, last night, is the result of a three-week workshop with Mr Silva, an internationally renowned artist, under the EU-funded ISIDEM project.

ISIDEM is an initiative of the Comune di Siracusa, the Comune di Scicli, the University of Catania's Department of Economics and Quantitative Methods, and Heritage Malta.

Thanks to this project, 45 artists, born or currently residing in Sicily and Malta, have had the opportunity to work alongside Mr Silva in Malta, Polish artist Artur Zmijewski in Syracuse and Scottish artist Duncan Marquiss in Scicli (a town in the province of Ragusa), as well as liase with contemporary art critics and curators through a workshop programme.

The project will lead to a comparative study between late 20th century and contemporary Maltese and Sicilian art and provide a detailed career database on Maltese post-war artists.

In between sawing the plywood as he worked on setting up the exhibition, Mr Silva described the workshop, conducted in Malta in November, as a way of encouraging local artists to let their imagination flow freely without any inhibitions.

"Initially they were scared. Their emotions switched from fear to the desire to take the plunge," he said.

Born in Lisbon, Mr Silva is a graduate in mathematics and holds a Masters degree in the Philosophy of Language and Consciousness from Lisbon University.

The element of space and time are an important part of his work and he has constructed the tunnel at Biagio Steps in a way that allows visitors to see spaces, but prevents them from entering them in the normal way.

"What inspires me is the articulation of space and time in perception. It is about understanding the moment we live in and playing around with it, determining its effect on us, the hierarchies and the power of relationships," he said.

Installation art incorporates almost any media to create a visceral and/or conceptual experience in a particular environment. Materials used in contemporary installation art range from everyday and natural materials to new media, such as video, sound, performance, computers and the internet.

Do people understand and appreciate installation art?

"Well if you look at the tunnel, in itself it doesn't mean anything. However, if people want to understand it, I'm sure with some effort and curiosity they will get there. This is the same when you read a book, it's all about whether you like the subject matter or not. Installation art is a form of expression like any other," Mr Sancho said.

During the workshop, Mr Sancho gave the participants different exercises, which the artists had to develop in a medium of their own choice. For example, in one project entitled Borders, artists were encouraged to explore new approaches to the meaning of the word through various artistic expressions.

The exhibition, which will run until March 30, is the result of these exercises brought to life by the Maltese artists - Francesca Balzan, Austin Camilleri, Celia Borg Cardona, John Grima, Monica Spiteri, Priscilla Griscti, Patrick Fenech, Margaret Farrugia and Irene Zammit.

The exhibition is open from Tuesdays to Fridays between 10 a.m. and 1.30 p.m., and on Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. For information call Heritage Malta on 2295 4300.


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