With the collaborative exhibition No Ordinary Terrain currently on display at MUŻA, four artists invite the audience to take a closer look at the appropriation of space both from a local and a globalised perspective. Tom Van Malderen speaks to Lara Zammit about the project.

No Ordinary Terrain is a collaborative project exploring a wide array of private experiences in the public realm, specifically with regards to the appropriation of space both from a local and a globalised perspective.

Tom Van Malderen, one of the artists exhibiting, said that the project followed an open call from MUŻA – the Malta National Community Art Museum – to submit exhibition ideas for its public spaces, which include the building’s public corridors, courtyard and community space.

Floor Pieces by Aaron BezzinaFloor Pieces by Aaron Bezzina

“The opportunity to act in the public spaces of the museum immediately prompted us to question what it means to be handed over a public space. We started to think of a project that would allow us to explore the extents of temporarily taking over a public space with a series of private gestures (or works), to appropriate the land, so to speak.

“It was immediately clear that we wanted to stretch the project throughout all the museum spaces that were ‘on offer’ and have a multifaceted look on how land is being appropriated or taken in. Especially on an island, where all space is limited, precious and regularly contested, no terrain is ordinary and turns into an interesting topic to work with as artists,” he explained.

A major influence for the exhibition are the various relationships between the public and the private sphere. Artists Sandra Zaffarese, Aaron Bezzina, Keit Bonnici and Tom Van Malderen chose to explore the experience of how the boundaries between both spheres can be more fluid than we are made to believe.

“The public space, being public, invites us all to partake in it,” Van Malderen said. “When do our actions within it – or an occupation of it – become of a private nature? That is one of the questions that occupied us when we researched the project.

“Constructing and occupying a boathouse on the fringes of the coast would be a clear example of the infiltration of the private into the public sphere. But is it really that clear? One of the exhibited works wonders whether the image it creates in our collective memory is of a public nature. Another work questions thepublicness of car park spaces.

“There is a work looking at the meaning of tiling a floor, and a work exploring how one material can carry, transfer onto and take over another slowly. These are just a few of the various relationships between the public and the private sphere that can be found in the exhibition.

Public space, being public, invites us all to partake in it

“As touched upon earlier, the very act of exhibiting (or expressing private gestures) in the public space is a meeting of both these spheres.”

Round Plant Pots Do Not Fit by Keit BonniciRound Plant Pots Do Not Fit by Keit Bonnici

The project has a strong collaborative nature. Speaking about how this collaboration influenced the project, Van Malderen said that the decision to work as a temporary collective of artists was a key factor from the start.

“We don’t often get the opportunity to act as a collective, so it was an exciting opportunity in its own right. Slowly but surely, individual ownership of ideas started to fade and the collective took over. It is a pity that these ‘conditions for collectivism’ don’t find an easy place in our contemporary lives.

“Working as a collective from the start makes it easier to bring in additional persons or influences at any point, be it the museum personnel, Kyle the rubble wall mason, Martina the social media reporter, Charlie the video director and many more.”

All is Not Lost by Sandra Zaffarese, composed of machine-cut paper offcuts, speaks of displacement and residual hope, while in A World of Their Own, the possibility of coexistence becomes apparent. Aaron Bezzina’s work Floor Pieces I-III speaks of land demarcation and its consequences.

All is Not Lost by Sandra ZaffareseAll is Not Lost by Sandra Zaffarese

Dancer by Keit Bonnici is about restricted movements, while Round Plant Pots Do Not Fit is a comment on the restrictions we place on ecological habitats. Van Malderen’s Too Illegal to Stay, Too Peculiar to Take Away is a sculpture playing with the controversial illegal structures peppering our landscapes, while his work Bigilla, directed by Charlie Cauchi, is a video questioning the artist’s own place in contemporary Malta.

Asked what in his view each artist brings to the table, Van Malderen said that this is hard to say, “not only because of the blurring of individualities throughout the process, but also because I will undoubtedly come up short in trying to list what Sandra, Aaron and Keit each brought to the table (and Charlie Cauchi as the co-author of Bigilla)”.

“No Ordinary Terrain benefitted from years of experience, testing, tinkering, patience and persistence shared by the artists, a fascination for and experience with material, context and concepts, a belief (and useful doubt) that art can contribute to the world and changes for the better.

“I could tell you that Sandra brought words to the table, Aaron materials, Keit technology, Charlie images and Tom people, but a split-second later roles would have been revised, extended, shifted or swapped. Long live the collective!”

No Ordinary Terrain is showing at MUŻA until August 1.

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