American author Pat Conroy, in his book The Lords of Discipline, says: “The human soul can always use a new tradition. Sometimes we require them.” In this collective exhibition titled Rituals of Passage, six artists are exploring this phenomenon of transportation, be it from one epoch-making situation, like the COVID pandemic, or from more intensely personal events, like death or separation, through some sort of delivery and redemption.
We engage in behaviours that seek to recalibrate us, maybe through repetition, like prayer, or mundane activities, like visiting a cemetery. One seeks balance in a new tradition, an alienation of sorts in the blurring away of soreness. One thus exorcises pain and existential discomfort, finding solace through the daily practice of easing away the fuming ruins, the stigma of memory.
Rituals of Passage is a project between Ryan Falzon, Aaron Bezzina, Alexandra Fraser, Yasmine Akondo, Mladen Hadžić, and Stefan Kolgen, currently on at Valletta Contemporary. The common theme reflects the artists’ experiences, state of being, fluxus periods and current standings. The artists’ works reflect their personal journey and evolution as individuals, which is evident in the various styles and techniques used in their art.
This co-curated project entailed long discussions and workshops, fusing all the initial ideas of the artists together. The aim is to create a holistic experience for the viewer that goes beyond the notion of a collective, where several artists are presenting their work in isolation. The result here is a cohesive exhibition that showcases the interconnectedness of the artists’ works and provides a deeper understanding of their shared themes and concepts. This approach allows for an immersive and engaging experience for the audience.
“The artists created the works with the exhibition space in mind, presenting them in such a way that they interact with each other and that they challenge the viewer, offering context for the audience to create their own story,” the exhibition curators, Stefan Kolgen and Ann Laenen, observe in the mission statement. In the disorientation in the aftermath of COVID, together with other major issues that are affecting our lives, the visitors are being invited to find relevance in the questions that the pieces conjure up.
Yasmine Akondo presents an installation, titled Materia Prima, as well as a sculpture, Ula Pupaya. American author Henry David Thoreau claims that “time is like a handful of sand ‒ the tighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your fingers”. Akondo refers to the properties of this silicate material, this materia prima, and its metaphorical counterparts. Sand, comprised of tiny particles, has a fluidity that almost defies capture in the palms of one’s hands. The falling sand evokes the hourglass, the clepsydra, the measure of time contained within two small receptacles. “The falling of sand is the trail we leave behind. It starts running the moment we are born, but... all that matters is ‘the now’,” the artist observes. One leaves a trail in it when one walks across a sandy beach; a trail that is obliterated by the agency of cyclical, meteorological elements. The sculpture celebrates Ula Pupaya, “the embodiment as well as the protector of life and of time”.
The artists created the works with the exhibition space in mind, presenting them in such a way that they interact with each other and that they challenge the viewer
Aaron Bezzina’s pieces deal with the interaction of superstition and gestures such as handshakes, these in relation to Mediterranean communities in which the gestural, as factors of non-verbal communication, is an added aid to self-expression and personal opinion. The kinetic sculpture is all about movement and repetition, representing also the mental, cyclical counterpart that occurs during the thought process. “Repetition could also be a means to alter, elongate time and possibly matter ‒ to stretch.” Endless repetition of thought processes sometimes results in obsession and psychosis; maybe Bezzina also intends to explore the negative aspect of the ritualistic.
Ryan Falzon’s recent oeuvre owes its origins to the domestic exile experienced due to COVID-19. Being a very dedicated gardener in his free time, he found escape from the travails of the pandemic through a botanical regeneration of exterior spaces in his house, immersing himself in the natural routine of the lifecycle of plants – implantation in soil, germination, growth, flowering and fruit. The exhibits in this collective explore “the tranquillity and safety associated with routine gardening, rituals of seduction and divination as extension of the human psyche”.
Alexandra Fraser refers to femininity and birth in her sculptures that celebrate the womb, inspired by “the ritual of anatomical votives from across the ancient world”, however, using plastic, which has been universally regarded as one of the principal contaminants that is affecting terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Once considered as an almost miraculous alchemic material, created in industrial laboratories, it is a scourge that has become integrated deeply into our way of life, rather like a cancer. Fraser says that this synthetic material symbolises human dominance over nature, which almost invariably precipitates very harmful side-effects. The installation, Chthonic Incubation, includes sound in the shape of excerpts from the artist’s sleep talk.
Mladen Hadžić explores the topics of masculinity and esotericism, through delving into cultural elements in search of a better place. The ritual is in the physicality of the repetition entailed in the creative, sculptural process. “In its occult form, the work is related to the concept of the homunculus found in alchemical texts, as well as an interpretation of the sigils of chaos magic…. Making mould after mould after mould made the masculinity fade so that only the essence remained,” he explains.
Stefan Kolgen, who is also one of the curators, is presenting a video Possibility of Silence and an installation To Measure and Bind (the Soul). The former refers to ritualistic recurrence in his visits to the Mirila memorial sites in the Velebit Mountains of Croatia. He tries to stifle a sort of interfering white noise, that of reverberations from the past through these pilgrimages to the ‘shrine’ in the Croatian mountains, while trying to attempt a personal redemption through traditional burial techniques. The installation refers also to the artist’s ‘rationalisation’ of death as a balance, “the ritual of briefly touching death without stepping away from life”.
In his masterpiece, The Book of Sand, Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges remarks: “The years go by, and I’ve told the story so many times that I’m not sure anymore whether I actually remember it or whether I just remember the words I tell it with.” Memory and recollection entail the ritualistic repetition of narrative, the reminiscing of mythologies and the cycles of tradition. This exhibition explores different ways of doing this.
Rituals of Passage is open till May 6 at Valletta Contemporary, 15-17, East Street, Valletta. It is curated by Stefan Kolgen and Ann Laenen, and supported by the Flemish Community, Sint Lucas Antwerpen - School of Arts, and Valletta Contemporary. Consult the venue’s Facebook page for opening hours.