Venice art biennial

scenography and exhibition architecture for the Malta Pavilion
‘Homo Melitensis – an incomplete inventory in 19 chapters’
With AP Valletta on invitation by curators Bettina Hutschek and Raphael Vella
57th Venice Art Biennale,
La Biennale di Venezia, Arsenale, Venice, Italy

Commissioned by Arts Council Malta, the exhibition explores the notion of national identity in the form of a complex installation that brings contemporary artworks, objects, and documents together in a nonhierarchical, achronological setup.
‘Homo Melitensis’ – ‘Maltese Man’ – is an associative and often humorous investigation of Maltese identity and national imaginaries. Issues like territory, memory, religion and language find artistic re-imagining in the 19 chapters of the exhibition. The ‘inventory’ suggests a taxonomy that organizes life in custom-made arrangements, creating a seemingly decipherable order out of the exhausting chaos of reality. Homo Melitensis witnesses the transition from nation-state to an atomized, impenetrable existence, and is perplexed.

The installation brings together the work of thirteen artists and a diverse selection of artifacts from national and private collections, in a non-hierarchical and a-chronological set up. A series of modular exhibition structures were developed, based on elemental structural principles and on a limited palette of materials. The exhibition design provides a homogeneous and neutral background to exhibit over 220 objects of different natures within the large historic Arsenale building with its striking bricks and trusses. Large parts of the exhibition structures were composed of prefabricated triangular shaped fold-able elements and addressed the demand for an economic production, compact shipping volumes and a short installation time. The flexibility and inter-changeability of the exhibition tables facilitated the crafting of carefully constructed physical and visual connections between the 19 chapters and their objects, setting up a framework of views in support of the overall spatial experience.

The exhibition set-up enables the audience to participate, ask questions and discover intricate details and the wider collection of objects at one go. Using both the floor and trusses of the imposing hall to display and piece everything together, immerses the audience, blurs the relationship between ‘looking at’ and ‘being part of’, and eliminates the separation between subject and object. The work unfolds whilst the audience changes position. Moving between the cluster arrangements, underneath banners and firework structures, behind the curtain of a box and in front of a billboard, visitors find themselves within the work whilst viewing it. For a moment, time and space, inside and out, beginning and end collapse to make the audience disappear in the non-hierarchical, a-chronological world of Homo Melitensis.

Picture credits: Bettina Hutschek and Tom Van Malderen
Drawing credits: AP Valletta and Martina Cutajar