No Ordinary Terrain

collective show with Sandra Zaffarese, Aaron Bezzina, Keit Bonnici
At MUŻA, Valletta, Malta, supported by MUŻA and the Arts Council Malta
July 2021 – August 2021

For the project NO ORDINARY TERRAIN artists Sandra Zaffarese, Aaron Bezzina, Keit Bonnici and Tom Van Malderen chose to explore a wide array of private experiences in the public realm. They joined forces as a temporary collective to present both individual and communal works through research, an exhibition, a number of events and an occupation of the museums’ public courtyard.

We are all familiar with marking out our territories, especially on our islands, where all sorts of space is limited, precious and regularly contested. With NO ORDINARY TERRAIN, The artists invite the audience to have a close look at the appropriation of space both from a local and a globalized perspective, whilst tapping into personal and collective stories. They are digging deep into the various relationships between the public and the private sphere, and experience how the boundaries between both spheres can be more fluid, poetic, refreshing and inspiring than our polarized contemporary media bubbles make us believe. NO ORDINARY TERRAIN unravels certain mechanisms in our society and asks us to reflect about the systems that we use unconsciously, each day; it illustrates that no terrain is ordinary and reveals more about who we are, and how we shape our reality and identity.


Too Illegal to stay, too peculiar to take away, (2021) sculpture, mixed media 0.4 by 0.6 by 2.3m, Tom Van Malderen

From the outside, the sculpture combines elements that are typical for the boathouses we find around the Maltese islands, and from the inside it takes you to the world of the local hunter huts. The work is a personal and playful take on the polemic surrounding these informal and illegal structures on the fringes. For the artist, they have become inherently part of his memory and recollection of the local landscape. Could it ever be the same without them? Is there such a thing as a pristine landscape? Would they be missed if they were simply erased?

Bigilla, (2021) video, 9:51 mins, Charlie Cauchi and Tom Van Malderen

Filmed on a roof overlooking a large construction site, BIGILLA layers audio fragments from various media sources with scenes from the heavy building equipment and the eating of a traditional Maltese broad bean dish that is steadily escalating into a savage act. Inspired by Sonia Andrade’s video Untitled [Beans] from 1975, the artists question their own role, identity and position in contemporary Malta, the island they both immigrated to a while ago. The work echoes their struggles with a home that is increasingly colonized by money and dominated by identity politics, leaving them less and less room to fit in or being heard.

Wall on Walls, (2021) mixed media, the collective (Sandra, Aaron, Keit and Tom)

When artists decides to build a wall in a museum, it could be useful to explore the use of walls in museums in general. For their work in MUŻA’s community space, the collective asked the museum personnel to place two standard exhibition panel walls back to back, in order to echo the footprint of the rubble wall in the courtyard. Building the rubble wall is only one of the many ways the collective is exploring that NO TERRAIN is ORDINARY. During the first week of their stay at the museum, the artists will use the panel walls as a blank canvas to improvise and investigate further.

Ħajt tas-sejjieħ (showpiece), (2021) Maltese stone, plywood plinth, The collective (Sandra, Aaron, Keit and Tom)

When a museum invites artists to make an intervention in their public space, it could be queried what actually happens when a public space is temporarily handed over, and is being made private for a moment. For their main work in MUŻA’s public courtyard, the collective hired rubble wall builder Kyle Darmanin to help them setting up the stone structure as a temporary work of art.

For as long as we have been building walls, they have served us to define our positions and organize the world between us. The showpiece wall in the courtyard is both obstruction and instruction. It blocks the space, obstructs the view and confronts the public realm with elements of the private sphere. It commemorates the rubble walls, an integral feature of the Maltese rural landscape (locally known as ‘Ħitan tas-Sejjieħ’) in an institutionalized urban environment. It showcases the skilful placing and fitting together of stones by the eye and the hand in a place of fine arts. It shows an increasingly lost approach to landscape transformation that is based on a long-earned understanding of the interrelationship between land resources and human activity. It questions the nature of our obligation when we construct a boundary, and points at a rich array of meanings connected to the making and marking of boundaries across time.

pictures by Martina Farrugia and Tom Van Malderen