V18 defends ‘infantile’ embarkation tunnel design

Designed by MCAST Art and Design students, the tunnel is now illustrated by primary-coloured cartoony images depicting a distinctly “tourist friendly” view of Malta

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
26 August 2014, 11:53am
V18 Chairman Jason Micallef (left) and Culture Minister Owen Bonnici at the inauguration of the Valletta Cruise Port embarkation terminal wall, which was given a makeover by MCAST Art and Design students as part of a V18-sponsored initiative.
V18 Chairman Jason Micallef (left) and Culture Minister Owen Bonnici at the inauguration of the Valletta Cruise Port embarkation terminal wall, which was given a makeover by MCAST Art and Design students as part of a V18-sponsored initiative.
It hardly seems to be a matter worth raising a massive fuss over – especially given the global turmoil we have been hearing about all summer – but the “beautification” of the Valletta Cruise Port embarkation terminal has still managed to ruffle a few feathers among local cultural operators, largely owing to the Valletta 2018 Foundation’s involvement.

Designed by MCAST Art and Design students – for whom the project is a graded assignment – the tunnel is now illustrated by primary-coloured cartoony images depicting a distinctly “tourist friendly” view of Malta: complete with bikini-clad women taking in the summer rays while floating on an oversize donut, as well as a mouse piloting a plane which proudly showcases a ribbon stating: ‘Valletta 2018: European Capital of Culture’.

According to Adolf Formosa, the MCAST Art and Design lecturer who was charged with organising the project and the students’ involvement, the designs were initially meant to take a different, less predictable slant, as students took their cue from works of Maltese literature in an effort to depict “a fresh and contemporary view of our culture through the eyes of our authors, and not to end up with the mundane results that we’ve been seeing over and over in Malta, as has happened”.

After the wall was unveiled earlier this month, social media was alight with dissenting voices, which criticised both the ‘naïve’ style design itself – adjectives like ‘infantile’ and ‘pathetic’ being flung around – while also expressing concern that an entity like the Valletta 2018 Foundation appeared to have ‘buckled down’ to the client’s demands, without taking into consideration neither the students’ artistic integrity, nor its role as a supposed cultural arbiter.

“The client is not always right,” Formosa said, while expressing his regret that the Valletta Cruise Port shunned the original idea completely in favour of such a rote and unchallenging design, and suggesting that “challenging” a client’s initial ideas does in fact often lead to a mutually beneficial outcome.

“Working to satisfy the client’s expectations, as happened in the second part of this assignment, has limited the student to the usual banal clichés that may produce pretty pictures, but nothing of more value,” Formosa added.

Formosa also felt it was unfair that students got the brunt of the criticism. “No matter what, the student is sacred and must always be respected. We do not care who likes or loathes the artwork done for this tunnel by our students. That was not the point. They worked well on a school assignment they were given and were proud to see it through to implementation.”

But in comments to MaltaToday, the Foundation stood its ground on the matter. “The design now featured at Valletta Cruise Port was felt to be the most suitable for the terminal location, and was installed in time for the peak of the cruise port traffic in late summer/early autumn,” the Foundation said in a statement, adding that the purpose of the project was to create a design that was “light in theme” and that gave passengers “a spring in their step on their way to visit our capital city”.

“The entities involved, the students, and the tutors who were overseeing the process, were happy to have had this opportunity to collaborate,” the Foundation added.

But Glen Calleja, a poet and one of the authors whose works were set to be visually adapted by the MCAST students during the project’s early stages, believes other V18-related issues to be more newsworthy than the Cruise Port tunnel debacle.

“Why do we feel the need to kick up a fuss about this, but then say nothing about the public money spent on the Valletta Green Festival, for example,” Calleja said, in reference to the 400m2 ‘infiorata’ planted in St George’s Square last May.

“And what about all of the projects which were originally included in the Valletta 2018 Bid Book, but which were subsequently swept under the carpet? Granted that being in the bid book is no guarantee that the project will come to fruition. But the bid book, and the proposed projects within it, played a part in securing Valletta’s title as European Capital for Culture, only for the artists to then be told to fend for themselves if they wanted to bring their projects to life. To my mind, this is more worthy of discussion than an illustration of a woman floating on a donut,” Calleja added.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...