The truth in architecture | Scott Lyman

As the first artist in residence at Blitz in Valletta, Scott Lyman speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about his video piece, Excerpts from Alan Hollinghurst’s ‘The Swimming-Pool Library’ and his declared interest to explore Malta’s ‘architectural identities’ as he cooks up a work based on the island during his three-week stay

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
19 January 2016, 10:22am
Scott Lyman
Scott Lyman
What have been some of your research and creative interests, and how have they evolved over the years?

When first I started out I was mainly interested in narrative storytelling, and while this is still a major part of my practice, I would say that I’m currently more focused on distilling the social and political impact of aesthetics within a narrative, and reading these aesthetics through the lens of queer and feminist theory. I’m greatly interested in history, particularly architectural history, so my research is primarily focused on identifying historical narratives that resonate in the present.

How does it feel like to be the first artist in residence at Blitz, and what kind of expectations do you have about the experience?

Not only am I the first resident at Blitz, but this is my first artist’s residency! So it’s a new experience for all of us. I don’t really have expectations. My goal is to be as productive as possible and see what happens. I’d like to visit as much of the country as possible while I’m here, and I hope to immerse myself in the community as much as I can in this short time.

Your short film, Excerpts from Alan Hollinghurst’s ‘The Swimming-Pool Library’, takes its cue from Hollinghurst’s novel to explore the evolving currents of gay culture. Will you be applying a similar methodology to your work in Malta?

I’ve said before that Hollinghurst’s approach to The Swimming-Pool Library makes it a kind of bible for me in how I want to be working. He has a way of incorporating radical and conservative elements that makes this work simultaneously nostalgic and challenging. His approach to history in the novel is pretty revolutionary, in my opinion.

In my research here, I’m definitely interested in identifying changing currents in architecture. But because I’m limited by my short time here, I’m planning to develop a sort of collage in the gallery space at Blitz, rather than another film. But I’m finding Malta to be such an inspiring place I’m hoping to come back to make a film in the near future.

Your stated focus on ‘architectural identities’ is intriguing. How would you define this term, and why do you think it’s of particular relevance to Malta?

Architectural identity is the complex relationship between a community and their architectural surroundings. I see it as a constantly evolving set of perspectives based on the architectural history of a place and sociopolitical changes over time.

For example, I come from an area in central Virginia, USA, where the dominant architectural identity is heavily reliant on the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, who himself was an architect and developed a unique architectural style often referred to as Jeffersonian Classicism.

But any discussion regarding this architectural identity gets very complicated because it is inherently related to social class and the history of slavery in the US. People are very devoted to an image of Jefferson as a heroic forefather, but despite his genius the man was an unrepentant slave-owner who had sexual relations with at least one of his slaves. It’s a very touchy subject, and one that’s really only starting to reach the public consciousness now, I think. So I’m very interested in how people within a community relate to their architectural surroundings.

Malta is a particularly interesting location for this kind of research because it’s been influenced by so many different colonial powers over the centuries. It’s a real melting pot. And my understanding is that the country is changing quite rapidly at the moment due to an increase in tourism, prompting an economic boost, as well as a spotlight on the world stage due to the refugee crisis.

How are you planning out your research in Malta? Do you already have an idea about potential ‘leads’ and starting points with regards to your work at the residency?

I came to Malta with only the most basic information, so it’s really been like starting with a blank canvas. I’ve been jogging around Valletta every day as a way of trying to familiarise myself with the city, and documenting things that I discover along my way. It’s been really fun, and the hills here are keeping me in good shape!

Alexandra Pace and Nicole Bearman at Blitz have also been incredibly helpful in putting me in contact with a number of people to interview who live in Malta and work in the arts, architecture, and human rights organizations. My goal is to develop of good understanding of the architectural history of Malta and to trace some of the changes that are happening on the sociopolitical level, as well as in architecture and the arts.

What do you make of the island’s cultural scene so far?

It seems like a really supportive environment. People I’ve met thus far have been so gracious and helpful, and genuinely interested – very different to New York or London. It’s a fabulous and inspiring place to work.

The Blitz Residency programme will continue throughout the coming year. For more information, log on to blitzresidency.com

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