The archivist’s challenge | Aidan Celeste

Opening on 21 October, the annual Divergent Thinkers exhibition brings together a group of emerging artists to create work to a brief, with this edition taking ‘NAVIGATE’ as its curatorial springboard. In the first of an ongoing series of interviews with the participating artists, Teodor Reljic speaks to Aidan Celeste, who will be competing with his counterparts at the exhibition for a month-long scholarship at the Youkobo Art Space in Tokyo, Japan in August, 2017

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
19 October 2016, 9:31am
Aiden Celeste
Aiden Celeste
What is significant about the Divergent Thinkers tradition? and what does it contribute to your work as a whole?

I have a background in archiving a collection of moving images and curating media art. Divergent Thinkers is an opportunity to explore this knowledge and present the tension between history and memory. This tension is what also attracts me to the work of Chris Marker, Chantal Akerman, and Miguel Gomes. I am ever indebted to their intuitive documentaries but in my position as a young artist, I feel it is more practical to work with simpler modes of presentation and interventions in a gallery space.

The tradition of exhibiting a process is used to reconstruct the technique of an artist, and it can take the shape of a book, a movie, or any other format that can remake a series of decisions and their manifestation. As an exhibition, it can also engage the audience in the artistic process itself. For this reason, and the chance to work with local artists as a collective, I wanted to step away from the role of an archivist and participate as an artist. 

I feel it is more practical to work with simpler modes of presentation and interventions in a gallery space - Aiden Celeste
I feel it is more practical to work with simpler modes of presentation and interventions in a gallery space - Aiden Celeste
How did you interpret NAVIGATE – this year’s Divergent Thinkers theme – and what do you hope to communicate with your contribution to the exhibition?

The title of this interpretation is A Scrimshaw. It is a clear reference to the carved object carried across the world by seafarers. Among many other personal objects, the scrimshaw was a simple prop used to draw on, tell a story, and evoke a sense of orientation during a long voyage out at sea. I chose to align this innocent act of testimony with a set of personal tattoos from three different bodies. The images in themselves are trivial, but if I manage to convey how a simple image of a white arrow in black ink can hold such an honest gesture of affection for a unique time and place, the banal image can take on a true value as an autonomous memory.

The title is a clear reference to the carved object carried across the world by seafarers
The title is a clear reference to the carved object carried across the world by seafarers
What do you make of the local visual arts scene? What would you change about it?

Among other collective projects by Start, The Milkshake Project, and the groundbreaking MCA in Marsa, Divergent Thinkers provides another snapshot of the local art scene. I followed two other artists who have used tattoos as a key-property in their object of art, Pierre Portelli, and Adrian Abela. Pierre Portelli was invited to participate at Splendid in October 2011, and made a bricolage of nautical tattoos from an adhoc collection of cutlery bought from the Birgu flea market. In contrast, Adrian Abela presented the tattoo as a radical act of ornamentation for Divergent Thinkers in 2014. While Portelli is now developing a much larger project that connects the personal narrative of early tattoos with national history (Rel Ink Indelible Narratives, 2016), Abela’s presentation of a tattoo defies history as a political act against overzealous philosophers and dogmatic theory (Adornment, 2014). If you were to include A Scrimshaw and its presentation of a tattoo as a banal image used to navigate memory, you can start figuring out what kind of a dialogue, if any, is taking place in Malta. This type of comparative research is missing in artistic practice and instead, collectives are used to gather funding for a scattered group of individuals from the same island. 

A Scrimshaw and its presentation of a tattoo as a banal image among many others, you can start figuring out what kind of a dialogue is taking place in Malta
A Scrimshaw and its presentation of a tattoo as a banal image among many others, you can start figuring out what kind of a dialogue is taking place in Malta
Should you win the residency in Tokyo, how do you hope to make the most out of the experience?

I would like to find out more about our fascination with Tokyo. Chris Marker presented this desire by documenting the  streets and its iconography, while Haruki Murakami presented it alongside the Beatles in the ‘60s. In contrast, No Ghost Just A Shell sheds away the personal anecdote and simply appropriates a character from the manga industry - a pure object of consumption. Despite my interest in their interpretation, the earliest I learnt about Japan was from my mother and her job at the factory of Shirazuna in the late 70s. The first step would be to exorcise any autobiographical tendencies and work through them in the privacy of a studio. Once that urge is in the clear, I can see what I have left that’s worth publishing. If I’m pushed to a corner for an answer, I would start by investigating our relationship with industry and technology. It will be a good opportunity to develop the role of an artist as media archeologist in 2017.

The earliest I learnt about Japan was from my mother and her job at the factory of Shirazuna in the late 70s - Aiden Celeste
The earliest I learnt about Japan was from my mother and her job at the factory of Shirazuna in the late 70s - Aiden Celeste
Divergent Thinkers will be on show at the Malta Maritime Museum, Birgu from October 21 to November 18. The exhibition is curated by Raphael Vella and organised by Aġenzija Żgħażagħ in collaboration with Valletta 2018, with the support of the Malta Maritime Museum, EU Japan Fest and Japan Media Arts Festival

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