To be vague is human

Multimedia artist Vince Briffa will be exhibiting video art, paintings and photography at St James Cavalier until May 22, as Terrain Vague explores the ambiguity of the human body through various forms. He speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about his work, which has been on display both in Malta and abroad

Could you say something about your choice of media/’medias’? At what point in your career did you choose to embrace different media, and what led to this decision?

The artwork’s needs dictate the media I choose to work in. I have been trained in the fine and design arts, and started working in video in the late 1980s. This artform gave me the possibility of working with time as a medium. It also furnished me with further potential in the production of site-specific and sculptural pieces, and so, video and sound installations became my main medium by the mid 1990s. It was a natural evolution, in fact there was no conscious decision taken to switch to video as I kept up my other practices in painting and drawing throughout this time.

The moving image and also sound have provided me different possibilities of conceptual expression which I feel are second-nature to the way I develop my art and provide an extension to my drawing, painting and photographic activity. My work is cyclic, it relies on three pillars – reading, producing/documenting the work and writing about it. I am a great believer in the reflective process – the medium is only the vehicle, the choice of medium is secondary.

Does the focus on ambivalence also echo your mixed-media approach? How are you approaching the multi-faceted nature of the human body, and what led you to choose this subject?

No, not exactly. As already explained, the medium is merely a vehicle. Ambivalence is not only the dominating concept in my most recent work but also an attitude which I adopt to creating work, one which always questions if there’s another side to the coin and one which therefore opens the floor for artistic possibility and dialogue.

Contrary to starting from a ‘certainty’ creative standpoint which I find to be too constraining and rather fundamentalist, ambivalence permits a work to go either way. Like a word with more than one meaning, ambivalence as an attitude to creating artwork presents alternative creative possibilities not only in the way that the work evolves but also in its methods of reception and interpretation. As one can see from the works exhibited, the human is always placed at the centre of my work, both physically as well as metaphorically. As far as I can remember, the main concern in my work has always been the human condition and this has not swayed since my very first paintings and drawings of the 1970s.

Humanity embodies complexity, and complexity is the result of the meeting and fusion of a multitude of facets which permits what I call a ‘co-existence of dualities’. A dividing line – if indeed one clearly exists – is created where these two or more facets meet, a seam that holds together apparently different, even at times opposing realities. This uncertain space is the productive ground where my videos, photographs and paintings reside. It is a very uncertain space, a no man’s land that does not endeavor to provide any answers but rather questions the very structure of the many truths which the works extract from all that we deem human.

Given how the project explores the collaborative relationship between the artist and curator, what can you say about this dynamic, and what would you say it contributes to the work itself?

Working with a curator who is on the ball is a healthy experience for any artist. It involves continuous dialogue, understanding and also negotiation. I feel that an art scene that does not include the role of curator is missing an important link in the interface between artist, work and public. The curator’s role is precisely to bring artists and art and audiences together, and initiate dialogue through placing a context and forming communicative structures for the work. This collaboration with Sandro Debono – Senior Curator of the Museum of Fine Arts – has yielded a very interesting dynamic and provided both of us with a very enriching experience.

Do you think there are any interesting developments in terms of visual art on the horizon, locally speaking? And on a related note, do you think there are local artists out there who are doing genuinely interesting things?

It is encouraging to see that the output coming from some of our contemporary artists embrace this international context and is as valid artistically as what is being produced by any other artist of international repute. It is through the process I mentioned earlier that a more sophisticated sensibility is encouraged. This will undoubtedly yield to more ground-breaking artistic production and will narrow the still very wide gap between this small output of work of international standing and other less interesting work.