Not a temporary fix | Alexandra Pace, Sara Dolfi Agostini

As visual arts spaces struggle to reassert themselves the independent Valletta contemporary art space Blitz will be boosting its online presence from May onwards

Blitz curator Sara Dolfi Agostini and founder Alexandra Pace
Blitz curator Sara Dolfi Agostini and founder Alexandra Pace

As visual arts spaces struggle to reassert themselves and recalibrate their operations in the wake of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, the independent Valletta contemporary art space Blitz will be boosting its online presence from May onwards, in a bid to remain a relevant player in the field. TEODOR RELJIC spoke to Blitz founder Alexandra Pace and curator Sara Dolfi Agostini about the two flagship initiatives of this new drive: ‘OPEN’ and ‘Kids at Home’

Galleries must adapt to post-covid realities like every other institution, of course. What were the initial, internal conversations at Blitz like when it came to coming up with the gameplan that eventually led to ‘Open’?

Alexandra Pace: We are living in unique and surreal times, where neither individuals nor institutions have escaped the necessary rethinking of everything previously considered the norm. Over the years we’ve written up many risk assessment plans in our forecasts and strategy plans, but this is the first time we’ve ever had to really implement them.

On one hand, we were very fortunate to find ourselves in a period between closing an exhibition and preparing for another so thankfully the previous show on our programme – Tobias Zielony’s solo exhibition Isn’t Life Under The Sun Just A Dream – had run its full term, until February 29. However, we were preparing for the next item on our programme with all hands on deck.

An ambitious exhibition project with Italian artist Marinella Senatore that included a performance inspired by her internationally celebrated School of Narrative Dance taking over Republic Street – an event whose success relied on engaging a diverse array of local communities to express themselves in Malta’s most symbolic public space, in conversation with and the artist, her team travelling from Italy and Paris and our local project manager Kristina Borg. After talks with our partners – Istituto Italiano di Cultura La Valletta, Valletta Cultural Agency and La Quadriennale Roma – postponement was the inevitable path to take. The open call to participate in Marinella Senatore’s performance is still up on our website, and we welcome people to get in touch if they want to participate.

We are constantly monitoring the situation and look forward to announcing a new date when it will be safe to re-appropriate public spaces and take action together. It will be an even bigger celebration!

Meanwhile, we quickly expanded our focus to a new direction. Blitz has previously toyed with the idea of implementing an online space to operate in parallel with the physical galleries. It was just never the right time, nor the priority. Two factors which swiftly became both timely and necessary, and once Sara Dolfi Agostini and I defined the rationale behind Blitz’s online presence, we immediately kicked in the process to start building the assets and launch the platform.

Beyond some of the more obvious concerns about physical space and social proximity, how will this new approach change the way you do things at Blitz?

Sara Dolfi Agostini: We have been teleworking for over a month now, and we surely miss meeting the art community. Blitz is more than a display of artworks. For over seven years it has been a hub for contemporary art in Malta, and we treasure our conversations with artists and visitors, because they keep us anchored to the ground and responsive to the needs of our local stakeholders. The new online identity of Blitz is that of a space without walls, one that inspires emancipation, unlocks creativity and builds a much needed counter-narrative to the breaking news haunting our waking hours. Blitz online is conceived to be as welcoming as our galleries, and to trigger your imagination.

As we adjust to a state of emergency and contemplate the unknown that awaits us on the other side, a pragmatic return to yesterday’s status quo seems doubtful. It is the time to deconstruct the mystifications of our society – from exponential growth to anthropocentrism, question the conventions of time, the very existence of public space and the social canons that regulate living together. Science alone cannot address the flaws and prospects of a new society, and art can and should be a force to prevent the oblivious normalisation that will be pushed forward by more conservative powers.

What can audiences expect from the online galleries that will be put up, and do you hope to also attract new crowds which may not have flocked to the gallery otherwise?

Sara Dolfi Agostini: We certainly do. An online platform is the closest thing you can have to a public space now, and all you need to do is type ‘www.blitzvalletta.com’ into your browser to access it. Some international galleries and museums have introduced registration procedures, but we want “first time visitors” to experience OPEN before committing to us via our newsletter. There are far too many things that are restricting our freedom today, art should not be one.

As we are managing the many limitations of virtual reality, we are also taking advantage of the lack of geographical borders and physical place. We are having very inspiring conversations with artists, both for the online exhibition and the ‘kidsathome’ programmes, without forgetting our core interest in education. The online exhibition will have a downloadable catalogue, and it will be followed by more experimental projects. This is the time to think outside of the box.

Could you talk a little bit about the ‘Kids at Home’ aspect of the initiative? What will this entail and offer, and why did you choose this as a particular area of focus?

Alexandra Pace: OPEN is not a temporary fix to a problem, it is the start of an initiative that we intend to maintain for the longer term. Firstly, we still have no timeline of how things will unfold in our current circumstances and secondly, Blitz has always been interested in activity beyond its own physical space whether this is in the form of off-site projects – like our ongoing collaboration with artist Rossella Biscotti and the Kunsten Festival Des Arts in Brussels, or this new uncharted territory for us.

OPEN is in line with core objectives of Blitz. Our exhibitions are the backbone of our institution however the opening of an exhibition is, in some ways, where the work begins.

Our public programme of talks, education and children’s events are as important as the exhibition itself so for the launch of OPEN we have chosen to prioritise families and children who we imagine are struggling with establishing new routines without the parameters of school and outdoor activity.

Through a collaboration with various Malta-based and international artists in our community, Blitz is sharing an ever-growing series of artistic activities, ranging from performance to drawing and sculpture. The first wave of activities we have published are a collaboration with artists Matthew Attard, Bettina Hutschek and Marinella Senatore.

The format of each activity is either inspired by the history of art of the twentieth century, or by the artist’s practice, and through this activity the children are encouraged to send in their response or contribution which we will share on our social media platforms or, in some cases, they may even form part of a larger artwork.

Speaking more broadly, how do you think the fallout of the pandemic will affect the local arts scene in Malta? How does Blitz hope to weather the storm, and what can we look forward to from the space when it re-emerges after a degree of ‘normality’ has returned?

Alexandra Pace/Sara Dolfi Agostini: It is difficult to project at this early stage as this is so new to everyone. While we are dealing with the situation as an institution and exploring possible solutions, we are also recipients of information, audiences ourselves and quite simply, human beings.

The art scene is reacting in a variety of ways, from accelerated productivity and self-promotion to dealing with loss of income and projects. All this behavior is legitimate and we hope that the outcome will create more enfranchisement than suffering. But first we have to get through the difficult part.

Speaking on behalf of Blitz, we are embracing the challenges and learning from the experience. Once a vulnerability is exposed, the natural instinct to shape-shift kicks in. Blitz was always intended to be modular, malleable and to respond to contemporary existence. It feels like this is the true testing ground to those statements we have previously made. We are open to new collaborations as we empower our online and physical presence, and even more committed to the local artistic and cultural infrastructure.

Visit https://blitzvalletta.com/ to experience the venue’s revamped online gallery experience and the various initiatives that surround it

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