Let there be light…and power | Patrick Fenech

Patrick Fenech’s Last Word from Paradise contemporary art installation is on show at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg’s Macht! Licht! (Power! Light!) until 10 July

Last Word from Paradise (2019) Photo credit Marek Kruszewski
Last Word from Paradise (2019) Photo credit Marek Kruszewski

It is undoubtedly an honour to be exhibited alongside the likes of Joseph Beuys, Claire Fontaine, Damien Hirst, Olafur Eliasson, Christian Boltanski, Alfredo Jaar, Marina Vassileva and Tim Noble & Sue Webster

Indeed. Although, honestly, the first time I was contacted to be featured in this exhibition, I thought they send it to the wrong artist! Seeing all these names, names I had always dreamed of and admired, in some way or another; it was so big, it was almost unimaginable. It gives me great satisfaction that throughout my career, I’ve managed to contribute to both the contemporary art scene and the environment.

Last Word from Paradise is a video and light installation that you made in 2018 and it’s now on show at the Kunstmuseum in Wolfsburg, as part of an exhibition called Macht! Licht! (Power! Light!) featuring 60 artists and 80 artworks. How did Last Word from Paradise become part of this exhibition?

It’s quite the story. I wasn’t familiar with Andreas Beitin as a curator, before this exhibition.

The piece first appeared as part of my solo, Dis-, at Spazju Kreattiv, St James Cavalier. Dis-, as in the John Milton prefix, to denote negativity. German curator Andrea Hilger had curated it; at the time, Andrea was organising her first Ostrale Biennale, and she chose three works of mine for the 2019 edition, including Last Word from Paradise. There’s where the Kunstmuseum curator found out about my work - both him and assistant curator Regine Epp were key collaborators in the participation and setup.

In his preface to the catalogue, curator Andreas Beitin refers to the exhibition as a ‘fascinating spectrum of political aspects within light art’, to which Last Word from Paradise contributes by contemporarising the creation story, “Let there be light”, and John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost. How did Last Word from Paradise itself come to be?

How the piece itself evolved was very strange. I was always influenced by the notion of extending perception. When we are going about our day-to-day, we go out with blinkers, as if we have a framed camera. At the time, I was also developing an interest in light. I started filming water, around the islands during the winter months, and documented various effects of water, whether it was glistening, dirty, flooding... One day in my studio, it hit me - that’s the flow of things - and out came a video projection with a red neon tube.

Sitting in complete darkness, the only source of light is coming from the piece itself. There is no sound because ‘the last word’ has gone. The water is running into the abyss, even disappears into it. The whole video is put on a loop, everflowing, symbolising the liminal passage between birth and death, raising the need to do something about the in-between, to save our environment, our world, our being.

Previously, you’ve hailed Milton as a pioneer for environmentalism. His political position is embedded in his poetic rendition of the creation story, the tension between light and darkness, and as you mentioned, this resonates deeply with you as an artist in the context of Last Word from Paradise. What is the relevance of this work today?

Milton’s Paradise Lost, besides dealing with existential themes of birth, death, rebirth and abyss, is an ecological position in and out of itself. It too was written in a time of upheaval. Now more so than ever, art has to respond and shape the way forward, in the current global political and environmental climate. We all know that climate change is a reality, that we need to do something about it, and that it has been a reality for a longer while than we would like to admit. Last Word from Paradise, among my other works, is my political contribution to this.

Patrick Fenech
Patrick Fenech

What’s the call-to-action you seek to transmit through Last Word from Paradise?

Stop mistreating the world, beating the planet, right here and now. It’s obvious that we need a very urgent solution to this problem, and now is the time.

Would you describe yourself or your work as Miltonesque?

No, I wouldn’t, not so much. I’m a vast admirer of his work, yes. I never go headlong into anybody or anything. As an artist, you take what’s interesting, useful, and reshape it to rework it to produce something new and exciting in the end.

So, who would you say was your biggest influence?

Bill Viola, who I grew immediately obsessed with. Then, Mark Rothko, how he used art to save himself. But I suppose more personally, our dear Gabriel Caruana, who was like a second father to me, always encouraged me. His humane character, as he cooked spaghetti, and drank wine with all of us. From an environmental perspective, Olafur Eliasson remains my main inspiration; I first saw his work at the Tate, the Unilever series, an artificial sun and everyone sunbathing underneath it. He is also participating in Power! Light!. He might just pass by my own artwork one day and see it, who knows.

Have you thought of emailing Eliasson to tell him that you’re both participating in the same show?

I could now. I could say, that’s me, that’s you, and we’ll see what happens. I’d love to visit his studio!

Access Patrick Fenech’s portfolio and upcoming work on patrickjfenech.com. His next two projects feature a commissioned video piece as an accompaniment to Avro Pärt’s live performance of 'Spiegel im Spiegel’ (Oxford Festival of the Arts, 2022) and Spiral Loops, a video on a space mission, ‘Maleth II’ by SpaceOMIX, in collaboration with University of Malta.