Face to face | Austin Camilleri

Curator Austin Camilleri speaks us about Wicc imb wicc, a collective exhibition currently on display at St James Cavalier as part of the Malta Arts Festival.

Austin Camilleri.
Austin Camilleri.

How do you feel about the exhibition forming part of the Malta Arts Festival? Does this feel like added pressure - both as artist and curator?

I chose not to present works of mine. My role is solely of curator, allowing the artist to take control of design and display details. Since this is the only visual show in the whole festival, there is an added responsibility to fulfil the philosophy of the Malta Council of Culture and the Arts of which the festival is a direct part. However, I don't feel any more or less pressure than other shows I've been in.

What would you say is the overall theme of the exhibition?

The basic concept was self-portraiture in a broad sense. Wicc imb wicc is an exhibition where individual artists see and in turn present themselves, where they are both subject and creator. Being about the artists, I tried to set up a framework where varied contemporary expressions are glued within the conscious status of an established piece from the national collection and the unconscious/unburdened works of six-year-olds. My aim was to present a mix in a fresh approach so I had to change the architecture of the Upper Galleries to make different works dialogue properly.

Given Malta's size, how do you go about hand-picking artists of a certain standard and prestige? And in particular, how did you choose artists that would 'match up' with the foreign contributors too?

The artists were chosen to fit the exhibition's narrative, to create tension within dialogue and to help widen the perspective of the subject, where emerging artists are given equal space. Fresh from the European championship, I like to think of a show as a football team. You cannot win with 11 goal scorers. Every player is equally important. I firmly believe that Maltese artists need to confront their work with that of their international colleagues.

On the other hand, how did you go about choosing and getting in touch with the international artists? What kind of brief did you give them about the exhibition, and how do you think they gel with the Maltese works?

As for local artists, foreign ones were chosen to help create a fluent discourse. Some I knew personally, or exhibited with in major European shows. For others, we had to pass through galleries, agents, etc. However, I was lucky that all artists believed in the project and worked closely with me to - in most cases - create works specifically for the show.

The exhibition features 'guest' works by Tracey Emin and Giuseppe Hyzler... how did you go about acquiring these works? Did you get in touch with the artists directly?

Both works are on loan from the British Council Collection and Heritage Malta. There is, of course, a great deal of work in selling the concept and then the usual hassle of insurance, transport copyrights and royalties. We had great help from Heritage Malta and the British Council.

What do you hope that visitors will take away from this exhibition?

A good vibe.

Wicc imb wicc features work by John Paul Azzopardi (Malta), Zarko Baseski (Macedonia), Vince Briffa (Malta), Joseph Calleja(Malta/UK), Dominique de Beir (France), Jessica Harrison (Scotland), Davor Ljubicic (Croatia/ Germany), Åsa Riton (Sweden), Raphael Vella (Malta), Elisa von Brockdorff (Malta). It will remain on display until July 22.