The moments that get away | Patrick Fenech

Traces of Traces, an exhibition of photographs by students within the newly-inaugurated MFA Digital Arts students from the University of Malta aims to investigate the ephemeral nature of photography, the exhibition’s curator Patrick Fenech tells us.

Patrick Fenech:
Patrick Fenech: "There is a big ‘lacuna’ in our educational system, at all levels."

How would you describe the core theme - or at least the connecting thread - of this exhibition?

Well, we all know how photography relies on the 'decisive moment' to capture and 'immortalise' a specific event in the history of humanity.

The iconic picture that comes to mind is the Nick Ut photograph that changed much of America's opinion during the Vietnam war: depicting Kim Phuc or 'Vietnam Napalm Girl'.

More recently, there were the 9/11 pictures of which 'Falling Man' by Richard Drew and the corporate executive caked in dust with the resumes swirling around him are always imprinted in my mind.

This collection hanging in the Upper Galleries of St James Cavalier deals with the 'moment after'.

They share a forensic quality, engaging in the scientific use of the photographic image. So we are using photography, which in itself is the act of making a trace of someone or something, to take a photograph of a physical trace which the world leaves on the body or the body on the world.

Building a picture by Aidan Celeste

Building a picture by Aidan Celeste.

How did you go about communicating this idea to the students? Did you find the theme of 'traces' to be particularly relevant to where they are, artistically speaking?

After introducing the core theme, I went straight to the point and showed them pictures produced by well known artists and photographers. So we evaluated works by Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz and the first 'Photo Secessionist' exhibitions in New York. Here is the breakthrough from the 'pictorial' style photography to fine art photography: for example, the 'monumental' photograph of a green pepper by Weston.

Then we discussed Man Ray's 'dust breathing' photographs, influenced by Marcel Duchamp and Gertude Stein's fascination with the subject, and Arte Povera artist Guiseppe Penone, who left his fingerprint on a pebble before casting it into the river.

The action was then documented in photographs. Similarly, Bruce Nauman and his 'Flour Arrangement' series. These concepts and visuals put the students on track to develop their ideas about Traces. This whole exercise engages the students to expand their vision and communicate the process involved behind 'thinking' photography.

How do you think this new course within University is shaping up? What 'gap' would you say it's filling - academically speaking - and what would you say its main aims are?

There is a big 'lacuna' in our educational system, at all levels, of how to develop and put across the 'thought process' into the visual arts. Human experience is increasingly becoming more 'visualised', so the need to address and bridge contemporary artistic practice with digital technology is paramount if we are to provide the ever growing creative industry with the necessary human resource.

Tommy by Justine Navarro

Tommy by Justine Navarro.

How would you describe the works of the artists participating in the exhibition, as a group? What do you think their work highlights, as a whole?

The ten students participating in the show have come up with some very interesting and surprisingly good work. I say 'surprisingly' because in the short timeframe of these workshops, some works they produced went beyond my expectation. 

So to that end, they produced work that reflected the theme and reached the objective of my  sessions.

Trances of Traces will be on display at St James Cavalier until December 2.