We need light! | Caesar Attard

Veteran artist Caesar Attard speak to us about his a mixed media show ‘H-ardcore’, currently on display at St James Cavalier, which makes merry with heavy themes through a mix of childlike paintings, striking installation pieces and more.

Caesar Attard: “Do not aspire to become an artist – you will only be a lousy one.”
Caesar Attard: “Do not aspire to become an artist – you will only be a lousy one.”


How would you describe the theme of H-ardcore?

The title 'H-ardcore' developed gradually, as did the concept of the exhibition. Originally I was working on the concept of 'hard-copy' and it would take me some lines to explain how. But when I started choosing some of the little drawings in my sketchbook I discovered that, more than being 'copyable' (as i liked to call them) and therefore 'hard' but human rather than machine made, they also seemed to penetrate recesses of human nature which civilization, by definition, suppresses. H-ardcore gives us a hell of a time, to the point we might prefer to be zombies, and many indeed succeed.

What kind of experience can visitors expect from the exhibition?

Any exhibition is an experience if it is viewed. Otherwise it would be the experience of reading about it, imagining it, hearing about it. However, the visitor will have the opportunity to go through four different experiences which remind one of some aspects of life and our human condition. One can participate in the production of a mural that includes his or her own profile.

The touring of the show itself is not linear because the next to be visited should be the large room at the end of the corridor! There, as I see it, the 'sub-theme' involves the risky business of communality, power, and survival. The third room deals with living life, and allows physical participation of the visitor. Finally, the last room is a dark meditative space where important and perhaps unanswerable questions are raised rhetorically an ironically. Humour, perhaps of the dark kind, is what I believe to be an important aspect of the exhibition.

How would you say that this particular exhibition differs from your previous work?

This exhibition differs from my previous ones in that it is perhaps an experiment in the theatrical. It is probably also an excursion into the baroque. But even so, I cannot help existing on the cerebral plane, as many who know me would perhaps confirm. Some elements of the exhibition - particularly the one in which visitors print out their own profile and stick on the wall, have originated decades ago, in the 70s.

Do you think the Maltese artistic community - both artists themselves and the public - are engaged enough in art, or do you think that they are too passive? What would you change about the local scenario?

Passivity of the public, as I understand it, is a contradiction. Being a public is already an active role.

But, of course, one would like to have more energetic and pronounced participation. The Maltese art public, as in other countries, is relatively small and, as everywhere else, fragmented into aesthetically and socially determined factions. So we actually find ourselves catering for a niche community because outside of this the rest speak or prefer to speak a different language. As in politics, so in art, one has to win over 'the hearts and minds' of those outside one's own domain!

Is there anything I could change in the local art scene? You can hardly change a 50-year old brain overnight could you? But you can change institutions, policies, some habits, and... move people around.

Do you think that there will be substantial, long-lasting changes to the local cultural scene now that Valletta is gearing up to become European Capital for Culture?

As long as we consider culture as a 'capital C' culture, which is hardly more than a church or palace facade, art will remain impotent and disenfranchised. When the spotlights dim out, Valletta would recess into the habitual darkness. We need light! We need light in every sense, physically in really suitable and well designed art galleries if we have to use them, and intellectually in really solid ideas about the function of art in society. In our times (both here and elsewhere) the art of the modernist pioneers as well as those of the 50s and 60s, have mostly been deprived -with the artists' very collaboration, if not collusion, of their independence.

Institutions have swollen out of proportion and so has the art, sometimes gargantuan, one finds in the most well funded art institutions in the world. The idea of a cultural centre has long evaporated. Now there are numerous competing nuclei thriving on surplus finances. Valletta and the people - us - who could make this city alive, lack these very resources, or just have too little of them, and an abundance of human resources in the waiting.

What do you think are some essential qualities every artist should have?

Artists are special creatures: they are like everyone else but possess a certain independence of mind and judgment about whatever they do. If they faint-heartedly pass on these powers to others they would downgrade to the level of a civil servant. If they presumptuously assume to possess these powers with little preparation, they risk becoming a laughing stock in their own field. Of course this does not define the artist. The artist has mostly been a chameleon throughout the ages.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists?

My advice: do not aspire to become an artist - you will only be a lousy one. Just aspire to work hard.

H-ardcore will remain on show at the Upper Galleries of St James Cavalier until January 13.