What is Paceville? | David Pisani and Elise Billiard

Everyone has an opinion on Paceville, but have we ever stopped to consider the essence of Malta’s prime nightlife hub – not to mention its daytime counterpart? We speak to David Pisani and Elise Billiard, who through their photographic project Night and Day seek to pinpoint just that.

‘Lovers, Paceville 2013’ from Night And Day – photo by David Pisani.
‘Lovers, Paceville 2013’ from Night And Day – photo by David Pisani.

"There's a huge difference between the top of the stairs, and the bottom."

Photographer David Pisani, in his quest to discover the true sights, sounds and smells of Paceville is struck by this one thing: it's tiny.

"Nowhere else in the world will you find an urban space like this. If you're in Berlin, if you're in Shanghai - you have to travel to move from one area to another - you know, you have to walk or drive quite a bit, and you actually realise you're moving into a different area because the buildings start to change around you..."

Not so in Paceville.

"You can practically use an inch-tape to measure the span of one area to another. You'll get the yachts and rich people at Portomaso, then just a couple of streets away there's a run-down apartment block.

"And then, by night, all these people go out. And they mix."

Taking a cue of their previous multimedia collaboration - Transit, which charted the demolition of Valletta's City Gate to make way for the new parliament building - David Pisani and his wife Elise Billiard have once again teamed up for this project. Entitled 'Night and Day', it's a similar artistic evisceration of one of Malta's most hotly-debated urban spaces.

"But I really want to make one thing very clear: this isn't an investigative, journalistic project. I'm not going into clubs with a spy camera trying to catch people doing drugs in nightclubs. I mean, of course they are, but that's just not our concern. This is an artistic project."

Like Transit, the project is primarily a photography-based endeavour, which will eventually also culminate in a deluxe coffee-table style book. The division of labour between Pisani and Billiard (the latter is an anthropologist by profession) is clear cut: Pisani gets night, Billiard gets day.

You wouldn't think so, but it's actually Pisani who got the raw end of the deal.

"I'm stuck with clichés! Everyone knows what Paceville looks like at night, so it's a challenge to locate something truly unique, and telling."

But the day yielded some very real surprises: not least to Billiard and Pisani.

Untitled 2 by Elise Billiard

'Untitled #2, Paceville 2013' - photo by Elise Billiard.

"Far from being a dump that just awakens at night to leave wreckage in the morning," Pisani says, "we actually discovered that it was a vibrant community like any other, which, strangely enough, functions quite well despite everything it's associated with."

Billiard has already accumulated a number of observations and stories that bear witness to the resilient and varied community that one finds in Paceville during the day.

"You can walk into Portomaso and imagine you are in Dubai, or any other sanitised place," she says, before revealing a truly wonderful little find, "then you walk towards the rocky beach and you meet an old inhabitant who takes care of a minuscule plot between two car parks, in which he lovingly plants trees and bushes for each deceased inhabitant.

"On the rocks by the sea, I once met a fisherman gazing at his fishing rod while two guys appear to have been looking for erotic encounters, and tourists from Kuwait were taking pictures of themselves..."

'Night and Day' is a difficult project to summarise, because it has many components, most of which still have to come to fruition. Pisani reveals that audio will also be incorporated: a French DJ was invited to form part of the project and has since written an 'urban mix', bringing together the sounds of Paceville. And a related exhibition, in a gallery, will also be put up eventually.

But the duo will put up another, separate exhibition, which according to Pisani touches on the project in a more pertinent way.

"In order to commune with a place, you need to speak its language. So we'll be putting up an exhibition of images as posters which we'll stick on the wall, just like all the posters that you see all over Paceville, promoting parties, gigs and events. People will tear them down, they will stick their own posters on them, they will scribble graffiti over them, whatever... and we'll record this process over a six-month period."

Throughout our conversation, Pisani stresses that Night and Day is in no way out to present some form of God-like, 'objective' perspective on Paceville, and neither do they want to pass any moral judgements on the place.

"We're not setting out to point out what is 'right' and 'wrong' about Paceville. We're tackling this from the point of view of: this is really interesting."

"I mean you still see old ladies playing Bridge on the patio at 4pm because well, they've been doing it for 20 odd years, why should they change now? Of course at night, teenagers vomit in that exact space... so in the morning they come out, wash it all out with hygiene and life goes on.

"If that's not social tolerance, I don't know what is," Pisani says.

Night and Day is part-financed by the Malta Arts Fund in association with SO Galerie and Computime.

Paceville is the place where many of our youngsters are being morally destroyed. Pubs there should be allowed to open till 1 am and more police presence should take place.