Cracking through the white cube | Tom van Malderen

Architect Tom van Malderen speaks to us about his participation in Hermetik, a collective exhibition to be held at Fort Tigne, Sliema – where he will exhibit alongside artists Raphael Vella and Norbert Attard.

Tom van Malderen.
Tom van Malderen.

Could you briefly tell us what you'll be presenting as part of the exhibition?

I will be presenting an installation called Dancing in the Dark in the parade ground of the fort. It consists of a number of wooden objects, mostly reconstructions or interpretations of objects that will be familiar to the visitors.

For Dancing in the Dark I departed from a couple of texts by the philosopher, art historian and activist Lieven De Cauter. In these texts he describes how our civilisation behaves more and more in a capsular way, through a network of 'closed-off' environments.

Questioning whether we do live our lives more and more from within capsules goes very well with the overall theme of this group exhibition and with its location Fort Tigne, which is in its own right an older but perfect example of a capsule.

How does it feel to be 'the architect' of the group? What do you think this effectively means, in terms of the aesthetic and thematic structure of the exhibition?

Michael Bock, the curator, invited the three of us to make a spatial intervention in the fort. The action of engaging with a space and getting a dialogue going, feels very comfortable and is part of my daily practice as an architect at Architecture Project.

When working on an installation, the most obvious change for me is dealing with a different permanence on the one hand and the joy to follow my own private bubble of interests.

As architects we generally create as a collective and are bound to social responsibility. With Dancing in the dark I can escape both. From an aesthetic point of view the installation is very much affiliated with the DIY-culture of furniture building, the field where designers like Enzo Mari have shown us great stuff.

The 'capsular civilisation' theme is closely linked to a number of contemporary urban phenomena happening in the field of architecture, turning it into capsular architecture: suburbanisation, transit-places also referred to as 'non-places' and the Disneyfication of our historic centers and heritage places.

READ MORE: Raphael Vella on Hermetik

Which elements of the Fort Tigne space in particular inspired you, and how are you shaping your construction to reflect that?

The fort is full of bespoke spaces, completely different to the 'white-cube' or white-walled gallery that has become a standard for many contemporary art exhibitions.

Intuitively I was most attracted by the parade ground, one of the two triangular courts of the fort. When I decided to work around the idea that our civilisation is increasingly becoming a network of capsules, where also our historic places are increasingly becoming enclaves and pay-as-you-go theme parks where spectacle, hyperreality and simulation rule, the parade ground turned out to be perfect. Many parade grounds around the world have been turned into centers for re-enactment and spectacles.

My installation also includes an invitation to re-enact a historic scene, to capture it and share it on the web. It is a tongue and cheek reference to our own exhibition being part of a funding scheme, which in itself could be seen as an expression of our culture of spectacle. The grimmer and uglier outside reality becomes, the more spectacle will dominate the inside, the capsular society.

READ MORE: Norbert Attard on Hermetik

What kind of experience of this recently closed off venue will visitors get in light of the exhibition?

I think the exhibition will bring up multiple questions related to 'hermetically' closed spaces, both old and new ones, physical and virtual ones.

It will also raise questions related to heritage, and the pressure that comes along for a region that has one of the highest concentrations of historic monuments in the world. We have a tendency to view them as public space, whereas most of them never were and the way we have set up today's economic reality definitely doesn't allow for it.

On a lighter note, Fort Tigne has a fantastic collection of unusual spaces, perspectives and landscapes that reach beyond its original military purpose. Irrespective of our works it is a great opportunity to visit the fort, which has been closed off for over ten years and will return to that status following the exhibition until a more permanent user is found.

Hermetik will be open between October 18 to 20 from 10:00 to 18:00. The exhibition is curated by Michael Bock. Hermetik is supported by the Malta Arts Fund and MIDI plc.