The lungs in the rock | Joran Rapa Manche

Malta-born Joran Rapa Manche speaks to us about his upcoming exhibition in London. With Exhale-in, the artist will be occupying a space at the Caroline Garden Chapel in Peckham from October 22 to 28.

Joran Rapa Manche:
Joran Rapa Manche: "Leaving for London was not an instant revelation; it still took me a long time to be where I am now"

Could you describe the concept behind the structure, and how you set about constructing it?

The concept behind Exhale-in is about physical change. If you take the idea of breathing, it is a constant physical change that happens within us. Our lungs contract and expand continuously. The fluctuating sculptures also expand and contract, to reveal and partially fill the void of the Chapel. The sculptures are constantly an obstruction or a focus – all is temporary.

I wanted to create sculptures whose volume can be changed by compression or expansion, so bellows where a perfect form that allows this change. If you look at a concertina, it needs a force to allow its bellows to expand or else its just another stagnant object. I started using cardboard to build the bellows, which is a light and sturdy enough material and lends itself well to the piece, as cardboard is such a throw away material, however essential. 

The fact that the sculptures expand to six metres, I had to introduce octagon cardboard rings, which fit within every mound of the bellows. This helped them to retain their form when fully expanded. I then introduced an outer skin of latex in the form of a tube that allowed the sculptures to be airtight. The eight sculptures, each being directed by a standard vacuum cleaner, allows them to contract upwards by displacing the air within, by suction. When the sculptures reach their limit, which is that of 50cm, the vacuum cleaner motor switches off and the force of gravity draws air back within the sculptures, allowing them to fall and expand.

Why did you choose this particular venue to install and display the structure? What do you think the chapel adds to the installation as a whole?

The Caroline Gardens Chapel is now deconsecrated, this means it has gone through a change. Although the architecture itself is evidence that the building’s use was that of a religious congregation, now its use is different, but still continues to be a place for community. It’s the evidence of change and its disheveled state, which makes this place a perfect backdrop, to the constantly changing installation: Exhale-in.
What have been some of the most important things you’ve learnt during your studies in London?

Going back to university to do an MA in Arts was an important part of what I wanted to focus on, which is that of being an artist. Although I always knew that I wanted to be an artist this gave me the time to take it more seriously. It turned out to be intense and productive year. It made me value the dedication and time involved in making art.

Do you still feel ‘Maltese’ as an artist? If so, in what way? What were the main reasons you chose to emigrate?

I guess I will always be Maltese, in the sense that I was born there and my childhood and early teenage memories are in Malta, however living in London for nearly half my life allowed me to focus less about where I am from and just concentrate more in doing art. I suppose I decided to leave because I wasn’t happy at the time and didn’t really know what to do with my life and the opportunity of leaving seemed like the right choice. It doesn’t mean that leaving for London was an instant revelation; it still took me a long time to be where I am now.

How would you describe the state of contemporary art in Malta at the moment? What are some of the main problems it faces, in your opinion?

It is clearly different from the time when I was there and that is certainly a positive. Being in London since I was 15 years old, I am obviously less connected to the art scene in Malta and not being able to attend exhibitions, so it’s quite hard to pinpoint specifics. However, it seems like all these art funds, V18 and new art exhibition spaces such as Blitz are definitely part of a good beginning to a change.
I don’t really feel I can comment on what problems it faces.

Maybe one day I will be more involved within the local scene and then I’ll be able to have a bigger picture of the state of contemporary art in Malta.

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