The ravages of time | Mario Cassar

Gozitan artist Mario Cassar speaks to us about his current exhibition Timeless, which fuses fine art with found objects. The veteran artist and educator also expands on the state of art and culture in Gozo.

Mario Cassar
Mario Cassar
The Revolution of the Everyday by Mario Cassar
The Revolution of the Everyday by Mario Cassar

What led you to choose ‘Timeless’ as a theme for this particular exhibition?

There exists an often-voiced desire for timeless everlasting values, for art described as permanent and archetypal. Hidden or wrapped in this new collection of works there are “found objects” – anonymous things culled from the mundane textures of my everyday life.

I have also appropriated kitsch and intervened on trivial objects such as used paper bags in an attempt to make them permanent and essential.

Timeless reflects my neo-boho aesthetic in which natural textures such as cowhide, wood and marble create unique objets trouvés sculptures and installations. While firmly grounding themselves in contemporary artistic theory, my pieces aim at defying time and obsolescence. I have created works that withstand fluctuations of trends and style.

How do you negotiate the fusion between straightforward sculpture/art pieces and ‘found objects’? What led you to this fusion of objects and what do you think it contributes to the pieces themselves?

In my first solo exhibition back in 1999, entitled ‘Masks’, I had already experimented with found objects, but my subsequent study on the philosophical discourse of “objecthood” and its sense in the theorisation of land and environmental art, really got hold on me. This exhibition is a result of these considerations.

Do you see yourself as a ‘Gozitan’ artist in any way? How so?

Your question is the crux of all my artistic, social, cultural and educational involvement on the island. I have made it a point to use Gozo as a base for my professional and artistic activity.

The island offers a unique climate and a very family-friendly environment. However, luckily I had the opportunity to discover knowledge and study from an early age, elements which are fundamental in defying insularity and provincialism. In addition, modern technology and travelling help me a lot to defy the limitations of living in such a tiny place. As an artist I feel more a universal being than a Gozitan or Maltese citizen.

What are your main priorities as head of the art and design programme at Sir M.A. Refalo Sixth Form? How do you ensure that Gozitan students gain an appreciation of art? Are you seeing any tangible results in this regard?

During the past seventeen years I was lucky to lecture art and design at both advanced and intermediate levels in Gozo’s only pre-tertiary institution, a centre which practically prepares all Gozitan art students to further their education in local and international institutions.

I am very thankful to the various principals including the present one for their continuous support to the art department, which in my view has paid back. In all these years I have tutored a huge amount of Gozitan youths in both artistic practice and history of art.

Many old boys and girls have pursued professions in the arts, including art education, art history, art practice, restoration, archaeology, design, photography, architecture and curatorship.

Regarding my priorities, I always stress the importance of taking artistic research seriously. Art is not a hobby. It is a very serious business, a business which transforms ordinary life into timeless if not eternal experiences. Who said that Picasso has died? His works have guaranteed his eternity.

For me artistic research is on the par with other types of research. We research beauty, the technical and theoretical development of artistic personalities and various other areas related to the philosophical and psychological aspects of art.

Throughout these years I have also stressed that fact that Gozitan students ought to look beyond our shores. Gozo is a fantastic island, yet to a bigger extent than Malta, it is at the end of the day an isolated place, far from the mainstream cultural developments of Europe, the US or the Far East.

I think I have repeated this aspect ad nauseam. But I don’t regret it. I know for sure that open-mindedness and a strong cultural appreciation are the only way forward for our islands’ cultural, political, moral and social salvation.

What do you think of the state of both contemporary Maltese art itself, and the discourse around it? What do things like the debate that erupted around Austin Camilleri’s Zieme tell us about the state of Maltese cultural life?

In my opinion Malta is still getting in terms with its colonial past, which was actually a very long past. I feel that as a nation we live a sort of schizophrenic duality in terms of a nation, which on one hand considers itself independent and a thriving member within the EU while on the other hand, it is still fundamentally rooted into provincialism and obsolete practices.

It is no wonder that the contemporary art scene suffers from this. Art is basically a reflection of how society thinks. Besides that, there is the geographical size of our country and the lack of a sound cultural policy which looks at long term scenarios and which administers considerable funds for the arts.

We still lack the knowledge that culture is among others, a main pillar in urban and social regeneration, an aspect I had the opportunity to delve into through various study-tours I have participated in.

Contemporary art in Malta also has to struggle from a financial point of view. Most of the artists have to earn a living doing another job. Like me, many had to pursuit a career in the teaching profession in order to make it.

There is also the co-existence of researched art and what is usually called ‘good art’ versus the more commercial art, with both having their distinctive and ideologically conflicting audiences.

Efforts like the establishment of centres like St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity and the ongoing MUZA project obviously point at the right direction since they certainly provide a breath of fresh air to the local cultural scene.

However as a nation, we still lack a proper space for exhibiting and researching contemporary art and culture. Projects like Renzo Piano’s new aesthetic for Valletta are also extremely meaningful for those who acknowledge the natural development of architecture and its repercussions on the local art scene.

Timeless will be on display at Vini e Capricci, Gozo until November 29. For more information, email [email protected]

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