Documenting little Odysseys | Adrian Abela

Adrian Abela’s contribution to collective exhibition /ru:t/ is a 37 hour video loop of his car-bound journey across Malta – and he’s also parked his car in front of the exhibit for its duration. We speak to the artist about ‘Median’, and what it says about how we perceive geographical space in Malta.

Adrian Abela
Adrian Abela
The view from the car: Adrian Abela's Median is a 'little Odyssey' through Malta
The view from the car: Adrian Abela's Median is a 'little Odyssey' through Malta
The view from the car: Adrian Abela's Median is a 'little Odyssey' through Malta
The view from the car: Adrian Abela's Median is a 'little Odyssey' through Malta
The view from the car: Adrian Abela's Median is a 'little Odyssey' through Malta
The view from the car: Adrian Abela's Median is a 'little Odyssey' through Malta

Would you say that the process of being ‘in transit’ is at the core of this particular piece? How do you think this is expressed in ‘Median’?

Median – undergone from September 8 and October 6 of this year – is a work about journeys, and journeys are periods of time ‘in transit’. The time spent travelling might feel like time dedicated to the sole purpose of transit. I spent an average of one hour and forty-five minutes a day driving through non-spaces, and decided to make the line between departure and arrival a space, by changing my perception of the act of transit.

For the past few years I collected clips and sounds during instances when Arabic radio transmission merged with Italian radio. These experiments formed part of a series of works under the name ‘Suggested conversations with/between various tissues’. The process of driving and documenting the communion of the image in front of the car with the audio from the radio stations ultimately took on a life of its own.

This new work also explores other uses of a car – the vehicle that takes you from one point to another but also acts as a ‘time machine’ when you play the radio; in the sense that since we associate songs or pieces of music to specific places and people, we are being mentally transported to these past spaces in our memories while.

Why did you decide that the car should form a direct part of exhibition?

My father is a panel beater so I was brought up among cars despite never really showing any interest in them. My parents always had different cars, exchanging vehicle models every few years, and each of these carried its own set of memories of adventures.

My father developed an emotional attachment to every one of these cars because he would have fixed them up himself before allowing me to make use of them. He believes that I am careless with the cars because I perceive them as functional objects, never paying attention when driving through narrow roads in fields lined with rubble walls and when hitting a kerb while parking. In truth, I like the fact that my car is full of scratches, paint of other cars from collisions and so on because these ‘scars’ contain and revive the memory of the space and time where that action happened in physical terms – a concept that my father is unable to accept.

Median is presented as the actual car in front of a projection of all the journeys carried out across a span of four weeks, which amounts to around 37 hours of driving. The car functions as a physical connection to the video – you can see the tyres that touched upon all the roads travelled in the videos, the windscreen that was the first surface that a raindrop touched after leaving its cloud…

The other reason for leaving my car in the gallery space was that I wanted to experience life without it and discover what other things prop in familiar transits when I use other modes of transport such as walking, public transport and hitching lifts; this current process is being documented on

I have asked these question to myself a million times – should the car be there? Should I show the car and the projection as separate and independent works? – but for this particular exhibition I decided that both aspects were crucial for the whole narrative of the idea behind the piece and the theme in context with the other artists’ work.

Do you think conceptual ‘installations’ get a bad rep – for being too caught up in their intellectual goals rather than ‘hard’ aesthetic realisation – and do you hope to confront that issue with this particular work?

I like to call these setups ‘Compositions’ because they are made of different whole pieces placed together to tell a ‘narrative’ of some sort. Most of my work arises from an aesthetic goal. In this case it was the beauty within the windscreen. The windscreen acted as the monitor, and all the actions being performed within its frame become part of the moving image that starts with the ignition of the car’s engine and ends when it is switched off. The windscreen creates a cinematic effect, and I allowed Chance to direct what happened within my view.

The image merges with sound to create something ‘beautiful’, and thus beauty is created by Chance. Working in this manner is very exciting especially when compared to other projects which require thorough planning and precise technical renditions. I hope that this and my previous balance as you put it ‘intellectual goals’ and an ‘aesthetic realization’.  The work conveys my need to say something and to experience beauty.

I want Median to be able to satisfy both those viewers who care about a narrative and a concept that will change their perception on the subject I am dealing with, as well as those viewers who simply want to stare at the projected streets for a few minutes as if in a video game or dance to their favourite song played on the radio.

The work is a sort of ‘little Odyssey’ in its own way. Do you think this is ironic, given Malta's size? Did you try to express something about Malta’s size in particular?

That is a very apt comparison. I also think of the journeys as ‘little Odysseys’ as all drives tell their individual story and there are a lot of them simply due to the length of the piece. The work is about Malta: its size, history, geographical location, political past and so on.

The journeys in Malta are determined by the physical boundary of the island. Have you ever noticed how ridiculous cars look from a plane, going around in circles on a piece of rock within this immense body of water? This is also explored in Median; we are going around our lives on this island yet we are still heavily affected by what happens beyond its boundary.

In Median you can listen to the FM Radio through which I randomly surfed – switching between Maltese, Italian and North African stations. The latter two serve as a testimony to the roots of the language spoken on these islands and remind us of our vicinity to these countries, hence the title of the work.

This sometimes raises interesting questions; for example, driving through the Lapsi area and receiving radio transmission in French through Tunisian radio stations makes one wonder what would have become of Malta had we remained occupied by the French. This work is a first of a series which I will continue working on and I hope that Chance will create more situations of this kind.

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