Art Review | Crossfire

Giulia Privitelli analyses Trevor Borg’s artistic contribution to the spring hunting debate, finding oblique comfort in its refusal to pick sides.

Crossfire by Trevor Borg, on display at St James Cavalier until April 9
Crossfire by Trevor Borg, on display at St James Cavalier until April 9

by Giulia Privitelli

Visual puns are just as “bad” as, if not worse than, verbal puns. While, to some, they are a fascinating and an addictive source of amusement, to others, they are the deranged source that drives them up the wall, or straight into it for that matter. Then there is another group of people which stands at point-blank range, utterly oblivious to the signals whizzing by.

Walking for the first time past the artistic installation, ‘Crossfire’, set up at the Terrace Hall within St James Cavalier, I admit, shamefully so, that I briefly belonged to the latter group, skilfully dodging every “bullet”. Until, that is, I passed again for the second time... and it hit me.

Spread across the floor of the Terrace Hall, is a symbol I have yet to see a Maltese person fail to identify with. That swelling sense of pride on encountering the eight-pointed cross miles and miles away from the island is sincere, irrefutable proof of this. Try as we might to sever ourselves from the legacy of a period a few decades short from the three-hundred year mark, and to argue that this cross has, essentially, nothing much to do with our Maltese nationality, and much less so with our 21st century identity, the significance of the eight-pointed cross prevails nonetheless.

It manages to maintain its momentum as an emblem worthy enough to be carried around wherever we may go – not quite on the left shoulder of a black habit, but in our pockets, neatly stacked away with the rest of our other precious, personal cards.

We carry this cross so casually, pasting it senselessly onto market stalls and exploiting it profusely as an income commodity, that scarcely do we acknowledge its original implications of nobility, knightly virtue, obligation and responsibility. This was a sign that had to be earned, defended and preserved against all injustices, for the service of mankind, as long as one wore it proudly across his chest. But the cross in the installation is neither white, nor embroidered on cloth, and whatever the original implications may have been, they have undoubtedly been altered to fit a new  and exclusively secular and political context.

The eight-pointed cross, is here composed of multi-coloured rifle pellets – the remains of an encounter for an offence there never was, except perhaps, for flying threateningly close to the fields, and within range. A cross for the service of mankind, indeed.

In a way, therefore, ‘Crossfire’, isn’t just about the cross. It is also, about the ‘fire’, or rather, of what is fired. The Knights themselves were hunters, proudly and competitively hunting down game, as limited as it was, in their noble and entertaining pastime. It would certainly have been interesting had these campaigns been held a couple of centuries ago.

But if the symbolic meaning of the eight-pointed cross, is outdated, then likewise may be said of the noble implications of hunting. There is nothing noble in taking aim at a helpless, clueless bird, and pulling the trigger. Nothing about this scene evokes the thought of an individual pumped with noble blood and spirit. Nothing at all.

In merging the two together, the installation distances itself from giving one coherent view on the issue, and instead occupies that precarious ground which is neither in favour, nor against one particular front.

The idea of opposing colour-coded parties, and of their clear-cut aims and intentions has here been placed directly beneath the spotlight, as the viewer is encouraged to grapple with the reality of our nationhood. The legacies of the past, in the form of the eight-pointed cross, and the legacies of the present, among which are the used rifle pellets littering the countryside, are here forcefully combined in an effort to see in them references directly connected to our identity – an identity which refuses to be defined by a mere ‘yes’ or ‘no’, one party or the other.

Ultimately, in fact, it’s not the eight-pointed cross – the white on black - that outlines and defines the rifle pellets, but the other way round. In other words, as individuals, we are free to choose how to express our identity and the manner in which we relate to the world around us, independently, and not as useless units of a much bigger form.

Thus, I might choose to identify with the eight-pointed cross and feel ridiculed, cheated even, that such a rich meaning could so easily be replaced by empty pellets that reek only of wounded creatures and stolen lives. But my neighbour, standing at the other end, could view this work and see the cross composed of rifle pellets, as a statement of duty, to fight for a liberty believed to be righteous and just. Then ask yourself, how truly different is this from the Hospitalier ideology of fighting to defend and preserve what was held to be just? Suddenly, the line of debate appears much thinner than before.

I return again to that lonely soldier on no man’s land, caught in the crossfire between two opposing forces fighting for a worthy cause. Amidst all the campaigns, the heated debates and proclamations of what is right and just, here is one artist’s response to all that – an eight-pointed cross composed of countless rifle pellets.

One interpretation is as valid as the next, but whether the intent of the installation is taking cover under several layers of meaning, or whether it is deprived of it, really and truly, is a matter of where you choose to stand.

Crossfire will remain on display at St James Cavalier until April 9