‘Away from mundane beauty and interior design talk’ | Pawlu Mizzi

Visual artist Pawlu Mizzi’s newly opened debut solo exhibition, Her Majesty – curated by Simon Sultana Harkins and on display at Akkademja Kulturali Pawlina in Valletta – sets out to be more of an experience for visitors than just another static display of visual art. We speak to Mizzi about his ambition to create a challenging take on the exhibition experience.

Her Majesty will remain on display at Akkademja Kulturali Pawlina in Valletta until June 26. Photo by Clint Scerri Harkins
Her Majesty will remain on display at Akkademja Kulturali Pawlina in Valletta until June 26. Photo by Clint Scerri Harkins
Her Majesty will remain on display at Akkademja Kulturali Pawlina in Valletta until June 26. Photo by Clint Scerri Harkins
Her Majesty will remain on display at Akkademja Kulturali Pawlina in Valletta until June 26. Photo by Clint Scerri Harkins
Pawlu Mizzi
Pawlu Mizzi

What was your starting point for this exhibition, and what kind of cohesive effect do you hope it will have?

I wouldn’t identify a specific starting point. To me Her Majesty is not an exhibition. My curator and myself refer to it as a project. It’s a kind of time capsule featuring experiences and emotions that I’ve been through in the past, say, four years. Each work like a snapshot. You as a writer might want to look at each, in terms of chapters… each containing paragraphs of words, metaphors and commentaries. Adding to that are two public talks and the publication of an academic book that will hopefully have a long-term legacy within the visual art sector.

What kind of media did you employ for the works that form part of this exhibition? Why did you go for this medium/combination of media?

I’ve been drawing and painting from a very young age. In time, when computers invaded my drawing desk, I literally ended up with not enough space where to draw or paint. That’s a setback of living in small spaces in Valletta I guess. Indeed, I discovered I could draw or paint through other techniques, mainly digital.

During my time at the Emvin Cremona Art & Design Centre in Valletta (1997-2001), I recall the late Emanuel Fiorentino assigning us a work related to fashion, and that is where I started experimenting with digital collage. Scanning cloths, capturing textures and applying them elsewhere turned out to be the best language I’ve ever learned so far.

The medium is relatively cheap and highly malleable. It also allows for an infinite palette and experimenting is a must. In fact Her Majesty is also a blatant experiment in re-appropriation; that is working around found digital objects to create new work. Thank you Mr Duchamp!

What kind of experience do you hope the visitors will have of the exhibit? And how do you think the venue complements the work?

Both myself and my curator, Simon Sultana Harkins, believe that no artist or curator should be dictating an experience. What Her Majesty does is suggesting an experience. That experience cannot and should not be controlled. The audience is suggested to live Her Majesty their own way. The works have a character of their own now, a character that will interact differently with different people. And that is the best part of the artistic experience.

The works are complemented by a space that is not made up. Initially we were looking for a shelled-out space, somewhere really down market, unexpected and unusual. Following a few disappointments, Antoine Farrugia from the Akkademja Kulturali Pawlina in Valletta came to our rescue with this venue that is definitely off the beaten ‘art’ track yet provides an underground, grungy, and possibly counter-cultural feel and look about it.

I recall my MFA supervisor Dr John Grech telling me that my work “seems to work against many ideas associated with capitalist society” and that “the work would be most sympathetically shown in an ‘artist-run’ ghetto type space”.

Unfortunately such a space is hard to find locally and if you somehow manage, as in our case with the Old Powerhouse in Floriana, we still gave it up when faced with all the insurance/health and safety charges around.

Luckily the Akkademja Kulturali Pawlina hub is working beautifully. Art can feature elegantly without disrupting the nature of the building itself and the activities that go on within.

Both the Akkademja and ourselves as an artist and curator team believe that such art interventions in community spaces should come in relationship with the various groups that use it. In this regard, two public talks will also be held in the space, allowing for people to walk in and share views about an academic aspect inspired by the works.

A book featuring academic essays from Dr Vince Briffa, Dr Giuliana Fenech, Dr Laner Cassar, Irene Biolchini, Anna Grima and Dr Mario Aquilina will also be launched within the space in the near future.

How would you say this exhibition marks the development of your work so far?

This is a milestone for Pawlu and for Simon. We’ve both had our good experiences in the past yet this is our first solo effort in our respective fields. Artistically I think this project – including two public talks and the publication of an academic book – are a very intense effort to place visual arts under intellectual scrutiny, away from the mundane beauty or interior design talk!

On a more personal level, I think this collection was quite a challenge for me. There is so much going on an emotional level and also so much more on a technical point of view. I believe that the space for digital arts to incorporate found objects is new to the local contemporary scene.

We would like to thank all those who didn’t believe in our project. They were various; public and private entities. They demotivated us yet, though this may sound like empty rhetoric, certain attitudes made us stronger.

Luckily, some gentlemen like Mauro Gasan from Petite Events, Mario Bonello from ITC, Ron Mifsud from Impressions Ltd and James Baldacchino and Yasmin Kuymizakis from SeeSaw Sounds made a hell of a difference. Not to mention Antoine Farrugia from the Akkademja Kulturali Pawlina, who was there all the way.

What do you make of the local visual arts scene? What would you change about it?

There’s quite a strong scene at the moment, especially with the advent of the Valletta International Visual Arts Festival and its satellite projects. The Curatorial School set up by the Valletta 2018 Foundation, of which I make part, was indeed a brilliant idea that is promoting that important element for all kind of arts.

We are very lucky to have some very interesting and motivated people at the right place at the moment. Even though I still find that the local government still doesn’t rank culture at the top of its agenda, I find that some people ‘down there’ are doing some really good ‘dirty work’ to motivate the cultural sector into new levels.

Education and art cannot be kept distant and children should be learning through art – in its widest form. Our students should be taught to be critical and to ‘read’ art critically. Much needs to be done yet a lot is being done already. Let’s keep positive.

What’s next for you?

A good shower, a short nap and some last touches to the exhibition space before the private viewing tonight. On an artistic level, I’m looking at ways to help my art travel, not just through the exciting social media channels but in a more tangible and physical way too. I’m always on the lookout for collaborations yet apart from that, I never plan my ‘camino’. Art will take me places… and that’s very good.

Her Majesty will remain on display at the Akkademja Kulturali Pawlina, Archbishop Street, Valletta until June 26. For more information log on to hermajesty.info