Follow the wind | rubberbodies collective

Forming part of the rubberbodies collective’s ‘Windrose Project’ a new community-based exhibition of kinetic sculptures Il-Pinnuri will be next in line for the long-running theatre/art initiative. We speak to the project’s main coordinators, Jimmy Grima and Martina Buhagiar, who talk about the project’s thematic core – the wind – and how they also hope it will highlight communal traditions that are in danger of dying out

From left: Matthew Pandolfino, Martina Buhagiar, Jimmy Grima and Adrian Abela of rubberbodies collective • Photo by Tumer Gencturk
From left: Matthew Pandolfino, Martina Buhagiar, Jimmy Grima and Adrian Abela of rubberbodies collective • Photo by Tumer Gencturk

Working with local communities requires a degree of understanding and sensitivity – so as to avoid both exploitation and kitsch. How did you choose your informants and participants, and what kind of effort did you make to ensure your employment of their thoughts and works was truthful?

Martina Buhagiar: The Windrose Project had directly identified that the value of knowledge concerning the sensitivity towards natural occurrences has been passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth and most of it has been kept within that circle of locals who make use of that knowledge.

So the Windrose Project understood that the best way to reach this knowledge would be to go to the locals in their environment, as documented material was bare.

The Windrose Project first held an event in each of the four chosen localities which was put up in collaboration with their local councils. ‘Tiftakar l-Ewwel Darba li Għamilt Tajra?’ (‘Do you remember the first time you made a kite?’) stemmed out of the lost tradition of flying a kite.
Apart from a set of kite-making workshops held to teach children how the earlier generations used to make a kite, the Windrose Project set up an open space where locals were welcomed to share knowledge and stories about the wind.

Prior to the event, the local councils guided us towards individuals that would have plenty of knowledge to share.
These individuals were warmly invited to the event. Key informants were then identified from the entire list of individuals for the quality and quantity of knowledge they provided.

What the individuals shared with us from one locality corresponded very well with what was shared with us from the other localities and so on even though they had not met, almost like hearing another language spoken only by those that work with nature. They shared this language with us. This information has been documented also to help its preservation and transmission.

What kind of ‘truths’ did you discover about the Maltese islands, through this project which appears to be all about pinpointing the islands through very ‘primordial’ elements?

MB: The kind of ‘truths’ discovered were found in the experience these fishermen, farmers, labourers lived. They were all exposed and taught, by their forbears, to be in tune with the rhythm of the nature around them from a young age, as for most, their work depended on it.
The same way we depend on electronic machinery to search for these ‘truths’ about the nature and its elements, the people we met have learned to look to the skies and all that surrounds them.

The people whom we interviewed shared with us how to predict the wind’s direction from natural signs such as the different shapes and direction of the moving clouds and the shape and glow of the moon. They shared with us which wind could predict particular birds’ arrival to the islands and which fish are best caught depending on how strong the wind is. Some have even affirmed how the cat, and many other creatures have not lost their natural instinct to feel where the wind will come from beforehand and this is revealed in the way they are sometimes positioned.

How did the project come about? What kind of discussions did you have before settling on this concept?

Jimmy Grima: As individuals, we might have difficulty recalling why we, the Maltese, have distinctive community practices and traditions. We should ask ourselves where these ideas came from. Address this question at a public level and our memories and our ideas, where they were once fragmented, come together. The collective memory is deeper and richer than that of the individual.

In a world where printed word and online videos rapidly spread cultural ideas, it can be easy to overlook local concepts and beliefs. Our folklore, passed down generations by word of mouth, lends depth and meaning to traditional Maltese beliefs and customs, and yet it is endangered. Written records are scant and its popularity has been waning.

For many years, the rubberbodies collective (the RBC) has focused on such history. Our work has culminated into presentations such as Lore of the Sea (2010), White Sea (2011), and, more recently, The Wind-Rose Project (2014–2016).
The difference between our previous works and this is the main theme shifted from sea to winds and the outcomes from performance to sculptures. Our sources in the past were mainly curators and historians while this time round we worked directly with community members from these four locations and involved them directly in our creative process.

How did you choose the artists involved, and what did you hope they would bring to the project?

Jimmy Grima: There are four artists at the core of this project. Martina Buhagiar has been involved in minor roles in our previous projects and she comes from the same school of thought most of us come from: that of devising and collaborative process. Martina’s role was mainly to devise, research and conceptualise, together with me and the rest of the group. She took the lead and became our voice with the communities and developed a fantastic relationship with the seven key people from the communities we have collaborated with in this project.
She brought in fresh ideas and approaches and assisted and supported me in the creative process and in the production.

I asked Adrian Abela to join because of his architectural background and conceptual works. He had previously collaborated with members of the collective on a dance project and I thought that he could join forces with Matthew Pandolfino in the design and the creation of the actual public sculptures. Although new to our process of creating, he was a valuable collaborator and responded brilliantly to our collaborative process. He also brought in indispensable fresh approaches and ideas.

Since the final outcome of this phase in this project was sculptural, I went for our long time collaborator Matthew Pandolfino, as he is very experienced with our collaborative process and I know that he is always keen on creating a dynamic and kinetic works for art. He brought in the kinetic element and gave life to these four sculptures together with Adrian Abela where they spent the past month working – or rather, living – at Matthew’s workshop.

Il-Pinnuri, under the umbrella of The Wind-Rose Project, produced and curated by the rubberbodies collective and co-produced by Spazju Kreattiv, forms part of the Valletta 2018 cultural programme. It will be on display at Spazju Kreattiv (St James Cavalier), Valletta until May 1