Capturing abandoned spaces | Mark Magro

Teodor Reljic speaks to curator Mark Magro, whose multimedia experience Forgotten Landscapes – incorporating visual arts, film and a publication – shines a light on some of Malta’s derelict landscape features through the work of various painters and photographers

Mark Magro
Mark Magro

Could you guide us through the genesis of the Forgotten Landscapes project? As someone with Maltese roots but who grew up in Canada, how do you view these ‘forgotten’ landscapes, and what made them intriguing to you for artistic exploration?

The Forgotten Landscapes idea started in film school in Toronto. I was in the documentary part of the course and I began to explore the possibility of combining my love of history and art together to make exciting documentaries. I’ve always loved abandoned locations because of their solitude and mystery and for my first documentary, I produced it on an abandoned farm north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The research, planning, collaborating and documentary film-making process captured my imagination and with that the idea was to produce two more documentaries on abandoned locations and pitch it for a television series. 

Over the course of time, it was rejected and the idea was tossed around into a web series, book series, and so on. It was not until I came to Malta from Canada to live in 2015 when I decided to focus the locations to four abandoned locations and to use painters to visualise a moment in time of these forgotten places. These four locations were fascinating because of their beauty, location, accessibility and historical data. In the end, these places can tell us about ourselves through the passage of time, they can reveal how we used to live, how society evolved or devolved in some cases and a reminder of what we can do to make the future a better place.  

Jeni Caruana paints on site at Fort Campbell
Jeni Caruana paints on site at Fort Campbell

It seems as though you’ve tried to get the project off the ground for a few times, but never quite got the financial backing you wanted until now. What do you think made the project so challenging, and what inspired you to persevere with it?

The main challenge of a project in this nature is to describe the human elements of these abandoned structures. I’ve always tried to grapple with trying not to produce a dry historical documentary on these places. It is easy to get lost into the technical history of the places. This was one of the criticisms I received when pitching for funding. I’ve tried to modify the elements of the project to fit certain criteria but the core element of the project had to stay the same or else I would have not enjoyed it. 

How did you go about choosing the artists that now form part of the project?

Through my landlord, I was able to make first contact with artists. By word-of-mouth and the interest in the idea helped me obtain the artists involved in the project. All artists are living in Malta, have a unique sense of art and perspective which is key to this project as I wanted each location to be portrayed differently. 

What do you think the project says about the state of Malta’s built heritage? What do you think can be done to improve it?

Malta has gone a long way in the last several years to try to restore and utilise adaptive architecture to bring derelict places back to life. However, there is still a stigma in the population that these places will be here forever and that some places can be neglected. Restoration is done but a proper archival system and database of these places are required for future generations. This is a project I would love to take part in.  

Artist Mark Mallia chose Jerma Palace as his contribution to Forgotten Landscapes
Artist Mark Mallia chose Jerma Palace as his contribution to Forgotten Landscapes

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

Before I arrived in Malta, I was aware that there was a small art scene through my premiere of one of my films at the Valletta Film Festival in 2013 but once I arrived and was introduced to many artists through my friend Kristina Quintano, I was able to see that Malta is bursting with creativity. The amount of art being produced here is amazing through different venues, forms and experimentation. This is exciting and something I hope to be part of in the future. 

What’s next for you?

Well, after this exhibition I hope to pitch this once again and develop this into a long running series of exhibitions. Imagine telling the story of abandoned locations all over the world, working with different artists such as painters, dancers, etc... collaborating with historians in exploring the stories of these places and exhibiting them through photography, literature and film. This is my goal.

Forgotten Landscapes features the work of Marika Borg, Caroline Said Lawrence, Mark Mallia, Jeni Caruana, Kristina Quintano and Mark Magro. It will remain on display at Spazju Kreattiv at St James Cavalier, Valletta until April 2