Reading between the lines of the city | Kristina Borg

Fresh off a trip to Haarlem, Netherlands to participate in the collective exhibition ‘Daydreaming Subverts the World’ at Nieuwe Vide Art Space, Maltese artist Kristina Borg speaks to Teodor Reljic about her contribution to the exhibition, which sets out to depict ‘an alternative Haarlem’

Haarlem locals taking Kristina Borg's 'sound-walk' across the city
Haarlem locals taking Kristina Borg's 'sound-walk' across the city

How did you get involved in this project, and what were some of the themes you wanted to explore within it?

I was invited by curator and director of Nieuwe Vide Art Space, Lennard Dost, to participate in their exhibition ‘Daydreaming Subverts the World’. I got to know him a couple of years ago when he was in Malta as a curator-in-residence. This eventually led to the exhibition ‘The Culture of Ageing’ curated by Dost himself together with Mare von Koningsveld, and in which I participated as one of the Maltese artists. Since then, we remained in touch and we continued following each other’s work. Knowing my work and the concepts that I research, Dost invited me to participate in his latest international exhibition in Haarlem in the Netherlands. 

For this specific project I’ve been in Haarlem twice, first for research and eventually a second time – in September – to finalise and present the project. My main area of research revolves around the concept of the city and whatever this brings along, and for this project I was particularly interested in the concept of the alternative. I believe that whenever we visit a new place, being it a new city, a new country, we are always influenced by what is presented to us and the information around us. Such information could be found online on various websites that list the top-10 museums, the top-10 restaurants etc., or at the tourist info point. It could be visual and textual but I believe rarely experiential, even though capitalism now constantly bombards us with terms such as ‘experience’, ‘emotion’, ‘the unique’. I believe that such advertising is filtered and presents just one perception, thus alienating us further from the direct lived experiences. Hence, for my project in Haarlem I wanted to create and provide a possibly other experience of the city and in order to do this I started off my research by conversing with the locals. 

Kristina Borg: 'Exporting one's work brings along new discussions and new exchanges'
Kristina Borg: 'Exporting one's work brings along new discussions and new exchanges'

The final result consists of a DIY sound-walk which includes an audio work presenting ambience sounds and a voice over of a narrative that I wrote. This narrative presents a mix of factual ideas about specific spaces and places around the city twisted with some imaginative ones. It is up to the listener/wanderer to take it as a fact, a metaphor or a dream. An illustrated visual guidebook also accompanies this work and the sound-walk has just been launched recently. 

Would you say that community work forms an integral backbone of the artistic work that you do? 

Yes, indeed. Through my work I’m always interested in involving the people at different phases of my projects – this could be at research phase, at a final phase, or both. In the case of this project I would say that the locals were invited to participate in both phases. The first research included conversations with the locals and this was set up through an open call – online and in one of the local papers. The final work is only fully activated when the people take and experience the sound-walk. Needless to say, I’m extremely grateful for the locals’ interest – without that, the project could have never come to fruition. 

I would say that such a tendency in my work is a result of years of research as well as an internal process of understanding what I wanted to do and how to merge my different interests and passions. I think it is also borne out of the fact that I’m also professionally trained as an art educator – a practice that also brings you in touch with the community. I must admit that working with and for the community is both a need and a desire, which I cannot ignore or negate. It requires a lot of listening, flexibility and remaining open all throughout, after all it’s about something which is very alive and organic. Certain things cannot be predicted – this can be frustrating at times (such as situations over which you have no control, affecting your schedule), yet, I always find its element of surprise inspiring. 

This particular project focuses on Situationism. How would you describe this philosophical-artistic term to somebody who isn’t familiar with it, and what intrigues you about it?

Situationism is a practice that focuses on how situations can affect a person’s behaviour, hence, how external factors can define one’s personal attributes and behaviour. As a movement it originated in the late-50s and remained prominent in Europe till the early-70s. It included artists, intellectuals and political theorists whose main argument revolved around how capitalism and its commodities have taken over our lives, alienating us further to the extent that we do not realise how our relations are mediated through external factors rather than through personal attributes. For this reason they were interested in finding new ways of exploring their urban environments. 

Although this concept originated more than 50 years ago I still believe it’s very relevant to these days, when social media now mediates our lives. This is why before I mentioned the idea of ‘the alternative’ – how can we really get an authentic experience of a city without being bombarded by all the selected adverts and branding around us? For instance, Haarlem has been classified as one of the top-10 secret European spots, just as Malta can be branded as a Mediterranean gem. But how does this affect our experience and relations? Moreover, I entitled this Haarlem project as ‘The Beach Beneath My Streets’ which is my interpretation of the Situationist slogan used in Paris during the 1968 students’ revolts – ‘Sous les pavés, la plage’; I believe this is a very fitting concept for Haarlem on both a physical and a political level. 

What are some of the main advantages of taking your practice abroad? How does being exposed to international trends and working methods help your own work?

I believe this should be the aim of every artist, irrespective of the place or city s/he comes from. Exporting one’s work brings along new discussions and new exchanges, hence new visions, perspectives and reflections about one’s work. It definitely is a learning experience and one experience abroad can only lead to another, including collaborations with other artists too. Personally I always find it a good tool to further understand where my work is heading to and I must admit that my work finds good reception and understanding when abroad. 

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

No one can contradict that good improvements have been made with more opportunities being made available for the creatives, new spaces opening up, international practitioners and speakers coming over to share their practice and to collaborate with the local art scene. 

Practitioners in the creative sector have also started to be more active and sound their voice when needed. I do have my doubts however, on how genuine and long-term the current vibe is. On one hand I still think that locally the arts are not considered as relevant to society and thus not given their due importance and the professional respect they ought receive. On the other I also feel that as practitioners we should be more open and less competitive. So, what would I change about it? I would say the removal of one’s personal ego so as to create more healthy and genuine collaborations. 


Daydreaming Subverts the World will be running at the Nieuwe Vide Art Space until November 5.

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