Collating the fragments | FRAGMENTA

Bettina Hutschek speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about the philosophy behind Pop-up exhibition initiative FRAGMENTA and why the crowdfunding route is the most viable option at the moment

SubversiveBillboard
SubversiveBillboard

How would you describe the FRAGMENTA project to the ‘uninitiated’, and given that the planned book covers the span of 2013-2018 of its events, what kind of impact do you think it has left on the Maltese arts scene so far?

FRAGMENTA is an initiative to present contemporary art in the form of events and experimental shows to the public. The events always take place in the public space, in different locations of public and semi-public spaces on the Maltese islands. So far we have organised 25 events with over 35 international artists, and many collaborators, volunteers, helpers and fans. The events are serious or funny, Dadaesque or exploratory, playful or thoughtful... or simply art. They respond or refer to issues present in society, and offer thinking space for the audience to raise their own questions. These types of events are not new in the world, but they were a first in Malta, in such a regular way and with a growing agenda. Never taking a didactic approach, FRAGMENTA experiences do not present solutions nor preach, but offer encounters.

I think (or at least, I would like to believe) that FRAGMENTA has contributed to give artists more of a boost to work on social issues and not only see art as a luxury good, and to the public to reflect those through the eyes of creative events. There are other projects now which bring art into the public space and I find that incredibly rewarding, important and stimulating. Perhaps this is a tad idealistic, but I believe that through art, we can add a shade of grey to the battle between white and black thinking.

Bettina Hutschek
Bettina Hutschek

What led to the decision of creating a book on FRAGMENTA’s efforts, and why did you opt to go for the crowdfunding route with it?

After almost six years of constant action, FRAGMENTA (and by extension, myself) needed a break to think about our next moves. I did not receive funding for events in 2019 and did not want to go back to working in complete self-exploitation as we did in the beginning, when I paid production costs, and the artists would give out their work for free, so I thought that an intermediate stop to reflect about sustainable work, to take stock, and to analyse our possibilities was the best strategy.

The publication contains descriptions, photographs and details of all 25 FRAGMENTA events that were held between 2013 and 2018, as well as newly-commissioned texts by authors on art in public space (Fulya Erdemci, Sebastian Cichocki, Raphael Vella and Charlie Cauchi). But it is more than just a summary. It also showcases a humorous (but true!) list of headlines presenting events in public space which give a good image of what happened in Malta until 2018. The introductory text gives a detailed overview over reflections about art, politics and life in Malta and much more. The book also contains funny quotes, headlines, and absurdities.

FRAGMENTA is using Indiegogo as crowdfunding platform in order to keep creative and editorial control over the content and aesthetics of the publication. In a time of increasing censorship through funding bodies, this seemed to be the way to go. Being critical is not always rewarded.

Psychoarchaeology_ESmith
Psychoarchaeology_ESmith

Given FRAGMENTA’s ‘pop-up’ nature and its discursive, engaged relationshp with public space in Malta, what will be some of the most important themes and common threads to emerge in the book?  

What is interesting about Maltese public space is that it is so contested, especially in the past years, with the selling of land on various parts of the island, the chopping of trees, the planned construction of a so-called university at Zonqor Point, and the constant removal and re-construction of Daphne Caruana Galicia’s memorial in public space. Almost every week there is a new shocking news item. At the same time, Maltese public space is very much ‘used’ by various members of the public, which means that this public space could be a very democratic space where humans of different age groups, backgrounds, and belief systems meet and intermingle.

Maltese public space is multi-sited and contradictory, oppressive and liberating, religious and profane, passionate and routine, knowable and unknowable. It is a space of conflicting representations, a hybrid meeting ground. Surprises, love, violence, rules, and anarchy overlap in the public spaces of such a small country like Malta. Such a contested and precious space turns into an active participant when you do art events in this space... it becomes a life-long learning centre for us early-school-leavers, providing us with possibilities to voice, hear and shape opinions. Placing art events here helps to activate places in new ways, writing other stories onto its skin, making the unknown appear. Concurrent with statues and some questionable three-dimensional positions in public space, FRAGMENTA seeks to redefine not only what art, but also what humans could do in such a space.

Why do we need to apply for a police permit to organise a four-hour art event, while some people take over whole stretches of beaches or public land with campers and BBQ gear and need not apply for anything? Rules determine the use of space. Rules on this archipelago are there to be adhered to sometimes, but mostly they are to be extended and to be bent. Yet rules are rules, and rules are especially valid if you believe they are valid.

So, without talking about it, we talk about the intertwined elements of social/ public life, about freedom of expression, about freedom of speech and that we have to fight for it and defend it, especially where it is being cut away at its roots. We talk about life and society and being active participants in society, and we want to improve quality of life, and qualities of critical thinking and a sense of solidarity.

PuritytoPerversion
PuritytoPerversion

Would you say that the book literally ‘bookends’ at least one era of FRAGMENTA’s history? If so, what kind of impression do you hope readers will get out of it?  

The book sums up one era of FRAGMENTA’s history for sure, but that does not mean that this will be the end of FRAGMENTA. What will readers get out of it…? Maybe the hope that discourse, discussion and exchange is possible? That we can even remain civil and diplomatic while doing it? Hope dies last, they say.

Doing and saying are forms of acting in the world, fluidly, rather than being fixed. Meaning is produced neither by the sender nor the receiver. It is more about how we do things than what we do. We intend to create not only objects but situations and encounters. We recognise the importance of questioning invisible networks of regulations through counter-actions. Even though we are here on these islands at the edge of Europe, they are the centre of our thoughts; a tiny territory, which is being re-imagined, turned into a state of flux, an event-in-process.

Our strategies are: Negotiate, discuss, think patiently but urgently, make surprise moves,  assume responsibility, advocate connective and open thinking while being self-reflective, think about societal problems in a playful way and finally… laugh and love.

For more information on the FRAGMENTA Indiegogo campaign, and to donate, log on to: https://igg.me/at/fragmentamalta/x/14044741#/

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