Behind the scenes at the Malta Pavilion for the Venice Biennale

The Malta Pavillion is commissioned by Arts Council Malta

Left to right: Maria Galea and Michela Rizzo
Left to right: Maria Galea and Michela Rizzo

Maria Galea and Michela Rizzo, Project Managers of the Malta Pavilion for the Venice Biennale representing the "I Will Follow the Ship" project commissioned by Arts Council Malta, offer an exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpse into the key stages of implementation, pivotal moments, and the intricate project plan. They share their aspirations for the project, reflecting on the evolution of Michela's collaboration with artist Matthew Attard and the extended role that goes beyond logistics. Additionally, they discuss the lasting legacy that "I Will Follow the Ship" aims to create in both Malta and the international art scene.

Maria Galea:

Maria, can you walk us through the key stages of implementing “I Will Follow the Ship” for the Malta Pavilion? What are the pivotal moments in bringing this project to life?

Participating in the Venice Biennale is a significant responsibility, carrying the weight of representing one’s country. The “I Will Follow the Ship” project is intricate, delivering crucial messages that make its execution crucial. Collaborating with Michela Rizzo, artist Matthew Attard, and curators Elyse Tonna and Sara Dolfi Agostini, we are navigating a multifaceted project plan encompassing set-up, production, educational programs, administrative tasks, brand identity, catalogue publishing, logistics, sponsors, stakeholders, and fundraising. Each stage is pivotal, and Michela Rizzo and I play a key role in aligning these elements, securing partners, and adhering to timeframes and budget allocations, commissioned by Arts Council Malta. The culmination of the most pivotal moments however is expected in the last three months leading to the pavilion’s April launch, where all the efforts will converge.

In managing such a complex and high-profile project, what were some unexpected challenges you faced, and how did you navigate them?

Time was and is our biggest challenge—eight months for a project of this scale is tight. But, we’ve got an amazing support system—all the people who believe in the project and in us, including the Arts Council Malta team, have been instrumental for the team to achieve certain goals. They have been of great support in facilitating connections and important partnerships. We’re still racing against the clock, but with teamwork and determination, we’re making it work.

Finally, how do you see your role in this project influencing your future endeavors in the art world? What learnings do you plan to carry forward?

Participating in the Venice Biennale is undeniably a prestigious milestone in our careers, yet what holds greater significance for me is the enduring impact this project will leave on Malta and its standing in the international contemporary art scene. Representing Malta with the youngest team ever, led by the first Maltese female curator, Elyse Tonna, and the first solo Maltese artist is a privilege in itself. Personally, I thrive on the challenges posed by large-scale international projects. While I’m accustomed to working under pressure, the added responsibility of representing my country on this stage brings a new level of significance. A successful execution could open doors to new opportunities for all of us, with Matthew Attard’s success being a shared triumph that we strongly believe in. His success is undeniably our success.


Michela Rizzo:

As one of the project managers, what are your primary aspirations for “I Will Follow the Ship,” and how have you worked to realise these goals?

The primary aspiration is to be able to put the artist in the best possible position to work and to provide him with the necessary means to realise his project.

This includes a number of tasks ranging from logistics to adding to the budget that is already given by the Arts Council. Being also Matthew’s gallerist and based in Venice, I have been working on the promotion of Matthew’s project with our network of collectors, who have been incredibly willing and generous with their support. From Venice, I also provide practical support in terms of practical logistics, that includes anything that the team requires on Venetian grounds.


Michela, considering your long-term collaboration with Matthew, how does this project reflect the evolution of your professional relationship?

Matthew has been and still is the youngest artist in the gallery. The history of the relationship with Matthew is a particular and fascinating one. Almost twelve years ago he was an assistant in the gallery. Once I discovered his artistic work, our collaboration evolved into a very different nature, that is now culminating with supporting him throughout this fantastic adventure of his opportunity at the Venice Biennale. An incredible story!


Having represented Matthew’s work in your gallery in Venice for so many years, how do you perceive the evolution of his art, especially in the context of “I Will Follow the Ship”?

When I offered him a show at the gallery’s project room in 2013, Matthew’s work had immediately received a very positive response, including from a market and collecting perspective. From there, I found myself in an evolving dialogue with Matthew about the need not to fossilise his development on one theme or style, and to always go further in his research. I also encouraged him to always be in conversation with the other artists represented by the gallery. And so it was! Matthew began a very interesting path: innovative and with current and substantial content, without forgetting the formal aspect. These are ingredients I require from an artist.


Looking beyond the Biennale, what is the legacy you hope “I Will Follow the Ship” will leave both in Malta and the international art community?

Beyond the Biennale, “I Will Follow the Ship” aims to create a lasting legacy both in Malta and the international art community. The project, with its fusion of heritage and technology, speaks to diverse audiences. Matthew’s innovative approach, challenging the boundaries of drawing and technology, sets a benchmark for artists to explore beyond the visible. “I Will Follow the Ship” represents tomorrow’s heritage. Its interactive and technological aspects break down accessibility barriers globally for such a high-profile event and fits perfectly within the narrative of the main exhibition “FOREIGNERS EVERYWHERE” Curated by Adriano Pedrosa at the Arsenale and Giardini venues, in Venice. In conclusion, the project stands as an example, inspiring artists to embrace new possibilities and redefine the intersection of tradition and innovation in contemporary art.

The Biennale will take place from the 20 April till the 24 November