A heritage of colourful madness | Antoine Farrugia

During Notte Bianca, Antoine Farrugia and his team will be propping up angels over Pjazza Teatru Rjal, as the ‘Gennata Rjali’ installation dresses up the columns in the pjazza using traditional decorations and crafts as typically seen in local festas.

Antoine Farrugia:
Antoine Farrugia: "Notte Bianca is should not be about how many hot dogs we can sell"

Could you tell us a little bit about your artistic background? How does your previous training and experience reflect on ‘Gennata Rjali’? 

I’ve been practicing as a freelance artist for the past 18 years. I work predominantly on figurative paintings. I’m also involved in organising some of the main cultural events held in Malta. 

Recently I’m exploring the world of large-scale artistic installations. I was brought up in Valletta and I live my everyday routine in the city. The hustle and bustle of events, visitors, tourists and the media were the main ingredients to accept this interesting commission.

Especially given that the Pjazza Teatru Rjal will be the issue for the artistic and cultural Maltese archipelago. My close relationship with festa decorations together with my attitudes and artistic creations will reflect the gennata. This space is a big temptation for me!

What kind of folklore elements will you be incorporating into the world? And could you give us a more concrete explanation of how the project will be put together?

From the beginning, in my installation I wanted to incorporate the Maltese festa feeling. A festa atmosphere will always go down well with our public. So the re-interpretation of the festa folklore will play a mayor part in this world. Notte Bianca’s Artistic Director Sean Buhagiar came to me with a proposal.

He wanted to include the festa decorations in this addition but not as I see them for almost five months throughout the whole summer. I had in mind this space, so together we came up with this project with the collaboration of the Valletta festa committees.

You will of course be inspired by and engaging with the Teatru Rjal space for this project. What is your opinion what’s become of the Old Opera House, and how will it be reflected in the work itself?

As I said, this space will always remain an issue for all kind of artists on the rock. Actors use it, all kind of musicians and singers flock to perform concerts in it, even architects, sculptors and painters cannot resist the temptation to exhibit or install. The Old Opera House no longer exists... it is history. This is the new generation: the Pjazza not the Teatru!

One must consider everything before performing or producing here. Someone complained about there not being a back stage… the fact is, if you need a back stage for your production you can move somewhere else. 

We have five theatres in Valletta alone. This is a one-of-a-kind open artistic space in the heart of the capital with a magnificent backdrop, and it’s equipped. Open? So what? I’ve attended a superb concert in the Arena Di Verona... it was cold, it was rainy but it was packed! I congratulate the person who dreamt up this Gennata!

Other recent examples of public art in the surrounding area of Teatru Rjal have inspired debate – Austin Camilleri’s ‘Zieme’ being the most notable example, perhaps. How do you hope ‘Gennata’ will contribute to this debate?

Any kind of art that is not common inspires debate. I must congratulate Austin Camilleri for his creation. That’s the spirit and the guts – you go boy! An artistic project I’m also currently working on is called ‘Temporanjament Permanenti’ – this is all about time, space, attitude, emotions and experience. One can visit a work of art, but can’t gaze at it forever.

A work of art will certainly be emotional, and inspire debate – ensuring that it remains in your memory forever. However, our creations will be removed, sold or perhaps even destroyed. Whether Gennata will contribute to this debate or not will be exclusively the choice of our visitors.

Without thinking too much about it, we can change our everyday habits and routines and we can boost our lives simply by finding a new interpretation of our surroundings. My patrons are already asking the questions like: “Is it heaven or hell for the performer in the Pjazza?” or, “Are we comfortable with the space? Was it a gennata or what?” It’s better if I stop there!

Do you think that the local arts scene represents all strands of Maltese society, or do you think that it can be more inclusive? What are some of the main issues that local artists face, in your opinion?

A society grows, matures, innovates and progresses. The artistic world moves in parallel to the development of society. I don’t think our profession is the same as others. An artist does not open doors at nine and close for lunch. We don’t work office hours. One must consider that it is not easy to earn a living as an artist considering also our limited market.

But I must say that these are not ordinary times! An artist can say that he or she has never been given the chance to explore a wider perspective. It is true; I had that idea. But I was wrong! One must struggle and work hard, and when its time to climb the step, the artist should do it in total humility.

These are most exciting times. The Council is fully geared to reach all of the artists needs – and not just the council. The Valletta 2018 Foundation is the change of mentality that we’re experiencing here. This was a positive answer for the highly talented Maltese artists. We were noticed and our art will be honoured with such a prestigious call. 

I know that we’re already being supported in our artistic projects, I just ask the authorities to keep on with the good work. Don’t close your door to an artist. Don’t ignore an artist’s proposal – perhaps that could be the tip of an iceberg. The network that is being created between the authorities, the artistic society and the cultural world is amazing!

Finally, how do you feel to be part of Notte Bianca? 

As I’m from Valletta, I live all the moments when there’s an event going on. When I’m involved in events, I treat Valletta as a member of my family. And Notte Bianca is should not be about how many hot dogs we can sell, but a celebration of arts in our cultural cradle. The spirit of Valletta revives when we invite a nation to celebrate together. 

This is my seventh year collaborating in this magnificent event. Behind all this there was always a winning team; and this is confirmed from the turnover of the visitors, the positive comments we receive and the fact that year after year the event keeps on growing. The outcome is always positive.

You asked me how I feel to be part of Notte Bianca, and my answer is that the artists are satisfied, the performers are satisfied, the visitors are satisfied, the organisers from the chairman to the artistic director and all managers and coordinators are satisfied, the business community is satisfied, the authorities are satisfied... I am proud to be part of a successful event.

Notte Bianca will be taking place across the streets of Valletta on October 4 from 6pm till late. More information: http://lejlimdawwal.org/

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