The full spectrum | Georgina Portelli

TEODOR RELJIC speaks to Dr Georgina Portelli, a curator within the creative committee of Malta International Contemporary Arts Space (MICAS), ahead of its next event, the immersive and all ages light-and-colour spectacle, the Shadow Colour Pavilion

The MICAS neighbourhood community and outreach initiative in November 2019, with San Gorg Preca College (Valletta Primary and Floriana Primary) and St Albert the Great College
The MICAS neighbourhood community and outreach initiative in November 2019, with San Gorg Preca College (Valletta Primary and Floriana Primary) and St Albert the Great College

Could you tell us a little bit about the parameters of this project, and what makes it so crucial to the large-scale work in progress effort that is MICAS in a more general sense?

MICAS’ mission is to champion contemporary art by raising public awareness about the significance of the visual arts in contemporary life, and by bringing to the forefront the way art can help mediate and interpret the world we live in. MICAS is currently developing the community engagement and education strand of its programme. The Shadow Colour Pavilion at St George’s Square in Valletta will be its first rollout for this year. The preliminary part of the project – the schools-oriented MICAS Art Labs – was held last November.

The project as a whole ticks a good number of boxes. It focuses on inclusive community engagement with our neighbourhood schools and the cross-sectoral dialogue between Science and Art. It encourages proactive public participation through creative expression in the heart of the city.

We are also investing in the development of strategic partnerships with other sectors and organisations as MICAS establishes itself in the cultural ecology both at a local and international level. Our collaborators this time around are Esplora Interactive Science Centre and the Valletta Cultural Agency.

Georgina Portelli, Curator, MICAS Creative Committee
Georgina Portelli, Curator, MICAS Creative Committee

The Art Labs involving young students from local schools appear to have been a crucial element of the Shadow Colour Pavilion. What led to their inclusion and how would you say they contributed to the overall work?

Establishing and forging links with the people who make up our neighbourhood communities is imperative to the MICAS project. The neighbourhood in its tangible proximity matters. We cannot view it simply as homogenous abstraction but have to recognise and respect its diversity. Guided by MICAS’ remit to foster creativity and inclusion, we approached neighbourhood schools to be our partners for the initial part of the project – The MICAS Art Labs. Consultation discussions were held with the schools to ensure this programme catered to the school educator and student community needs; this complemented both the art and science curriculum while still respecting the school community para-

Following the direction of this constructive conversation with our neighbourhood educators, the Art Labs activities were designed in conjunction with the Esplora Interactive Science Centre team. This process was led by Programme Development Lead, Elaine Manicaro and Education Programme Developer, Sarah Galea. Over 400 students attending San Ġorg Preca College (Valletta Primary and Floriana Primary) and St Albert the Great College, participated in the Art Labs workshops.

The workshops facilitated by MICAS and Esplora communicators, offered a series of hands on activities that introduced early and middle school students to light and colour perception, colour theory, colour spectrums, shadows and additive and subtractive coloured light mixing. This introduction to scientific principles relevant to art was negotiated through creative exploration and expression. Students enthusiastically participated in the research process, as creatives not passive recipients actively taking over the process.

The Art Labs were crucial to the development of the Shadow Colour Pavilion concept. These workshops were hosted in early November 2019 at the Magazino Hall (Valletta Waterfront). MICAS is strongly committed to keeping the conversation going with its neighbourhood school communities as its valued partners.

The Shadow Colour Pavilion will clearly have an element of immersive spectacle to it. Is this its primary aim, or does the project also have important conceptual and aesthetic elements woven into it?

The Shadow Colour Pavilion harnesses art’s ability to engage with the diverse communities that constitute the public as proactive collaborators, co-producers and protagonists.

Essentially, the Pavilion uses pure light colour to immerse visitors in a visually stimulating experience as they explore light and colour perception, movement through space and the generation of coloured shadows. Visitors from all age groups are invited to actively participate and explore their own creativity as they move through the pavilion. The pavilion is not being presented as the work of any single artist; we want to showcase the social interaction and performative creativity of participants who will also be encouraged to capture images of their production and upload them to a digital photo wall. The conceptual basis of the project is the aesthetic of social interaction and creative pro-action itself. The Pavilion harbours an open, interactive, human and art ecology, in constant flux.

The Shadow Colour Pavilion is more of a horizontal, dislocative space, shaped through the meaning-making of visitors, who are free to morph from viewers to protagonists – the creative aesthetic Other, and back again, as they themselves decide. It is a transient space that issues an invitation to creative action. The immersive context supports aesthetic experience by heightening the visitors’ awareness of their own perceptual and behavioural responses. It also piques interest in a specific scientific information system that concerns the generation of shadow and different colours through additive light mixing. There is an element of immersive spectacle. In the end, coloured shadows are fascinating and quite pleasing, aesthetically.

MICAS presents the Shadow Colour Pavilion in collaboration with the Valletta Cultural Agency (VCA) and Esplora Interactive Science Centre
MICAS presents the Shadow Colour Pavilion in collaboration with the Valletta Cultural Agency (VCA) and Esplora Interactive Science Centre

How would you say that events like MICAS’ Shadow Pavilion contribute to the current visual arts scenario in Malta?

Events like the Shadow Colour Pavilion open a wider conversation on community-based participatory practice and co-production.

The concept as expressed in the Pavilion may offer a more horizontal platform for all those who are curious about participation and the contemporary idiom. It can facilitate creative expression as much as change perceptions about accessibility to such events. There is a playful element to the invitation, which appeals across the age groups. As a pop-up space for art to happen, it also provides a temporal cohabited space. There is no presented art object to be viewed in the shadow pavilion.

What is on display is the participation, the non-prescriptive socialised process of production in real time captured through the fleeting visual imagery and aesthetic of the shadows participants  project on the pavilion’s interior.

Education is at the heart of MICAS’ remit, and we aim to remove barriers and make contemporary art and creative engagement accessible to all.

Researching colour and visible light – The RGB effect
Researching colour and visible light – The RGB effect

What’s next for MICAS?

It is a very busy and exciting year for MICAS. Preparations for construction works to start imminently on its interior gallery spaces at the Ritirata are in full swing, while the restoration of the adjoining areas is at an advanced stage.

The next upcoming event is the MICAS Summer Celebration which will feature the exhibition Arabicity – Mediterranean, a group show that presents the aesthetic, conceptual, and socio-political concerns of contemporary Arab Renowned champion of Middle Eastern art, Rose Issa, will curate the show. Arabicity – Mediterranean will be held in collaboration with Heritage Malta, MUŻA  and the Embassy of France in Malta this coming June.

The Shadow Colour Pavilion will be on display at St George’s Square, Valletta on March 14 and 15, from 09:30 to 15:00 and 5pm to 10pm on both days