Crossings: Massachusetts-Malta (2009-2019)

 

Valletta Contemporary presents an art project by Kathleen Bitetti, a U.S. visiting artist from Massachusetts who is returning to Malta after 10 years, to complete her project which the artist started at Gozo Contemporary as an artist-in-residence in 2009. 

Introducing Crossings: Massachusetts-Malta (2009-2019)

The project consists of four works that Bitetti created from her research findings: Crossings: Dec. 16, 1773; Crossings: Emerson was Here (Valletta)Crossings: Feb. 2nd, 1945; and Crossings: HERE 2019 (Malta). All four crossings include a unique and intricate backstory that relate Malta to Massachusetts. 

Upon returning on the island, the artist threads her own 4th crossing alongside with the initial 3 connections related to Malta as part of the project: ‘Crossings: HERE 2019 (Malta)’. Moreover, Crossings: Massachusetts-Malta (2009-2019) will involve the artist leaving works behind for members of the public to find relevant memorabilia related to the previous connections. 

For Nick Capasso's short essay on Crossings click about Kathleen Bitetti's project click here.

The crossings between Malta and Massachussetts are:

1. Crossings: Dec. 16, 1773   — February 11th- 15th, 2019. (Marks 1700’s or the 18th century)

 

This piece commemorates the Maltese man, Nicolas Campbell, who took part in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.  

 

The Boston Tea Party “was a political protest that occurred on December 16, 1773, at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts. American colonists, frustrated and angry at Britain for imposing “taxation without representation,” dumped 342 chests of British tea into the harbor. The event was the first major act of defiance to British rule over the colonists.”  It was a key event that lead up to the American Revolution.  (1)

 

Each artwork Bitetti leaves behind for this work consists of a large clear plastic bag with a light brown envelope that also contains an off white square envelope and a muslin cloth bag. Bitetti choose the cloth bag to represent Nicolas Campbell’s occupation as a sailor and his sea travels. Bitetti has also included maps of the City of Boston that indicate where the Boston Tea Party occurred. Bitetti was also born in the City of Boston.
 

Some of the other objects in the bag/envelopes: 1) a packet of tea - Bitetti chose to include a packet of the brand of tea that was thrown into the sea for the 1773 Boston Tea Party 2) several small charms and a commemorative coin. Several of the charms underscore Campbell’s occupation as a sailor and highlight Boston as a historic major trading seaport. The coin is from what is called “The Freedom Trail” and depicts the Old South Meeting House. The “Old South” was one of the four sites that those participating in the Boston Tea Party gathered at on the evening of Dec. 16, 1773. One of the charms has multiple meanings. The ship charm once again references travel and trade. It also references Bitetti’s immigrant past, as both sides of her family immigrated from Europe to the U.S. in the early 1900’s via ship, and her love of the ocean.
 

 

 (1) Quote is from:  https://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/boston-tea-party

 

 

2. Crossings: Emerson Was Here (Valletta)  February 11th- 15th 2019   (Marks the 1800’s or the 19th century)

 

 

This is Bitetti’s fourth work commemorating the American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.  

 

Starting on February 11, 2019 and ending on February 15th, 2019, Bitetti will leave an artwork at a site in or near Malta’s capital city, Valletta, where Ralph Waldo Emerson visited during his stay in this country. On Christmas Day, December 25th, 1832, Emerson set sail on the Brig named Jasper from Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. and arrived in the port of St. Paul Bay, Malta on February 2nd 1833. He was one of the five passengers on board. His journals of 1833 detail his trip to Malta and his journey across Europe. This trip was taken by Emerson at age 29 and it was during a critical time in his life as he had recently decided to leave preaching as his vocation in 1832. This is the trip that set him on his path to become the acclaimed and influential  writer, lecturer, poet, and thinker we know today. After serving the mandatory quarantine period in St. Paul’s Bay, Emerson spent the rest of his time in or near the city of Valletta. Bitetti has chosen some of the sites Emerson mentioned in his journal, as well as landmarks/streets he would have encountered during his stay in Valletta.

 

Each artwork Bitetti leaves behind consists of a large clear plastic bag with a white envelope that also contains a blue envelope and a sheer white cloth bag. She has included a picture of the 44th U.S. President, Barack Obama, not only to reference the historic importance of the U.S.’s first African American president, but to directly call attention to Emerson’s abolitionist/anti-slavery activist work and his support of civil and women’s rights. 

 

Some of the objects in the bag/envelopes: 1) a hand made bookmark that symbolizes Emerson’s love of reading and his strong belief in public education and community libraries 2) a packet of tea 3) charms. Bitetti chose to include a packet of the brand of tea that was thrown into the sea for the 1773 Boston Tea Party as way to reference Emerson reading his poem Boston on December 16, 1873 at Faneuil Hall to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. Several of the charms underscore Emerson’s travels and highlight Boston as a historic major trading seaport. These charms also reference Bitetti’s love of the ocean. The leaf charms represent Emerson’s transcendentalism and his love of nature. Several of the charms have multiple meanings: The lady bug is Massachusetts’ official state bug and symbolizes good luck; the ship charms once again reference travel and trade, but also reference Bitetti’s immigrant past as both sides of her family immigrated from Europe to the U.S. in the early 1900’s via ship; and symbolically the dragonfly in “the west” has negative connotations, while in “the east” it has positive connotations. This particular charm is also a homage to Bitetti’s long standing friend and supporter: Sophia Solar Michalski.
 

*This is Bitetti’s fourth work commemorating Emerson. As part of her 2009 residency in Gozo, she brought with on her plane trip to Malta the cargo that was on the Brig -the Jasper- that Emerson traveled on. During May 8-15, 2010, Bitetti completed “Crossings: Emerson Was Here (London)”. She selected several of the places Emerson stayed at or visited in London and left an art work at those sites as part of the 2010 London Biennale (which was founded in 1998 by artist David Medalla). In 2018 she completed her third piece, “Crossings: Emerson Was Here (Boston)". That work started on September 9th, 2018 and ended on December 25th, 2018 -the date Emerson left for Malta in 1832. She left an artwork at a site in Boston where Emerson lived, lectured, visited, and/or frequented. 

 

 

3. Crossings: Feb. 2nd, 1945   February 11th- 15th, 2019   (Marks 1900’s or the 20th century)

 

This piece is about U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's trip to Valletta/Malta and the USS Quincy- the Massachusetts-made ship that brought him to Malta. It will mark some of the places in Valletta FDR visited.

 

Each artwork Bitetti leaves behind for this work consists of a large clear plastic bag with a light brown envelope that also contains an off white square envelope. The envelopes contain historical images and information about U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s visit, the USS Quincy, the Adams Family, etc.

 

Background info: 

 

On January 23rd 1945, the USS Quincy (CA-71) left Newport News, Virginia, U.S.A with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his staff on board. The vessel arrived in the port of Valletta, Malta on February 2nd 1945. In Malta FDR met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and from Malta they both went on by plane to meet with Stalin in Yalta in the Crimea to discuss the post W.W.II reorganizing of Europe. 
 

The USS Quincy (CA-71) has also been referred to as the Quincy III because it was the 3rd ship named for the city Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S.A. 

The USS Quincy was a Bailtimore-class heavy cruiser built by Bethlehem Steel Co, Shipyard Division in the area of Quincy, Massachusetts (U.S.A.) known as Quincy Point. This shipyard was later referred to as the Fore River Shipyard. Bitetti, although born in Boston, spend most of her childhood growing in in Quincy Point near this shipyard. The cruiser was first named the St. Paul and was finished on Oct. 9th 1941. It was renamed the USS Quincy and was relaunched on June 23, 1943. The ship was commissioned at the U.S Naval Dry Dock in South Boston, Massachusetts. It was 13,600 tons. Elliot M. Senn was the captain of the vessel. 

The heavy cruiser was sponsored by Mrs. Henry S. Morgan (Catherine Adams Morgan) who was a daughter of Charles Francis Adams. She was a direct descendant of John & Abigail Adams of Quincy, Massachusetts. The Adams family is one of the most well known historical families of the United States. John Adams was the U.S second president. 

For its 1945 trip out of Virginia (U.S.A) to Malta with President Roosevelt, the cruiser was docked in Boston, Massachusetts (U.S.A) for changes in preparation for the presidential cruise. Two of the needed modifications were the installation of a bathtub and of an elevator for the president. Bitetti now is based in South Boston.

The USS Quincy had been to Malta before its historic 1945 trip with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. From July 27 to August 13th 1944 it participated in training exercises at Malta and Camarota, Italy. The heavy cruiser was involved with the final invasion of Europe by the Allies.  

 

4.  Crossings: Here 2019 (Malta). February 9th-18th, 2019  (Marks 2000’s or the 21st century)

During Bitetti’s full stay in Malta, February 9th, 2019 to February 18th, 2019, she will be leaving behind envelopes that contain a guardian angel image and a miniature sword for someone to find. The angel image is from her childhood and for her it symbolizes protection and safety. She includes it in all her art installations. Sometimes it is hidden out of view and other times it is highly visible. The sword is her “visual ode” to Malta.

 

Kathleen Bitetti is a visual artist based in Boston, Massachusetts (U.S.). Since the early 1990s, her art work has involved the creation of conceptually based sociopolitical objects, installations and community based projects. Research, unassuming and often undetectable autobiographical references, historical references, contemporary sociopolitical issues, hand stenciling, and sewing are very important to Bitetti and help to comprise the foundation she builds on for all of her artworks and art projects.

Kathleen Bitetti would like to thank the following:  Valletta Contemporary (Norbert Francis Attard, Leo Chircop, Marisa Vella), the U.S. Embassy in Malta (Ryan Janda, Joanna Zingariello, Monique Falzon, Rebecca Romkema), the Malta Historical Society (Theresa Vella, Simone Azzopardi), the Massachusetts Historical Society (Gavin Kleespies, Peter Drummey), the Quincy Historical Society (Ed Fitzgerald), the Boston Marine Society (Lisa Walsh), her family (Paula Bitetti, John Bitetti, Gail Rosario, Michela Griffo), Professor Benjamin L. Carp, Professor Robert J. Allison,  Aaron B. Chaleff, and Nick Capasso, the Director of the Fitchburg Art Museum.

Photo courtesy of Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

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