Artist Interview: Aaron Bezzina
Interviewed by Ann Dingli
Portrait of Aaron Bezzina
Corpus Adflictum, mixed-media artist Aaron Bezzina’s solo show at Valletta Contemporary, immerses visitors into a symbolic act of voluntary harm and bodily sacrifice. The show grapples with themes prevalent in contemporary culture: physical perfection, bodily modifications, corporeal self-affliction. Bezzina views the body as a “plastic, lifestyle accessory, a thing to be sculpted, shaped and stylized”. In his wider art practice, Bezzina – who earned a BA (Honours) in fine arts at MCAST Institute for the Creative Arts in 2014 and completed an MFA in digital arts at the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences, University of Malta, in 2016 – is interested in the sculptural, as well as other media that encourage meaning, making and further associative actions. Bezzina exhibited work both locally in Malta and internationally for several years. In 2015, he was awarded a residency by the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg. During the summer of 2016 he undertooka traineeship with the cultural association for the arts Nuova Icona in Venice and in 2017 he was one of the artists selected for the Maltese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Here, he discusses themes of vanity, experience and human beings’ inability to not touch the artwork.
Ann Dingli (AD): This show seems to be directly interested with the physical, both corporal and mechanical. Can you talk about whether this interest has been an ongoing theme in all of your work?
Aaron Bezzina (AB): My interest does lie in the physical, in the sense that my work manifests in a tangible object. Even when I create flat objects which deal with imagery, the focus is still in the sculptural, i.e. an object that occupies a space in this world. This show deals with the mechanical and corporal, yes, and even though this theme or approach has been a consistent one in my practice and throughout the years, not each object in my body of work is invested in such ideas. I’ve been interested in the intersection of these two terms since I was an art student at college, triggered by the desire to create an object that would react if acted upon. This required a rudimentary/basic mechanism were the same energy of the participant’s body (hence, corporal) would be used to activate the work. The surprises each object harnessed were never pleasant, since the beginning. So that could be the umbrella. My impression is that it’s constantly raining.
(AD): Corpus Adflictum grapples with the link between ‘perfection’ and ‘self-affliction’, pointing towards modification and the body as a social commodity. Can you unpack these themes and how you sought to materialise them within the work?
(AB): These terms are rather consequences to the work rather than a starting point. As I was in the process of deciding what objects to create (choosing from my sketchbook), they appeared to suggest these ideas. All the work is in immediate relation to the body in various ways. For instance, three of the larger installations/objects have revealed themselves as dealing with machoism to a certain extent, posing as games that aim at exposing one’s strength or machines to enhance it – my objects’ goals and results are definitely different to the real thing (the actual game/machine they hi-jack). The remainder of the works take on different interests ranging from the notion of what we understand to be a board game, a trap, or possibly a weapon. What interests me the most is the contradiction they present. They are, self-afflicting objects as they are created with one ‘utilitarian’ purpose, however, I claim that all of this work is anti-interactive and therefore ought not to be utilised.
Corpus Adflictum installation view of entrance to the exhibition, 2019
(AD): You are interested in what drives people’s desire – have you discovered anything new on this front via the visitors that have interacted with the show?
(AB): Desire plays an interesting role in our lives. I’m interested in the fact that we always decide to ‘abide’ by a certain group of rules which dominate, control and regulate such desires. I have started with the presumption that what I am presenting is ‘art’ and it is shown in a space that accommodates this. I also assumed that people have the desire to see what my objects would do to the human body should they be operated to the fullest. This is meant to ignite the viewer’s imagination, remaining only that – a viewer and not a participant (with reference to someone who participates physically). I wanted that the objects are not touched. But that being said, I did not present the work behind glass, they were left accessible. I have discovered nothing new, just confirmed my assumption that people will touch and move things around despite the lack of a sign inviting people to do that.
(AD): Your work for Corpus Adflictum switches between large and small scale, and is highly tactile – in an age driven by an experience-economy, where gallery-goers are driven or at least influenced by how their viewing experience might look later shared on a screen, do you believe that art needs to jolt, persuade, and distract more explicitly than ever before?
(AB): Art doesn’t need to jolt the viewer but if my work succeeded in doing that, good. I am not sure what art should do. What I do know, and what interests me, is that moment when I’m looking at something that catches my eye and I am absorbed in it. I expect people who go to a gallery or to a space that hosts art to dedicate a fraction of their time to at least look at what’s there – otherwise they should stay home. The question is always about interest, not everyone is interested in the same things, even within the spectrum of art, and it is probably impossible to create something which everyone would like equally.
Corpus Adflictum installation view, 2019
(AD): The idea of ‘experience-vanity’ relates directly to themes you interrogate in your work, only in your case you are looking directly at the body.
How does vanity drive us, and do you believe it has any role in driving your viewers to engage with your pieces at the show?
(AB): Vanity motivates people to do many things that are otherwise done differently – all possibly relate to one’s own appearance (in a larger sense than just physical). Vanity doesn’t play any role in the way people interact with my work. The objects I present do not ‘improve’ one’s body, they are, rather, there at the viewer’s detriment. Hence, the work ought not to be interacted with physically but in a mental frame – figuring out how the simple mechanism operates. My ‘anti-interactive’ claim is, in part, in rebellion to the current climate where viewers are groomed with interactive works that are purely experiential and that’s it. As a result of this, viewers are constantly trying to ‘interact’ with every object they can get their hands on.
(AD): What are your thoughts on the future of the human body as we move deeper into an age of AI?
(AB): I am not sure of how artificial Intelligence would relate to the body, possibly, Virtual Reality has more to do with how we relate to our own and other people’s bodies. If we sink into VR we would have an even more illusionistic experience of what is physical, contributing to a dream-like state where material objects become even more trivial. This being said, AI and VR do not interest me with relation to my art practice, I would rather challenge people’s imagination with my work rather than presenting them with a readily packed experience.
Quadri - Bench Press, Corpus Adflictum, 2019