Artist Interview: Charlie Cauchi
Interviewed by Ann Dingli
Portrait of Charlie Cauchi
Charlie Cauchi is a visual artist, filmmaker, researcher and curator living in Malta. As the last exhibition Valletta Contemporary will host in 2019, Cauchi presents Scheherazade, a multi-disciplinary and immersive installation built around the concept of a Soho nightclub. Cauchi transforms the gallery into a space where “coercion and cruelty, love and violence, sex and entertainment are made palpable”. Within the immersive show, Cauchi will explore themes on feminine identity, migrant identity, violence and sexual decadence. Cauchi’s career to date has made the notion of identity and migration one of its core focuses. Her 2018 project, Latitude 36, formed part of the island’s European Capital of Culture programme and included the documentary short, From Malta to Motor City, which examined the Maltese diaspora in Michigan, USA. Her recent installation, Sempre Viva, was a three-screen projection commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion, Malta. Here, Cauchi talks to Ann Dingli on how her own identity influences her work, and what drew her to the vices of Soho.
Ann Dingli (AD): Before we delve into Scheherazade, I want to ask about your practice as a whole. In your work, you seemingly take on a dual role of both outsider and insider. By this I mean, you examine identity of which you are a part but also are able to separate personally from. Is this dichotomy a struggle or a strength?
Charlie Cauchi (CC): I feel like I am both an insider and outsider, all the time in everything I do. I use my practice to understand my topic or my subjects but do so by trying to figure out how I may be positioned in this context. I don't think it is either a strength or a weakness, but a mode of survival I have developed throughout my life. It is hard to separate my life from my work - my own history from my subjects.
(AD): Scheherazade seems to emerge, or at least grow, from your recent work looking at the trajectories of Maltese migrants across the U.S. and the U.K.. What – other than your own heritage – draws you to the subject of Malteseness as it unfolds beyond the physical limitations of the islands?
(CC): It's about finding ways of belonging. I suppose I am fascinated by the ways in which we become the person we feel we are meant to be in new environments. I know I say the word “feel” a lot in this interview, but I think my work is very instinctual and also very tactile, so physical and emotional engagement is important. I digress a little, but my heritage is secondary to my work, and my curiosity comes first.
Welcome to Scheherazade, installation view, 2019 - 2020
(AD): Moving on to Scheherazade and what you aim to bring as an experience to the gallery space. How does one go about constructing decadence, vice, or moral squalor? Can you talk about the practical side to creating this work; the challenges / discoveries the process has presented you with so far?
(CC): This show is a hyperreal interpretation of a place that many of us think we know- there's a lot of iconography to play with. But I want to peel back the glossy veneer to see what lies beneath. Remember that my background is film, so I suppose that I build these worlds from a Cinematic perspective. The challenge here is that the technicolour in my head always must be scaled down to something more focused. I am fortunate enough to collaborate with some wonderful individuals who don't necessarily dull down the technicolour but help me realise what I want to achieve. Jon Banthorpe and Tom Van Malderan provide a lot of input and support to this work, each bringing their own areas of expertise. The gallery context can also present quite a challenge, insofar as I have to work within the confines of a pre-existing functioning space. Rather than fight against the gallery I try to work with the setting that I am provided with.
Verlet, Scheherazade, 2019 - 2020
(AD): You’ve said that your aim with this immersive piece is to deal “with issues of female identity and migrant identity, eschewing sentimentality in the process”. Why do you think the negation of a sentimental filter is important to bring to local audiences?
(CC): Everybody loves gangster movies, but nobody sees the real-life impact. I suppose its glamorization rather than simply sentimentality that I am avoiding here. And not all migration stories are squeaky clean or easy. How do you survive and get by in a country that may not be as welcoming as we make it out to be? I'm not celebrating criminal activity but I'm not ignoring it either. In terms of issues of female identity, a lot of the research was obviously focused on those working in the sex industry during a specific geographical and temporal context. But to me the installation transcends such boundaries and elicits my own personal response to preoccupations such as aging, vulnerability, fear and loss.
Souris and Souvenir, Scheherazade installation view, 2019 - 2020
(AD): Your work touches upon gang history as it unfolded in Soho from the 1940s onwards. Are you looking to make a comment on how corrupt systems can flourish under a formulaic set of circumstances – i.e. place, origins, sizes of groups, collective movements?
(CC): Corruption is an apt word to bring up. I think that this work says a lot more about the climate we are in the here and now, than I had originally anticipated. A lot more. Several phrases made their way into the final piece - these were altered slightly from what I had originally intended to be in the show. In the wake of news that has recently surfaced, and the fact that a woman's life is at the centre of all of this, I couldn’t help but use my work to reflect on this.
(AD): Scheherazade is opening a few weeks before the holiday season. Is this a deliberate quest to appeal to the somewhat impure indulgences that collectively take hold at this time of year?
(CC): Setting the show in Christmas wasn’t intentional but hey, it is pretty apt.
Berfel/Berfilni and Mrs Mizzi et al, Scheherazade installation view, 2019 - 2020