Double bill of exhibitions
Written by Karin Grech
Stephanie Galea's Traces
Female nudes and the internet is not usually a combination we associate with art. Yet, Valletta Contemporary successfully embraces this combination in its double bill of exhibitions showing currently at its amazing gallery in East Street, Valletta.
The spaces at street level are taken up by the exhibition titled Traces, which contains the works of Stephanie Galea, a London-based Maltese photographer and visual artist.
Stephanie is also an established fashion photographer and I love her work for her imaginative compositions and for the confidence with which she picks locations and plays with light and shadow. She gives as much importance to the stage as to what is being staged.
In this exhibition though, her focus is entirely on the subjects. It is the shape, the curves, the roundness and the softness, yes, even the flaws and minuscule details of a woman’s body that are the centre of attention.
Her black and white photographs of anonymous female nudes in an outdoor setting range from full body views to cropped close-ups, which at times might make you forget that what is depicted here is a human body.
I heard Stephanie say at the opening that her photographer colleagues didn't think it a good idea to use paint on these photographs. I can understand the sentiment as the photographs are stunning in themselves. Yet, the application of bold brushstrokes of paint in strong primary colours adds another dimension to her work. These brushstrokes transform the photographs into delectable ‘bodyscapes’ that make you look at the female body form in a new way.
What I also find noteworthy is that the works in Traces show that there has been a woman behind the lens. In my opinion only a female photographer can produce nude photos of women that are flattering, yet sensitive and intimate, without ever touching on the sexual.
These works connect to the right side of our brain, our centre for intuition and emotions, and made me experience a sense of admiration and wonder.
Stephanie Galea, Blue Traces, 2, 2019
A very different experience are the pieces in the second exhibition, titled Non-Aligned Networks. They are designed to stimulate the left side of our brain and should spark logical and analytical reactions and scientific understanding. In fact, once you descend the stairs to the lower level of the gallery you realise that looking at these works immediately changes your perception; you react to them by analysing, not admiring.
Do keep in mind, that this exhibition presents conceptual art. The concepts might need a computer screen, an image or a video, or possibly some “readymades” to get their messages across. But what you are seeing is an idea, something that should get you thinking, questioning, evaluating. It is up to you to take on the artwork and carry it forward in your mind.
Often the thought processes of the artists are complex and not necessarily easy to follow. So I will endeavour to get to the basic idea of each piece and sum up what is - in my opinion - its essence.
The most prominent work here is Shawn Maximo’s piece titled easyDarkCafe. It is a wall print of an internet cafe that spans two storeys of the gallery accompanied by a video. At first it looks inviting but on closer inspection it appears somewhat sinister: the setting in a cave suggests its connection to the dark net - a reputedly dangerous corner of the internet. Yet it might only be - as the wall text proclaims - a ‘speculative design’ that would provide privacy and companionship in equal measures - an architectural solution to the increasing isolation caused by people’s ever growing preoccupation with their screens.
The piece in the room opposite this wall, titled Nervousconditioner.life.001.NTU by NTU, a South African based group of creatives, also touches on the dark net concept. Here though, it suggests that the total anonymity and secrecy provided by it can be used in a positive way to create a protected and closed platform without interference by disruptive, or even abusive or oppressive forces.
Tabita Rezaire, Premium Connect, 2017
A member of NTU, Tabita Rezaire, looks into the connection between technology and spirituality in a separate piece titled Premium Connect. Her video installation is set up in the exceptional space of the old well in the VC building. It takes the term ‘technology’ and applies it in a much wider sense to any networks that facilitate communication, be they organic, electronic or spiritual. The film showcases, for example, an African religion called Ifa, which bases any decision making process on divination using complex mathematical formulas. This and other non-digital information networks are juxtaposed with the familiar Western-centric information and communication technologies.
Yuri Pattison’s work peace mode (off) - context collapse deals with the ‘Western’ technology of the web servers. His work consists of several ‘server sculptures’, composed of actual server parts inside a plexiglass case, interspersed with documents. This second-hand technology represents the tangible construction of the internet but also hints at the fragility of data security.
Egor Kraft’s piece Twelve Nodes (or as I would call it “Tablets then and now”) also investigates the problem of data security and data protection. In his search for a legal framework that would adequately regulate the protection of personal data, he goes way back to the 5th century BC. Referencing the 12 tablets of the first Roman law ever written down he mounted 12 computer tablets on the gallery wall. He also introduces us to the Fair Data Society that recognises online privacy as a basic human right and, for example, offers a mode to transfer data without compromising a person’s privacy rights.
DISNOVATION, Online Culture Wars, 2018-2019
Online Culture Wars, a piece by disnovation.org, consists of a video and an interesting ‘map’ containing all types of memes, logos and images of politicians, actors and other influencers - ‘influencers’ being the key word here. This work is to make us realise and analyse how much we get influenced by what we see and read online, how profoundly we get manipulated; and how it is also in our power to control our exposure to these negative traits of online life.
Chinternet Plus is maybe the piece which is easiest to digest, because the artist, Miao Ying, approaches it with a certain degree of humour. Yet, despite her mocking her homeland’s propensity to copy (from designer handbags to Austrian mountain villages) she does not forget to remind us of China’s ‘Great Firewall’ which is an effective method for the authorities to control and censor what its people access and consume online.
As you see, these two exhibitions are diametrically opposed in their aims; nevertheless, in their synthesis they do exactly what Art is meant to do: make you appreciate beauty and question your truths.
Traces will disappear after 14th June but you can go online in Non-Aligned Networks till 28th June 2019.