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The ephemeral art beneath the face of Renzo Piano's parliament for Valletta

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Dr. Vince Briffa


M.A. (Less), Ph.D. (UCLan)

Head of Department of Digital Art University of Malta

Curator of "The Overlooked Performance"

Searching for meaning in chaos

Ever since in the late fifteenth century Leonardo da Vinci tried to impart to fellow artists and students the concept of searching for inspiration in natural elements such as textures, patterns and even dirt on walls, in streets and in the environment, the accidentally-found mark has established itself as a starting point for the creation of works of art, many times of outstanding quality. Leonardo’s belief of searching for meaning in chaos has proved to be instrumental for the production of the well-known billowing clouds of Mantegna, the gnarled rocks by Bellini and the numerous studies of nature and drapery by such masters as Dürer, Constable and Turner to name only a few. 


Being patient enough to look for ‘readymades’ in nature’s archive has not only proven to be a fundamental creative trigger, but has also led the western artist to further investigate chance as a creative method. The product of accident therefore, was restated later through the drawings and paintings of Victor Hugo, Max Ernst, André Breton, André Masson, Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso amongst others, with such processes also influencing the development of Surrealist automatism and paving the way for the work of numerous modern and even contemporary artists.


The Overlooked Performance makes evident Alex Attard’s similar concerns with the location of the occurring mark, stain or texture this time in the building process of the parliament building by Renzo Piano in Malta’s capital, Valletta. Like a talent scout, Alex embarks on a voyage of discovery, scanning every nook and cranny of this landmark building in search of the unknown artist’s magnum opus. His is a voyage of uncovering, an unearthing or better a framing of what is perhaps flagrantly visible to all but noticed only by the privileged few. Like a focused anthropologist, he eliminates the visual disarray and asks us to concentrate on the seemingly insignificant that soon will be no more, lost in the shadows of the building’s pristine cover. 


Alex discovers the interactions of the accidental artist with tools and building materials, and uplifts these sentient discoveries to fine art levels, framing compositions which at times give pleasure to our aesthetic senses through their organized symmetry and structured grids, while at others lose us in the depths of their swirls and textures. Dense bitumen surfaces take on the tactile significance of Soutine’s blacks as they fill the entire image space with their velvety presence, while metal and aluminum grids give us back Mondrian’s syncopated rhythms devoid of bright colour but rich in monotone. The artist also relishes in the pareidolic act, where from the twinning of matter with the unconscious, images emerge as if through magic, this time also discovering what he interprets to be the portrait of the same architect of the project, Renzo Piano, on one of the plastered walls.  


The works in this exhibition play on the tension between the accidental nature of what is found and the deliberate highlighting by the artist, seeking to confirm Leon Battista Alberti’s suggestion that such seemingly meaningless patches, blotches and visual accidents are the basis of all art. Through attending to, or rather making us focus on something that we ordinarily are unconscious of, and without any further artistic intervention, Alex presents these framed surfaces of inspiration to deliberately alter our awareness and plunge us in an unfocused and uncertain state of mind, making us look twice in the hope of not only quenching our primate urge to project meaning, but above all other, discovering the visionary within us. 

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