Dislocated Geographies (exhibition)

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Dislocated Geographies is an exhibition by Mario Abela which investigates what we think is natural but unpredictable; what is familiar but merely strange.

While chance has played a significant role in many groundbreaking scientific discoveries, it is human life and nature that have been profoundly impacted at each breakthrough. In the artist’s view, the course of the human species has been conditioned irrevocably by, and through, complex visual representations of the scientific theories and events that try to define our existence in the cosmos. It is through the abstraction of these theories into visual processes that one is able to experience a true, and accessible, sense of the Sublime.

He uses charcoal drawings, collage and sound that depart from the metaphysical, scientific theories and history. Through a juxtaposition of images and chance during execution, what starts as storytelling, becomes an exploration into fantastic, dislocated geographies. This puts under analysis concepts like time and chance to establish how these determine the interpretation of the past and sometimes forecast the future.

The exhibition was supported by Spazju Kreattiv, Gozo Arts Furnishings Limited and Gozo Prime Properties.



Times of Malta article [2]

Art is a way of talking to strangers”. South African contemporary artist Marlene Dumas says this of art, in that it helps us frame the world, talk about it and to express it. The quote, I think, works both in its description of those viewing works of art, as well as those who create the art. We are all in some way searching for meaning and without wanting to sound pompous – neither me nor my interviewee – this attempt to answer some of the big questions about life is the driving force behind Mario Abela’s artistic expression.

Mario, a Gozitan visual artist and graphic designer based in Malta, is currently showing Dislocated Geographies at Spazju Kreattiv, an exhibition that blends charcoal drawings, collage and sound (he’s extracted it – yes – of which more later) to tell his own narratives. Stark, bright and colourful geometric lines sit alongside cutouts of Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, charcoal drawings that evoke troubled waters, voids, and always a reference to maps, be they shredded, drawn or alluded to by means of lines. “I keep asking questions, mainly about my own existence and everything that surrounds me. So, in order to find peace of mind and confront my concerns, I resort to visual literacy,” reveals Abela in response to being asked about the stimulus behind his work. The process behind much of this, is a long one, sometimes as long as two years. Mario confides sometimes his works find his previous exhibition of two years ago as their starting point. “Then, through a juxtaposition of images, I start composing my works bit by bit until I feel that they reflect what I have to say,” he notes. Mario is adamant to not be associated with a “particular trend, style or whatsoever” and uses whatever material (say, vinyl) he deems fit, despite current trends. The challenge, he says, is knowing when to let go: “Sometimes, I compare myself to how the internet processes mundane images/graphics and texts to make them more alluring. I can still hear [artist and lecturer] Anton Grech, in class, saying that all it takes is just one more stroke to ruin everything.” Mario attributes the main source of his inspiration to stem from his interest in science and technology and their impact on society in general, hence the prominence of Einstein and Darwin, whom he sees as “ambassadors to science and general history respectively”. On the other hand, he wants to convey the “fragility of solid theories and ideologies of such people, whom popular culture has made celebrities. A closer inspection of his works reveals a gritty element to his art (they are rough to touch) and this finds its provenance in his family’s history in farming: “My childhood is full of episodes of playing and running with my cousins in my father’s and grandfather’s fields. Therefore, the style looks as if the digital of today met my grandfather’s hands 30 years ago.”

I am curious to know more about the musical element of Mario’s works, which manifests physically: “Music has always been an important companion throughout my practice even though I don’t know how to play a musical instrument […]. Being a millennial, digital media and new technologies made the visual and the audible almost inseparable in my life. In one of the rooms at St James Cavalier, there are drawings I did during my residency in Atina, Italy, last summer. With the help of a particular software, I literally extracted sound from these drawings. I was so into the surroundings and into the mystery of these scenic mountains that I wanted to hear how they may have sounded while being created.” Interestingly, Mario has curated the exhibition himself. While certainly not because he has no trust in Maltese or foreign curators, this decision to curate himself came about just when he was going to hire a curator. “I noticed I had already taken some decisions that might have contradicted those of a curator. Therefore, I decided to present my project on my own and it was accepted.” His friend Pierre Attard then jumped on the bandwagon and, after hours discussing the works, wrote an essay on this body of work. “So, what was left was the installation and planning of the show and the marketing side of the exhibition. Since I am also a graphic designer, this was a walk in the park compared to the proposal and the planning aspect.” How does Mario, also a teacher, husband and father, balance the different frames of mind of these disciplines, not to mention the logistical and time constraints? While admitting some may describe him as a workaholic, the artist finds the positive in all this in that not only does it make him stronger, but that everything is interconnected in his work: “I teach history to secondary students in the same way I present my artistic works; I try to instigate a learning process that resembles my artistic practice, that is, learning through the understanding of our world of images and texts. Also, I follow a personal rule which is: whatever you do, either do it in the proper way, or not at all.”

We come round full circle and end by talking about Mario’s use of maps as a reference in his works. “I look at maps in the same way that I look at time. Time is a human construct in order to organise the past, the present and the future. Maps are a human construct to organise the world into what is ours, yours and theirs. The random old maps in my works are broken, drawn over or dislocated. This is to shed light on the fact that my works have no borders and speak multiple languages.” And, perhaps, this is one way for us to frame the way we see the world, and our existence in it.

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