Friday, 24 May 2013 15:19

Fringe - Capturing the Malta Jazz Festival

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I have recently been invited to exhibit at the newly restored Palazzo de Piro in Mdina. It is a beautiful space and has a lot of cultural and personal history tied to it. The exhibition, entitled "Fringe" will feature work created during the past few years of the Malta International Jazz Festival, and will form part of the "Jazz on the Fringe" events in the run-up to this year's Jazz Festival. The exhibition launch event will be held on the 17th July, the day before the festival kicks off. It will also feature a performance by well known singer Nadine Axisa.

The Exhibition will run from the 17th July to the 29th Septeber. Further details may be found on the official Facebook event.

 

Fringe - Fine Art Photography Exhibition by Sergio Muscat

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Once every now and then, we meet persons we have a distinct feeling will impact our lives in some way or another. This happened four years ago, when I first met Witold Flak. I was then a very green, keen photographer with a will to do something more than photography and no idea where to start. I had just failed my second qualification attempt and understandably wasn't in the best of moods. I had almost given up in my quest, resigned to the fact that photographers are just photographers, and they will never realise what a vast and beautiful world exists beyond it. Then Witold took the stand and started showing me the kind of pictures I thought I would never see. Images that didn't care about sharpness or technique, but that only cared about emotion. Witold's images are perfect in their beautiful imperfection - they portray life as it is, not as we see it in photographs. They are those kind of images that you get lost in, not caring about the details, because details are irrelevant - emotion is relevant. Witold Flak was one of those key persons who unknowingly gave me the will to persist.

"Here I am" - Witold FlakWhen I got to know that Witold would be visiting the island once again this year, it was great news. I was curious to know how he had evolved, whether we would still see things similarly, or whether the world had changed him. What I discovered was a person that has evolved, but not changed. His work is slightly more controlled – quite probably the result of a more confident person behind the camera – but not lacking the emotion and mood that is his signature.

"L'audition" - Chiara FersiniWhat I was even more curious about was a new name that would also be visiting the seminar. I saw Chiara Fersini's work on her website, but nothing prepared me for the actual encounter. Chiara started off as a painter, but, very much like Cindy Sherman, found the process to be too long - long enough to not be true to the original mood that engulfed her when she dreamt of the image. She moved to photography because it was the ideal medium for her - it would allow her to focus on the dream, rather than the process. Very much like Cindy Sherman, she is the protagonist of the majority of her work - how can I expect a model to express genuinely the mood and emotion that I am feeling? she would say. Her work is autobiographical, and that is where she differs greatly from Sherman, who portrays characters that are invented, that are not her. Chiara's work is not invented, it is dreamt.

Creating the photograph is for her the only way to get rid of the dream. Like a true artist, every piece of art is a piece of her – and it shows, or rather, it feels. Images are ripe with emotion, often something verging on the dark and sad, a sign that she is at her best when she needs to get rid of something – a common trait amongst artists. But in the sadness, we can see hope – a focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. In every artist there is an internal battle between the true self and the ideal, and the situation is quite ironic in itself. The artist will continuously search for that unification of self, where the truth is merged with the ideal, but the moment that happens there is no more need for art, and so the artist, given the choice, must choose between art or internal peace. This internal battle is one of the recurrent themes in Chiara’s work – something she is strongly aware of; a key driver of her art.

Putting Chiara and Witold in the same room, speaking after each other in alternation was a stroke of genius. Their styles are different, their characters are different, but somehow, somewhere in the ubiquity of art, they meet, they merge and agree. In their own ways, they are both artists. For them the camera is nothing more than a tool - it just happens to be the right tool for them. For them, photography - art - is a means of escape. It is a drug that hooks you because whenever you create a photograph you get that high that keeps you going, and as soon as you stop you're back to the place you need to escape from, and the only way is to create again.

Chiara and Witold are artists, although they might not readily admit it. They are the kind of artists we rarely see, because there just aren't that many of them around. They are two persons whom I know will impact my life, because they already have.

 

This article refers to an annual free seminar organised by the Malta Institute of Professional Photography in celebration of world photography day.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012 11:33

Skywards Future Artists 2012 Finalist

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Great news! I've made it to the finals of the Skywards Future Artists competition - if I win, my image will be printed on Skywards membership cards and promotional material!

Anyone who is an Emirates Skyward member can vote. Please help b
y sharing this and voting when possible!

Link to Image: https://www.skywardsfutureartists.com/Shortlist/View/21366

Link to Vote: https://www.skywardsfutureartists.com/SkywardsMembers/View/21366?briefId=0

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"Art is the elimination of the unnecessary"
~ Pablo Picasso, painter, and sculptor (1881-1973)

A short while ago, I was invited to attend a concert at our national theatre. It was an important anniversary performance by a local band club, and they pulled off all the stops for the occasion. A full blown choir was invited to join the performance, and they had a renowned local composer write a complete work which took up the bulk of the performance.

As they say, a structure is only as strong as its weakest link, and unfortunately the musical composition was what took the whole concert down in this case. I had an inkling about what I was about to hear, but I didn't fathom the extent of its gravity. As I settled into my seat, I read the programme, and in it was the composer's statement on his musical piece. As I read, I increasingly dreaded what was to come next. The composer stated (and here I paraphrase) that there are few pieces of intense musical complexity written purely for brass bands, ones which do not require a special arrangement or adaptation. This statement shocked me in numerous ways. I am no musical expert by any means, however I very much enjoy classical music, and particularly scores from films. Over the years I have heard a few pieces which although performed by orchestras, were written essentially for the brass sections of such. This point aside, the main statement which concerned me was the apparent belief that grandiosity is proven through complexity.

I believe this statement not only to be wrong, but also an insult to creativity. Over the years, I have come to fervently believe that the most difficult thing to achieve within any creative field is simplicity - be it a product, a piece of music or a work of visual art. Picasso said that the most difficult thing for an artist is to become a child once again. Children have no concept of complexity - they have nothing to prove to the world and to themselves, and that gives them the freedom to be nonconformists, to colour outside of the boundaries, if you will. It is when we start forcing them to stick to the boundaries society has created, that  we kill creativity. This pressure to conform persists throughout our adult life, making it ever more difficult to think and act outside of the box which society has built around us. One of the sides of this box says that we need to continually prove ourselves, and written under it in bold is a rule that states that in order to do this, we need to show others that we are capable of doing things they can't, with as much fanfare as possible. This means that if you're good enough, you need to make stuff that is complex; and in order for others to see how good you are, you need to make sure it feels, tastes, smells, sounds and appears complex. In reality, it is this mentality that is completely destroying not only contemporary art, in all it's shapes and forms, but also society itself. Our need to prove ourselves and do great things, together with the need to shine in the eyes of our peers is driving us towards a world where complexity is king - where no one is really able to understand what anyone else does, because the message is buried under countless cryptic layers. The fact is that we are all missing the point - big time. Really and truly, the great people who will forever be remembered in history are those who were able to do exactly the opposite - genius is when one is able to hide unimaginable complexity under a veil of sheer simplicity.

One of the persons who has managed to do this in recent history is Steve Jobs. He has reinvented products which nobody had been able to make successful before him, just because he believed in simplicity. The simplicity of his products does not make them any less complex than the labyrinths that are his rivals' - if anything, one would usually need to add more underlying complexity to make the surface simpler - it just makes them better, easier to use, intuitive and, at the bottom line, best sellers; because everyone understands them.  In one of his interviews, he said, "we make progress by eliminating things; by removing the superfluous." This process of elimination was a fixation for him. He would spend hours, days, months, mulling over each detail of each project, trying to make things simpler. The extent to which he achieved this was such that in one occasion, an illiterate child in the midst of a rural farm in Colombia was able to use one of the most recent and more complex products within seconds of getting hold of it, and with no instruction at all. That is nirvana.

This whole concept just hit home while I was sitting in the audience, listening to what sounded very much like the hour long agony of a dying cat. I felt for the poor performers, who did their utmost to make the best out of what sounded like a bunch of randomly dissonant and completely unintuitive notes. It was incredibly difficult to perform, but the fact is that the bravura of the band and choir had already been proven before the disaster began. In fact, prior to this, the John Powell piece "Hymn to the Fallen" was performed. It is a fantastically beautiful piece, ripe with emotion, very easily delivering the message it was designed to carry. Listening to this piece carefully, one will notice the intense complexity of the music, however once you take a step back and take it in as a whole, it just merges together seamlessly - and as happens with everything that is great, it 'just works'.

Experiencing the contrast between something into which a great effort has been placed to "remove the superfluous" and present something which achieves its goal in the simplest fashion, and something else which is rough, unpolished and intentionally complex was an eye opener for me. I have always been an advocate of simplicity, but this just put everything into perspective. It made me realise just to what extent the approach we take affects the results we produce and the repercussions it has on the consumers of our creations.

This approach strongly applies also to the visual arts, and particularly photography. The distinguishing fact of photography compared to other visual arts is that the medium, in this case the camera, is undiscriminating in what it captures. It will not distinguish between strong and weak compositional elements. With most other artistic media, the artist has full control from the onset as to what to include in to the artwork - it is a bottom up approach - start with nothing and build from there. Photography is the exact opposite. Photographers start with everything - their entire surroundings - and have to eliminate from there. This obviously requires a particular skill, not to mention the fact that the photograph is usually seen, composed and captured within a very short period of time.

While this might appear as being a problem, or at least a nuisance, I realised that as photographers we might even be at a slight advantage over artists using other media. Most people who create things, be it consumer products or art, admittedly go through a specific cyclic process of creation whereby something is first built from the ground up and then revisited multiple times to remove the superfluous and simplify until the final product has reached the required simplicity. Photography allows us to very quickly reach (depending on the type of photography being undertaken) a good point within the final stage. Our surroundings immediately offer us the maximum complexity, and as such we do not need to do anything to build that. The first stage is all around us, and as photographers all we need to do is simplify from that point onwards. Granted, this next stage is also the most difficult part, and of course, it is also the part which most tend to overlook or ignore.

Simplification begins in our mind, or maybe our subconscious. We all perceive our surroundings in different ways. Good photographers have a natural tendency to isolate the important from the irrelevant - to capture that part of reality which on its own consists of a lean slice of context; enough to be complete on its own but without any excess which would create superfluous distractions, diminishing the overall experience of the pure image in its most perfect form. Of course, all this talent would be useless without the necessary technical knowledge needed to translate vision to capture. Technique is important but should never take precedence over the photographer's eye. Too much focus on technique tends to create cold, lifeless images - not to mention the fact that it makes the process of photographic capture cumbersome and long; often long enough to lose the all important "decisive moment". Technique should eventually become an instinctive part of photography - because way too often does technique tend to take over the creation of a photograph, when it should rather become a slave to creativity; a tool merely used to translate vision to capture.

I am a firm believer that the end justifies the means within the creative process. We have a myriad of tools at our disposal, starting with a variety of cameras and lenses, all the way to advanced post processing tools and printing material. All these form part of the creative process, and all are in their own way tools for simplification. Sometimes it is not possible to eliminate all the superfluous within the camera. We should never put limits on ourselves and on the lengths to go in order to create the best possible result from our creative vision. After all, who created the rules saying "we should not do this", or "we should not remove that"? Such rules are not only artificial, but also limiting, and thus damaging to our creative potential. This damage commences very early in our lives, when as children we are riddled with rules such as "colour within the lines". Society has got a particular obsession with conformity - from birth we are constantly being forced into boxes, conforming to the standards of society. We are cut down to size to fit into a social standard, and what’s left on the cutting floor is creativity and potential.

Picasso was a leading figure of 20th century art. Most of the modern art movements span off from his work. He had a strong belief that great artists need to get rid of the baggage accumulated through years of conformity and rediscover their childish freedom and naïveté. His exact words were, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” This journey of self discovery is one which every artist needs to go through. It is not only long but sometimes also painful. We need to open ourselves to our environment and surroundings in order to rediscover ourselves in depth. This means shedding the defenses built over the years and making ourselves vulnerable. It is a necessary step to connect our inner selves to the world, because only then can we completely experience our surroundings. By creating this connection between our inner self and the rest of the world, we can better understand and experience the beauty of it all, and translate that to what eventually will become our art. Some artists tend to skip this important step, usually resulting in cold, mechanical and often complex work. Their work does not connect us to the emotional intensity which one should experience when in the presence of art, because most likely they fail to experience it themselves. We need to realise that in order to transfer the beauty and simplicity of anything, first and foremost we need to connect with it ourselves, experiencing the same emotions we are trying to convey. We cannot keep ourselves closed and protected, because those who live in glass houses might enjoy the view but will never smell the fresh air.

 

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The dead and the living. The ever-the-same and the ever-changing. The static and the dynamic. Most battles are fought to fend off intruders, invaders into what is thought to be someone else's space. It has always been so, and this battle is no different. This time, it's not man against man, but man against earth. Because this place is not ours. It belongs to itself, and mankind has used it and abused it since the day some bright spark lit the first fire. I will not go into the controversy of what we've done wrong or right - that is not my intention. My focus is on the fact that this conflict does exist, and in which ways we can look at it.

The premise is this - it is a battle we're never going to win. If we look at what man "creates", we see the static, the dead. I see a building today - same building tomorrow. By comparison, I see a blade of grass today - it's a flower tomorrow. Nature is alive, dynamic and ever-changing. It is self-sustaining and self-healing, and this is it's greatest weapon. We might not realise it, but we are just a speck in the history of the universe. A little bit like a flu or an itch we might have throughout our lifetime.

This thought fascinates me. From our point of view, nature's healing process is irritating. We build, it destroys, we create, it disintegrates. If we look at it from the opposing point of view, however, it very much resembles the actions of parasites and antibodies. We destroy, it heals. As they say, it's all a matter of relativity. What we see and what we believe depends entirely on our point of view. What we see as decomposition from our point of view is recomposition from nature's point of view.

I have always felt close to nature, and decay has always fascinated me. It has a visceral attractiveness - a stunning elegance under a veil of harshness. Since the day I grabbed a camera in hand I found myself photographing things that are falling apart. I find it interesting to observe and beautiful to look at.

The "Recomposition" series is an ongoing effort to document and interpret the beauty of decay in all its shapes and forms. As with all of my work, it is a collaborative effort - I will not stop at documentation, but rather use what I see as my starting point, building on it until I have uncovered the beauty I see in it for everyone else to enjoy.

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