As COVID-19 has made it increasingly difficult to visit museums and art in closed spaces, the concept of community outreach and art in public spaces has now gained a new dimension. Art pieces in spaces accessible to all, especially incidental footfall, are extremely important.
Now, Pembroke boasts just one such addition to its public areas – The Passage of Time, an interactive, site-specific sculpture by artist Stephen Saliba.
The sculpture lies within a pretty picnic area facing the Pembroke clock tower, surrounded by trees and open spaces. I must say that I do love this notion of immersing unsuspecting picnicking families in art. This community outreach is certainly what we need in order to paint the picture that art is something to be enjoyed and experienced wherever, without the fuss and muss of ‘an outing to a museum’.
“The idea behind the sculpture,” Saliba says, “stems from one of the main characteristics of Pembroke, namely the architecture of the British period, which is particularly evident in the Clock Tower. The highest building in Pembroke, the building has served as landmark and meeting place for many since it was built in 1903.”
The artist thus re-interprets this historic building in a contemporary way, encouraging visitors to appreciate the cultural assets of Pembroke. The Passage of Time in fact regenerates a known landmark through a fresh perspective, creating a new landmark in itself while integrating the natural space of the surrounding area with the historic element of the nearby British period buildings.
The installation itself consists of a set of five, frame-like structures in steel, inviting the viewer to walk from the large sections to the smaller ones until they face the Clock Tower itself. The light plays with the spaces in between, generating a series of shadow patterns that change with the time of the day. Five mature olive trees have been planted to complement the metal frames – another highly laudable step that firmly grounds this artistic projects within the needs of the community.
Originally, the completion of the sculpture was meant to be complemented by a live performance piece by Nicole Bugeja, however COVID-19 requirements led to a change in plan, with the project instead being filmed at different times of the day, in different seasons, in different weather, light, temperature and noise conditions.
Bugeja explains how the original idea was to have a character go through The Passage of Time within a chronological time narrative of emotional transformation. With the change of plan, however, the two artists decided to integrate the film camera as a creative, rather than just a recording medium – thus changing the whole perspective.
“The performance became more about the interaction with the sculpture, where the dynamics of the body meet the dynamics of the sculpture. We then added playful possibilities with the camera, which gave the piece a more urban, contemporary and abstract feel, with a broken and dissonant sense of time – an interpretation which suits current society more than a traditional narrative take on time,” Bugeja says.
For more pieces about art in Malta, check out this video dance re-interpreation of La Pieta, this piece about French art in Malta or this collaborative exhibition celebrating the female form.