Why the Azure Window lives on | Andrew Pace and Letta Shtohryn

Project facilitator Andrew Pace and participating artist Letta Shtohryn speak to TEODOR RELJIC about Azure Watch: Office for Public Memory – an interdisciplinary exhibition forming part of the Valletta International Visual Arts Festival (VIVA) which seeks to investigate how and why we remember the Azure Window

How did this project first come about, and how would you describe its current ‘evolution’ for the purposes for the Valletta International Visual Arts Festival?

In 2017, as part of Spazju Kreattiv’s Artists in Residence programme, Italian artist Giuseppe Fanizza led a team of artists to create ‘Azure Watch’ at Dwejra Tower, Gozo. This comprised an iconographic collection of media that presented a revised visual memory of the Azure Window. This year, we re-examined that project and together with VIVA and the Gabriel Caruana Foundation we exhibited Azure Watch: Office for Public Memory at The Mill, Birkirkara. We wanted to recontextualise these objects and The Mill itself to present a different range of associations and narratives. We were eager to explore the effects of nostalgia and national mourning in light of the one year anniversary of the collapse of the Azure Window.

Is the project primarily borne out of a desire to criticise and deflect the tourism-based legacy of the Azure window in favour of something more worthwhile and ‘lasting’?

The tourist legacy is just one aspect that we’ve been investigating. A large proportion of the imagery of the Azure Window that is available on the internet is created and transmitted by the tourists who visited Gozo, so it must be evaluated. However, we don’t believe that this perspective lessens or cheapens the value of individual experiences of the Window.

The Azure Window is a powerful visual icon that embodies multiple layers of meaning through personal and collective narratives, which our exhibition tries to reflect. The artists who have contributed works to us have used the ubiquitous iconography of the Window in a variety of ways to mediate their own personal responses to the Window before and after its collapse.

The absence of the Azure Window requires us to create new narratives and evaluate existing ones. Tourists and locals alike continue to visit Dwejra and take selfies in front of a site that no longer exists, and by doing so they reimagine and reconstruct the landscape.

Letta Shtohryn (left) and Andrew Pace setting up the ‘Office for Public Memory’ at The Mill, Birkirkara
Letta Shtohryn (left) and Andrew Pace setting up the ‘Office for Public Memory’ at The Mill, Birkirkara

Could you talk a little bit about the interactive aspect of the exhibition and its legacy? Why do you think it’s important to involve as many people as possible?

Azure Watch engages closely with the public as we are interested in collecting and interpreting individual narratives, whether they are in the form of artworks by local artisans, images and messages from social media users, or responses from visitors to the exhibition. We’ve established this exhibition as a bureaucratic institution in order to highlight the public service element, of engaging with the public and “registering” visitors’ memories of the Azure Window on-site. Gathering individual and collective memories as presented in all these forms playfully shifts between the bureaucratic institution and the intimate experience of personal memory.

On what basis were the artists involved selected, and how do you hope they will guide a varied series of viewpoints on the Azure Window for the purposes of the exhibition?

The creative team behind Azure Watch comprises Giuseppe Fanizza (visual artist), Mary Attard (photographer), Johannes
Buch (print maker), Letta Shtohryn (visual artist) and Andrew Pace (co-ordinator/archivist). Giuseppe’s interests lie in photography, visual research and activating communities in the narratives of landscape; Mary works predominantly with nature and environmental photography; Johannes is a graphic designer who is also active in urban art projects; Letta’s work explores balance, imbalance and in-between states; and Andrew is engaged in archiving collective memories. Together, our approaches evaluate concepts of built and monumental heritage, nostalgia and collective memory.

What kind of contribution do you believe VIVA makes to the local visual arts scene?

VIVA is supporting a number of art projects this year by Maltese and international artists that reevaluate our relationship to the environment, a theme which is central to the Azure Watch project. This is a significant contemporary topic in Malta and we believe that supporting these kinds of discussions in an artistic context is vital to develop critical discourse that better evaluates our impact on our surrounding environment. VIVA also encourages artists and gallery spaces to collaborate closely to produce exhibitions, something that we found invaluable while working with the Gabriel Caruana Foundation.

 

Azure Watch: Office For Public Memory will remain on display at The Mill, Birkirkara until April 11. Participating artists include Giuseppe Fanizza, Mary Attard, Johannes Buch and Letta Shtohryn. Opening hours are from 17:00 to 19:00 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 10:00-12:00; 16:00-19:00 on Saturdays and Sundays

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