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category: Art,Gazette

Goodbye Plato, Thanks for the Memories

Saturday, September 6, 2014 by

Art school is a whimsical, exciting place for those who enter through it’s gates, yet once you find yourself at the exit you realize that your mind is significantly more confuzzled than it was initially. For some, the looming thought of unpromising career options, if any, is a frightening and relentless concern that poses devilishly on their shoulder. Others, albeit preoccupied with their futures, gain an entirely novel perspective on the world of art and on society in general. In Malta, the institute which provides students with such an experience is the MCAST Institute of Art and Design. Since the foundation of MCAST in 2001, students have been able to obtain vocational qualifications in the visual arts up to Bachelor’s degree level across a considerable range of media. Freshly emerging from the doors of the Institute is Matyou Galea, a 26 year-old fine art student whose works feature clever renditions of geometrics and morally-dubious saints.

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Self-Portait

Even though he has just completed his BA, Galea eloquently communicates his views on materials, forms and ideas, the fundamental triad of visual arts education. These he catapults beyond the art school paradigm by uncompromisingly rejecting the basic philosophy of art, Plato’s theory of Mimesis; “What I aim to do is to make objects that have no real equivalent in the ‘real’ world, objects that are in no way a representation of reality but they are still a part of it as they create their own reality within reality as we know it. They become their own object, not an imitation of a ‘real’ object.” An outlook veritably pioneered generations ago, it remains invigorating to see a recent graduate predisposed to breaking academic convention. Despite Galea’s ideological standpoint, his actual work is subconsciously captivated by modernist apprehensions on form, materials and spatiality, together with the added dimension of sound. The burning issue of perspective guides the physical manifestation of his projects, and this is articulated as the impetus for his work; “I think that my work focuses more on the viewpoint, the platform from which to view an object or a subject.” Attesting to this claim is his sculptural monument to the sun/education in Floriana.

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Sculpture in Floriana

This piece exemplifies the attitude Galea adopts and adapts for his three dimensional works, which tendentially establish an inwardly-directed conversation with art world objectivity. His work dealing with subjects, however, peers outside art historical boundaries and critically analyzes subjects and their reception in the realm of the social.  A particularly intriguing series of paintings depicts female saints, a fairly standard topic, bar the fact that these models were appropriated from porn sites. Being produced in a dense Roman Catholic context, these images would inevitably be scorned at by the more conservative audience. Galea correctly points towards the normality of his choice of subject matter; “I never really understood why contemporary religious images always depict woman from another age. When one looks at art history, contemporary women were always depicted.” In fact, the Mary Magdalenes and Virgin Marys in Caravaggio’s paintings were Roman prostitutes, the former which he speculatively had an affair with; the latter was supposedly a dead corpse found in the River Tiber. These details pretty much shatter the untainted idea of beautifully portrayed holy figures in traditional painting. Yet, do porn stars sufficiently represent the idea of the contemporary woman? Not really. But they do represent the modified topography of sexual experience in the internet age and an arduous contradictory stance to religion.

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Santa Dympha

The unconventionality of the aforementioned set of works displays Galea’s morally liberal standpoint, and together with his anti-realist philosophy, shows his readiness to unbalance the status quo. Having now left the world of academia behind, he was asked to suggest any required improvements to visual arts education in Malta, Galea’s reply focused on the basic economy of means; “I think that in order to make the leap of quality needed there needs to be more investment in infrastructure, tools, spaces and machinery as art students should be able to explore materials and processes within whatever institution they attend and not be limited by, for instance, not having metal casting facilities available.” His reference to the necessity for infrastructural convalescence foregrounds the most essential foundational issue with the visual arts in Malta. Despite the continual demand for resources and supplies, the infrastructure which Malta craves is that which money cannot purchase; the brewing up of ground-breaking ideas through critical thinking.

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Glass Sculpture

For a 12 year-young state establishment, the MCAST Institute of Art and Design is pretty damn good, and the work of students like Galea is a fair demonstration of that. However, having personally met and conversed with present or former MCAST students, there seems to be an absence of visionary thinking on visual art in Malta within vocational institutional environments. These provide rigorous academic training, yet posit a rather rigid and unwavering conceptualization of creativity. Arguably, for art to be socially relevant today it needs to depart from the world of forms and the mentality that both art and artist are autonomous beings. Art plays an active role in defining one’s relationship to society and vice versa, and that’s why Galea’s divine porn stars are images of intrigue, contention, and examples of critical thought. In Malta there must exist the understanding that ambitious art is not only a craft but a history of intellectual and imaginative progress that always challenged the pre-existing order. The materialisation of ideas is much more significant to the world than the idealisation of materials. Galea’s work potentially exemplifies that of an artist stepping on either side of the fence, dividing a traditional lineage of academic focus on form and media from the more precarious yet pioneering analysis of social currents.

Warda Mistica
Warda Mistica

You can keep up with Galea’s fence-stepping at www.behance.net/matyougalea

 

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