Interview: Victor Agius on INEARTH, UNEARTH: Archives of Matter and Ritual

Photo of Victor Agius

Victor Agius is the solo artist currently exhibiting INEARTH, UNEARTH: Archives of Matter and Ritual, at Valletta’s cultural centre Spazju Kreattiv within the four galleries of Space C, curated by Elyse Tonna. 

It’s a body of work which enchants its viewers beyond the present moment, serving as an ode to past memories and rituals, honouring materials often lost and discarded. Upon entering the space, one can find refuge within an alternate reality which respects the materials that we make use of as humans on a daily basis. This immediately serves as a contrast to the predominant narrative that our natural world is experiencing, as it’s continuously faced by ongoing environmental degradation and a sense of disposability. 

We sat down with Victor Agius just a week before the closing of the ongoing exhibition, to dive into a world seen through his own eyes, materialised in his latest solo exhibition. 

Room 3: Sanctuary

1. What drew you to select Clay, Concrete, Earth and Rock as the core materials for your exhibition? 

“All these materials are predominant in my artistic practice, be it through installation, sculpture or performance. Clay and earth form the core materials for my ceramic output whilst I started using concrete, stone and cement both in my abstract panels and mixed media sculpture since 2016.

“It felt natural to fuse concrete and cement with my ceramics so as to emphasise the current visual landscape around us in which we are continuously consuming our landscape.”

2. Each material in your exhibition serves as an archive of memory and ritual. Could you share how you approached the artistic-archaeological process to uncover these layers?

“Every material besides its natural structure and cultural attributes contains also association and meaning according to the site of its extraction and provenance.”

“I mostly collect my materials from construction sites through the debris that is unearthed during excavations.”

“Through my intervention I give a second life and a different layer of meaning to such materials especially when being shown in the context of a gallery or a public space.”

3. How do your personal experiences and background influence your interpretation and use of these materials in your art?

“I was brought up in my father’s sculpture studio. This early experience of exploring different materials always intrigued me to delve deeper and explore how matter is used to suggest narratives and artistic statements. The proximity of the prehistoric temples of Ġgantija also helped my childhood experiences to feel an attachment to what lies beneath the earth we walk on.”

“A memorable experience was in the early 1990s when British archaeologists were unearthing the Xagħra Stone Circle. The elements of ritual, materiality, consumption, time and memory are still forming much of the basis of my artistic research.”

Ancestors I

4. You mention an investigation across space and time through these materials. How do you convey such expansive concepts through the physicality of your artworks?

“I focus mainly on having the four elements present throughout my projects, being air, water, earth and fire. These elements form the whole process of my fired ceramics which I see as a timeless statement that connects to the universal concept of what is human. These include ritual, life, death and regeneration.”

“My process does not follow a linear structure since I work in cyclic strategies. An example is my work named Sanctuary in Room 3 with 32 square meters of terrarossa, which communicates across cultures, time and space giving a sense of universality and an ethereal experience of the numinous.”

5. What were some of the challenges you faced while working with these diverse materials, and how did you overcome them?

“Aesthetically it was not that challenging since the space of the upper galleries of Spazju Kreattiv has four interconnecting halls and this helped me and the curator to present the works in a structured way. The main challenge of the exhibition was that most of the works had to be assembled and some created in situ and due to the scale of these installations this required the work of a large feat in a very short time.”

6. What kind of interaction or reaction do you hope to evoke in viewers with the juxtaposition and exploration of these materials?

“The works are connecting very well with the viewers as I am received countless messages expressing the different feelings the works are evoking in different persons. As the title suggests all the elements shown in the exhibition are just part of one whole, signifying that we humans are not just commenting about nature and earth but we are an integral part of it.”

“Our ritualistic consumption dominates most of the salient messages that are felt in all the halls of the exhibition. The halls offer different experiences that touch most of the senses, including the sound of water, the smells of soils, rosemary, beeswax  and thyme and obviously the visual impact of the terrarossa murals of Room 3, the ceramics of room 1 and the extensive archive of materials in Room 4.”

Room 1

7. How has your practice evolved with the creation of this exhibition? Have new insights or techniques emerged during the process?

“Through the long process and research in collaboration with curator Elyse Tonna, this exhibition has made me reflect on the extensive language of materials that embody my artistic corpus of work and made me reflect how I need to organise better my archives. This was evident when I was preparing the materials for the archives of Room 4 in which elements from public art, performances, installations, painting and sculptures of my last twenty years had to be properly documented and presented. All this helped me to fuse the different elements of my archives and unify them as a single artistic statement rather than distinct works.”

8. How do you see your exploration of materials and themes evolving after this exhibition? Are there other materials or concepts you are interested in exploring?

“In this exhibition I included video work documenting events and installations some of which were created in 2013. Lately I’ve been exploring  ways to investigate further the relation between the techniques and materials that I am using and technology.”

For the closing of Inearth, Unearth: Archives of Matter and Ritual artist Victor Agius will be performing alongside long-term collaborator composer Dr Mariella Cassar-Cordina. The site-specific performance will feature the fusion of contemporary art and music within the four galleries of Space C at 11am during 19th May, the final day of the exhibition, which is curated by Elyse Tonna.

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