Arts Council Malta, within the Ministry for National Heritage, the Arts, and Local Government has announced that Maltese artist Matthew Attard shall be representing Malta at the prestigious 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. This will be the first time that the national pavilion will be entrusted to one Maltese artist. The solo show, entitled I WILL FOLLOW THE SHIP and consisting of a new art commission weaving together cultural heritage and cutting-edge AI-driven technology, will be co-curated by Italian American curator Sara Dolfi Agostini and Maltese curator Elyse Tonna, both active in the Maltese art scene through several institutional collaborations.
Established in 1895, La Biennale di Venezia, a platform for the exhibition of works by international artists, is today acknowledged as one of the most prestigious international cultural institutions for the presentation and promotion of contemporary art. The 60th edition of the Biennale di Venezia will open on 20th April 2024 and run until 24th November 2024.
Matthew Attard’s project for the Malta Pavilion, I WILL FOLLOW THE SHIP, explores ideas of human existence and survival at the point of convergence between history and future, physical experience and digital input. It originates from Attard’s latest explorations into AI and drawing technology, fused with his interest for historical images of ex-voto ship graffiti, vernacular iconographies which speak of ancient local tales of faith and salvation across the Mediterranean. Located on the facades of several wayside chapels on the islands, these ephemeral etchings in stone were possibly crafted by seafarers because of the religious significance and political immunity these buildings offered.
The meanings and values of these anonymous ship drawings reverberate in our present times, where computer technology and the internet have propelled mass artistic emancipation and overturned traditional local centers of power. This is the point of departure of Attard’s project for the Malta Pavilion, conceived to catalyse the attention of the spectator via technological devices which allow for digital interaction and collective speculative thinking about the future. In fact, the ship graffiti are unique to Malta, yet resonate with many cultures whose relationship with the sea has been – and still is – crucial, as evidenced by Venice’s own such inscriptions. At a time of climate change, rising sea levels, and questions of people’s place in a hyper technological world, these humble marks of hope, root metaphors deeply embedded in human consciousness, drift in the middle of the Pavilion to reveal what hides behind screens and beliefs.
The Malta Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2024 has achieved another groundbreaking milestone by appointing not one, but two female curators, Elyse Tonna and Sara Dolfi Agostini, forming the first all-female curatorial team to represent Malta. Adding to this remarkable achievement is the fact that the entire team, including the artist Matthew Attard, is the youngest ever to participate in this prestigious event. This achievement not only underscores the rising influence of female voices in the art scene but also serves as an inspiring example for the younger generation within the Maltese art community. Elyse Tonna’s dual distinction as both the first female Maltese curator and the youngest curator ever to represent Malta at the Venice Biennale is a testament to her vision.
During the press launch at the Maritime Museum in Birgu, Mary Ann Cauchi, Director of Funds and Strategy, stated: “Through Malta’s participation in the Biennale, the Arts Council Malta will strengthen Maltese art and culture on an international level, as well as promote the creative and cultural sector. Matthew Attard’s exhibition will combine Maltese cultural heritage with cutting-edge AI technology. It is an honour for the Arts Council Malta to be the commissioner and provide full support for this significant event in the world of art and culture, and the Council will continue to put Malta and its artists on the international map.”
About Matthew Attard
Matthew Attard (Malta, 1987), is strongly interested in situating his practice within the realm of contemporary drawing through a multimedia approach that highlights drawing’s versatile, performative, and time-based nature. Through his practice, he investigates images as social and cultural constructs. His interest in understanding the gaze as a form of drawing – its perceptual, physiological and cultural dimensions – are the focus of his practice-based PhD research at the Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, funded by the Malta Arts Scholarship scheme.
Raised in Malta, in 2009 he moved to Venice and collaborated with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the USA Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Later, he came back to Malta where in 2018 he obtained his Masters by Research Degree from the Digital Arts Department of the University of Malta. He first exhibited his work in a double solo show organised in 2014 at Galleria Michela Rizzo in Venice. Since then, he has exhibited in Venice, Rome, Valletta, Genoa, London, Beijing and Los Angeles among other cities. Also, in 2017 he was selected for the 3rd edition of the Le Latitudini dell’Arte Biennale, at the Palazzo Ducale, Genoa, while in 2018 he was awarded the Under 30 Euromobil Prize at ArteFiera, Bologna.
He was selected three times to show in the context of Ten Artists to Watch at LACDA, Los Angeles Centre for Digital Arts, and in 2019 he was invited to participate in Artissima Telephone at the OGR spaces in Turin. Recently, he was shortlisted for the Lumen Prize 2021. Rajt ma rajtx… naf li rajt is one of Matthew’s major solo shows, curated by Elyse Tonna at Valletta Contemporary in 2021. In 2022 he was commissioned the work Here’s How I Did Not See What You Wanted Me To See as part of the OPEN digital residency at Blitz, Valletta, curated by Sara Dolfi Agostini. His most recent solo show Ship of Fools took place in March 2023 at Galleria Michela Rizzo, Venice.
The co-curators for “I Will Follow the Ship” are Sara Dolfi Agostini and Elyse Tonna. Maria Galea and Michela Rizzo will be responsible for project management.
Commissioned by Arts Council Malta
The members of the Evaluation Board were Perit Adrian Mamo, Artistic Director of Teatru Manoel, Valletta; Dr. Katya Micallef, Curator of MUŻA – the National Museum of Art, Valletta; and Daniel Azzopardi, Artistic Director of Spazzju Kreattiv, Valletta. The evaluation was chaired by Mary Ann Cauchi, Director of Funds and Strategy, Arts Council Malta.