A contemporary art exhibition
Turning Tables is an exhibition that unfolds in four distinct installations engulfing visitors in a narrative rich in symbolism, nuance and playful provocation. It is the latest work by Francesca Balzan and Glen Calleja, who in this collaborative project play with tables as spaces of encounter, focal points of power, sites of revelry or as silent witnesses to our quotidian dramas. Furthermore, the artists use objects from MUŻA’s reserve collection integrating them in their own installations.
The title of the exhibition references the Camerone’s former use as a dining room and so evokes and recalls the spirit of place. Balzan and Calleja draw on this past, evoke it and confront it.
Whilst the table is manifestly the unifying concept of the exhibition, the installations are charged with the presences and the absences that orbit around tables. In this respect, Balzan and Calleja call into being a host of ethereal encounters based on those who are welcome to the table or are excluded from it by virtue of social ties and social standing.
As artist-curators, they are particularly attentive at how they employ lighting and subtle soundscapes to transform the ‘Camerone’ into a theatre of moods, images and dialogues. The exhibition is treated as a single coherent composition where all the visual and sonoric elements are orchestrated to lead the visitor through one installation to another in a determined fashion. In this exhibition, visitors do not get to choose where they go and what they see. Balzan and Calleja choose to orchestrate it for them, meticulously, cue after cue, integrating the visitor into the drama.
The visitor is led through an ever changing landscape, each with its own mood. The artists balance a plethora of contrasting cues to suggest shifts in narrative and atmosphere. In one instance it’s empty chairs on a pedestal, in another it’s stabbing knives and heavy chains or a peek into a private instant messaging chat and so on.
In engaging with MUŻA’s reserve collection, and integrating a selection of objects from the collection into their own installations, Balzan and Calleja make a bold statement about the politics of museology and art curation. This is very much in line with their project and ethos to disrupt expectations and perceptions of where national patrimony belongs – in or out of the public’s view? – and the mechanisms that dictate that, from the internal politics of a museum to the general public’s access to it and claims on it.
Turning Tables marks the end of a multi-year project of research, collaboration and experimentation between Balzan and Calleja, which was supported by Arts Council Malta. Throughout the project, Balzan, who is known mostly for her work in clay, and Calleja, who works in paper, have been confronting their media and practices in structured workshops; a process of systematic experimentation from which their shared idiom and voice emerged. This process is also revealed and referenced throughout the exhibition inviting visitors to glimpse into the back processes from which the installations emerged.
Turning Tables is a cheeky attempt at prodding calcified narratives about art practice and curation with a strong accent on curation of national patrimony. It is a concrete plunge into jocular dissonance, that impudent oracle that forces itself on creative minds.
Turning Tables is open every day from 10am to 6pm (except Good Friday) at MUŻA – The National Art Museum, Merchant’s Street, Valletta, from 30 March to 7 May 2023: free entrance.