Category: Research

A role of mediation between alienation and activism.

What follows is an extract of the aims that led for the completion of the 2014 Master research: “Art as a political choreography through social media: An investigation of social media as a tool and space for art to drive social narratives. The whole document can be accessed through here.

The objective of this research is to explore and investigate how art can be envisaged as a driver of social narratives through social media in a bid to trigger and sustain the development of contemporary activism. Whilst web-based Social Networking Sites (SNSs) are generally associated with the sharing and diffusion of information amongst users and their networks, they also provide for a differentiated and customised usage of tools that lie within.

As Danah M.Boyd and Nicole B.Ellison claim: the cultures that emerge around SNSs are varied. Most sites support the maintenance of pre-existing social networks, but others help strangers connect based on shared interests, political views, or activities. Some sites cater to diverse audiences, while others attract people based on common language or shared racial, sexual, religious, or nationality based identities. (Boyd & Ellison, 2007, p. 1)

This study discusses and explores the role that an artistic intervention in digital art could play within collective activism. What can an artistic intervention contribute to the capitalist narratives of social media to regurgitate it into new forms of collective activism? Special attention is given to research and observations by researcher in new media and culture in contemporary global activism Dr Paolo Gerbaudo, in his book Tweets and the Streets– social media and Contemporary Activism (2012).

My two-fold project consists of an art installation that makes use of a custom social networking platform and incorporated mobile technologies, and discusses public participation in the generation of a social narrative.  This narrative is displayed, in real-time, on a physical, digital screen to fuel further real-time interaction with the audience. The culmination of the project will be an artwork that represents this interactive process in the form of relational aesthetics – that which Bourriaud (2002) describes as “an art form where the substrate is formed by inter-subjectivity, and which takes being-together as a central theme, the “encounter” between beholder and picture, and the collective elaboration of meaning.” (p.14)

It aims at assisting and mediating for a “choreography of assembly” (Gerbaudo, 2012 p. 12) to take place in public spaces and thus, for art not to be disconnected from life. As hinted in the introduction, interactive participation might not be considered complete if there is a missing transmission or reception end to a communication.  Twining (1980) claims that alienation happens “if man interprets or experiences this interaction as destructive, in terms of a loss of control or an emerging negative definition of self, the alienation process is initiated and self-estrangement is the potential outcome.” (Twining, 1980, p. 422).

All along the way, social media aimed at replicating the effect of the ‘old’ newspaper and poster movements and motivate people into new relations.  Yet, some argue, they might have peculiarly contributed to further distancing. That is where art can play its distinctive role in the “remaking of the experience of the community in the direction of greater order and unity” (Dewey, 1980, p. 81).  This would be a role of mediation between alienation and activism.

The rise of industrialisation

The impact on culture

The vast changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, triggered a rapid growth in the European population. Many considered it as the discovery of a new World. The newfound technologies also shifted philosophical thinking. The aristocratic idea of a world that transcends God was not being reinterpreted into a life that is led by mechanical inventions. The machine world was seen as a utopian reality and following Einstein’s theory of relativism, human rationality shifted into an idea of God that shares a whole with mankind.

The major technological developments in textiles, steam power and iron making, provided better economies of scale and whilst production got more efficient, people started moving from their farms in the outskirts of cities into the central areas. This movement was greatly supported with the invention of new transportation systems that made distances shorter and facilitated communication. The higher population and lower infant mortality brought by with medicine, allowed for a larger workforce and larger agricultural and manufacturing level. This same workforce was made of both male and female and it also included children at times. Unfortunately the conditions of such workers were not very ideal.

With improved production and new trading markets, the Industrial Revolution proved to be an overwhelming experience on a cultural level. It transformed daily human life in all aspects as it provided new experiences, which were unheard of before.

Whilst the war caused great loss of faith and disillusion, artists started to investigate and re-interpret these multiple experiences into multiple viewpoints of their artistic expression. Greatly aided with the versatility of tube paints they could now free themselves from their workshops, shift to on-site painting and paint social subjects. Furthermore, the advent of photography gave the creative eye myriad new modes of expression. 

Postmodernism – Time for self reflection

Following the Modernist era of European culture, Post-modernism is the period which encapsulated the changes that took place after the 60s.

Whilst the Modernist period was linked to the Enlightenment and the idea that the industrial world would be the ultimate solution for mankind’s troubles, the Post Modern ideology promoted self-reflection. Facing the aftereffects of war, people realised that after all, industrialisation was not necessarily a catalyst of a utopian world but an evil concept for powerful and widespread destruction.

The postmodern activists were split in two major factions. The so-called ‘reactionary postmodernists’ were the nostalgic lot. They spoke in romantic notions and criticised their contemporary world. Amongst them were those who were totally against the new technology. On the other hand, the ‘revolutionary post modernists’ were more conscious about happenings and chose to make use of the industrial progress in order to heal the trouble.

Disillusion was a major feeling expressed by the Postmodernists. Unlike the metanarrative of the Enlightenment, the belief that the technology was saving humanity was lost. Instead, a feeling of defragmentation sprouted as a reaction to globalisation. It decentralised man from his absolute thinking into the idea of multiple truths of social structures, which balance out the planetary system – a sense of relativism.

Feminism came out of this reaction against an absolute idea. It deconstructed the art story and promoted an opposition to a male-dominated culture and the capitalist structures. Feminist groups such as The Guerrilla Girls, Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro were major contributors to this cause.

These claims are very much relevant on a contemporary level since issues around capitalism and the lack of freedom of expression are arising within many social circles. The Western idea of politics and the educational system need to rethink the male-dominant hierarchy to halt this power struggle.

The postmodern ‘feminist’ cry for freedom is representative to contemporary thinkers and protestors who claim such human rights and stand firm in achieving equal rights.

Picasso and shattered space – precursor to installation?

Shapes and forms were the building blocks for the cubists’ language in which Pablo Picasso featured predominantly. This language provided a fresh and different vision of how things were in reality, by getting beyond surface appearances and create an experiential art where thought is provoked.

Brutally destroying predefined concepts of beauty and allowing it to be exposed to other cultural interpretations of it.  

In his late years, Picasso believed that art could be the light, which saves people from the growing Nazi regime. Himself shattered by the forthcomings of this newly founded power, Picasso reinterpreted his art to lead the viewer into an emotional mirroring of reality; this being frightening, sexual or deeply shocking.

He reverted to various languages for inspiration. A newfound collection of ancient statues in the South of Spain and later by a set of African masks. These new sources provided him with new tools with which to experiment, irritate and shock – much as the Spanish PICAdero did during bullfights.

Much in line with philosopher Pascal, Picasso’s subjectivism is not rationalistic but existential – placing the awareness of a corrupt existence on the corrupted man. Doing so, the artist provoked his audience to live his art and become an active protagonist in it.

The later development of installation art grabbed the idea of experimentation and took the concept, not just away from a plane but out into a whole space. Elements of free play with objects became common language. This reflected Picasso’s (but also Braque’s) efforts at deconstructing reality into different spaces through their collages and sculptures out of found objects and scraps. Their assemblage techniques are nowadays being reinterpreted though the latest technologies into huge installations.


  1. Modern Masters: Pablo Picasso – Documentary –
  2. The Aesthetics of Modernism by Joseph Chiari

New Wave Cinema

The new visions of the World through the eyes of French cinema directors

Whilst established French directors in the 1950s were almost becoming authors of their own movies, upcoming ones were expressing these concerns and promoting a “new wave” of European Cinema. With names such as Claude Chabrol, Francois Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette, Louis Malle and Jean-Luc Godard, being associated to the acclaimed film magazine Cahiers du cinema, this wave had a widespread effect on the industry. It is referred to as The French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague).

These artists translated and/or reflected on the social disorders into their visual imagery. These experiments, involving changes in the narrative and the visual editing gave life to totally new and radical changes in the language of cinema. Discontinuous editing and long takes gave life to a stereotyped and synonymous language of the style. Subject matter became crucial and many movies were constructed around an existential thought whilst at the same time they were easier to produce thanks to the new filmmaking industry.

In contrast with Hollywood, which had become a giant of commercial movies, New Wave’s documentary-type language was created with less budgets and little production time. Many times, friends of directors made up the acting cast. Both audio and visuals were sourced out directly on location – which, in many cases was nothing but friends’ apartments or yards. All this and a generally ambiguous movie plot, demarcated an attempt at free interpretation of the same. 

Within this style, film-makers wanted to communicate new visions of the world while aggressively reinterpreting the technicalities and deliberately suspend the viewer’s disbelief in front of the broken sequences and lack of unity. This was indeed an attack on the audiences’ passivity and naivety for mainstream cinema techniques. The new wave fostered new expectations.

The Bauhaus and De Stijl

The school and the ideology

The Bauhaus short-lived life between 1919 and 1933, is nowadays regarded as the school which shaped most of today’s knowledge of the modern and contemporary art and design world. Yet, it was regarded by Nazi Government as a promoter of Russian-Bolshevic idealisms, which made it to power following the October Revolution of 1917. These views by the Nazis, constituted the closing down of the school in 1933.

The school was aimed at raising questions about methods of teaching good art and design. Its founder, Walter Gropius planned to get all arts, including architecture under one roof and create mass produced design goods within all media. The Bauhaus had to be a pro-active space housing different point of views.

This was achieved by breaking away from the dichotomy in Weimar. The initial years, 1919-1923, saw the Bauhaus being influenced by Romantic idealisms, especially through the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement and its main protagonist and leader, William Morris. Yet, unlike this movement, the project promoted works which were industry-friendly and embraced the innovation brought by through the industrial revolution.

In 1922 the Bauhaus was accused of unproductivity and superficiality in an article by Vilmos Huszar which appeared in the September issue of De Stijl. De Stijl was a publication issued by Theo van Doesburg who himself worked at the Bauhuas but spoke very critically about its direction. During his lectures in Weimar, Doesburg would scream at students about Constrctivism whilst his wife Nelly played disharmonies on her piano. He used to accuse students as “Romantics”.

In time, following De Stijl course he had organised, Doesburg set up a De Stijl branch at the Bauhuas.  Opposed to Gropius’s original idea, the school had become a formal institution where art was taught in straight lines and primary colours. As with De Stijl itself, it emphasised theory and suggested an effort to combine these theories into furniture design, painting and typography. With main exponents being Van Doesburg himself, Piet Mondrian and Gerrand Rietvelt, De Stijl idealised an art made of available materials and coloured in a constrained palette of primary colours, black and white.

The 1923-1925 Bauhaus in Weimar was conditioned by a fragile economy. The school lacked proper facilities and adequate heating.  Furthermore, factions of Weimar’s business community, considered it as a threat to their existence. This instilled its main protagonists to work around rational and scientific idealisms but at the same time, demoralised many students. Gropius hoped students could start up a community and eventually collaborate. 

The final years of the Bauhaus saw one last move to Berlin in 1932. Now with Mies van der Rohe at the helm, the school had changed into a very institutionalised structure where students’ opinion was given little or no importance. Only students from upper classes made it to the courses and workshops were made to use exclusive materials. This, and political turbulences in Germany led to the bitter end of the Bauhaus.

Malta’s dominant culture through forces sustaining ideology

A local scenario and myself within it

Barthes thesis, which confronts the idea of the image being a weak and elementary medium of communication when compared to language, is truly intriguing. My eleven-year experience as a professional graphic designer keeps reminding me how images create and transmit meaning. Thus, the responsibility granted by Barthes onto the image maker becomes factual. One can discuss whether both the image-maker and the image itself can give birth to new ideologies.

The interpretation of images by the audience is directly influenced by the experience and the relationships they carry along. It is sometimes stronger than the actual language that accompanies visual imagery. And that is why the same image could have a different lasting effect within different cultures. When image is set about for debate, its subjectivity should be always scrutinised before any commentary is made.

Within a Maltese context, the lack of exposure to good art for the locals is source to uninformed/uneducated relationships. I would say the experience is many times inexistent as this is also lacking through the educational system.

Different ideologies can trigger different reactions to the same subject, imagery or interpretation of both. When the term ideology denotes a political vision, popular culture is sculptured into a terrain made of political and social significations. 

Unfortunately, censorship within our artistic scenario is still, very tangible. The idea of regulation of expression is the result of ideologies set about by a predominant Catholic Church and a Christian Democratic ruling government.

Yet, in line with German playwright Berolt Brecht, one could luckily affirm that “art is never without consequences”; Duchamp’s “fountain” which declared a rejection of the establishment of art, was an important challenge to the perceptions of people, firmly anchored within their ideologies.

Local ideology works mainly on the religious and the political fronts of society where both linguistics and imagery are used by the establishments to define the common denominators and the ‘dominant culture’. Instances through local history proved such ideologies beneficial, yet, the relevance of both conforming forces today, seem to be quite occult.

On such grounds, my art has in the past years grown sensitive towards these conspiring forces. Starting off through my writing, thus, my linguistic forces, I decided to start describing my emotions related to the local conformism to politics and religion, by using poetry. Following the introduction of social media I made a conscious decision to expose these confronting ideas of mine into public through a blog and facebook. 

I have experimented both with creating and exposing art for and through these platforms, but also to reinvent my graphical artistic expression into something that speaks of a heightened awareness in comparison to a, generally, alienated society.

The Duchamp Legacy – can art exist?

Perspectives on the creative act – What is your perception of art?

“… art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man”

Leo Tolstoy – “What is Art?”

Leo Tolstoy’s statement in his essay “What is Art?” is the one interpretation closest to the real essence of the term as art can exist whenever a man transmits his feelings to another. This, regardless whether the end product is good or bad.

Spontaneous but subjective act which, through men, translates the essential intention of art into a realisation of the same was coined as ‘The Creative Act” by Marcel Duchamp. This becomes whole when the spectator completes the dialogue triangle with the artist and the work of art. It is at this level that the raw state of art is refined.

Art is the solitary act of creation, which doesn’t happen for pleasure’s sake but as a means to a universal conspiracy. In “What is the creative act?”, Gillez Deleuze goes deeper into associating the creative act to a counter reaction in front of a patronizing information system. He calls it “The act of resistance” and links it to Malraux concept of art as the only thing that resists death. Just like every human struggle to resist death, so does art.

The purest act of art is also described as a sort of metaphysical space, which can connect and/or concern different people from different cultures across oceans and geographical boundaries.

The communication of a feeling in a bid to unite other recipients as one block is indeed art, yet, being unsuccessful in transmitting that same feeling across is not crucial. Starting off with the opposite intention could just as well be an act of art. When feelings are translated into movements, colours, sounds, forms, lines or words, the activity gets contagious through the encounter experience of spectators, no matter if this reflects the original concept behind a piece or totally defies it.

Comments for a facebook discussion

I don’t think religion in its pure state, promotes fear of punishment and hope of reward after death! Luckily i have had opportunities to share life-changing experiences with the missionaries of St.Paul (MSSP Malta) and the Missionaries of Charity (Sisters of Mother Theresa) and believe me, that wasn’t what they projected onto me. Obviously i made use of my intelligence to filter some traditional beliefs as well and really hold on to the nectar of the message!

When i combined my learnings in christian religion of Catholicism and the teachings at the practical philosophy school (based on eastern cultures), i was impressed how both go hand in hand in projecting us a message of pure awareness, pure love and pure being.
Unluckily though – the unpure state of religion is what speaks from majestic balconies and decorated thrones! that was never the style of the religious founders – whoever it was – nor the style of the iconic figures of these religions! so let’s also filter what we are fed, by accessing our intelligence.
In the case of the Catholic Church, to which i do have my strong reservations, especially the local representation of it, i do believe that it’s me and you who make it and not the figureheads, just like it’s me and you who make society and not the political leaders!