In the course of dialogues with curator Melanie Erixon in the year 2020, the notion of revisiting a previous research venture resurfaced. This particular concept, initially explored during my tenure at the University of Malta, entailed the construction of digital portraits composed of multiple layers depicting the same visage. However, this time around, Ms. Erixon proposed a captivating twist – infusing the concept with the disruptive essence of the relentless Covid-19 pandemic. The stringent limitations imposed upon our social fabric and individual realities have undeniably reshaped our lives in profound and far-reaching ways. This unprecedented crisis, with its transformative power, has irrevocably altered our very manner of existence—how we nourish ourselves, how we forge connections, how we experience intimacy, how we breathe life into our senses as innately human beings. As actors thrust onto the stage of this turbulent saga, we find ourselves confronted with the audacious demand to sever our ties, to renounce our very humanity. In the midst of such turmoil, our collective and personal identities are shaken to their core, leaving us adrift in a sea of doubt.
In the past week, I have had the privilege of engaging in a profound exchange of reflections regarding this artistic endeavor with my esteemed confidant and expert in the field of social sciences, Dr Alex Grech. It was he who eloquently reminded me of the prevailing entrapment that befalls many in our present era—the pervasive allure and ensnarement within the digital realms of social media platforms: “We are dependent on their affordances to navigate our sociality and mediate our identities. In our love affair with Silicon Valley, we have gone from the early innocence of private horizontal exchanges with those we know in the offline world to the spectacle of online performance: we watch, lurk, comment, troll, cancel, share and wait for others to acknowledge our existence. We are all in this together – including those who watch over us and harvest our data for their private means. In the process, we explore, destroy and renew our personas, from completely anonymous to the mundanely familiar.”
The inception of The (Facebook) Portrait Project II – Fading Social Distancing Facebook group marked a pivotal moment on Sunday, 27th December 2020, as an invitation was extended to individuals from various corners of the world. This call beckoned them to engage in a profound social experiment centered around the concept of collective portraiture, symbolically capturing the universal yearning for connection. Within this virtual gathering, the boundaries between the personal and the public realms blurred, presenting a striking juxtaposition.
By the designated end-of-year deadline, an impressive total of 363 individuals, both directly and indirectly invited, heeded the call and participated in this endeavor. As a testament to their collective contribution, a distinctive ‘portrait’ was crafted for every group of ten consecutive members, achieved through the ingenious re-appropriation of their respective Facebook profile pictures. Subsequently, participants were encouraged to utilize the platform provided by the group, sharing their reflections and reactions on the subjects of social distancing and the innate human longing for physical closeness. This collective dialogue served to illuminate the prevailing atmosphere that governs our shared human experience.
All thirty-seven intricately woven portraits were meticulously reproduced onto aluminum dibond, forming the centerpiece of my eagerly anticipated third solo exhibition at Il-Kamra ta’ Fuq in Mqabba, with the unveiling scheduled for the date of April 17th.
Alex was intrigued with participants agreeing to share and redefine their own identity with the artist and others: “The pandemic has forced us to remove the final vestige of humanity in the offline world and into social distancing. We are slowly being deprived of our seven basic senses, for our own good. We are masked and yet connected, peering into our screens, trying make sense of what we are, and what we may yet become. Our lives are disrupted, but social media will yet be our salvation and keep us safe from ourselves and unknown others. Won’t it?”
As an undercurrent of narcissism pervades, prompting many to seek validation and a sense of belonging within the collective, this endeavor delves into a profound exploration of the self, transcending the idealized perception we hold of ourselves. Within the unsettling amalgamation of the collective, identities become blurred or even completely obscured. Each artwork poses the fundamental questions: “Who are you? Who are we? What is unfolding within us?” The monumental challenge lies in finding coherence amidst this intricate tapestry and discerning the ultimate beneficiary of our unwavering dedication to this pursuit.
The exhibition WIĊĊ IMB WIĊĊ will be open at Il-Kamra ta’ Fuq between April 27 and May 18 and can be visited strictly by appointment. You can make a booking or purchase an artwork by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Art Sweven, Il-Kamra ta’ Fuq or the artist on email@example.com. All artworks are limited edition of three and selling at €125.
WIĊĊ IMB WIĊĊ is being curated by Melanie Erixon from Artsweven.
25 April 2021 – The intimacy among strangers – Joseph Agius, Times of Malta
22 April 2021 – Interview for Illum ma’ Steph
16 April 2021 – Interview for Meander
7 April 2021 – Interview for Maltarti
30 December 2020 – A social exercise of portrait creation, The Times of Malta
Live Exhibition walk through by ARTZ ID