Florinda Camilleri and Mediterranean Seaweed in Gozo 2024

Maltese artist and dancer Florinda Camilleri will be participating in the art residence and exhibition Beyond What Drifts Us Apart (BWDUA), part of the Mahalla Festival and residency program by MagiC Carpets.

Florinda Camilleri will stay in Gozo for this residency for one month, focusing mostly on the vital yet overlooked Posidonia Oceanica (a Mediterranean seaweed). Through this project, she continues to weave a rich tapestry of movement, technology, and collaborative storytelling, inviting us all to see the world—and ourselves—through a more interconnected lens.

The final exhibition will take place between July 19 and July 28 at the Dwejra Tower in Gozo, Malta.

The project is part of the MagiC Carpets network. MagiC Carpets is a “Creative Europe” platform uniting 21 European cultural organizations with the goal to creating opportunities for emerging artists to explore new territories, collaborate with local artists and communities to produce works that highlight local specificities and create new narratives.

Beyond What Drifts Us Apart is curated by Elyse Tonna and organized by Unfinished Art Space in cooperation with the Istanbul-based cultural association Diyalog, with financial support from Arts Council Malta.

Talking with Florinda Camilleri – interview by Léa Cordani

Can you tell me a bit more about yourself and what your art conveys?

My background is primarily in contemporary dance, both in Malta and internationally. In recent years, I’ve shifted from traditional dance settings to performing in public spaces. For me, my body is a tool for knowledge making and for communication, and I’m always questioning how to communicate human and more than human matters in bodily ways. But I’m also concerned a lot with the politics of the body and the politics of space and how in a small island like Malta, which is super developed, there isn’t much space for bodies to be as they need to be, to be different from what is already there and there aren’t many spaces to be able to practice being human in a different way, because everywhere is so highly prescribed and codified. My journey into public space performance began with a Master’s program in the Netherlands, focusing on making public space perform rather than just performing in public spaces. This experience transformed my approach, integrating post-human and feminist post-humanist/new materialist theories, viewing the human condition in a continuum with nature and technology where everything is matter, somehow connected together. And all of this is implicated in everything we do, we are in every space as well. So let’s say my work now is very much research-based.

How do you project these theoretical concepts into your practice?

I start with extensive research, gathering both mental and embodied information by spending time in a place and observing. Initially, I simply exist in the space, allowing it to affect me before interacting with it physically. I document these interactions with a camera, treating it as an extension of my body. This documentation helps me extract cohesive elements for performances, whether structured or improvised. I also attune myself to the subtle layers of the space, which emerge when I’m in a restful, curious state.

In practice, I spend time in the space without trying to impose anything, allowing stories to settle in my body. Once familiar, I interact with the space, guided by my body’s impulses rather than rational thoughts. This process often leads to a trance-like state where I’m fully present, regardless of external distractions. The use of the camera is integral, not just for documentation but as part of the creative process, sometimes influencing how I perceive and interact with the space.

When you dance in public spaces, do you use music? Or do you use music from the city and just let it flow?

It depends. In films, I often use the environment’s sounds, sometimes manipulating them. I also play with camera technology to alter perspectives, such as making small objects appear larger. In live performances, I might not use music at all, letting the natural sounds of the space and the movement create their own rhythm and ambiance.

Do you already know what you are going to showcase in Malta? 

I chose to work with this Mediterranean type of seagrass called Posidonia oceanica,  often misidentified as seaweed. It’s vital for oxygen production but frequently undervalued. I plan to create a film using historical and local footage, editing it through the lens of dance. Because when I see footage of the seagrass, it really dances!

Additionally, I’ll hold a workshop to create performance attire from dried seagrass and possibly produce a sound piece to symbolically call back extinct giant mussels. The film will feature historical footage from the Maltese heritage archive and local divers’ footage, aiming to highlight the seagrass’s beauty and ecological importance.

The workshop will involve local creatives, exploring the seagrass’s potential as a material for performance art. We might create clothing or ritual objects , emphasizing the plant’s significance and fostering a deeper connection with it. The sound piece will be an experimental attempt to reconnect with lost marine species,  saying “welcome, please come back to us”,  blending historical context with contemporary environmental concerns. I also want to let time I spend there influence all of this and let it develop.

Do you plan on working with other people?

Yes, I often collaborate with artists from various disciplines, as well as scientists, anthropologists, and other experts. Collaboration is essential for me, reflecting our interconnected existence and enriching the relevance of our work. I set conditions for creative emergence and invite collaborators, including sound artists, filmmakers, musicians, doctors, scientists, anthropologists, and policy makers. This multidisciplinary approach allows for a richer, more nuanced exploration of themes.

From a post-human perspective, I think we, as human beings, are always already intertwined with other beings, with other stories, with pasts, with futures. We really are not isolated. And so, as a practice, I think it makes sense to not isolate.  

And I think when we isolate ourselves, as artists, the work becomes less relevant. Like at this time we’re in, I feel a desperate call to find new ways to be human. And I don’t believe that I can find out by being alone. I actually want to be more and more involved with others, and not just humans. We need to learn different ways of being human. And one of the big leaps that I see is involved in that is recognizing that we are not singular units of human. We are a system of components within other wider systems of components. And we have more agency than we think we do a lot of the time. And so when it comes to the idea of connection, what I’m more concerned with is recognizing, acknowledging how connected we already are rather than pushing to form new connections.

From your point of view, how can local communities in Malta be involved?

Engaging local communities can be challenging, but storytelling through bodies can be powerful. Using familiar yet recontextualized narratives, particularly through film and photography, can connect with people. I initially made an open call for scuba divers to share footage of seagrass but received little response. Future efforts might include more accessible storytelling methods, inviting community members to share their experiences and perceptions.

Involving the community also means tapping into the social and cultural fabric of Malta. Since the local imagination is often shaped by the tourism industry, using visual media can resonate strongly. By framing familiar narratives in new ways, we can spark curiosity and deeper engagement with the environment and heritage. And if we can find somehow a narrative or narratives that are close to the known, but a bit beyond, slightly into the unknown, then we have something that people will connect to. 

What messages do you hope to convey through this creative experience?

I aim to inspire appreciation for our natural environment and its crucial role in our future. My work encourages looking deeper and recognizing the interconnectedness of human and non-human narratives.  If I had to try and pin down possible points that I’d like to communicate, it’s more than anything, to appreciate the beauty of what we have along the coast, and to recognize its massive importance. Not to neglect, not to shrug things off without looking a little bit deeper. And more than anything, just to look, to listen, and to open the pores of our bodies and hearts, to the more than human narratives, more than human lives… Pretty much, recognizing that being human is also dependent on all the more than human and that the way that we’ve been human so far has been quite flawed. We have power, we have agency to shift. We don’t need to get too complicated about it. Just need to listen.

How is dance so important in that matter?

Thinking back, it’s always been dance. I started ballet lessons when I was three years old and I never stopped dancing since. And it always brought me a sense of joy and freedom that I would never replace with anything else. I started professionally when I was 27 years old, and very soon I started getting this feeling that there were parts of me that I couldn’t bring to light in that role of a dancer in a dance company : I wanted to make, I wanted to challenge, I wanted to question, I wanted to break the systems and call them out on their bullshit. And as a member of the National Dance Company, you can’t exactly do that. And so that’s when I left and started trying to forge my own path.

And rather than dance as a career and rather than trying to be a technical dancer, I have always found dance more as a tool. And that’s something that was a tool for me to question, to find joy, to push my body, to be with other bodies in an intimate space, to go through experiences with others, to connect with the space around me and study it and learn it and collect knowledge.

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