Keit Bonnici for Beyond What Drifts Us Apart, Malta 2024

Keit Bonnici is a concept and performance artist currently based in Malta, whose work focuses on highlighting the complexities of democracy, institution, state, public and collective public memory.

He will be participating in the next one-month-long art residence alongside 5 other artists in Gozo, Malta. During this time, he will be researching on the socio-political realities associated with the fungus rock on the small sister island of Malta.

The final art events Beyond What Drifts Us Apart (BWDUA) will take place between July 19 and July 28 at the Dwejra Tower in Gozo, Malta.

This residency program and the public events are part of the Mahalla Festival and the MagiC Carpets network.

MagiC Carpets is a “Creative Europe” platform, uniting 21 European cultural organizations with the goal of 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 a financial support from Arts Council Malta and the European Union.

Talking with Keit Bonnici – interview by Léa Cordani

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey as an artist? What themes or concepts drive your artistic practice?

I consider my practice to be transdisciplinary, based on a conceptual work. I work with performance, drawing, film, and collage. Making is a significant part of my process : I enjoy creating things and thinking through the act of making. The common thread in my work is space, particularly the concept of decolonizing space. My research and work explores the threats linked with colonization, post-colonization, and I focus on the ways art could decolonize space. 

My most recent project was at the Malta Biennale, where I worked with British telephone boxes. I performed a piece where I wrapped more than half of a telephone box in bubble wrap. This was a quick mock-up, where I designed protective transport corners and added wrap straps. My intention was to take one of these telephone boxes to England and back, but I couldn’t because there are 68 of them on the island of Malta, installed by the English as part of their colonial presence. These telephone boxes are iconic images of colonial influence. 

There’s a particular telephone box in the heart of Valletta, the capital city, which is a popular tourist photo spot. I wanted to subvert and hijack this image, altering the social and collective imagination. Postcards and even Tinder profiles feature photos of this telephone box are a good example for that.

So you feel like the symbol of Malta has become the London symbol ?

That’s a simplified version. It’s more complex, with various symbols in the tourist layer. For Maltese people, these objects are part of the landscape and often go unquestioned. The Biennale asked me to work with this object, which aligns with my practice. However, these telephone boxes are protected as grade one heritage objects, limiting what I could do artistically. I initially didn’t realize how protected they were, so my project evolved to work within these limitations. 

I collaborated with another artist, Niels, to create an artistic outcome despite these restrictions. Since I couldn’t physically take the telephone box, I used imagination to symbolically transport it. During the opening, we pre-washed the telephone box, and I performed by wrapping it up. This performance and the display included a sticker with information about the telephone box’s origin, weight, size, and history, leaving the destination blank. The government removed the bubble wrap, claiming it looked ugly, but I saw the tearing of the plastic as part of the work, reflecting how transported parcels often arrive slightly damaged.

Do you think about maybe taking this idea further or doing something completely different in Gozo?

No,  I want to explore the environment more, especially in Gozo. I’ve been there a few times, and it’s a beautiful place. I’m interested in the rocks, the sea, and the creatures inhabiting the space, looking at the connection between humans and non-humans. This project will focus on how humans and nature interact, particularly near the strategic and picturesque towers on the island.

I aim to demilitarize these towers and the surrounding landscape, creating a new narrative about what else lives there. By raising questions through my work, I want to explore how to create spaces that consider both human and non-human elements. For example, observing the ants, birds, fish, and even cats that inhabit these areas, and acknowledging their presence alongside human footprints.

There’s a big importance given to connection with the community. Not only the non-human things but also the people there. Do you want to work with them? And if so, do you have any ideas on how to work together and make it have a real impact?

I’m excited about this aspect. I often find it challenging to connect with communities in my practice, so this is a great opportunity to extend and integrate community engagement. As an artist, I research and work a lot on my own. I would appreciate guidance from the curator to help me design a workshop and connect with the local community. 

I’ve done collaborative projects and collective exhibitions, such as one at the National Museum of Malta four years ago. However, I want to learn how to design workshops that foster real connections with people.

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