Matthew Schembri’s exhibition, WiN, is not your typical art exhibition. It is a story of human and personal loss and gain; as the artist offers up as ‘prizes’ some of his late mother’s possessions. The intention behind the art is to honour Rose Schembri’s life and death, while also exploring the relationship between mother and son in an artistic, innovative, and interactive way. As in alchemy, the gold touch to the items intervenes as the final and ultimate change in the matter, while the possibility of matching a key to a box underlines the similarity between a lottery and life.
Ruth Attard sits down with Matthew to find out more.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN CREATING ART AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
Art has always been a very prominent part of my life, starting from a very young age. My first collective exhibition was in 2011 at the University of Malta Campus, as part of my B.Ed (Hons.) course. Then I took part in a number of collective art exhibitions, one of them being ‘Divergent Thinkers 04’ in 2015 at Spazju Kreattiv, for which my installation piece entitled ‘Social Kitchen’ was awarded first place. In addition, I continued my studies through the Masters of Fine Arts in Digital Arts (MFA) between 2015 and 2017, and went to a residency in the USA at the Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts in 2016. For me, art is a very important language which is as vital as life itself. I live art every day.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO CREATE?
I do not believe in ‘inspiration’ or ‘being inspired’. As an artist, I believe it is all about living art and being aware of current affairs happening around me. I am very conscious of the preoccupations and events within society, such as the effect of social media on culture. In my art, I believe that interactivity is important and this was an element I combined with a popular concept within society for WiN– that of the lottery.
WHAT IS WiN ABOUT?
WiN is the first time I have so fully ‘exploited’ a personal theme in an artistic exhibition. It is a collection of 57 locked boxes, each of which contains an item that had previously belonged to my late mother. Each object was covered in gold leaf as a symbol of its metaphoric value and locked in a separate box, all of which are numbered to represent a year in her life. Every item is connected to a part of my mother’s life, and the choice of 57 objects is not arbitrary – she passed away at 57 years of age. Initially, I was falling into the trap of choosing objects which were only related to her illness, but as time went on I realised that the illness did not define my mother, and there are many more objects which better represent her. So one may find her inhaler, a bead from her childhood, her birth certificate, the opener key from a tin of corned beef, a shoe, a radio, a flower, a hand fan, and many other things, all of which are connected to her in some way. The audience, or shall we say, participants, are free to choose one of the keys on display and attempt to match it to one of the boxes on exhibit. If they are successful in opening one of the boxes they may take the object held inside and keep it for themselves.
WHY DID YOU FEEL LIKE THIS WAS THE WAY TO EXPRESS YOUR GRIEF?
Ever since my mother got sick in 2009, it has been a long journey of dealing and processing with her illness, and now her death. I am sure that all the art I created since her diagnosis, and especially after her death in 2015, was all affected in some way by these events. I felt that after her passing, something needed to be done and eventually I came up with this idea of giving away her possessions in the form of a lottery. My greatest fear in choosing this approach of expression was the possibility of being too emotional about something which is so personal to me, at the risk of losing the artistic element. Apart from that, it was also difficult personally to work on the exhibition, as everything about it is a constant reminder of what happened.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GIVE AWAY YOUR MOTHER’S POSSESSIONS?
Metaphorically, the ‘giving away’ of the items is a representation of how she also gave her time and care for others. The idea of the unknown was also enticing for me, as new life is given to these objects. Anyone might have picked up one of my mother’s possessions. For all I know, a tourist may have come to view the exhibition, opened a box, and now whatever was inside might be in a completely different country. In this same way, I do not know where my mother went after she died – there is always this mystery of the unknown, and even if someone reopens an already open box, the empty space echoes the feeling of loss and new beginnings.
HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW THAT THE EXHIBITION IS NEARING THE END?
It was helpful for me to express my grief in this way: through handling my mother’s possessions and transforming them into pieces of art, as well as through letting people I’ve never met have them. Nonetheless, I do not feel this chapter has ended, as it is still an ongoing process for me since it is about something so personal. However, I can now reflect on the comments which I received, as well as any improvements which might have made the exhibition better. I am also very grateful for the support and encouragement I have received throughout this process, particularly by family members. Apart from this, I am also grateful to the curator Dr Irene Biolchini, as well as Spazju Kreattiv for showcasing my exhibition, and VIVA (Valletta International Visual Arts Festival).
DESCRIBE THE CREATIVE PROCESS.
For each artistic piece, the process is different. The way it works for me is by usually starting off from an idea and then moving on to thinking about it, doing research, reflecting on it, and working very hard. With each new piece of art, I am always moving in my journey to selfbelief.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FUTURE PROJECTS IN THE WORKS?
At the moment, I am working on a novel which should be out soon, called ‘Stessi’ (Merlin Publishers), which was one of the winning novels in the 2016 edition of the Premju Letteratura Konkors Għaż-Żgħażagħ, organised by Aġenzija Żgħażagħ. I also have at least two collective exhibitions coming up later this year.
WHERE CAN PEOPLE FIND YOU IF THEY WANT TO CHECK OUT YOUR ART?
At the moment, my website is under construction, but anyone interested can always contact me via my email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2018 – VIDA Magazine – Ruth Attard