Bla bla

public spaces around Malta and St. Elmo Examination Centre/Valletta    

10.March to 1.July 2018

exhibition

The Fleeting Territories project Mapping Malta emanates from an unsettling of the objectivity of the map. In the history of maps and map-making, it becomes clear that a map is a marker of interest and a projection of desire. In many historical maps of the Mediterranean island nation Malta, the harbour, as an insignia for power, is disproportionately large rather than being based on surveys.

Three new maps with shifting narratives, spread all over Malta in public space, and in an spatial intervention at the Sea Trade Customs House in Valletta (which is a territory of its own that orchestrates the notions of the legal and the illegal) intended to raise the discussion that society exists between imagined and lived spaces by looking at three different notions of space: the Maltese airspace, the maritime space, and the terrestrial space. The fundamentally varying sizes and geopolitical meanings of those territories - especially that of Malta’s airspace, which covers large parts of the entire Mediterranean Sea - represent and juxtapose political interests over time.

The second part of the project consisted of the contribution to the exhibition Dal-Baħar Madwarha (the mayor visual arts project of the European Capital of Culture - Valletta 2018) in collaboration with the Malta Map Society, a private collection of historic maps of Malta: a room which connects the topics of migration, occupation, colonisation and climate change through historic and present references.

 

In collaboration with the artists Sabine Bitter, Helmut Weber and the curator/researcher Jonatan Habib Enquist, and research assistant Greta Muscat Azzopardi, Amber Spark.


 

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ISLAND OF THE DAY BEFORE

By Jonatan Habib Enquist and Greta Muscat Azzopardi
Valletta, 2018
 

One must imagine the map in order to create the territory.

 

Only the full map is stuck somewhere inside, and I can’t reach it no matter how long I sit here with paper and pen in hand, wanting to draw out the map I lost grasp of. My brain is corroded from disuse and distraction; my hands unable to create what I can sense is possible.

 

I sit here at the window every morning as oversized delivery trucks squeeze into the narrow Valletta road I live in, and forget to turn off their loud engine while they unload their one box each into the little shop just opposite. I leave the window closed to conserve my oxygen supply, but nasty things still seep in. The elderly locals start shouting orders and gossiping at 7 am, spilling out into the street since the constricted shop cannot contain them.

 

In this ruckus I attempt to follow the winding paths from one point to another on my maps. Routes do not constitute a map. Composite images on my phone have no connection to what my body has experienced. Is that blue dot supposed to tell me where I come from and where I am going?

 

There are too many gaps. I try to recover the blind spots and get even more frustrated. The gaming industry lawyers next door are a lot more silent and discreet.

 

As I move across the island in my mind, the landscape seems to unfold in bursts of lucidity followed by oblivion. I’ve seen vast underground temples built by giant women who descend from the stars to create maps of home within sacred island rocks. When I tried to draw that, it did not look right. I hid that map in my special place under the tiles. Perhaps someone someday will find it and do a better job of depiction. Did you know that most maps are manipulations of maps already made?

 

I surround myself with others’ maps for inspiration. Perhaps they can help jog my memory or get my creaky brain running again. Most of them seem to have been drawn by men intent on pleasing the sovereign and I’m not so much into that, so I put them away.

 

Some manage to hit one of those hard-to-reach spots and I know that they include fragments that are also part of my map. Not only spectres from the past. Like the watchtowers on the map drawn by a young priest named Felice in 1833. The Brits were intent on demolishing some of the towers but he helped to prevent it just by positioning them on the map. Formulating their existence. There’s something important about those towers but I don’t know what it is yet. That Felice priest must have known. I copy these details from his map onto my map.

 

I have come to realise that a map is not merely an image. It conveys power, judgment, protest or a message about a specific situation through streamlining. The Ottoman admiral and cartographer Piri Reis (or as his friends would call him, Hadji Muhiddin Piri Ibn Hadji Mehmed) drew a Map of the World on the skin of a gazelle that died in 1513. His Maltese Islands merge two harbours into one. I guess it was efficient.

 

One must imagine the territory in order to create the map.

 

At some point, someone handed me Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before and something inside stirred. I read about of what is known to astronomers and mapmakers as Specula Melitensis, used to find the location of the 180th meridian: “On the island (and Father Caspar motioned beyond the beach, beyond the trees), the Specula Melitensis was to be mounted. The nature of this Maltese Mirror was not clear, and Father Caspar, mentioning it, lowered his voice as if referring to a secret so famous that it was on the lips of the entire world.” Constructed by the order of Johannes Paulus Lascaris, Grandmaster of the Knights of Malta, the Specula Melitensis is “an Ars Magna in flesh and blood […] a kind of Megahorologium, an Animated Book capable of revealing all the mysteries of the Universe”.

 

I start to remember that I have forgotten something about the 24 watchtowers surrounding the island needing to be joined using prisms for the full map to be revealed. I begin shooting green laser beams between the towers; I even have permission to do so from both air traffic control and the air force, but due to developments of new tourist complexes in the last 10 years that compromise legislations of coastal development, the line of sight has been obstructed in several places and the laser beam lines are incomplete.

 

I have no idea how to draw that into my map so I make a note about it but later forget. Amnesia is a condition in which memory is disturbed. An effect of amnesia is the inability to imagine the future.

 

I read about the first map of the human brain while trying to picture the island from above inside my head. She left me a note. She wrote that no island is a man and that there are two views which define an island: A view from the sea (the view of those who arrive from elsewhere) and a view from land (the view of those who already are there). Where islanders see land, the others see water. “Where you see solid ground, I see the horizon.” The island is what the sea surrounds. I have no idea what that means anymore. Every attempt at making a map suddenly seems like a joke. Maps are two-dimensional, while the Earth is three-dimensional. Our planet is an imperfect sphere, so flattening it out into a rectangular shape is impossible. You don’t believe it? Why don’t you see for yourself? I tried pounding a completely intact orange peel into a flat rectangle.

 

I trace the lines of the edges of sea-space that belongs to my land but feel that the unsightly dent brought about by Gaddafi’s oil dispute and the European Court of Justice ruling that ensued does not fit there. I decide to change the shape after reading that no other jurisdiction recognises the edges of the current shape anyway. I draw a better-looking one instead but decide to keep the shape of the vast airspace edges. I reason that if someone someday redraws the temple star map of the giant women I hid in my special place under the tiles, they will definitely appreciate the space.

 

Some parts of my map I avoid drawing entirely because of all the conflicting versions of truth that overlap. I keep waking up thinking about the journalist who was killed because she knew too much, and was not afraid to shout it out in the loudest voice possible. But there’s too much noise and I cannot get to the truth behind it so I can’t figure out if that fits in my map or if it’s yet another distraction from being able to see the whole thing and draw it.

 

The towers keep coming back, and the sea level is rising.

 

I sit here at the window every morning and try to reach the complete map inside me. I try to recover the blind spots and join the dots to draw the map of everything but every time I seem to grasp something, it floats away like air. Unfulfilled and annoyed I look down: the paper is sticky with orange juice.