Ma tifhimx AKKA

Published: 20 Jul 2021
Filed in:

(you don’t understand a thing)

How does one transform construction waste into an aesthetic piece? A Collective have devised a two-part installation at this year’s Venice Biennale

The Venice Biennale is a beast. Actually, it’s more than that. Founded in 1895, it is one of the oldest events dedicated to the visual arts worldwide. It’s better to describe it as the beast of beasts, featuring multi-site exhibitions, installations and dedicated pavilions with national representations from the world over, spread across the entirety of the floating city. Moreover, since its inception, the Biennale has grown to incorporate music, dance, and cinema, with architecture being the last discipline introduced in 1980.

Malta’s presence at the Venice Biennale – be it the edition dedicated to art or architecture, or any art form for that matter – has been sketchy over the years. It was only a few years back that Malta made a return to the international platform. Recalling one of the many headlines, which read: Malta Returns to the Biennale After 17 Years, is correct and incorrect. The author referred to Malta’s return to the Art Biennale through national representation – no mention was made in reference to significant efforts by independent artists and creatives to participate in the gargantuan art celebration without the backing of a national commissioning body. And that is precisely what architects and firms have been doing for the last few editions. In the absence of a pavilion funded or coordinated by a national commissioner, architects sought to obtain public/private funding and sponsorship to secure representation in the Biennale and contend with some of the world’s heavy hitters and trend-setters.

This much is true of Architecture Project (AP) that participated in 2016; Chris Briffa Architects and Richard England in 2018; and finally, A Collective – a small architecture studio headed by Patricia Grech and Steven Risiott – participating in this year’s edition (postponed from 2020), with a project titled AKKA. Therefore there has been Maltese representations in the Architecture Biennale in the last three editions.

AKKA – ‘H’ in Maltese was conceived as a contemporary interpretation of the standard limestone building block – through the use of construction waste. Which begs the question: how does one make/transform construction waste into an artwork; into an aesthetic piece? A Collective have devised a two-part installation, which will also be on show in Malta later this year, after the closing of the Biennale, together with a satellite pavilion currently built in Hal-Far.

Patricia Grech and Steven Risiott

What A Collective designed with reconstituted limestone is a structure that challenges public perception of a material that is considered solid, massive, impermeable and static. Taking breeze blocks as one of their many sources of inspiration, they wanted to make limestone look lighter and more dynamic,

“whilst playing on vernacular construction techniques of stacking, spanning and interlocking AKKA strives to portray reconstituted limestone as a sustainable solution for contemporary architecture which respects the past and looks forward to a cleaner and greener approach.”

In the Venice installation, A Collective tells a story through photographs and the moving image, in which the growing and deepening scars in Malta’s landscape are given prominence. The video exhibits some brutal imagery of the island’s quarry culture, the construction, developments and ad hoc landfills.

Despite Malta taking an increasingly sustainable approach, the duo elaborates how construction waste doesn’t feature in the island’s future plans. As active contributors in the field, they wanted to make a difference; so they opted to highlight the dire situation by demonstrating the need to invest in a sustainable approach to architecture; by providing alternative solutions, and also by emphasising the need to have a plan set in place for dumping, for instance. Rather than easing the disposal cost, it should be made harder for new developments to kick off. Simultaneously, the authorities should incentivise the sector to use materials such as reconstituted limestone. Patty and Steve explain how each of the blocks produced for the project is circa 70% sustainable and can be reused up to four times, losing zero strength. These findings form part of an ongoing research process by Prof Spiridione Buhagiar, who collaborates with the Studio on this project.

AKKA is currently on show at the European Cultural Centre’s 17th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice titled Time, Space, Existence, which Hashim Sarkis curates. The project collaborators include Prof Spiridione Buhagiar, Hugh Vella, Julian Vassallo (photographer), James Vernon (videographer), Dr Margaret Camilleri Fenech (environmental researcher) and Robert Colvin. The project was supported by: Arts Council Malta, Halmann Vella and BRND WGN.