Past Continuous

2021

Italian artist Alex Urso has taken the digital archives of the Maltese archival project Magna Żmien as a point of departure for a new body of work exhibited this November. The exhibition – Past Continuous – is exhibited at Malta’s national centre for creativity, Spazju Kreattiv, itself housed within a 16th century cavalier on the Mediterranean island.

Urso has long engaged with archival material in his practice – often creating anachronistic scenes through intricate collage and diorama-making. His practice also engages with non-formal archival material – abandoned artworks or photographs, and employs a quasi-archaeological process of re- creation, verging on resurrection.

Urso’s first series of works consists of a number of what appear to be silhouettes in reverse; material is erased from photographs to leave only a white figure, standing firmly on the ground, but erased nonetheless. Using an augmented reality tool, the viewer can scan the white silhouette to reveal a digital version of the figures that were once in the image. But these images are ephemeral: as soon as the device is moved the image disappears, leaving only an empty silhouette behind.

Alongside these images are placed a series of looped film extracts, also taken from Magna Żmien’s archive. The extracts show glimpses of lives lived; smiling families, waving children, holiday scenes, in a multiplicity of still and moving images. A multisensorial space is created, inviting the viewer into an immersive space.

Urso has also created four of his signature three-dimensional collages. Small worlds-in-a-box combine elements from the archives; people, landscapes, seascapes, to create fragmentary scenes, within semi- surreal worlds. The viewer is invited to explore these intimate ‘theatres’, which bring together a multiplicity of individual viewpoints within fragments of archival images.

Lastly, Urso has also expanded his work into the exhibition space with a mass of paper cubes, each individually signed, and each made from a different image from the archive. The 900 cubes recall both the building blocks of childhood and the pixels of a digital aesthetic, and together form an installation that invites the viewer’s interaction. Through this cube-making and placing, the process of selection and juxtapositioning that Urso has employed confounds historical and linear time, placing unrelated images from disparate times next to, above and below each other. The cubes and the installation itself were assembled by the artist during a two-week residency at Valletta Design Cluster.

(Text by Margerita Pulè, curator of Past Continuous at Spazju Kreattiv, Valletta, 2021)