“Saint-Eloy-Race” took place at Victoria Gate in Valletta on November 29th. For this event, FRAGMENTA invited Alexandra Pace to present parts of her research about truth and representation in photography, or rather, the lack of it. In relation to Alexandra Pace multifaceted work dealing with horse-racing, with particular reference to the photo-finish images that determined the outcome of these races, FRAGMENTA chose date and setting for the curated exhibition. Given that the Saint Eligius (Saint Eloy) feast is celebrated on December 1st and since he is the patron saint of horses and those who work with them, the date for the event was determined accordingly.
The exhibition included 2 large-scale photographs, several smaller photographs, and a sound recording from the race tracks by Alexandra Pace, as well as performative elements both for and done by the audience, and other installation-elements.
Alexandra’s research had started years ago when hearing first-hand narratives from a photographer whose job it was to handle the film in a makeshift darkroom by the racetrack in Malta, prior to the upgrade to a fully digital system in 2012. She then got deeply interested in the strength of the photo-finish photograph, which seemed to her to resonate the brute force of the horses on that track in that short span of time. The initial stages of her working process involved digitizing some of the material she had collected from the photo-finish department at the track. She states: “I was intrigued by the visual serenity and calmness of this photograph that belies all that depends on this one image – bets, wealth, loss, machismo and the future of the horse.”
One of the large scale-pictures on exhibition is part of a series of works which was created in the darkroom by defacing, altering, overlaying various negatives and reproducing a different version of things that happened.
The other large-scale photograph on display emerged from this research: Alexandra explains: “I chose to re-stage an actual race with the human form embodying the horse, a seemingly benign image that is in fact loaded with codes and critique of both the medium of photography as well as the risks of chance and betting.” The picture was fitted and glued with organic glue onto a public display board. Since it displayed nudity and sexual organs, it received a lot of attention, much laughter, some criticism and astonishment over the course of the afternoon. (After the event, the potentially offensive body parts were censured by FRAGMENTA. However, that must not have been sufficient – the next day, the several naked men with horse heads had been stripped off. No skin can be seen now.)
Horse heads from the photograph were floating like horses in stables in front of the gate, reminding some visitors of Falada from the Goose Girl-tale, some others of a four-horsed chariot:
On invitation of FRAGMENTA, Alexandra also presented a performative element which seemed to have sprung from the large scale photograph: at certain moments throughout the event, a slim young man was walking in slow motion around a set path.
In order to fully experience the atmosphere at the track, the excitement and the playful attitude, FRAGMENTA staged a “race” and its constituting elements which took its starting point at Victoria Gate: The road leading up to Victoria Gate had been transformed into a road of “stables”; garages, onto which horse names had been attached, had changed their fictitious content.
Visitors were handed out a map with a parcourse they had to follow. At each “horse shoe” symbol the visitors had to note the number of steps they had taken up to that point. It had soon become a meditative and yet challenging endeavour in which all audience members delightfully participated – gaining insights in the dynamics of race courses, passing of time, and much more, in a very playful way. At the end, visitors were rewarded with a slide frame containing a negative from the photo-finish line.
In Alexandra Pace’s words: “The game is childish, the stakes are not.
Reactions, Censorship by FRAGMENTA after the event and “censorship” by unknown: