A tower with a plank facing outwards …

John is confused.

John is on holiday in Malta, and on this glorious sunny October Sunday afternoon, he goes to the popular sandy beach of Ghajn Tuffieha.

Suddenly, he spots the tower – his curiosity walks him to the cliff edge, overlooking the neighbouring Ghajn Tuffieha bay. In front of the Ghajn Tuffieha watchtower, a beautiful young woman approaches John and invites him to have a look inside. John startles – it looks as if an invisible man with a white (visible) hand was strangling her. Yet, her smile is reassuring. This is not a funny religious sect; it is likely to be a contemporary art exhibition.

“Hand-necklace”/ “Choker”: a sculptural object which can be considered jewellery, in the terms of “practical/functional” wearable sculpture.

Indeed, upon entering the tower, John meets the artist Aaron Bezzina, who is wearing a T-Shirt with the words “PUNCH ME IN THE FACE”, which John wisely ignores.

Behind John, there is a panel with information about Terror Management Theory (TMT): the theory proposes a basic psychological conflict that results from having a desire to live, but realizing that death is inevitable. This conflict produces terror, and this terror is then managed by embracing cultural values, or symbolic systems that act to provide life with meaning and value. It is too much to read, John concludes, but he swears he is going to google it when back home.

John looks up – a steep staircase made of glass and metal leads to the upper floor of the tower. From here, a 4m long wooden plank protrudes outwards, like an invitation. John steps on the wood. He hesitates. He does not know what it is … was somebody walking the plank before him? Is this for real?

2016_10_fragmenta_mementomori_aaron_picbettina_02Walking and jumping would inevitably result in his demise, or severe injury. This cannot not a physically interactive work … what’s the point?

Aaron Bezzina describes his work as “anti-interactive” artworks.

A woman jokingly suggests to jump – John looks down on the viewers outside of the tower. His belly is having a visceral reaction to the height, but when he turns around, the glass staircase amplifies the feeling he just had. A second woman approaches John, another hand choking her neck.

John starts to see the reminders of death and mortality everywhere – is there an invisible hand choking him as well? Might he at any moment die? All of a sudden, he feels uncomfortable.

Going down the steps, he sees another sculptural object he had not seen before: a hammer hanging upside down, with the lower part in shape of a crucifix. This Cruci-Hammer glistens eerily in the sun. Aaron explains that it was influenced by a documentary about Earnest Becker’s book ‘The Denial of Death’ and researchers attempted to test his theory. In an experiment, subjects were instructed to hang a crucifix to a wall. The task required them to use the same crucifix as a hammer (watch documentary at 52:10)

Walking out of the tower, the cliffs have turned from a beautiful setting into just another death reminder in John’s head… he is experiencing the feeling of having swallowed a big question mark.

In the meantime, artist Aaron Bezzina, very friendly behind his violent T-Shirt, stresses that his work carries humor and irony, “diluting the tensions of possible serious issues in play, with reference and questioning the role of the art object with regards to its impact on political/religious issues…”

2016_10_fragmenta_mementomori_aaron_picbettina_48The question really is: Can art actually make a difference? Or can culture and its artefacts, and by extension art only provide fleeting meaning in an insecure world? Can art change something?

For John, it certainly changed something – he just does not quite know exactly, what. Waving good-bye to John, we chuckle. It is good to be confused.

And we try once again to evaluate our own position in this very instant…. over and over again.

Aaron Bezzina’s first solo exhibition entitled “MEMENTO MORI: Hints Taken From Terror Management Theory” was held at Ghajn Tuffieha Tower, on October 23rd.

Special thanks to Valletta 2018 and GAIA Foundation for supporting the event!



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