From left to right: Austin Camilleri, Bandiera Bianca, 2023; Austin Camilleri, Ghosttrip and Passport series, 2016 – 2021; and Patrick J Fenech, Shroud for the Sea I, 2006


18th August 2023

MICAS galleries come to life in virtual reality setting

’Between Sea and Land’ is virtual exhibition of contemporary Maltese artists’ work showcasing the forthcoming internal gallery spaces of MICAS, familiarising artists, curators and the general public with the building.

The showcase itself is a veritable tour de force of the Maltese contemporary art world – the works, both digital media and not – features the work of Caesar Attard, Matthew Attard, Aaron Bezzina, Ruth Bianco, Vince Briffa, Austin Camilleri, Charlie Cauchi, Patrick Fenech, Norbert Francis Attard, Romeo Roxman Gatt, Anton Grech, David Pisani, Pierre Portelli, Teresa Sciberras, and Raphael Vella.

“What I found interesting about this MICAS experience is that it takes it further,” curator and art historian Jo Baring said in conversation with Edith Devaney, chair of the MICAS Creative Committee.

“Because I had to contend with both the digitalisation of the artworks and the space,” she says, referring to the architectural space in which these artworks must be viewed, and the challenge of hosting an exhibition powered by virtual reality headsets, allowing viewers on the MICAS VIRTUAL platform, to interact with the artworks in the yet-to-be-built MICAS galleries.

“I’m particularly engaged with the idea of an artwork and how we relate to it as a critical object… but then having to contend with that within this architectural space, was a new experience for me.”

Artist Matthew Attard was struck by the realism of the architectural rendering of the MICAS galleries as he donned the VR headset, enough to be taken in by the space and how the works sat and looked inside the building . Not only is the digital exhibition a medium in its own right as an artistic practice here, but the virtual space itself now becomes a way of archiving and documenting the exhibition.

Just like the Kremer Collection’s collection of Dutch and Flemish Old Master paintings, says Austin Camilleri, accessible exclusively through VR technology, because they are not housed in a brick-and-mortar gallery. “A very physical collection of paintings is actually housed in a virtual museum, which in some way is what we are doing here at the MICAS exhibition… it is a good exercise in engaging the audience, but it also has an archival quality, for the works in the virtual space can sit there forever.”

The question then is whether physical spaces like art galleries and museums risk losing footfall to a ‘metaverse’ of immersive, virtual experiences. AI entrepreneur Angelo Dalli believes the need for location will eventually become less important through virtual technology. “I think it will be likely shifting roles in the art world,” he says of what this would mean for the curatorial role of such exhibitions.

But such immersive experiences can only whet the appetites of those who desire to experience the physical setting at MICAS and its fabulous architecture, where the immersion in the virtual world is itself the product of the real world.

Artist Patrick Fenech questioned the VR experience, which while certainly celebrating the aura of the artwork, lacked the physicality of touch, the close interaction with large canvasses.

As Devaney said, the value of the digital exhibition is its reach, a platform that is important in itself. “We know the value of being in front of a work of art – that’s how it’s meant to be seen, in its materiality, where you can sense the emotion of it.”‘Between Sea and Land’ is not replacing the art. It is coexisting alongside the real work of art.

Explore the virtual exhibition here.

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