Behind the cathedral-heart of Mdina, within the walls of Palazzo de Piro and beyond the chatter of people, hung pictures of food. Food next to food, animals and spices, colours and textures, flesh and spices, fruit and minerals. This is Sean Mallia’s photography, packaged in Gastrografija.
Despite the show being essentially still life photography, the photographs are immediately striking; playful, soothing compositions of colour, texture and forms. It truly makes a case for food as art. Some favourites were Marble, Wood, Mushroom and Pomegranate, a set of two, which have something baroque about them, probably due to the pomegranate’s history in Baroque painting as a fruit attributed to Venus, desire and the tale of Prosperina*.
Another favourite was Eye Fest thanks to the geode and the wood. Although materials like marble and wood are present in most of the photographs, the underlying theme of cooking made me think of those materials as ‘cooked’ or made—especially the geode, with its particular way of forming*—and this opened up a new layer to the work.
Or, on how art is made. In the case of Sean Mallia’s photographs, much like cooking, it is the bringing together of different ingredients like fruit, vegetables, spices, eating utensils, but also colour, texture and composition to ‘cook’ the photograph. The green photograph from the Colour, Placement and Form trio even has the reflection of the artist taking the picture in the spoon—is the artist himself an ingredient too?
Although not a fan of the Colour, Placement and Form and Order and Disorder sets, the rest of the exhibition was great in terms of its aesthetic quality. They Crawl and Monsters on a Grid were truly appealing, especially the latter with its use of light and lines to accentuate the forms and the colour of the crustaceans, while making it sensually appetising.
While the photographs were appealing, elbowing people to see them wasn’t. The space was too small for a debut show, or any show with 30+ attendees. While possibly sounding harsh, one has to keep in mind that a suitable exhibition space is crucial since it has to function as both a viewing space where people look at art, and a socialising space where people meet and greet and talk.
Similarly, there was the immediate impression that these are editorial photos: while the line is admittedly thin between editorial and fine art photography, the editorial element to the pictures coupled with the biggest disappointment—not enough pictures—make a dent to this show.
Yet, that disappointment is ironically positive (I think): wanting more photographs, more experimentation, more ideas is a good thing in itself. I would have genuinely loved to see more photographs like the mascot newspaper fish, pictures that utilise flesh and gore, pictures exploring food and their aesthetic qualities, pictures that breach more and more into food as art.
*Greek myth. has it that the pomegranate tree grew out of the blood falling on the earth from the wounded genitals of the androgynous Agdistis. The Olympians, who were threatened by her androgyny castrated Agdistis. (Male supremacy written all over this.) more info: http://www.paleothea.com/Myths/Attis.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agdistis