A collaborative project by Celia Borg Cardona and Francesca Balzan
The process which led to ‘Flight’ started with a newspaper advert. In January 2006 Malta International Airport announced the holding of a competition for a sculptural installation for the new Schengen Arrivals Area which was approaching completion. By the time the February deadline for submission of the competition entry arrrived we had been through a million options: some totally crazy and impossible ideas, some more practical but perhaps more dull, and some difficult but not unreachable. We focused on the concept of Freedom of Movement, a celebration of what the Schengen treaty is all about. Long days were spent sketching, discussing and researching the concept. The idea of an artistic collaboration such as ours was relatively unusual on the Maltese art scene but we decided that two sets of hands better than one, two brains clicking and whirring simultaneously better than one as well.
This also meant a greater proliferation of ideas, some individual and some jointly conceived, but ultimately we had to whittle the ideas down to a minimum. We felt that ‘Flight’, an idea originally conceived as a shoal of coloured fish spiraling upwards but then jointly distilled to a literal flight of 29 stylised figures flying in a hurly burly, carefree manner towards a goal, had potential.
The concept won the competition and that meant rolling up our sleeves, canceling all non-essential appointments from March to the end of June and dedicating ourselves seven days a week to the sweaty, hard job that turns a heavy great lump of green clay into a light, white sculpture in 29 parts.
Using the maquette we had prepared for the competition, we started out by making armatures or supports for the individual figures. Each figure was then modeled in clay and cast in fibreglass. Painting everything white and varnishing the fibreglass figures which weighed in at about 3 kg each – a far cry from the original clays which were extremely heavy – followed. Lastly each figure was mounted on to a stainless steel pole which had been pre-measured and cut according to how far it was required to project from the backing wall The end of the pole was inserted right through the backing wall and secured from the back. We chose stainless steel because it is clearly one of the materials which is so reflective of design nowadays. We wanted to give the sculpture a subtle ‘nowness’ such that anyone seeing it in say 20 years time would immediately connect the stainless steel element with the period we are living in.
The reason we eventually chose to depict figures is that, although other creatures such as birds and fish epitomise freedom of movement, it is only humans who have the consciousness of such freedom. In designing the way the figures would be composed, we had to bear in mind that sculpture such as this would be viewed in a non-gallery context and therefore needed to have impact and immediacy. It must be attention grabbing but need not require deep analysis, connoisseurship, or multiple viewpoints to be ‘understood’.
The fact that figures seem to fly, unsupported from the ground, is calculated to attract the attention of passers-by. The figures move in an upsurge and this symbolises travel and the freedom to discover new horizons without being conditioned by borders, reiterating the basic Schengen principle. We wanted the flying motion, characterised by uplifted arms, to be joyous. and to make the entire sculpture pulsate with positive feeling.
The figures are stylised in order to make them look anonymous and more representative of humanity as a whole, rather than representative of individual races and types. The stylisation also renders these figures more universal and is calculated to grasp the attention even of children. Humour, as well as joy, is intrinsic to this sculpture. The group of flying figures reminds viewers that this is exactly what they have been doing a few minutes ago and now mimics the viewer’s flight, usually quite hurried, towards the baggage collection point.
The element of light was also crucial to this work – it would ‘colour’ the work. The uniform white hue of the figures – a bit of an ironic reference to the plaster casts of classical sculpture – would acquire a whole range of greys under the correct lighting. A long time was spent discussing the type of lighting which should be used in order to direct the focus onto the central figure while getting the shadows of the poles to radiate outwards, creating interesting lines of force. We bent Etienne’s (Hydrolectric) ear regularly about this issue and he managed to source just the light to create exactly the effect we wanted. Mario and Clive did a wonderful job with the fibreglass casting and are true professionals in both technique and attitude. At the airport Manuel Briffa and his team started out being extremely helpful and ended up becoming good friends. It just goes to prove that a team of knowledgeable and willing persons is crucial in putting up a large work such as this.
Our husbands and families did their bit too. Apart from their constant support, we frequently picked their brains and enlisted their brawn to get the job done on time and well. Thanks go particularly to Ben for his expertise in photography and his help in carrying the clay figures just when we thought our spines had had too much.