Transformer Informal #2 – 18 January 2018 – Mohamed Fariji, Laila Hida, Fenêtreproject – Listen Back

Transformer Informal 2

Transformer Informal 2

Listen back in full:

Two days before the launch of Valletta 2018, Malta’s European Capital of Culture programme we sat down for the second Transformer Informal Panel discussions. Preparations for a city-wide “people’s festa,” inaugurating Valletta 2018 were inescapable once within the city walls. Leaving the festivities aside, this panel sought to address the more practical aspects of the Artist Run Organisation — focusing this through some of the key issues raised by the audience in the previous panel.

[with thanks to Laila Hida for translating for Mohamed Fariji]

Expressing a general sense that there was, both a unique set of challenges in Malta, and that because of this, the conversation about Artist Run Organisations was a pretty lonely one — to some extent, we were that conversation — these questions included:

  • Space. The difficulty of accessing and supporting space without adequate funding, and with space squeezed by new models of short term, single occupancy letting;
  • Education. The lack of a traditional studio-based art school leaving comparatively sparse opportunity for forming the critical mass of communities of practice and discourse that grow organically within them;
  • Local–International networks. How can you make sustainable, locally-relevant infrastructures that can support international visibility, and not let local conditions becoming a limiting factor in replicating models from elsewhere (this especially when Valletta 2018 is on the one hand drawing in so many international experts, and relying so heavily on cultural heritage on the other…);
  • Pragmatism. Does the urban fabric of Malta delimit what is possible, or, like in Athens for example, does this simply changes the terms by which to work — it might just not look the same;
  • Policy. And lastly, is it possible to impact policy, when the official line seemed so far from the needs and aspirations of Artists Run Organisations?

Alongside those remaining questions, it was also important to move from the implications of building international networks through contemporary art practices as discussed in the first panel, to a more persistent look at what the Artist Run Organisation is, does and if it still exists a point of difference within the cultural ecosystem.

Of course, as we discussed the day after the panel, it is not always easy to see where the artist begins and the organisation ends — not least in a project like this one. However, we began a session in which all of its participants were able to speak to both of these roles…

The panelists were:

  • Alexandra Pace, Director, Blitz, Valletta, Malta.
  • Mohamed Fariji, Transformer residency artist and founding co-director, L’Atelier de l’Observatoire, Casablanca, Morocco.
  • Laila Hida, Transformer residency artist and founding co-director, Le 18, Marrakech, Morocco.
  • Fenêtreproject (Dustin Cauchi and Francesca Mangion), Transformer residency artists, Valletta, Malta. Mangion is also founding co-director, La Plage, Paris, France.
  • Tom Clark — Moderator — Transformer online editor and AHRC Funded researcher, Birmingham, United Kingdom.

Selected clips

Clip 2: Introduction by Tom Clark

Moderator and online platform creator Tom Clark explains the ethos of the Transformer project, with intent to develop networks between AROs from around the Mediterranean to Malta. The speakers on the panel, including Tom himself have founded AROs, in this clip Tom initiates a discussion questioning funding, access to space and the importance of the ARO in the contemporary art world.


Clip 3: Dustin Cauchi & Francesca Mangion

In this clip, moderator Tom Clark introduces artist duo Dustin Cauchi and Francesca Mangion (Fenetreproject), selected by Blitz, Valletta. The duo’s collaborative practice functions separately to Cauchi’s work as a filmmaker and Mangion’s work both writing and running the ARO La Plage, Paris. The collaborative work situates itself outside of the gallery structure taking influence from less conventional studio structures.

Clip 4: Laila Hida

Laila Hida describes her work with Le 18, Marrakesh differently to the practice of Dustin Cauchi and Francesca Mangion. Using her ARO as a platform for research, discussion and screenings Hida’s space functions as a cultural centre, with strong focus on the connectivity of the Marrakesh art scene, in this clip Hida discusses the founding of Le 18 and the importance of the space within her neighbourhood.


Clip 5: Mohamed Fariji

Tom Clark introduces the artist selected by L’Atelier de l’Observatoire, Mohamed Fariji. Translated by Laila Hide, Fariji discusses the frameworks of education, social projects and training schemes held by L’Atelier de l’Observatorie. This includes a portable Greenhouse as well as a curatorial education programme, questioning the social implications of running the ARO in Casablanca.

Clips 6, 7 and 8: (Mohamed Continues, Question 1 to Mohamed and Question 2 to Mohamed)

Often formalized into publications, workshops and exhibitions, L’Atelier de l’Observatoire brings together collective thinking between artist researchers and the public. Mohamed explains the importance of platforms for emerging artists provided by L’Atelier, and the social effects of the Greenhouse project. Tom Clark questions Mohamed on the function of the educational structure of the ARO.

Clip 6


Clip 7

Clip 8

Clip 9: Laila Hida on Location

Laila Hida talks about how important the location of Le 18 is within Marrakesh. Within a very traditional neighbourhood, Le 18 attempts to build a network with the surrounding community, engaging in research and discussion with those living in the area around her. With drastic changes in the city through regeneration triggered by tourism, an influx of liberal political thought has become apparent.

Clip 10: Francesca Mangion on La Plage

Francesca Mangion, one half of Fenêtreproject, selected by Blitz, Valletta is also the founder of La Plage, an ARO in Paris. A small exhibition space based in a 5×1 meter window space in a residential building, laws restrict the audience viewing the space, with restrictions on show openings and busy traffic in the area. Mangion discusses the politics of running the small space in terms of cost, location and audience within the Paris art scene.


Clip 11: Alexandra Pace on Audience

Moderator Tom Clark questions the importance of audience with Founder of Blitz, Alexandra Pace. Pace examines if audience numbers are important, and how the contents and contexts of various exhibitions effect they turnout for visitors to different shows.

Clip 12: Fariji on Audience

(Translated by Laila Hida, Fariji talks about the audience of shows in L’Atelier de l’Observatorie. Similar to the window gallery La Plage, Fariji’s most recent project was a small music museum, the audience to this was very hard to quantify. He explains the diversity of each audience depending on varying spaces and exhibitions.)

Clip 13: Value of AROs

(Moderator Tom Clark asks the panel about the value of Artist Run Organisations. Relating to the broad audiences of each of the AROs represented in the Transformer project, the panel reflects on the effect on the art audience, and how this extends to the various communities surrounding their spaces. The panel reflects on the ecosystems of art across the countries represented in the project, examining how effective AROs at representing communities and emerging artists.)

Clip 14: The Effect of Art Schools and Internationalisation

(With the movement of artists across the world, Tom Clark questions the effect of Internationalisation, asking the panel of the effects of leading art schools on the global art scene. What would change with the introduction of a larger art school in Valletta? Clark discusses the relationships between individual practice and collectivism and widens this to the art scenes of the various countries represented by the members of the panel.)

Questions with Audience

(Opening the panel to questions and answers with the audience, the group discuss the politics of space, affordability and the housing crisis. With the increase in art spaces opening in artists homes, what is the future for Artist Run Organisations? The panel discus if social value of AROs within communities enables them to thrive, or if the drastic increase in property prices is killing off the potential for new artist run spaces.)