ŻfinMalta's blog with visual artist Matthew Attard for On Reefs and Eroded Lands We Danced

Tracing Movement: The Digital & The Sculptural with Matthew Attard



Matthew Attard, visual artist for ŻfinMalta’s first premiere of this season, spoke to us about some of his artistic process and collaboration with Paolo Mangiola…Eye tracking technology and drawings created by the human gaze, transforming frames and projections, this production becomes multi-disciplinary with Matthew’s contributions alone.

Who are you?

Right now I am finalising a practice-based PhD at the School of Design of the University of Edinburgh, funded by the Malta Arts Scholarship Scheme. My prevailing topic is the exploration of drawing-with technology, specifically an eye-tracking device. This has been my main activity for the past three years, and some of the projected images for the show are influenced by my latest developments of this.

Designs by Matthew Attard for ŻfinMalta's On Reefs and Eroded Lands We Danced
I like to work from within the surroundings I find myself in. This is usually a strong starting point and point of reference. Some visuals are therefore very evocative of a local fabric in terms of landscape and texture.
How did your collaboration with Paolo Mangiola come about for this production?

Paolo contacted me after seeing some work of mine at an exhibition and he expressed his interest in a potential collaboration. I remember how during our first conversation we spoke of drawing, lines, gazes, traces and movement. This is how our conversation started and I am very glad that it is still ongoing.

How have you found the experience of projecting your art work into a 3D dimensional and moving space?

A great interest of mine has always been about the exploration of 3D space through drawing, and I have worked on this both in terms of the digital and the sculptural. What intrigues me from the ŻfinMalta performance is how the moving frames that were developed cease to be mere structures and at times become ‘actors’ in the choreography. At the same time, they will also play the part of being the canvas for both light design and the projected works. To me, it all gives a strong sense of fluidity and hybridity of the material and disciplines involved in the project, and this interests me a lot.

Sketches and designs of Matthew Attard for Paolo Mangiolas On Reefs and Eroded Lands We Danced
Sketches by Matthew Attard for ŻfinMalta's On Reefs and Eroded Lands We Danced
What are some of the techniques and mediums you have implemented in this process and why?

Some projections include the process related to my eye-tracking drawing works, where I essentially use the captured data of my eye movements and generate it into digital drawings. I am very interested in how the technology has its own agency and level of interpretation in this process of drawing, and I occasionally overlay the resulting drawings onto 3D scans of objects and environments. Other projections stemmed from more ’traditional’ ways of drawing in pencil, while in other instances they are the result of videography. With Paolo we identified how the visual work should progress throughout the choreography, and I developed the work according to these parameters that sit within the concept of the production. I was interested in applying eye-tracking technology for some visuals specifically because of how these drawings evoke the notions of both trace and gaze; that I saw could work very well within the entire framework of the production.

“I was interested in applying eye-tracking technology for some visuals specifically because of how these drawings evoke the notions of both trace and gaze”

What was your collaborative journey with the choreography and interpreting the themes of the work?

Specifically I interpreted the themes of the work through drawing. I would have a brainstorming conversation with Paolo, relay back with drawings, and repeat the process. Paolo provided the narrative, and through a constant conversation I would answer with video sketches that responded to his concept for the choreography, while the music was also being developed in parallel

Designs by Visual artist Matthew Attard for ŻfinMalta's On Reefs and Eroded Lands We Danced

From the beginning there was the idea to use projections as part of the stage design, and this opened up the question of how to figure out a flexible and mobile surface that could be of interest to the choreography. Then came the question of which content to project that fits the concept of the production.

Have you ever created visual art for a dance work before?

No, this is my first time creating visual material for a dance production. My work mostly concerns the versatility of drawing, that can also be regarded as being performative — and from this perspective I have always been curious about a potential collaboration for a dance project. So, I have been very excited about this collaboration.

Visual artist Matthew Attard on his collaboration with ŻfinMalta Artistic Director Paolo Mangiola for On Reefs and Eroded Lands We Danced

My previous collaborations have been with other visual artists and members of the public, and hence, this project differs greatly. I am in constant conversation with Paolo as the artistic director, and the material keeps evolving. This is in turn interpreted by the dancers themselves, and the convergence of thoughts, concepts, visual material, and dance is truly a unique process.

When you first watched the choreography, did the movement influence any of the choices in your own artistic process of this work?

I think that this will keep on influencing the development of the artistic work until the very end. In a way, they have to work together.

Watch James Vernon’s trailer for ‘On Reefs and Eroded Lands We Danced’