Time has been, together with love, probably the most worked-on theme in the history of art. Yet these two objects of human devotion somehow never cease to intrigue us. Never get tiring. Perhaps this may be due to the fact that both these themes speak loudly to our will to live yet allow the taboo of death to play in the background. Perhaps also, sometimes, reclaim this taboo and openly explore it, yet the artistic nature allows us to filter our own emotions and evaluate death from a neutral position as if it had to do with “someone else”. Vince Briffa explores time. He explores its effect on humans. He explores death while never making it obvious. Therein relies on the beauty of his works. He presents the human as a puppet, a victim of destiny, yet it is the human who always is the center of attention. Perhaps those are the ones in which we may see ourselves reflected, yet whose realities do not openly confront us.
I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of the monument. The monument is the result of a human’s paranoid effort to transcend itself. Sweat, tears and blood put into presenting ourselves better than we really are. Yet a time is merciless, drawing wrinkles in the skin and cracks on the wood. Eroding bones and stone without distinction… but Vince’s approach is nothing like this. In its humble acceptance of reality. Wanting the perennial but accepting its impossibility (except perhaps, through spiritual transcendence from the body), the human in Briffa’s work transcends itself, perhaps not presenting himself as better than he really is, but rather, more real than he’d better be.
In “I am my Photograph”, Briffa took the daily photos over about two years and transformed them digitally into a loop. The artist presents himself at the center, yet in a humble manner. As he is. Understanding his self-identity as something perceivably changing yet also the same every time. While the looping refers us to our quest for immortality, the changes experienced in every frame put us at peace with the realization that this loop will (probably) never take place for us.
The body is there, and Briffa understands it both as an expressive tool and an end on itself. It is telling that Briffa reflects on bodybuilders or athletes in his reflections, even putting these last groups as the center of his piece in “Photo Finish”, in which ex-athletes recall better pasts and victories, all highlighting the passing of time as they undeniably get older. Yet, it is in Body of Glass where this question on the subjective or objective nature of the body is highlighted. Inspired by the “Beheading of St. John and St. Jerome” by Caravaggio, Briffa’s work adopts the chiaroscuro as an aesthetic approach. Taking place inside a church, this work emphasizes the performative aspect of the body, extending it through sounds and projections, making it one with the church’s surface and body.
This religious aura is also present in other works of Briffa, such as “Amen Nemmen”, with a more documentary aspect. “Amen Nemmen” consists of twenty-four intimate stories in the form of interviews of various participants who share a personal encounter with God, expressing their search for ultimate truth, and offering the spectator this question in an ambiance of mysticism and spirituality.
Yet the religious is, commonly, tied to the idea of destiny. Even those who openly defy the idea of God commonly think it twice when questioning whether there is something “already written” that we can’t do anything about. “Playing God” is another work of Briffa in which destiny takes the central role. Destiny, however, does not take place in grandiose terms but is experienced in the “every day”. Thus, the spectator faces Amy, the central figure of the story, who wakes up one morning to find out her cat is missing. Amy invites the user to aid her by choosing the routes Amy shall follow, only to find herself in a dead-end and restarting the process once again. On top of that, when the user feels he is “playing God” and has everything under his control, it is the work itself that takes over this role and assigns random changes, deciding where the story shall go.
Immortality is always there in Briffa’s works, sounding in the background, but Briffa’s both accepts its possibility and impossibility, accepting in any case to be just a human, just like Odysseus’ refused to accept Calypso’s offer of immortality since that would mean to stop being human, a story also explored by Briffa in his “Outland”.
Video practice has a strange familiarity, incorporating time to parallel realities that the artist presents us. It would be a mistake to categorize Briffa as a video artist, however, having also extensive work in painting and sculpting, exploring both time and human nature as tools to which understand our place in this world in pieces like “It-Tragedja tas-Separazzjoni”, which reflects on the tragedies that affect our loved ones, or in “Residue”, in which the artist retrieves discarded traces found in his studio to reclaim them as works in their own right. To reclaim them, just as the human body, as both a tool and an end in themselves.