Heavy black curtains hide the entrance to the Malta Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, but if they open at the right time, you’ll catch a glimpse of rays of light falling like meteorites across the night sky.
The piece is by Arcangelo Sassolino Smart diplomacyat once a technological marvel (the artist uses induction technology to liquefy 400 pounds of steel every day) and a reference to one of Malta’s most historic Baroque paintings.
“Induction is really magical,” Sassolino told Artnet News. “Due to a magnetic field, the steel of [room temperature] up to 1500 degrees Celsius [2732 degrees Fahrenheit]that is the point at which steel melts.”
A large metal anchor stands in the pavilion, hiding a computer-programmed system that feeds steel coils into the induction machine. The installation is inspired by the altarpiece by Caravaggio, The Beheading of John the Baptist (1608), in St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta, and reflects the artist’s famous mastery of dramatic lighting.
“When steel is melted, the energy is converted into light,” Sassolino said. “There is darkness and then a moment of light, and then the return of darkness.”
The steel collects in seven pools of water, where the light goes out when the steel hisses and sinks to the bottom of the basin, also made of steel. Workers in the pavilion collect the steel every day and send it back to the factory that produced the original coil, in partnership with Carbonsink, a “climate solutions provider,” according to the website, to offset the CO2 production.
The water basins are arranged to reflect the placement of the figures in Caravaggio’s painting, providing a 21st-century view of the artist’s depiction of the brutal scene.
The Flaming Steel is set against a backdrop of a large steel plate, titled Metal and silence, on which is etched an inscription by Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci with text from Ezekiel 37 and Psalm 139 in a combination of Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin and Greek. The pavilion’s third artist is Brian Schembri, who composed a soundtrack for the installation, and the curators are Keith Sciberras and Jeffrey Uslip.
The piece measuring more than 12.5 by 16 feet exactly matches the dimensions of the original Caravaggio altarpiece, which he painted during a short period in Malta, after being expelled from Rome in 1606.
Caravaggio was briefly inducted as a member of the Knights of Malta before being expelled from the order, probably as a result of a physical altercation with another knight. Two years later he was dead.
“Going to Malta was meant to save Caravaggio’s life,” Sassolino said.
View more photos of the pavilion below.
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