For a performance on the 2nd of May, Victor Agius devised his own shamanic ritual to sculpt one of his ceramic structures. Using clay, soil, bee wax, roots, ashes and cement, he danced around a sculpture that was slowly taking a life of its own, propelled by a ‘soundtrack’ played live by composer Mariella Cassar Cordina on violin and musician Emese Toth on viola. Why does the artist insist that his ceramics is a ritual any given day? Why and how does he engage with the construction sites mushrooming on Malta and Gozo? And… is the clay that landed on his face a part of his personal beauty ritual?

Photo credit: Therese Debono

Agius calls himself a multidisciplinary artist, experimenting with ceramics, painting and installation, among other genres. With the two musicians by his side, all three part of an interdisciplinary Gozo-based group, the sculptor arranged a collection of materials, which, he says, are foraged from his native Gozo. The earth is central to pur lives, he told Eve. “To eat from it, to live on it, also to consume it, nowadays, for our commercial gains.” Tree branches, clay, soil, an impressively large candle dripping wax, and a plate of ashes started coming together, in various combinations. Drawn by an impulse, the artist also applied some of the clay on his face. The audience could all but wonder if other ceramic sculptures, exhibited at Iniala5 in a collection titled Terrae, were also born from a similar ritual dance.

“From the times of the Temples, earth was used for ritualistic purposes,” Agius later explained. “This is Gozitan blur clay, and I find it when they’re excavating to build modern flats and garages. So the commercial aspect of our island is doing the dirty work for me.”

Terrae pieces. Photo credit: Therese Debono

Working from his studio in Xaghra, Agius says the Ggantija Temples and the Xaghra Stone circle are a source of inspiration. Agius likes to perform with other artists in heritage locations – Ggantija, catacombs of Rabat and the like. Themes around the rituals of life, death and regeneration inherent to these sites are also central to the artist’s work. There is a lot of science in his art, he admitted, and most of the knowledge of the elements reveals itself to the artist through trial and error. Agius continuously explores the peculiarities of local clay, testing their limits and possible applications.  Local soil, clay, roots and sand find their way into the artists large-scale paintings and collages as well.

Photo credit: Therese Debono

“I like to leave it primordial,” he proudly said, standing covered in clay as his audience went looking at his works, smooth and rough at the same time. “I use tools very little. I like to work with my hands,” he explained. “I think the clay is soothing.”