Epokaliss: the Presence of Absence
When a life ends, another begins – the phantasmal life of absence. Epokaliss, a neologism for ‘the end of an epoch’, begins with loss, and ends with transformation.
Scholars of philosophy and language find a wealth of knowledge on the relationship between being and not being , presence and absence, and the influence of one upon the other in poststructuralist theory. For most, the liminality that exists between these two states is brought to the surface by reference to history, film and theatre students look to Plato’s theory of the cave, students of literature quote Hamlet. Those who have little experience (or recollection) of Jacques Derrida, Plato, or Shakespeare, can refer to another teacher – loss, and while readers of philosophy account for a very small percentage of (any) population, a great majority has experienced loss in one shape or other.
Epokaliss was not created with the intention to explore philosophical matters or sociological paradigms, but to medicate. After graduating, Ramon spent his summer travelling and then returned to Malta in September, a week later, Jacqueline Azzopardi was diagnosed with cancer.
This time also marked the conclusion of the artist’s 5 year romantic relationship, and the termination of his first post-university employment. The absence of what should have been, but wasn’t, made a crypt out of his home in Ħad Dingli,, and in his bid to cease his isolation, he moved to his grandfather’s converted workshop in Birkirkara.
Facing months of work renovating a converted workshop into a proper townhouse, lawyers, notaries, and other responsibilities, Ramon decided to try art therapy. The result was WTF – which would lead to the subsequent creation of 12 portraits.
Many navigate loss by defining death through the eyes of catholicism. To those who draw no such comfort, the stakes are higher. Rejecting religion’s definition gives rise to the terror of ambiguity, and the burden of absence.
What happens to the stories that end? And what happens to the stories tied to them? Where do they go – the futures that should have been, but never were?
Loss – with its meaning as defined by an atheist – becomes a spectral crown. The artistic journey of Epokaliss begins with chaos – with WTF – and the individual’s desire to escape. Whether through the safe haven of religion, or the numbness provided by distractions, we all cling to something – to presence – to a substitute.
The portraits Stalletti and Distakk take a journey through the dual nature of distractions – they numb you to discomfort, but remain ephemeral. Moħħ ir-riħ adds time to the previous two portraits. It is their consequence – the more you consume distractions, the more they consume you.
I believe that to accept the terror of ambiguity, and the burden of absence, is accept death. One advantage of accepting the ending to a story, however, is that you can then begin to write it. Now, the spectral crown is heavier than ever, (refer to Bilanċ), but its weight is transformed, and given a new presence.
Ramon made Epokaliss with a promise, to use the ghost of what isn’t to celebrate the beauty of what is. The designs of the portraits take inspiration from Maltese balconies and doors, and four of the portraits – the Knights of Epokaliss – are dedicated to people who inspired him to create Epokaliss.
I want to first start by thanking Dr Andrew Azzopardi, Dean of the Faculty of Wellbeing at University, for his article about my mother. He painted a whimsical but truthful picture of who she was. My mother was known by many as an advocate for LGBT+ rights, minorities, and by youths, as a charming lecturer with hilarious antics.
Like any other healthy mother-son relationship, we didn’t always see eye to eye. Despite her readiness to take on new challenges, her drive to protect me clashed with my desire to travel and explore. I watched her overcome many challenges – her first battle with cancer, separation, and the loss of her mother. But, she was never more scared than when I came out to her. She struggled with change – perhaps due to the challenges she faced in her life – but she always turned it around. With time, my mother looked at what scared her – my difference – and made it her mission to nourish and safeguard it both in her academic and political career.
She might have had her flaws, but she always pushed through with sheer determination. She often told me “Jien, li nagħmel, għalik nagħmlu”. Now, I want to do same to her through Epokaliss. She dedicated her political career to make Malta a better place for people to thrive in, and I want to do the same through art.
by Ramon Azzopardi Fiott