AMEN NEMMEN, multiple video, audio and slide projection, photography and light, site specific installation, the Johanniterkirche, Feldkirch, Austria, 2002. Curator: Eva Jakob


amen nemmen

This work sits ambiguously between art and journalistic media practice. It consists of a collection of twenty-four* very intimate stories that share a common belief and aspire to a singular desire - that of becoming one with God. Through a series of interviews recorded in the language of television, the installation brings to light a group of people who want to share with the viewer their personal encounter with God; experiences that led to their fostering of a deep and intense spiritual oneness with their maker. Aspiring to restore the Johanniterkirche to its original function of a place of prayer and worship through an intervention on the space conducive to prayer and meditation, the work presents these individuals' constant search for an intimate truth and places the viewer in the middle of this experience - on the one hand experiencing the overpowering spiritual ambiance of the installation, and on the other, interpreting the printed transcripts of the individual stories as told by the testimonies. The viewer therefore becomes the arbiter of faith, opting to either blindly accept the reality of the stories and succumb to the intensity of the ambiance or alternately question the verity of such realities.

AMEN NEMMEN is a work that addresses the fine line between faith and doubt. It invites the viewer to either become one with the testimonies who have gone through a second baptismal cleansing so to speak, (as inspired by the same church's patron, St John the Baptist) and initiate a process of self-involvement and interaction with the piece or alternately detach from any form of emotional engagement through disbelief and walk away. The level of viewer engagement with the work therefore is put to test and becomes subservient to one's devotional belief.

* The word 'Amen' appears twenty-four times in the Old Testament. 'Nemmen' is the Maltese word for 'I believe'.


The habit of confessing one’s faults to someone else has been around for centuries and it shows no signs of declining in importance. At least this is the idea that ‘Amen Nemmen’ by Vince Briffa seems to be expressing. Briffa’s installation also reminds us, however, that the location of the confession has changed: today, the priest’s confessional has been replaced to a great extent by the television screen. The interlocutor has changed as well, the priest’s friendly ear being replaced by an anonymous, nationwide audience. The logic behind this transformation is based on the idea that if you are prepared to confess your mistakes to someone, you might as well confess them to everyone. What is gained by having an infinitely wider audience is free publicity, which is disallowed in the Christian sacrament of penance (the priest being bound by a vow of secrecy). The fear of collective prejudice and marginalisation of the self - kept at bay by the institutionalisation of confessional secrecy - is now overtaken by an urge to go public, to turn one’s transgression, conversion and confession, into a public relations exercise. By protecting the confessant’s identity, the sacrament of penance reveals itself to be similar in its discreetness to the democratic principle of the secret vote, while the media-oriented, public confessions present in Briffa’s installation come closer to the modern, democratic idea of transparency. For the benefit of reality TV, individuals regularly expose their unimportant lives to thousands of unknown television viewers, transforming their small narratives into models of behaviour and religious proselytising.

What links all the characters in Vince Briffa’s installation is that they are “small” people who believe that something “big” has happened to them, something that they feel deserves to be aired to the general public. Like Saint Augustine, their confession is also their conversion; indeed, a sincere religious confession either presupposes a religious conversion or requires a simultaneous quest for one (the confessant’s disclosure of his or her past mistakes can also constitute a personal way of finding God). In ‘Amen Nemmen’, these ‘minor’ characters, presented as icons would against a plain, neutral background, reveal their past misdemeanours or problems (drug abuse, sexual misconduct, sickness, depression) and their eventual encounter with God. The genre they use is autobiographical (again, Augustine comes to mind) and they discover (or are encouraged to discover) this Presence through prayer. This meeting with God takes place “inside”: their conversion is not only an experience of sudden cleansing or enlightenment but also a form of self-examination. Confessing to a camera is therefore the modern equivalent of Socratic introspection. Knowing the self through God (or knowing God through the self) is not only important as a personal experience but also as an event that is communicable. In Briffa’s installation, what is communicable is a collective confession of faith; all those faces ask us at once to subscribe to their version/conversion and their religious beliefs. The incredible nature of some of their stories turns their experiences to TV scripts but we are expected to accept their stories as “true” fiction, scripts that are “based on a true story”.

Michel Foucault once called Western man a “confessional animal”. For Foucault, confession has been useful as a tool for the production of truth since the Middle Ages. Confession is, so to speak, the ‘coming to the surface’ of truth. For all the individuals in Briffa’s slides, photographs and moving images, their confessions guarantee the authenticity of their experiences, their changed life or their enriched or newly-found faith. The veracity of their inner transformation is proven by their willingness to go public. I believe (nemmen), and you must believe too.
— Raphael Vella