Mehmet Behlulli and his friends opened up Rizoma Space for Contemporary Communication, on the ground floor of an ngo-building in a side street above Clinton Boulevard. After three years of Exit in Peja, he and Shkelzen Maliqi are about to finalize their book with the results, to be titled Leftover. Rizoma features exhibitions by young local artists, debates and music - bands who would otherwise play in bars now perform here. 'Taking objects out their usual environments and presenting them in an arts space,' that's what Mehmet likes to do, 'like Duchamp did.'
Showing now is Gjumi (Sleep), a show of recent paintings by Rron Qena (27), shown in the fifty square meters of dark grey walls and concrete floors, illuminated by artificial light. 'Rron is one of the young artists who don't accept the bizarre standards of this society,' explains Mehmet. 'He dropped out of the art academy, got into drugs trouble, and has now chosen to paint as a way to escape.' His work is often large, the canvas overcrowded like this claustrophobic city, full of the colors that are absent in the drab Prishtina streets, layer upon layer of paint, with vaguely human figures pushing up from the confinement of tightly interwoven geometrical structures. Wheels, trees, windows, bricks and heavens, in square and circular compositions, suppress the masks, female figures or sleeping young men dreaming of space.
'Once, hallucinating from hypogene, I saw myself from above, sleeping out in the open, wearing red sneakers the way people did during the war, when they had to be prepared to run at all times.' Rron Qena has entered. Intense green eyes, short blond hair, a night animal caught in daylight. Here is someone who lives for painting, an existential need to create color and space for his feverish dreams. Most of his work carries titles concerning sleeping and dreaming. Scribbled on the wall, short poems:
To escape, some need pills.
Others need lies.
Still others the truth.
There are also those who just need a bicycle.
'In the subconscious I search for the truth. Color helps me in dark times. My father, a factory worker, always told me: look for beauty where you don?t think it will exist.'
Upstairs, Rizoma has its office. On the door, a sticker with a socialist worker's arm says: 'Art is not a mirror, it is a hammer.' Inside, computers, monitors, dvds, ashtrays. Rizoma's publicity material looks good. A simple white flyer says: To be a k�nstler, you have to arbeiten. Bittersweet comment on the present situation of artists scrambling for recognition, stimulated but also restrained by foreign support.
Mehmet, faithful host of other people's work, shows me two recent videos. Sokol Beqiri, now obsessively searching for the right design and furniture for his new bar in Peja, has definitely said goodbye to the arts with his last video: Everything you always wanted to know about art but were afraid to ask. 'Any art outside of my personal experience seems vain to me,' he writes at the beginning. Then we see him sitting down in his studio, a comfortable mess of equipment, cigarettes and carpets. He squats. He lights a match under his jeans, blows it out. Another one. Then, the result he was looking for. We hear a loud fart, the match flares up, and it's over. There goes art for you.
Last year, while Mehmet lead me through the dilapidating art academy, I saw one painting which struck me. Young Bekim Gllogu had pictured himself in a photographically accurate group portrait of Coldplay. Now, he has produced a short video, Sugar was leaking! A small plastic bag, sugar streaming from it. We hear the artist, his figure partly on view in his studio, tell a war memory. His father went out to buy some food, was stopped for a routine check by a policeman - but on returning, he was again summoned to step over for control, which was not regular. With fear in his heart, he went over to the policeman, who simply said: your bag of sugar is leaking! Typical, Mehmet says, of a younger generation now coming out with childhood stories from wartime more funny and lighthearted than the ones who came before.