TICA's main project this spring was to host the first three artists in residence, one of several activities through which TICA has been showing its presence over the last year. The results look promising: there has been a lot of media attention, the visitors came in large numbers, critical debate and reflection seems to be growing, and Tina Finnas managed to smoothen relations with the Pyramid, the Art Academy and the National Gallery.
Also, a workshop with students of the Art Academy was organized with Performing Pictures, an artistic project dealing with research and development in the area of film and moving images, working from the Interactive Institute in Stockholm.
Now, Finnas sets me down to see the work the three artists in residence produced during their stay and exhibited earlier this month under the title Why does gravity make things fall?
Nitsan Domidiano from Tel Aviv made Notes, a dvd consisting of six short videos, each of them a bittersweet illustration of the themes she found essential to this society: religion, burocracy, education, history, language and progress.
In Education a little boy, standing on the shore of a lake, names up as many foreign countries as he can remember. It is a strange, slightly sad and revealing sequence: he is proud of this new knowledge, cherishes some names over others - Canada and China, especially, keep popping up -, the range of countries is wide but random, and of course you cannot help but wonder when, if ever, he will have the opportunity to see these names become real countries. When asked if he can name the countries in English, he blushes and gives up.
Language uses a simple but compelling image: while we hear an Albanian-language course for foreigners, repeating the basic phrases of daily life, the image shows us some fish, floating around peacefully in an aquarium, going their own way and obviously never uttering a word.
Progress, to me, is the small masterpiece of this series. The static camera shows us a building halfway through its construction, as many are in this city. The windows have no glass, we look right through the building - enabling us to see people climbing the stairs up three floors to appartments that seem to be in use. The images are fastforwarded, so that we can follow the play of light from morning through midnight. While the human figures are scrambling up the stairs and the sunlight slowly fades, to give way to electric bulbs illuminating the empty windows, we hear first the sound of a horse and carriage clopping across a cobbled street, which is gradually multiplied and fades into a slow jazzy tune. Visually hypnotizing, this video leaves space to wonder about the speed of progress, the lack of it, and the capacity of humans to live in an unfinished world.
Damir Ocko from Croatia produced a video in his tradition of placing strange creatures from another world in urban zones in transition. Tirana proves to be an ideal working space: The End of the World starts with the words: 'once there was a place far beyond the horizon...' We see the illuminated fountains in the central park, then the aliens arrive in front of the Pyramid, where they stand waiting, slowly moving their outsized, weird heads around in amazement and curiosity. Finally, all six of them stand in a brilliantly lit artificial football field, while blindfolded humans drift around their pedestals. Impossible not to see this as a metaphor for this society - or many others, for that matter - where people do not see where they are going, have no sense of direction, fail to communicate, all the time gazed upon by creatures of which they do not realize that they are among them.
Finally, Sidi Kanani from Shkoder, Albania, made four haunted paintings of the Pyramid. The building floats in ghostlike isolation, somehow hovering outside of any recognizable reality. Kanani seems to work in the fine tradition of Edi Hila, the old master of painting the history of buildings by excluding it. It is there to feel, to guess, but visually, it has no left no trace, and there are no humans around to illustrate what happened.
Together, these first three artists accomodated to stay in Tirana for two months gave the city back what it offered to their imagination. Impossible to deny its history, easy to give in to post-totalitarian stereotypes, and hard not to be impressed by the progress that is being made nonetheless. The city provides an overwhelming, almost intimidating set of ideas and images - and it's up to the artist to resist them, reshape them, avoid the automatic and insert the individual.