Last summer, when I first met Edi Muka at a conference in Sarajevo, he was working hard on the preparation for the third Tirana Biennale. The first two, in 2001 and 2003, had broken with anything the traditional Albanian arts field knew. More and more international artists and curators came to participate and watch. Young Albanian artists found their first serious platform.
The second Biennale's theme was U-Topos. 'Art is no longer the reflection of a utopian reality,' Muka wrote in the preface. 'It is the only place, topos, that still creates a space for inner convictions, truths and doubts. The only real place is the U-Topos, it is you and yourself as the topos.' To us in the West, that might not seem surprising. Here in Tirana, it's a radical step from collective to personal, after years of obligatory socialist realism. For the third Biennale, in the fall of 2005, Muka linked a trend that the international art world has almost discarded to the reality of Tirana. The five shows, each curated by someone else, didn't have an opening but worked towards a festive closing. Drinks came out only when it was time to go. What was on view was the process: in recent years, artists of the kind that dominated the Dokumenta's by Catherine David and Okwui Enwezor preferred to show how it comes into being, the video, the installation or the environment - and that working method fit perfectly into Tirana, a city of unfinished plans. The road from the airport to the city is a mule's path, the viaduct that should lead it into the centre lies spread-eagled in the rubble, the city itself is full of motionless building cranes. Half the work is a good start, as the Albanian saying goes, and most of the time they think that's good enough. A highlight of this Biennale was the Lego-City by Olafur Eliasson from Iceland: on long tables in the sun, in front of the Pyramid, the artist emptied boxes and boxes of little Lego stones. For weeks, children, jobless and elderly people harmoniously built the Tirana of their dreams.