Kthim tek Thelbi [Return to the Essence]

Kthim tek Thelbi [Return to the Essence], 2016, performance/video, Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Nation, Tirana, Albania, video documentation here

Performer/concept: Raino Isto

Cinematographer/filming: Pleurad Xhafa

Description: From a distant future, a visitor—in all likelihood, some representative of an alien culture, though perhaps one with its origins on our Earth—arrives in the Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Nation in Tirana, Albania. Dressed all in grey, the visitor approaches the massive Mother Albania monument, the work of sculptors Kristaq Rama, Shaban Hadëri, and Muntas Dhrami, first inaugurated on 5 May 1972. He perspires; his skin—shining silver in the sun—seems frail, as if the atmosphere of the Earth is unsuitable for his organism. He holds a book in his hands. He approaches the monument, opens the book, looking down at the image of the monument printed in its opening pages: he has found what he was looking for, across space and star systems. With reverence he approaches the monument and places the book at its base, then turns and—facing outwards over Tirana—performs the partisan salute. Awkwardly, as if it is something he has only seen in photos or films. After the salute, he points meaningfully in each direction, extending his arm directly, indicating the horizons of ideology, the all-encompassing spread of socialist ideas and ideals. Finally, he takes several steps forward and lies down on the stone of the plaza before Mother Albania, and points up at the sky. The sky: the last frontier of communism.

Përshkrim: Nga e ardhmja e larget vjen ne Varrezat e Deshmoreve te Tiranes nje visitor—me shume gjase nga nje qyteterim jashtetokesor, por mbase nje qe ka rrenjet e saj te lashta ne Token tone. I veshur gjithe ne gri, vizitori afrohet monumentit te Nenes Shqiperi, vepra e skulptoreve Kristaq Rama, shaban Haderi, dhe Muntas Dhrami, inauguruar ne 5 Maj 1972. Vizitori djersitet, dhe lekura e tij—duke shkelqyer ne driten e diellit—duket e brishte, sikur atmosfera e Tokes nuk eshte e pershatshme per organizmin e tij. Ne duart aim ban nje liber. I vjen drejt monumentit, e hap librin, dhe shikon imazhin e Nenes Shqiperi aty ne faqet e para ate tij: ai e ka gjetur ate qe kerkonte, neper hapsiren dhe sistemet yjore. Me nderim, ai afron dhe e le librin ne toke para bazamentit, dhe pastaj kthehet dhe—duke shikuar mbi pamjen e Tiranes—ben pershendetjen partizane, me grusht te koka. Ngathet, sikur te ishte dicka qe e ka pare vetem neper emisione apo fotografi. Pas pershendetjes, ai zgjas doren drejt ne cdo drejtim, ne menyren kuptimplote, duke theksuar horizontet e ideologjise, shtrirjen e gjithanshme te ideve dhe idealeve te socializmit. Ne fund fare, ai ben disa hapa perpara, shtrihet ne shesh para Nenes Shqiperi, dhe ia zgjas doren qiellit. Qielli: kufiri e fundit e komunizmit.

Press: Fatmira Nikolli, “Një Jashtëtokësor te ‘Nëna Shqipëri’ dhe Qielli si Kufi i Komunizmit,” Gazeta Shqiptare, 12 August 2016.

Notes: The idea for this performance came out of my own previous research on the Mother Albania monument, as well as several recent conversations I have had with artists who have created works that incorporate the monument (mainly Olson Lamaj and Filip Jovanovski, as well as conversations with Muntas Dhrami, one of the monument’s authors). At the same time, I have recently been thinking a great deal about the relationship between monumentality and narratives of science fiction, themes that form the core of some of Croatian artist David Maljković’s works. Maljković has done a series of videos/installations/collages called Scenes for a New Heritage, focusing on Vojin Bakić’s monument at Petrova Gora, in Croatia (inaugurated in 1981, devoted to an uprising against the Ustaše forces during World War II). Malković’s works have the feeling of science fiction, and he uses shiny foil (like aluminum foil) as a material that seems to us to be ‘futuristic’. For some time, I had been thinking about doing a similar kind of project, that would be at once an homage to Maljković’s work and a way to re-imagine Mother Albania as if she were part of this long, fictional narrative—as if in some faraway future, some other civilization was searching for this monument as the root of something in their culture. So I wanted to express this kind of imagined alternative future of the monument, to treat it as something that really would transcend both its own time and its own space, and become an image that visitors from across the stars would recognize. Of course, such visitors would come with a very partial understanding of what the monument meant, and this is a feeling that I also feel as a historian of socialist art: no matter how much I learn about it, I always have the feeling of being an outsider, since I did not live under socialism. Thus, I always feel my own interpretations are something like looking for this origin that of course isn’t really there, but trying to respect the fact that when people constructed monuments, or built societies, they sometimes believed they were the beginning, the origin, of a New Life that would be eternal. When I began to conceptualize the work as a performance, I wanted to dress all in grey, in a very somber way—maybe like an Albanian pensioner, with the hat that pensioners wear. In a way, the hat perhaps also recalls Joseph Beuys’ hat, so that there’s a link there as well to the history of performance art (and Beuys was so often working with grey materials, like felt). Finally, Pleurad Xhafa played an important part in the whole thing: he had agreed to film the performance, and he chose the camera angles for the filming—which also in turn shaped how I acted during the performance itself.

Shënime: Ideja e performances me lindi nga kerkimet qe kisha bere me pare per monumentin Nena Shqiperi, si dhe nga disa diskutimet qe kam bere kohet e fundit me artiste qe kane bere projektet te lidhura me monumentin (ketu po flas per Olson Lamaj-n dhe Filip Jovanovski-n, por edhe per bisedimet e mia me Muntas Dhramin, nje nga bashkautoret e monumentit). Gjithashtu, jam marre shume kohet e fundit me marredhenien mes monumentalitetin (sidomos monumentalitetin socialist) dhe narrativat fantastiko-shkencore, te cilat jan temat qe trajtohen shume tek veprat e artistit kroat David Maljković. Maljković i ka bere disa video/instalacione/kolazhe me titullin Scenes for a New Heritage, te cilat jane fokusuar tek monumenti qe ka bere sculptor Vojin Bakić ne Petrova Gora ne Kroaci (inauguruar ne 1981, kushtuar nje kryengritje kunder forcave te Ustašes gjate luftes se dyte boterore). Veprat e Maljković-it kane te njejtin strukture/forme si tregime fantastiko-shkencore, dhe ai perdor materialet se leter alumina, qe i duket shikuesit sikur eshte ‘futuristike’. Per disa muaj po mendoja per nje veper qe do te ishte njefare homazhi ndaj Maljković-it, si dhe nje menyre per te ri-imagjinuar Nene Shqiperine si pjese e nje narrative fictive te gjate, shekullore—sikur ne nje te ardhmen e larget, nje shoqeri a qyteterim do ta kerkonte kete monument si nje rrenje te kultures se tyre. Pra, desha ta shprehja kete te ardhmen te imagjinuar alternative te monumentit, ta trajtoj monumentin si dicka qe do te tejkalonte hapesiren dhe kohen e vete, te transformohet monumenti ne discka qe vizitoret fictive jashtetokesore do ta njihnin ose ta kujtonin. Patjeter, vizitoret te tille nuk do te kuptonin plotesisht monumentin, dhe kjo eshte dicka qe ndihem dhe une si studiues I artit te socializmit: pavaresisht se sa shume e mesoj per artin socialist, gjithmone ndihem se eshte i huaj per mua, sepse nuk kam jetuar ne socializem. Pra, ndihem gjithemone se interpretimet e mia historike mbi artin e socializmit jane si perpjekje per ta gjetur nje thelb qe patjeter nuk egziston me te vertete, por gjithmone duke respektuar faktin qe njerezit qe kane ndertuar keto monumentet dhe shoqerite (socialiste) shpeshhere me ter vertete mendonin se ishin thelbi ose origjina e nje ‘Jete te Re’, e cila do te ishte e perjetshme. Pastaj kur fillova ta konceptoja vepren sin je performance, desha te vishesha gjithe gri, i ngrysur—mbase sic vishen pensionistet shqiptar, me kapelen qe vishen ata. Ne njefare menyre, kapelja edhe ngjan pak kapelen qe ka veshur Joseph Beuys, keshtu mund te behet nje lidhje te vogel vizuale me historine e artit performance (dhe Beuys gjithmone e ka punuan me materialet si shajak ngjyre gri). Nuk eshte qe krahasohem vete me Beuys, ne asnje menyre, por mbase shikuesi gjen nje lidhje thjesht vizuale. Ne fund fare, artisti Pleurad Xhafa me ndihmoi shume: ai ofroi ta xhironte performancen me aparat, dhe ai vendoste kendveshtrimet gjate xhirimit, e cila me ndikonte dhe ne menyren sesi e realizove performancen.