Amid the sublime, confused, and perhaps ephemeral vision of Western contemporary art, there is a corner of the planet where its people’s narratives of memory are a new outfit, an instrument of the imagination awaiting manifestation. The Republic of Kosovo, the youngest sovereign country in Europe and the second largest in the world (it gained independence in 2008, four years ahead of South Sudan), is also the most isolated as it is a failed state: 95 of the 193 member countries of the United Nations recognize it not on. Within Europe, four (Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus) will not validate your passport, although they will issue entry permits. And a fifth, Spain, not only denies its existence as a country, but also spares its citizens visas (it would set a precedent for eventual Catalan independence). Kosovo has gone from being the historical cradle of Serbia to being a victim of its repression. In the midst of a long war, it is now a country of 1.8 million people, the majority Albanians, who profess Islam and dedicate streets, squares and cafes to their idols such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Bill Clinton.
So Kosovo, and in particular its beautifully named capital Pristina, is almost literally a young girl locked involuntarily in her room. But unlike those imaginative otakus of Japanese subculture, he embraces reality to the point of crushing it. Their sockets are weak. With no structured art system, no museums or commercial galleries, no critical mass or anything, it brims with creativity, with artists and patrons (many forced to emigrate) exploiting all the hallmarks of its idiosyncrasies. What could be a deep hole, a delay, is perceived here as a very simple advantage, an armored niche in a social body accustomed to survival. All that energy needed a means of transportation, and they found it at the European Biennale Manifesta, which opened its 14th edition in a hard-nosed, brutalist capital with hardly any trees, where stray dogs are sacred cows between hard squares and street markets. In some streets that may not be aesthetic, with their buildings that we call ugly, there is something absolutely alive and luminous, that feeling that Baudelaire discovered in Paris and called “completely modern”. An enviable modernity if we look at it from our perspective of doing something new, not faulty.
“Seapussy Power Galore – Abcession” (2021-22), directed by Mette Sterre, at the Grand Hotel in the Kosovar capital Mette Sterre
Apart from the fact that after the opening of this “Initiation Biennale” the rigorous question will be when and where their new art museum will be built and who will design it (the Biennale has organized a round table discussion on this), It is clear that the transformation of the infrastructures and activation of their cultural agents will allow Manifesta – the darling of those of us who believe that everything is not crushed by the market – to make an agreement between experience (memory), what we see ( shameless privatization of the country in a crane landscape ) and what we want (energy, sociability).
Under the title Telling Stories Other, the two creative mediators (new name for the curators), the Australian Catherine Nichols in the selection of artists and the Turin architect Carlo Ratti in the urban part, gather in 25 spaces of the city to a hundred creatives (in all possible formats , from painting to clay works, films, many archives and hardly any digital art), almost 70% come from the Balkan region and the rest from 30 countries on the five continents. The themes include ecology, migration, water, capital or love, not out of sheer naivety but as a political act. Most of the works are concentrated in Pristina’s decadent Grand Hotel, whose halls served as a Situationist art gallery in the 1980s and 1990s when it was state-owned (when privatized, the paintings were stolen or sold at a loss, but kept intact the suite where Tito had stayed). It is worth the trip just to visit it.
Most of the works are in the Grand Hotel in Pristina, where the “suite” where Tito stayed has been preserved
Nichols is a writer and linguist, which has enabled her to activate stories that translate the indissolubility of memory into works that reinvent them. His selection is a chapter-by-chapter fable of events, cleverly unraveled in works mostly by women. The videos of Lala Rascic, Driant Zenelli, Abi Shehu, Marta Papivoda and the expressionist paintings of Alije Vokshi stand out. The works of the two Catalan artists Núria Güell and Lúa Coderch are less contextualized; This is not the case with Luz Broto, which has set up a key cutting workshop at street level. Elsewhere, like the National Library, an architectural splendor from 1982, the ergonomic exercises for good reading by the RomaMOMA and Yael Davids collective stand out. At the Center for Narrative Practice, an ancient library reborn from abandonment to become one of the pillars of this event, the Dutch collective Werker proposes an enlarged archive of exchanges between marginal stories and buried Kosovar memory. Other found documents (Haveit Collective) are in the interesting collection of libertarian and feminist struggles that occupies the National Gallery of Kosovo.
Other settings embody the paradox: the more (concrete) poetry the artists put in, the more real the portrait of that country becomes. Old cinemas from the socialist era and old kiosks have been restored, like the one signed in 1967 by Slovene Sasa Mechtig and part of the MoMA collection, rehabilitated by Ilir Dalipi to house a radio station. An old brickworks is now an eco-urban laboratory by the Berlin collective Raumlabor. Or the Green Corridor, a 1,300-meter-long railway that connected Pristina to Belgrade and was the route of exodus in 1999 when thousands of people fled the bombing. Above all other civic symbols, this green corridor designed by Carlo Ratti is a powerful example of urban acupuncture for an uncertain future in the hands of speculators. With Manifesta 14 ending in 93 days, this traveling biennial will begin preparations for its next edition in Barcelona, scheduled for 2024. It will be difficult to achieve such poetic justice.
“Tell stories”. Manifesta 14. Pristina (Kosovo). Until October 30th.
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