The art from the Lascaux Caves to COD (Center for Openness and Dialogue). Discovering and ‘discaverning’ Edi Rama. Part I. (Romeo Kodra)

See the original article in DeMaterializacija Umetnosti: http://dematerijalizacijaumetnosti.com/od-pecina-laskoa-do-centra-za-otvorenost-i-dijalog-otkrivanje-i-raspecinjivanje-edija-rame/

Preamble – Reading The Guardian‘s article “Meet Edi Rama, Albania’s artist prime minister” the non Albanian readers will think “here is another promotional article”, or “here is another politician using its political power to make art or vice versa”. Well, the understanding of the article it is not that simple. And, it is harder to understand Edi Rama, the Artist Prime Minister.

Generally from the Paleolithic caves of Lascaux the art shows a sort of resistance[1] towards the conditions of the reality, an attempt to reproduce or materialize through reality’s/mundane things something unreal, extra mundane, real desires – missing in reality, yet really possible.

It is also from the Lascaux Caves that are known the double aspects of the art: the representational aspects (the final product, i.e. the paintings inside the cavern) and laboratorial aspects (the sacral aspects, the performing aspects, i.e. the “happenings” inside the cavern, inside that Paleolithic “laboratory” of artistic means of production).

Through the representational aspects of the art we recognize the traces, the marks, the demarcation of the territory. In other words we recognize the superficial aspects of the cultivation of a territory by the humans. We recognize the products of their culture.

However, the culture, as Derrida noticed, is strictly linked, through Latin etymology “còlo”, with the colonization[2]. The difference between them is that: the culture, being more than its superficial aspects (products), needs the creation of an ad hoc laboratory, needs to interact with the context to flourish on a new territory; while the colonization operates exclusively imposing the representational aspects (products) of a culture on another, to exploit the new territory for the reproduction of the proper products.

From the Lascoux’s traces we also discovered our ancestors agri+cultural/colonial journey in this world.  It seems that, from the Lascaux Caves’ paintings, it is hard to understand where the culture finishes and where the colonization begins, or vice versa. Moreover, if considered only the representational aspects of culture and art, only the final products’, the parietal traces, only the paintings, it also seems quite difficult to find a clear division.

Therefore, if considered the laboratorial aspects, intended as the process and the means of production inside the cavern, things would look much easier to understand, because only the process and means of production revel and complete the aesthetics (intended etymologically as “the sensible”) and sensibility of the Lascaux Caves’ humans, that produced those paintings.

Questioning – Here we come, finally, to the art of Edi Rama. As long as it is known, although it is exhibited, no one has still presented in Albania the art of Edi Rama. No one has explained to the Albanians what is really artistic in his work. No one has explained where the politics finishes and the art starts, or if all his actions and products are art and politics in the same time. Generally in Albania the public receives passively the information and the conformation of Edi Rama’s art and/or political work, which is always supported by well-known experts (of arts and/or politics).

To question on the abovementioned argument it is hard, first of all, because in Albania, although exists the University of Arts, does not exist for example a manual of Art History for the students, so the cultural and artistic formation is really scarce in terms of scientific knowledge, especially in modern and contemporary art. Secondly, because all the directors of the national public institutions of art (Theater, Opera, National Gallery, Film Center, etc.) are directly chosen by the Prime Minister in charge; in other words all the national art institutions are tuned with the Prime Minister governmentality. And, last but not least, the mainstream mass media in Albania are always properties of groups of interest that inform, conform and deform the knowledge of the public opinion according by their interests, and generally with the abovementioned scarce artistic and cultural scientific knowledge of their “opinion makers”.

But let as question the other side of the frontier. Has anyone, as non Albanian reader, heard anything beyond the representational aspects of Edi Rama’s work? Has anyone heard about Edi Rama’s process and means of production, his “laboratorial” aspects, beyond his own narration of facts? In other words, has anyone heard anything about his aesthetics, sensibility? I guess, if not connected strictly with the panegyric superlatives of his politics of “social change”/”Renaissance”, nobody knows anything. And yet, although this superficial knowledge, he is “showcased”, as The Guardian informs us, in one of the most important art galleries of the world (Marian Goodman Gallery), which is supposed to promote and cultivate the aesthetics, the sensibility of humanity through the contemporary art and artists. There he was also presented by the worldwide known curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, both Edi Rama’s friends. In this case a question rises “spontaneously”: are this gallery, this curator and this artist cultivating the aesthetics, the sensibility towards the “beauty”, or are normalizing the colonization of new territories and spaces (art space in this case), imposing publicly the unprecedented representational aspects of Edi Rama’s political aesthetics?

Before the reader responds precipitously, it would be appropriate to focus on the laboratorial aspects of Edi Rama’s work.

img. 1. Bas-relief Prime Minister Building

img. 1

What are we talking about – First of all the reader must know that Edi Rama is one of the earliest politicians appeared in Albanian political panorama, in 1991, after the change of totalitarian socialist regime. He is the son of Kristaq Rama, a former deputy of the former Popular Assembly (Parliament) as well as one of the most important sculptors (see also the bas-relief  in the Prime Minister Building img. 1) of the former Albanian Popular Socialist Republic. This is not important for the Oedipal readings of Edi Rama’s artistic and political parabola, on which this writing it is not interested, but for a more accurate analysis of antagonistic spirit of the subjects (political and artistic) produced by a political system, that is the core of the problematic understanding of The Guardian‘s article.

The antagonistic spirit of the subjects produced by the system is also the core of Refleksione (Reflections), a book of Adrian Klosi and Edi Rama[3], published by the disappeared Botimet Albania (Albania Editions), in Corfu (Greece). This book published in 1992 is almost unknown, and could not be found in Albanian National Library, neither in bookshops. However is in this book that one could find the pioneering strategy of Edi Rama for understanding and achieving the political power (see in pg. 186-190 “The fairytale of the redfishes”[4], dated August 7th 1991).

Of course, at the time, the book was considered as a sort of collage of political and cultural pamphlets against the manipulations of the former hierarchs that corrupted the spirit of the protesters (workers, students, etc.), represented by the Democratic Party, through the corruption of whom the former hierarchs guaranteed their “soft” transition, in contrast with the population which still witness, even in our days, the real signification of the neo-liberal shock-economy.

img. 12. Rama-Klosi-Berisha _ White Jackets

img. 12. Rama-Klosi-Berisha _ White Jackets

The same book, if accessible, and if associated with the actual Rama’s politics, could denounce even in our days the antagonistic spirit of the subject produced by the political power systems of every time (fascist, socialist, neo-liberal). In other words, through Reflections, the reader could notice how the soft transition is always guaranteed to the hierarchs[5] by the same “white jackets” (img. 12)[6], which continue to poison the political and cultural landscape of the Albanian democracy.

In The Guardian‘s article, although the proclaimed bona fide, as Rama’s background, the reader is informed about his early carrier as a former art professor, which, in a still not dystopian world (as the UK is supposed to be), is considered an academic rank at universities, an academic rank that Edi Rama has never reached. But, even this, is part of the subjectivity’s production by the governmentality of our neoliberal system.

Topic – The topic, for a better understanding of Edi Rama’s work, as an artist and politician, could be the production of artistic and political subjectivity in Albania. The term “Albania”, here, is used in its legislative meaning, intending the production of artistic subjectivity in “Albania”, from its independency, in 1912, to the present days.

For a better understanding of the topic the focus must be on the rationalization or conditioning of the artistic space by a political power and the consecutive generation of meanings, its governmentality. In other words, the laboratory of the production of subjectivity.

For a better understanding of the dynamics within the challenged spaces between art and politics, Tirana’s urban and architectural[7] conformation with the main boulevard as its first paradigm (1925), has to be considered as the central scene.

In Albania all the “different political models”[8] have increased their domestic consensus and international prestige through massive initiatives in architecture and urban planning, such as reorganization of entire urban areas, construction of public buildings, monuments, and even new cities. But, from the other side, several historic centers disappeared, especially in Tirana, Albania’s Capital City since 1920, where an entire urban pattern or fabric disappeared, erased without traces, depriving the city of its cultural and artistic memory, which consequently is narrated exclusively by the political powers’ authority.

Boulevard[9], a tool for the production of subjectivity – The “erasure” phenomena, as well as in urban planning and public architectural objects of Tirana’s main boulevard in this case, is strictly connected with the production of subjectivity.

I have said it: it is from the[…] conjunction that the subject is made, but in that two times are marked there. It is necessary then that the erasure be distinguished there.”[10]

To “translate” in practice the Lacanian sentence as “conjunction” must be seen Mussolini’s Boulevard, which was a “distinguished erasure” of what there was before (confront img.2 and img.3 and notice the impact of the “modern”[11] architecture of the Italian Rationalist style).

The Boulevard, called “asse cerniera”/”zipper axis”, in the Italian architectural rationalism jargon, was constructed on a soil where were erased some ephemeral Tirana’s buildings. It produced a new distinguished urban subject: the “new Tirana”. The new quarter developed on the western part of the Boulevard (entirely in the Italian style), maintained a clear division with the old city, on the eastern side (still Ottoman). So the people had to understand that the both sides could survive together only because of Mussolini’s power. In a sort of Divide et Impera, both of them, are conjunct by the new political order represented by the Imperial Mussolini’s architecture.

First demarcation/imprinting and its developments – However, beyond the similarities between the political models that have marked the Albanian territory during the last century, there are some differences in terms of control on art space. For example, in the case of the “Boulevard” it is known the intentional use of the architectural style by Mussolini, visible in the first Italian Eclectic Rationalist objects decorated with effigies where the Albanian national spirit should be identified in a sort of Imperial synthesis (img.4, img.5).

In this manner Mussolini marked symbolically with his supposed modernity the retrograded Albanian territory (the first step towards the colonization and the creation of the future Empire) griping, firstly, on the aestheticization of his politics and governmentality that facilitate the acceptance by the indigenous; secondly, on their sense of inferiority, as former Ottoman subjects, that urged the “Western modernization” or “Europeanization” of their context. This was the first territorial mark or imprinting given by Mussolini, before the invasion in 1939. With the invasion the superficial Albanian national effigies disappeared from the new buildings leaving the pure facades of the Italian Architectural Rationalism shine in their spatial metaphysical surrealism (img. 6, img. 7).

It is the sign of the fallen mask (represented by the Eclecticism img. 4, img. 5), of the new rational political order installed.

Tools of control and financial subjectivity – As a tool for the completion of the territorial demarcation was created SVEA (1925), a society for the Albanian economic development, which loaned large sums of money to the Albanian government, knowing that these sums would never turn back to the Italian investors. SVEA, as by bilateral accords between Albania and Italy, was also the unique and only entity for the management of all the tenders for the urban and architectural constructions, which, as expected, were given exclusively to Italian constructors to demarcate deliberately the territory[12]. As also expected the insolvency of the Albanian government was used by Mussolini to justify in the Italian Parliament the invasion of Albania in April 7th 1939.

The invasion was contrasted with armed resistance only by few Albanian patriots. This resistance was scarce because the new political power of the fascists invaders was perceived by the majority of the population as a better choice confronted with what was before. So for the people was a better choice the fascism of Mussolini than the self proclaimed King Zog I, that escaped leaving the country a day before the invasion. The scarce resistance was also one of the reasons that Albania’s invasion by the Italian troops in Italian newspapers of the time was described as a sort of Anschlüss, and Vittorio Emmanuele III became the King of Italy and Albania.

From influence for control to institutional discipline – Turning back to the SVEA, after the invasion, it continued to manage all the architectonic and urban constructions, not only in terms of money/finance, but also in design/aesthetics, controlling the tenders and public procurements, that were all given to Italian architects, urban planners and constructors. In facts SVEA, as Albania became part of Italian Kingdom, became also an Albanian institution.

This passage of the Italian regime, from an influent international superpower to an invader of Albanian territory, is important because here is clearly visible the itinerary of the controlling process by the political power, which in the first phase, that of the Italian investments in Albania, influenced indirectly the territory. Then, after the invasion, it is visible the direct influence or discipline of the territory.

After the WWII Enver Hoxha, despite the ideologically antagonistic position with the Mussolinian fascism[13], continued and developed that discipline choosing the realist socialism as the unique art style of the Albanian Popular Socialist Republic. The architecture and urban planning were controlled entirely by State through the Institute of Constructions and the Ministry of Finance for the implementation, as in Albania the private constructions were prohibited till 1991.

Elective affinities in aesthetical representations of power – It is important to notice, especially visible in the “Boulevard”, the formal affinities between the Italian Rationalism and the subsequent architectonic construction of the dictatorship of proletariat period (img. 8; 8.1; 8.2), which demonstrate the continuation of the influence of the fascist machine of production of subjectivities mixed, architectonically speaking, with the Soviet one.

These affinities regarding the urban shape and architecture buildings continued also in the post socialist period, till our days. They consist on the alignment on the boulevard’s axis, on the verticality and the sense of hermetic closure emanated by the buildings[14]. These affinities in Albanian context are visible more on architectural interventions – but not limited, as seen in bas-reliefs of Prime Minister building and maternity hospital (img. 9, img. 10)[15] – than in other arts, because of the lack of awareness on the representational aspects of the art of architecture, on its symbolic aspects, on its ideology and, least but not last, the difficulty to distinguish the architecture (as art and cultural phenomena) from the civil engineering[16].

So, for this reason the architecture of Tirana’s main boulevard demonstrates the affection of the aesthetical taste of the political power. But, not only. It demonstrates also how functions the production of subjectivity, political and artistic, that is still correlated with that diffused sense of inferiority of the Albanians as eternal peripheral subject of empires pressured by the hierarchy of the central political power from above (the State/King/Despot) and from outside (the foreigner’s superiority, especially their modernization, regarding politics and arts).

New propeller for the machine – However, regarding the Albanians sense of inferiority as subjects, neither fascism, nor the dictatorship of the proletariat, could affect entirely the spirit of cultural memory and, consequently, identity as the neoliberal politics and governmentality did in the last 25 years. And Edi Rama is the ultimate expression of it.

As already mentioned Edi Rama operates in Albanian political panorama from 1991, but his first executive office dates from 1998, when he became Minister of Culture. Before that he was a freelance journalist, political activist and board member of Open Society Foundation. As Minister of Culture he was distinguished for his nonchalance approaching the media, his colorful dressing and rhetoric. One of his most powerful, strategic and political moves as Minister was giving 50% of the “Pyramid” (Tirana’s International Culture Center, former “Enver Hoxha” Museum), which was under ministerial competences, to the Top Albania Radio for 1$/m2 monthly. This private radio headed by Dritan Hoxha developed and became Top Media Group (Top-Channel, Digitalb), which in our days is the most powerful in Albania and the Balkan region. Of course, as expected, it continues to support Edi Rama in his political carrier.

Thus, if considered “the media” as a further step towards “fascistic homologation through consumerism”[17], as Pier Paolo Pasolini does, the propeller of cognitive capitalistic machine of Albania’s actual Prime Minister would be clearer. Thanks even to this propeller in 2000 Edi Rama won the elections as Socialist Party candidate for Tirana’s Municipality.

One of his first actions was the repainting of the Ministries (the Italian Eclecticism style buildings) in the central square of the city. This action in the middle of the quasi total abandonment of the state interventions in reconstruction (Albania experienced a quasi civil war in 1997-’98), was the first step that will bring the famous facades’ paintings (2002-2003), that for sure “change[d] the perception of the city and consequently the meaning of citizenship” of Tirana’s inhabitants.

The era of Edi Rama – But Edi Rama, as Mussolini and Enver Hoxha, maintains a strict connection with the time[18]. As Mussolini announced the “reborn Roman Empire incarnated in fascism”, that represented its millennial synthesis and legacy; or Enver Hoxha “the millennial war of the Albanian people for freedom and justice” synthesized in the Socialist Popular Republic of Albania; even Edi Rama found something to make Albanians perceive a common time: the time of Edi Rama’s colors[19].

In his narration of facts Albania and Tirana before Edi Rama was a country without any possibility, or a country with “zero coma nothing” possibilities, as it was “grey” because of the communistic tendency to represent all the citizens in one color, that unfailingly generated the “grey of socialist buildings”, the color of “compromise”[20]. It is so strange to hear this narration, and it is stranger without any contradiction from the audiences that hear that narration, as Albania historically has experienced exactly the contrary of what Edi Rama says, experienced everything but not the compromise, experienced the decisions from above, from a highly concentrated power, being that of a self-proclaimed King, of hierarchs of fascism, or of Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship of proletariat.

Anyway, the colors serve Edi Rama for “the creation of a new era for the city”[21]. In other words, choosing the colors he “creates” the time: the eternal time of the “vertical power that changes the surroundings”, noticed perfectly and as “something very interesting”[22] by his friend, the artist Anri Sala.

img. 13. Francisco_de_Goya,_Saturno_devorando_a_su_hijo_(1819-1823)Chrono-logic time – This could be “something [so] interesting” and so original for Anri Sala, but it could be found from the time of the ancient Greek mythology, there where is one of the titans, named Kronos. Kronos is known as the divinity of the mythological Golden Age of prosperity, where no laws and rules were needed. However it is also known that after a while, because of the fear of dispossession from the throne, as predicted by oracle, the God of Prosperity and agriculture ate all his sons (except one, Zeus, that will be the King of the Gods of Mount Olympus).

One of the most famous representations of Kronos is Goya’s wall painting (img. 13).

This particularity of Kronos, to crystallize the time by eating his sons, made him in pre-Socratic philosophy the personification of the measurable time, that was something very different from Aion, the time of ideas/philosophy and arts, the time of eternity, explained clearly in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Here we are again, back into the cave, or cavern, as in Paleolithic paintings of Lascoux. In 2016 we are still talking about paintings on walls without talking about the process and means of productions. As Plato did never existed! Here we are again talking about shadows on the cavern’s walls or parietal paintings without talking about the whole laboratory of production from which the painting or shadows are generated.

 

[1] See the “act of creation” in Deleuze: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OyuMJMrCRw

[2] “Si bien que le «colonialisme» et la «colonisation» ne sont que des reliefs, traumatisme sur traumatisme, surenchère de violence, emportement jaloux d’une colonialité essentielle, comme les deux noms l’indiquent, de la culture.” Le monolinguisme de l’autre, Derrida Jacques, Éditions Galilée, Paris 1996, p. 47.

[3] http://shqiptarja.com/news.php?IDNotizia=78217

[4] In Albanian language the goldfishes are called redfishes, on which the authors intended allegorically the transformation of the former political power in the new one: a sort of slow transformation and transition, that betrayed the inspiration of the protesters and the newly raised alternative political proposals, part of which were also the authors.

[5] Sali Berisha, as the hierarchs of the former regime, is still free, although the explosion of the whole village of Gërdec in 2008 (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/19/world/europe/19albania.html ) and the killings in the Boulevard in 2011 (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-albania-opposition-rally-idUSTRE70K59520110121 ) because of the corruption of his ally Ilir Meta, with whom Rama actually is governing the country.

[6] “The white jackets” are taken as a sort of Albanian conspiracy theory, where this dress distinguished the infiltrators of the government in the movement of the protesters. However, conspiracy theory or not, as Pasolini said, an intellectual does not need the evidences to understand the system and tell his truth. See in this regard the last Pasolini’s article Io so (I know): http://www.corriere.it/speciali/pasolini/ioso.html

[7] So let’s take “architectural laboratory” to investigate the topic, because the “architecture is the first art.” See in Deleuze G., Guattari F., Che cos’è la filosofia?, my translation, Torino, Einaudi, 1996, p. 193.

[8] It is important to know that, beyond the antagonistic positions of the ideology of different political models in Albania, they converge on “transition”: towards “modernization”, “new communist world”, “Europeanization”. During the Ahmet Zogu’s period (1924-1939), the Albanian political model was transiting from a “traditional”, “ottoman” model towards a more “modernized”, “occidental” one, that never arrived completely, on contrary, anachronistically the Prime Minister of Albanian Republic, Zogu, was self-proclaimed King of Albania in 1928. Then, during the socialist dictatorship of proletariat (1944-1991), the transition was towards a “new communist world”, that never arrived completely. Now, during 25 years of “free market, democracy and pluralism”, the transition consists on the integration within the European Union, as if Albania does not belong to the continent, and still has to be part of it. And the instrument to transit is always the art (architecture in our case); in other words, the art is instrumentalized and used by the political power. This is a key point of my research, but that I decline to develop here in this writing for obvious reasons of space.

[9] Etymologically from the Middle Dutch bolwerc “wall of a fortification” and its trench that surrounds the city. Tirana’s Boulevard was constructed in 1925-28, during King Zog period, by Italians architects and urban planners. It was the most impressive urban and architectural intervention ever see in Tirana. A foreign journalist, visiting Tirana in the early ’30 stated: “I’ve seen cities without boulevards, but is the first time that I see a boulevard without a city”.

[10] Lacan J., Litturaterra, in La psicanalisi. Rivista del campo freudiano., my translation, n. 20, July-December 1996, p. 15.

[11] “[T]he desire to mediate immediately modern postulate without clear references with tradition; ambiguity of meaning not to irritate anyone and indeed to build confidence in the “classic” stamp, “ordered”, “logical”, “shiny”; in short, harmless to the desired architectural revolution.” ZEVI Bruno, Storia dell’architettura moderna, my translation, Torino, Einaudi, 1975, p. 183. These are some considerations of Bruno Zevi about architects of Italian rationalism and their scarce connection with the concept of the “modern”.

[12] See in this regard “Architetti e ingegneri italiani in Albania”, curated by M. Giacomelli and A. Vokshi, Edifir, Florence, Italy, 2012.

[13] In this case it is obvious the total difference between the fascist corporativism of Mussolini and Enver Hoxha’s statalism. However I am trying to maintain a sort of red string which goes beyond the ideology, and lays on the production of subjectivity by the political power, that would lead to a better understanding of Edi Rama’s “model”.

[14] There is an exception that interrupts not only one, but all three these formal affinities: it is paradoxically Tirana’s “Pyramid”, the former Enver Hoxha Museum, constructed in 1988 to commemorate the successes of socialism in Albania.

[15] These two building are Italian constructions, but the bass-relief of the Prime Minister Building, realized by Kristaq Rama,  was added in the socialist dictatorship period erasing a fascist one.

[16] The Faculty of Architecture within the Albanian University of Engineering (img. 7) is created only in 1969.

[17]http://www.corriere.it/la-lettura/pier-paolo-pasolini/notizie/pasolini-sfida-ai-dirigenti-della-televisione-corriere-9-dicembre-1973-dce2b866-71c3-11e5-b015-f1d3b8f071aa.shtml

[18] “[The] time of capitalism […] defines the production of subjectivity”, O’Sullivan S. On the Production of Subjectivity: Five Diagrams of the Finite-Infinite Relation, Palgrave McMillan, 2012, pg. 118. Of course, as stated above, Enver Hoxha cannot be considered as connected with this capitalistic stream where, to which, for sure, belong Mussolini’s corporative capitalism and Edi Rama’s cognitive capitalism. However, from the other side, Enver Hoxha cannot be dissociated from the production of subjectivity by the political power of his time, which comprehend beyond others the influence and “the model” of Mussolini as a charismatic figure of a leader.

[19] “The color was a process that made it possible to experience time as a common element”. Edi Rama in Dammi i colori, video made with Anri Sala in 2003.

[20] It would be much more likely to connect this lack of colors with the scarce economic means of Albania during the socialist period, as the most isolated country in Europe, then considering as true the Rama’s narration of facts.

[21] See Dammi i colori.

[22] See in min. 46 the Anri Sala’s explanation about his video Dammi i colori. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/architectureart-crossover-and-collaboration-edi-rama-and-anri-sala

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