What does Adrian Paci and “Prova” prove? (Romeo Kodra)

Adrian Paci’s exhibition Prova, at The Albanian National Gallery of Arts, is held in the framework of director’s (Erzen Shkololli) institutional policies. In other words, as it is required to a government nominated director, the exhibition is held to promote a florescent and vivid Albanian artistic context during “Edi Rama’s time” (just quoting Anri Sala), the time of Renaissance (Rilindje, in Albanian, a worldwide christologic term and patriotic related with the Albanian independence movement, which is the pompous name given by Edi Rama to his government, that has in its focus the patronage of art and artists, where, of course, the patron comes first … please check this one man show during the presentation of the Albanian Pavilion of Venice Biennial of Architecture 2014 at London AA School of Architecture in 2015 link). Yet, according these policies, no Albanian acute and actual pressing problems should be evidenced, because the promotion, as every marketing student knows in this age of cognitive capitalism, can be – God forbid – compromised in its shiny emanating lustrousity. Maybe, just a little, but always through illustrative and glossy representations, respecting and following the formal contemporary art curating canons, to make happy the self-critical spirit as well as the homologated aesthetics of the bourgeoisie that frequents these kind of exhibitions. And, of course, what can be better than blurry, pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-philosophical artistic strategy of “universalizing the Albanian context” and making it “global”, as the curator Adam Budak suggests to the reader of Prova throughout the exhibition’s text.

This kind of exhibition and these kind of artists (Adrian Paci, Edi Hila, Flaka Haliti to mention some of them promoted by the Gallery) serve to connect the Albanian public contemporary art institutions context with the neoliberal art system, led by a globalist, stateless, apparently apolitical, and post-bourgeois class, that measures everything in terms of consumption and profit, where everything and everyone is a consumable commodity for those in power, respecting and following the laws of a pyramidal hierarchy. And these artists are very happy with it, providing, through the commodification of the art, the system’s basic raw materials.

Reading exhibition’s curatorial text one could think that Adrian Paci is somewhat a deeply politically engaged artist. Prova is the “artist’s most mature and radical gesture of a political nature, expressing the urgency to take action and indicating the willingness to perform the civic responsibility”, says the curator. However, the author confuses the political gesture of the artist with Edi Rama’s Party/Renaissance gesture (see Edi Rama’s mantra “political action with colors” and his choice selecting Adrian Paci to evangelize through “a lecture” the Albanian Ambassadors in 2016).

The concepts like “Arendtian space of appearance” are totally deviating and inarticulate in their consistency. In this case the author, Budak, by using the word “appearance” (key word, in my opinion, but of a different kind, which I will try to explain below), wanted to make it more intellectually catchy and added “Arendtian space”, the relation of which with Paci’s work remain shrown in mystery. The same could be said regarding Paci’s painting of an “ethical subject at the moment of becoming and transition”, a pseudo-philosophical concept, which contradicts the “mise-en-scène” (term used by Budak, another key word in Paci’s work, but with different connotations in my opinion) that Paci always does. This means that, if we are spectator of a mise-en-scène, than there is no ethical subject at the moment of becoming, but only a pose, a mimic, a simulation of becoming (see also the men posing, as requested by their author/director/Paci, in the video Prova).

This contradiction in Budak’s text reappears again where the curator wants to evidence Paci’s scene:

“Paci’s scene has a quality of an ancient drama: we are spectators in the theatre of quasi-heroic gesture, on the ruins of enlightenment where the grand recit of morality are staged with pathos and splendor.”

This mishmash between ancient drama and quasi-heroic gesture (which is self-explained, because if we consider quasi-heroic the ancient drama, than what is heroic?) is further confused with morality, pathos and splendor (a refreshing of Nietzschean The Birth of Tragedy is needed, and, if it is not too much and hard to digest, followed by On the Genealogy of Morality of the same author). In addition, the grand recit, the syntagmatic expression which should bring in our minds Lyotard (?) and the Postmodern Condition(?), sounds, firstly, more like a strategy of the curator to highlight the philosophic concepts behind the artist’s work, and, secondly, a strategy of the artists, not to eliminate the hero (see this topic on the work of Lyotard), but to change his place, from the stage to the backstage, where the famous and worldwide known author/director/Paci, we (should) know, is placed.

Yet, despite this confusion, is because of Budak, that one can evidence the real fulcrum of most Albanian artist’s work, which consist precisely in the mise-en-scène that often appears in Paci’s showcased works at The National Gallery (I even agree with Budak to use grand recit referring to Paci’s work, but with another meaning, as it is used sometimes in France, which relates to the grand récits of the great leading actors of the Parisian Théâtre Boulevardier/Vaudevillesque). Moreover, being the artist, as Budak defined him, “self-referential”, one should know more on the “references” of Adrian Paci to understand better his mise-en-scène (Or not? Or the curator is defining the artist as “self-referential” just to provide him with a sort of license or Schengen Visa to freely ab+use artistic and philosophical concepts as well as art history? Personally, I am fine with that, but in that case we should talk on Paci’s art as a sort of amateur hour).

Firstly, to understand Paci’s mise-en-scène or grand recit, we should turn back to that being happily involved within the global neoliberal system of exploitation and commodification of art that consumes everyone and everything following the laws of the pyramidal hierarchy. Let’s take in consideration for example Home to go, a his early work present at The National Gallery of Art exhibition.

Home to Go, 2001.

In this case, the migrant – the artist himself, the great leading actor, as suggested by the resemblances of this work with the artist – is apparently represented as a sort of martyr, a Christological character. What an elitist, clerical, and bourgeois context, such as the Italy of 2001, could have expected more than this work? As I see it, it confirms and represents the imaginary of the majority of the Italian elitist artistic context of the time. But, what about the migrant and his specific characteristics? [Just a specification: the majority of the migrants in Italy and in Europe were and are not coming from a Christian tradition, so this Paci’s work do not “universalize” properly to make “global” the migration problem, but tries to make it more familiar to the host.] Being myself a migrant in Italy of 2001, I do not think that it represents the image of me and my imaginary at that time. I do not even think it represents the frustration and wrath of ordinary migrants that were and still are daily targeted by Lega Nord (I lived in Bergamo at that time, almost the same context of Paci). I think it does not represent even the imaginary of the Albanian migrants, that, after the Tragedy of Otranto, lost every illusion on the hospitality and open arms of the Italian and European Union States. Moreover, it is better to specify that the Italians culture of hospitality is something else, that has to do even with the Christianity, but it is not connected with the pathetic and patinated/glossy representations such as Adrian Paci’s Home to Go. In this regard, even Budak’s use of terms such as pathos and splendor, sounds deviating and ab+usive, because these Paci’s works, as a lot of works circulating and feeding the contemporary neoliberal art system, share more common traits with counter-reformation art period (certain Mannerism and Baroque, if you like) than Renaissance, as Edi Rama in Albania or the neoliberal contemporary art system want us to believe. In other words, these Paci’s works characteristics, instead of pathos and splendor, could be more appropriate to define as pathetic and glossy.

Secondly, to understand Paci’s “self-references”, which I would rather call “references”, we should still consider them as a sort of simulation, a mimic, a pompous boulevardier or vaudevillesque acting the great leading actor. With this in mind, his works in general, and Prova in particular, showcased at The National Gallery exhibition, suggest the Albanian artist par excellence: Kolë Idromeno. Idromeno is considered to be the first Albanian modern painter and artist. In this regard, if we follow the words of Budak, referred to Paci, we can easily have an idea of who Kolë Idromelo was:

“[T]he moving image (a film, a video) dialogues with the still image of the photographic series as well as with the image, captured within the frame of painting, the artist’s primary skill and vocation, proving […] formal versatility and his interest in a variety of expressions and languages”.

In addition, being Paci the curator in 2017 of some Idromeno’s photographic works, we can easily notice the similarities in terms of visual traits between some characters of Prova. However, although even in Idromeno the characters/actors are posing, the differences between the two are remarkable and similarities limited in the classical composition of the frame. Consequently, even the “reference”, looks superficial, pretentious.

For example, in Idromeno, if we want to hazard the Lyotardian reading suggested by Budak, we do not see the “description, illustration, narration” – as Adrian Paci himself explains in the interview above linked (“Idromeno nuk proteston me fotot e tij, ai nuk proteston as me pikturat e tija. Thjesht përshkruen, ilustron, tregon.”) – of a grand recit such as the Bible stories, but the meta-narration. And meta-narration means, etymologically, “beyond narration”, or, as Idromeno does, the contextualization of a known narration. So, within the grand recit of the well-known biblical infernal stories, we see not the characters of the picture perpetuating through characteristic poses all the tragedy and pathos of the biblical tradition, but a character of the context (Shkodra) during Idromeno’s time, which, as suggested by the pictures, is a context emanating a terrible and horrible comicality. And this makes a character, which doesn’t exist within the grand recit, a specific and original one, which is a very different thing from Paci’s impassive and lifeless characteristic characters, that confirm the mainstream and political power canons of representation, the grand recit precisely. I guess, to make understand the difference between being a character and having a character, a Quentin Tarantino’s fast-food philosophy quote can help Paci and Budak.

Thus, in Idromeno we do not see the narration of a grand recit, but a joyful play with the medium (theatrically or photographically), as he always did, with all the media, in all its artistic production, being it painting, photography, architecture, etc. In Paci we have only a superficial, glossy and pompous description, narration, illustration that intentionally confirms and is ready and happy to be marked, in terms of meaning, by the grand recits of our time, being it the elitist bourgeois clerical context of Shkodra and Italy or the confirmation and promotion of Edi Rama’s neoliberal policies.

And, what is most important, in Paci’s showcased works there is no play with the medium or media (even in painting Paci seems an imitator of Edi Hila, another artist adrift of mannerism, but of his own) from a technological point of view. In this regard, the Idromenoan “joyful play with the medium”, in Paci’s Prova for example, is limited in the alternation of camera focus between foreground and background objects. The focus goes from the microphone to life suffered faces of the filmed persons. The produced, generated or stimulated meaning according this very basic film syntax is: voice to the poorest? Wow! Isn’t it original? I do not know how to define this kind of cinematic take. To me, more than obscene, for which I have a lot of respect because is somehow connected with the transgression of an ordinary scene, this kind of illustrative use of the medium/camera looks like Albanian tallava video clips or pornography. It brings in mind not the history of the video art (maybe even scholastic in this case could sound too generous), but the new trends of luxurious porno films made in USA/Hollywood (it is a wide used cliché in these films the focal transition from genitals in action, a bouquet of roses on the table, placed in middle-background, and, in far-background, the “cozy” city view, seen from the extra-large window of the apartment placed on the top of the skyscraper where the action is taking place).

The same scholastic rigidity in terms of use of the medium is present in several Paci’s showcased works, where the balanced, centralized, symmetric and glossy images abound up to boredom and dullness.

To conclude, in Paci’s National Gallery showcased works one is always in front of an art of ideas and never in front of an idea of arts, always in front of an idea expressed through a medium or media and never in front of an idea of medium or media. In other words, in front of the endless prove of consumerist reproduction and commodification of art, which more than with the aesthetic of arts has to do with anesthetic policies.

P.S. There is a peculiar trait or red thread in Paci’s works, which I have considered for a long time as very important, if not the most important, to decipher the artist’s evolution. It is a sense of waiting, expectance. But throughout his works it seems spontaneous, never developed, quasi unconscious, and not rationalized. So, it is difficult to talk in this case of evolution. Maybe, in this regard, something should be written, but it is difficult without passing through the psychogenic aspects of his works, made of pious spirit and pomposity.

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