The Webinar. A few weeks ago I participated in a webinar where two members of ARTS PROMOTION CENTER – TAIKE (Hanna Susitaival & Henri Terho) thoroughly presented and shared information regarding the new open calls for grants and subsidies. Yet, although the information was detailed I could not find anything new to help me ameliorate my four or five unsuccessful applications of the last year. So, I raised two issues.
The first was a provocation but strictly based on concrete facts. “Do you know that according to TAIKE’s eligibility criteria Vincent van Gogh, if he were alive, cannot be supported? And, considering that van Gogh died more than 120 years ago, don’t you think the TAIKE’s criteria are not very innovative?”
The second issue, which is related to the first, was also based on concrete facts. “Considering that TAIKE’s does not give feedback to justify the decisions, how can I understand what I am doing well or wrong when I am writing a new application and how can I understand that the expert who evaluated my application is expert enough for the task? How can TAIKE guarantee to the taxpayers that there is no cronyism or corruption or, as in Albania, pure money laundering when there is no transparency in decision-making? I have noticed that there are people in Finland working in universities with their important academic titles, that are at the same time involved in politics, and have been granted from private and public institutions (TAIKE included), which for me demonstrates at least conflict of interest or even worst. So, what I wanted to know is how can TAIKE guarantee its expertise, openness, and transparency in decision-making?
The answers of the two experts were pertinent but cannot help anyone to ameliorate the quality of the future applications, which I think should be a concern for a center that is supposed to promote (promovère, move forward) the arts in Finland; to demonstrate the quality of its institutional expertise; to guarantee the openness and transparency of decision-making and make sure to avoid contamination from any unethical and/or illicit practices.
Basically, the experts agreed with the issues and admitted that there are some problems but also highlighted the independence of the decision-makers (not only of the experts of TAIKE but also its regional representatives as well as independent experts that evaluate the application). However, although one can understand and believe in the sincerity of the experts, it is hard to demonstrate TAIKE’s operational ethics. Firstly, because TAIKE – considering its legal framework – is a so-called Executive Agency and is directly under the control and influenced by the decisions and policies of the executive/government. So, to call it independent when TAIKE depends form the government is a contradiction in terms. And secondly, because there are no publicly known indicators through which can be evaluated TAIKE’s independence in decision-making. In other words, nowhere, on the website at least, are written clear indicators to measure the effective evaluation, expertise, openness, transparency, and independence of TAIKE. (It would be interesting to know if these indicators are mentioned in TAIKE’s Strategy or Statute.)
The experts of TAIKE highlighted also the fact that “the evaluators are artists themselves” and there is “empathy” in evaluating the applications of their colleagues. The romantic guy inside me appreciates it very much and thanks sincerely. However, the rational guy inside me does not automatically understand how can the empathy of the evaluators ameliorate the future application? Moreover, living in a period and a country where neoliberal cognitive capitalism is based exclusively on targeting and controlling biopolitically the sensorial processes and psychic perceptions, it is not sure whether the empathy (which, it is important to notice, is not of the institution but of the unpaid experts the institution exploits for the evaluation process) can be considered an appropriate indicator to measure and define the independence, expertise, and transparency in decision-making.
[By the way, I consider a scandal (which I did not know before this webinar) the exploitation of the evaluators, that are “artists themselves”, by a public institution that pretends “to promote the working conditions (työskentelyedellytyksiä) of the artists”. I know that private foundations pay their evaluators, at least Kone Foundation I know for sure does. I do not understand why should private foundations and not public institutions be good examples for the fair treatment of artists. How can artists and the public pretend not only transparency on decision-making but above all fair treatment of artists from private institutions when the public institutions must but do not guarantee these things? Is there, inside TAIKE, any concern regarding this ethical problem?]
The Values. After the webinar, I sent an email to TAIKE to ask whether there is a new strategy released beyond the old one visible on the website. The prompt reply informed me that the definition of the new strategy is ongoing and no clear date is given for its release. So, I tried to read the old strategy 2015-2020 online, in Finnish.
The impression in reading TAIKE’s old strategy 2015-2020 text is something in between reading a marketing and PR text. In addition, the strategy 2015-2020 confirms somehow the logic behind the creation of the Executive Agencies, such as TAIKE, as well as their degenerative weaknesses. But what exactly are the Executive Agencies?
Historically, the Executive Agencies represent the neoliberal institutional alternative response and setups/frameworks which proliferate after the accomplished mission of Thatcherism/Reaganism (lumpenproletariatization through precariousness of the Western working class) and accelerating globalization (based on the free market, intended as deregulation and privatization, government spending reduction, and tax cuts) after the destruction of the Berlin Wall. The first Executive Agencies appeared in the late ’80s early ’90s in the UK but today are also present in the EU (I often happen to work as a freelance evaluator of EACEA) and also in Finland such as in the case of TAIKE. The reason for their existence is the optimization and efficiency of government spending. So, considering that governments pressure for fast results (maximum four years because of the elections), the weakest point of these agencies (especially in the culture sector, which per definition needs time for cultivation) is the simplification of the results into ticking boxes. The logic behind this simplification is to demonstrate how the executive/government maintained the promises of the election campaign. And this is demonstrated only through its Executive Agencies reported results (not processes). But results without transparency of the processes are not good indicators to measure the efficiency of policies.
To make an example, let’s consider the hypothetical case of a party or coalition of parties that wins the election and has made during the election campaign, as part of its cultural policy programme, a promise such as “the integration of migrants” and consequently “democracy” in Finland through art and culture. After winning the elections, the Executive Agency, let say TAIKE in this case, to implement the policies of the government opens a call for “the integration of migrants” supporting projects with an amount equal to 10% of the overall budget which is proportioned with the migrant population in Finland (around 10%). A government with a restricted and limited horizon to its daily survival after its four-year mandate with this result (10% of the budget for culture dedicated to the integration of migrants which make 10% of the population in Finland) will be more than happy and will promote this result as a demonstration of its openness and democracy in governing the country and a good example for the whole world. Of course, it is important that nobody rises questions, and, even if it happens, it is even more important that nobody answers. So, nobody will care about how ethically acceptable is that an institution that supports “the integration of migrants” with 10% of its budget at the end of the day results far from having 10% of migrant personnel in its staff (How many migrants work in TAIKE? How “diverse” is TAIKE in this sense?). Nobody will also care to know how many of these supported projects FOR “the integration of migrants” were managed BY migrants. In this manner, “the integration of migrants” will remain only a number (10%) on paper, an empty word, which will cause discontent to migrants as well as Finns. In this hypothetical scenario, the only concrete outcome will be the futile government spending for “the NON-integration of migrants”. From here enters into play the well-known ideological ping-pong between the national sovranism and globalist neoliberalism of the last 30-40 years, where migrants and Finnish or other Western national precarious lumpenproletariats are used as cannon fodder.
This is only an example but “the integration of migrants” can be substituted with other fancy keywords such as “gender equality”, “diversity”, “ecological sustainability”, “democracy” and so on and so forth. In any case, important for me was to highlight the consequences of the empty words and empty policies and how, through these, can degenerate the Executive Agencies.
Reading the 2015-2020 strategy of ARTS PROMOTION CENTER FINLAND – TAIKE the situation is not much better.
The webpage of the 2015-2020 strategy consists of a text which is in between self-apologetic and marketization. This, of course, is expected by a center of PROMOTION that, as a term, clearly reveals its semantic belongingness to the market logic which by the way contrasts with a large part of modern and contemporary art practices and approaches (conceptual art, street art, institutional critique, land art, and so on and so forth, which are only a few examples for inclusion of which in government policies the ARTS PROMOTION CENTER FINLAND is limited starting from its definition). However, the worst part of TAIKE’s strategy consists of the so-called VALUES/ARVOT (in Finnish).
In English these values can be translated as:
In other words, the TAIKE’s values are exactly what it lacks to demonstrate and to guarantee to the public and to the applicants. To make it comprehensible, even for those who maybe wrote the strategy and policies implemented by TAIKE, an example from the market’s semantic thesaurus is needed. So, in other words, it can be said that setting up the values of an institutional strategy is the same as setting up the value of the exchange currency in finance and the economy. The lack of transparency in terms of values – in TAIKE’s case expertise, openness, and evaluation of the applications – in the free market means only one thing: HIGH RISKS OF SPECULATION! I hope the description of this arts and culture bubble in Finland clarifies the situation for anyone that cares about arts and culture.
The “Cauliflower Trust”. In 1941, a German migrant in Helsinki (What a coincidence!) escaping from the Nazi Regime, wrote a theaterstück, The Resistible Rise of Arthuro Ui. His name was Bertold Brecht. The play is a satirical allegory of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and his use of the scandal of Junkers (in Brecht’s play the Junkers are the Trust of Cauliflower), corrupted landowners’ elite of Eastern Prussia that were maintained and have made profits thanks to the public funds from the central government of Weimarer Republik. Once in power, Adolf, although he came in power even thanks to the populist use of Osthilfeskandal, made sure to censure any mention to it in all the newspapers of the Third Reich because the elite of Junkers was meanwhile enrolled as zealous members of the Nazi Party. The end of Adolf, and the following elites, is known. Known it is also the end of the Third Reich.
I do not know if the coincidence of the play written in Helsinki as well as “the trust of cauliflower” brings to mind an analogy to the artists, researchers, cultural operators active in Finland (including the ones working for TAIKE and the government). And, considering that as far as I see it, in Finland more or less all the elite of artists, researchers, cultural operators of public and private institutions as well as freelancers can survive thanks to funds, the transparency on the decision-making of which is 0, this story perturbates a little.
But maybe, coming from Albania, it perturbates only me. In my mind, it brings me back seven or eight years ago. It reminds me of the rise to power of the new government led by the Artist Prime Minister Edi Rama, in 2013 (Our Artist is not like Brecht’s Anstreicher … we, as Albanians, are lucky because our Artist is famous and exhibits while governing even in Venice Biennial). One of its first decisions – January 2014 – was to close the National Art’s Center. This last was a corrupted entity under the competencies of the Ministry of Culture. Its function was to deliver funds for art and culture organizations, artists, cultural operators but above all to friends of the government. The decisions were taken by intellectuals, artists, and cultural operators of its “independent and empathetic” board. The new government, thanks to the plebiscitary elections, felt strong enough and instead of ameliorating, in terms of transparency of decision-making, the Center just closed it. Since then the decision-making is centralized and everything is delegated to the hands of the omniscient Prime Minister and Minister of Culture. Our Artist Prime Minister himself opened, within the institutional Prime Minister Building, an art center and gallery, called Center for Openness and Dialogue, an Executive Agency, for the transparency of which I invite the reader to enjoy asking directly to http://cod.al/en/. In may 2014 I published on this blog a manifesto, called Manifest: Transparency in and as Culture, and asked the active artists and cultural organizations to sign it. It was signed by ONE organization, with which I collaborated from September 2014 until December 2018, and TWO artists. The rest of the Albanian Trust of Cauliflower ignored and still ignores it.
The gold mine. The Executive Agencies are by definition agitators. They combine the best Eastern European dictatorship regimes of the XXth Century could express in terms of efficiency of institutional control of arts and culture for propagandistic use (a lesson learned thanks to the use the Bolsheviks made of the historical avant-garde art and artists after the Revolution), and the Western European bourgeois democracies could express in terms of efficiency of institutional commodification and marketization of arts and culture (starting from the ’50s abstract expressionism, all pop art, and up until today’s global system of “startists”). Yet, although in their worst versions these agencies seem exclusive instruments of top-down power control, there is a possibility not for a new model – because every new model has its laws and hierarchy of power control – but for a re-modulation of these agencies.
A re-modulation – turning back to the case of TAIKE – should start from data mining excavated from the documents of the applications and the rationales of the evaluation of the applications, the successful ones, and, most importantly, the unsuccessful ones because these last are the more accurate documents of the efficiency of the policies and accurate barometer of the state of the art. But to do this are needed researchers and institutions that recognize the value (know how to read, elaborate, and analyze theoretically, technically, and practically these gold mines of data) and most importantly do not limit their priorities in giving ready-made results to the politicians for their campaigns or to the corporates with interests in embellishing their profits through arts and culture financing.
THE IDEA: The performance, realized thanks to the support of ESPOO CITY and its CULTURE UNIT, is held in the framework of an ongoing artistic research project “Iconology and Iconographies of Boulevard: from Boulevard to Boulevardization and BoulevARTization”.
THE METHODOLOGY: Mainly, the topic imposes iconography as a method of the research, but also iconology, which will consist in collecting, classifying images (‘image’ intended as ‘bild’: see in Hans Belting) and discourses of boulevardisation through their cultural analysis. Altogether, this methodological approach serves to define the mythological archetypes (Carl Jung) inscribed within wider contemporary urban and cultural iconography, starting from the mythologem (Károly Kerény) of “opposites’ separation/conjunction” (the boulevardisation as a key passage from industrial to post-industrial paradigm) as well as the archetypal image of “the industrious”.
THE CONTEXT: Helsinki’s and Uusimaa’s last urban plan provides more densification, thanks to the concept of boulevardisation (transformation of highways in boulevards), seen not only as a solution for the challenge of a greener city but also as the solution of demographic changes (namely, the arrival of migrants). Yet, the plan lack to prioritize its challenges: by making more space for the green (densification of asphalt and cement is a contradiction in terms with a greener city); and assure the participation of migrants (none has asked the migrants if they would prefer a more dense Helsinki). Yet, assured, through urban densification, are the consequent profits for few corporate groups that will build the new boulevards. Therefore, future conflicts are easy to predict between migrants and Finns, passive spectators of the boulevardisation as well as environmental and cultural upheavals. For the performance, the chosen context is the iconic middle of Engel‘s North and South Esplanadi , the monumental Runeberg‘s and Suomi-neito‘s complex in Helsinki’s Boulevardi.
THE SYSTEMIC MACHINE: In underdeveloped transitional societies (HEAVEN FORBID!!! NOT IN FINLAND!!!) the systemic machine for corporate profits works thanks to the involvement of several “play-role-actors”:
STEP 1 – private companies with interests in densification/boulevardisation support politicians and political parties.
STEP 2 – the politicians/political parties propose the plan in the public institution/municipality/region.
STEP 3 – the public institution asks for advice from independent academics/experts.
STEP 4 – the independent academics/experts are supported with grants for their personal projects by private foundations owned by the above-mentioned private companies with interests in densification/boulevardisation.
THE “ROLE OF THE ARTIST”: The inspiration, or better to say the first modulation of the performance builds on Aki Kaurismäki’s “Boheemielämää” and his main character, the Albanian artist and illegal migrant Rodolfo, which in this case is re-conceptualized as a carnival perversion in a new postindustrial-bohemian-migrant-artist with no principles, convictions, or scruples (CAUTION: The performer was born in Albania, but any reference to the Albanian Artist Prime Minister – actually in his third mandate -, who, in 1992, the year of Kaurismäki’s film, was himself a “bohémien” migrant artist living in Paris, and especially any reference to his green-washing and art-washing urban development policies, are purely coincidental!!!). The performance is also a modulation of Carmelo Bene’s “Pinocchio”, a piece of wood/nature/otherness (evoking the “greener” approach of the boulevardisation), which from a migrant/other becomes, as Bene’s Pinocchio, a right-minded man and good member/artist of a boulevardized society. Lastly, the performance is a further modulation on Paul Klee’s works, but here the polyphony is based not on combining, stratifying, approaching the colors towards each other but erasing them and highlighting the line. For this, the starting point is the paradoxical polyphonic painting of Paul Klee “Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor” as well as Klee’s belief that “A line is a dot that went for a walk”.
La prostituée du boulevard de Clichy et l’inspecteur qui la surveille ont tous les deux de mauvais souliers et tous les deux ont mal aux pieds d’avoir arpenté des kilomètres de bitume. Georges Simenon
Ç’ka vijon më poshtë është një metodologji titulluar “Arti kuratorial si polifoni”, nxjerrë nga eksperienca personale mbi procesin kuratorial si proces artistik. Si nëntitull i saj qëndron: “Një ide kuratoriale”. Kjo, në rradhë të parë, do të thotë që autori i këtyre rreshtave nuk e nënkupton kurimin si shërbim ndaj artit apo artistëve, publikut apo institucioneve, por ndaj vetes. Së dyti, nuk e nënkupton as si marrdhënie, por si hulumtim dhe racionalizim i hapësirës midis marrjes dhe dhënies. Për më tepër, ajo që kërkohet të vihet gjithashtu në dukje (nëntitulli) është ideja metodologjike e krijimit të një dispozitivi të prodhimit të kuptimeve nëpërmjet organizimit të hapësirave ekspozitive artistike. Në thelb pra, kjo do të thotë që vetëm një ide mbi artin kuratorial mund të gjenerojë ide artistike kuratoriale. Pra idetë artistike të çliruara prej një vepre arti brenda kuadrit të një ekspozite jo detyrimisht mund të quhen se kanë gjeneruar procesin kuratorial dhe janë vepër e një kuratori. Shumëkush mund të varë apo organizojë objekte brenda një hapësire të caktuar njësoj si në IKEA; po ashtu shumëkush mund të mbledhë miq artistë dhe t’u japë lirinë e organizimit të një hapësire apo duke i intervistuar duke thënë që po e bën në kuadër të një koncepti kuratorial njësoj si Hans Ulrich Obrist; por jo detyrmisht mund t’i quajmë kuratorë.
Një kurator (pra, jo Interior Designer apo PR personnel) gjendet shpesh përpara një dileme mbi emërtimin e procesit kuratorial; pra, procesi kuratorial është kulturë? Është art më vete? Është të dyja bashkë? Përgjigjija ime – pra nuk duhet marrë si e vërtetë universale – është se ky proces artistik është kulturë dhe art. Por ç’do të thotë kjo, praktikisht?
Përsa i përket konceptit të metodologjisë, pra asaj ç’ka paraprin dhe themelon idenë e saj, duhet thënë se mënyra dhe mjetet e të prodhuarit janë krejtësisht kulturorë, ndërsa produkti përfundimtar – kuptimi/et që çliron hapësira ekspozitive – është artistik. Pra, arti kuratorial si polifoni është kulturë dhe art: jo njëkohësisht, por gradualisht, në mënyrë të njëpasnjëshme; në fillim kulturë e më pas art, ose arti si pasojë kulturore. Në pak fjalë, arti kuratorial si polifoni është një proces kulturor që prodhon rezultate artistike. Vetëm falë prodhimit të rezultateve ai mund të quhet art (kuratorial), jo vetëm si Τέχνη, pra art si në kuptimin greko-klasik të fjalës, por edhe në kuptimin bashkëkohor të saj (artin e nënkuptoj si akt resistence, siç është përcaktuar prej Gilles Deleuze-it; ndërsa kulturën, prej Jacques Derrida-së, si diçka të dyshimtë midis kultivimit dhe kolonizimit prej së cilës duhet patur gjithnjë kujdes). Por, kjo tingëllon si kontradiktore me çfarë u tha më lart. Pra, pse them që është art kur në fillim qenka kulturë dhe vetëm më pas art? E them këtë sepse, në vetvete, një qasje e tillë përbën një ide artistike mbi kurimin.
Pra arti kuratorial si polifoni është një postulat artistik që kërkon të modulojë procesin kulturor ku jam dhe që më ka lindur – prindërit, familja, shoqëria -, duke evidentuar të gjitha urat lidhëse apo kordonet kërthizore (ura në vetvete është edhe ndërprerje, e rrjedhës së ujit p.sh.) me kulturën e këtyre të fundit. Ky postulat, arti kuratorial si polifoni, paraprin procesin kulturor apo thënë ndryshe organizimin e hapësirës ekspozitive e cila bëhet nëpërmjet bashkëvendosjes së objekteve dhe subjekteve në të njëjtën hapësirë. Dhe, në fund, procesi kulturor paraprin dhe prodhon rezultate artistike.
Që prej herës së parë, kur vendosa të organizoj hapësirën ekspozitive për të përshfaqur “The Gut” – që ishte një produkt artistik edhe i imi (https://vimeo.com/110004456, ndërsa Studio 203 ka një version të vetin) – mendova se do të ishte e nevojshme jo të kuroja veprën e artit apo artistin/tët, që janë a priori të vetëmjaftueshme nga pikëpamja est+etiko-kuptimore, por të kuroja veten (jo si autor i videos me kamera i zhytur në Lumin e fëlliqur të Tiranës, por si autor i eventit) e më pas publikun me atë ç’ka ajo vepër kishte të pakomunikueshme, të ndërprerë, të dështuar, jo vetëm si qëllim i autorëve, por edhe si shkak i rastësisë (Videoja u prodhua në kuadër të eventit 100 KM ART, mbi të ashtuquajturën audostrada Tiranë-Shkodër, dhe u xhirua mbi dhe brenda Lumit të Tiranës dhe tre urave që e ndërprisnin atë).
Kështu, kuptohet që, së pari, arti kuratorial si polifoni nuk ka për qëllim kurimin e veprës së artit, por kurimin e kuratorit/ve e më pas publikut nëpërmjet aspekteve dhe efekteve të saj. Për rrjedhojë edhe interesi im si kurator nuk mund të ishte, nuk ka qenë ndonjëherë e nuk mund të jetë shitshmëria e veprave të artit të artistit/ve. Së dyti, arti kuratorial si polifoni nuk ka për synim kuptimin/et e veprës/ve s/të artit, por nivelin e tyre të kuptueshmërisë/për+shenjueshmërisë. Për rrjedhojë interesi im si kurator është të qarkoj horizontin e eventeve të kuptueshmërisë së veprave të artit në hapësirën kuratoriale, të qarkoj ato skaje ku gjenerohen apo shuhen kuptimet e veprave të artit, ku gjenerohet apo asgjesohet artisti-kurator si subjektivitet. Në këtë mënyrë, mendoj se evidentohet mësëmiri edhe qenia ime si kurator-autor në rravgim kërkimor, pre e rrjedhës së eventeve social-kulturore; si auctor por pa auctoritas, si sub+jectum (i nënshtruar) dhe ob+jectum (i nxjerrë përpara, ekspozuar) në mes të rrjedhës së pakomunikueshmërisë, ndërprerjes apo dështimit etiko-estetik të veprës së artit “The Gut”, induktuar prej rastësive por e amplifikuar edhe prej vetëqëllimshmërisë së auctorit.
Nga njëra në, kështu të montuara, materialet e videos “The Gut”, ishin thuajse të pakompozuara, me qëllim për të evidentuar materialin filmik brut, të papërpunuar – dmth të kuruar, por jo deri në fund -, për t’i dhënë rëndësi dështimeve, ndërprerjeve dhe pakomunikueshmërisë së falimentimeve kuptimore të synuara. Nga ana tjetër, edhe mjedisi i përshfaqjes së videos, nën urën e Kamzës, mbante të njëjtin tonalitet est+etiko-kuptimor, i cili nuk merrte veprën e artit si model por, nga pikëpamja est+etiko-kuptimore, e modulonte atë (në fakt video mbyllet nën urën e Kamzës, në vendin e përshfaqjes, ekspozitës) duke synuar dhe duke u sintonizuar me nivelin dhe kufijtë e saj të kuptueshmërisë (kuptimet që çlironte në marrje dhe dhënie me atë hapësirë specifike, ku rrjedha natyrore e Lumit dhe autostrada “kulturore” – si pjesë e kulturës urbanistike por edhe e eventit artistik 100 KM ART – ndërpresin lidhjet dhe ndahen me njëra-tjetrën).
Kështu, duke konsideruar që hapësira ekspozitive (nën)Ura e Kamzës, ishte një mjedis jo tërësisht i kompozuar, ajo krijoi një sinfoni me zhurmat e videos si një rezistencë dhe denoncim i pamundësisë së kompletimit të saj. Në këtë mënyrë, mbetej në rravgim apo pre e rrjedhës së eventeve të pakontrollueshme të fatit (dispozitivëve social-kulturorë) të autorit dhe vullnetit të tij. E lënë kështu në tension hapësira ekspozitive nuk alienohej tërësisht prej Lumit të Tiranës, kontekst i veprës së artit. Ajo synonte, edhe nëpërmjet veprës së artit (si produkt që supozohet të pasurojë kontekstin e vet kulturor), kuptueshmërinë nëpërmjet nuhatjes, dëgjimit, shikimit të pakontrolluar por të stimuluar prej hapësirës në fjalë.
Kjo procedurë ishte një lloj sintonizimi me të gjitha tonalitetet e mundshme të veprës së artit (videon). Kjo e fundit nuk merrte kuptim tjetër pëveç amplifikimit të fshirjes, heqjes, mungesës, dështimit dhe falimentimit të çdo kuptimi (video u instalua nën urë paralelisht me rrjedhën e Lumit dhe spektatori i gjendur përballë kishte parasysh trarët pingul të nënurës që alienojnë botën e poshtme të Lumit prej sipërfaqes mbi urë). Në këtë mënyrë, mund të thuhet se duke u pozicionuar në një hapësirë limbike arti kuratorial si polifoni nuk është një dialog apo dialektikë me dhe nëpërmjet veprës së artit – për t’i dhënë një apo më shumë kuptime publikut – por një fugë purgatoriale pas sintonizimit est+etiko-kuptimor me tonalitetet e kuptueshmërisë së veprës/ave të artit.
The Art of Curating as Polyphony. An Idea on Curating.
What follows is a methodological concept entitled “The Art of Curating as Polyphony”, drawn from my personal experience. Its subtitle is: “An Idea on Curating.” This, in the first place, means that the author of these lines does not intend curating as a service to art or artists, the public or institutions, but to himself. Secondly, does not intend either a relationship (literally in Albanian “takegiving”), but as an exploration and rationalization of the space between taking and giving. Moreover, what is intended to be also evidenced (subtitle), is the methodological idea of creating a device for the production of meanings through the organization of art exhibition spaces. Basically, this means that only an idea on curating can generate art curating ideas. So the artistic ideas coming out from an artwork, within the framework of an exhibition, cannot necessarily be the fruit of the curating and the work of a curator. Many can hang or organize objects within a certain space just like in IKEA; also many can gather artist friends and give them the freedom to organize a space or by interviewing them saying they are doing it within a curatorial concept just like Hans Ulrich Obrist; but not necessarily we call them curators.
A curator (i.e., not Interior Designer or PR personnel) is often faced with a dilemma over naming the curating process; so the curating process is culture? Is it art in itself? Is it both together? My answer – so it should not be taken as universal truth – is that this artistic process is culture and art. But, in practice, what does this mean?
As for the concept of methodology, that is, what precedes and establishes its idea, it must be said that the way and means of production are entirely cultural. While the final product – the meaning/s that liberates the exhibition space – is artistic. So The Art of Curating as Polyphony is culture and art: not simultaneously, but gradually, sequentially; first culture and then art, or art as a cultural consequence. In short, the art of curating as polyphony is a cultural process that produces artistic results. Only thanks to the production of results can it be called art (of curating), not only as Τέχνη, ie as in the Greco-classical sense of the word, but also in its contemporary sense (I intend art as an act of resistance, as defined by Gilles Deleuze; while culture, following Jacques Derrida, as something dubious between cultivation and colonization from which one must always beware). Yet, this sounds contradictory to what was said above. So why do I say that it is art when firstly it is culture and only then art? I say this because, in itself, such an approach constitutes an artistic idea on curating.
So the art of curating as polyphony is an artistic postulate that modulates the cultural processes where I was born (parents, family, society) by identifying all the connecting-interrupting bridges or umbilical cords (the bridge itself is also an interruption, of the flow of water for example). This postulate, the art of curating as polyphony, precedes the cultural process – in other words, the organization of the exhibition space – which is done through the co-location within the same space of objects and subjects. Thus, finally, the cultural process precedes and produces the artistic results.
From the first time, when I decided to organize the exhibition space to display “The Gut” – which was an artistic product of mine (https://vimeo.com/110004456, while Studio 203 has a version of its own) – I thought that it would be necessary not to curate the artwork or artist/s, which are a priori self-sufficient from the aest+ethical-semantic point of view, but to curate myself (not as the author of the video with the camera submerged in the dirty Tirana[s River, but as the author of the event); and then, hopefully, the public, with what uncommunicative, interrupted, failed, not only as a goal of the authors, but also as a result of chance the artwork already had and embodied (The video was produced within the event 100 KM ART, on the so-called Tirana-Shkodra highway, and was shot over and inside the polluted Tirana’s River and the three bridges that interrupted it).
Therefore, it is clear that, firstly, the art of curating as polyphony is not intended to curate the artworks, but the curator/s and then the public through its aspects and effects. Consequently, my interest as a curator has never been, it is not, and will ever be to sell the artist/s artworks. Secondly, the art of curating as polyphony does not aim at the meaning/s of the artwork/s, but at their levels and limits of comprehensibility/semiosis. Consequently, my interest as a curator is to circle the horizon of events of understanding of artworks within the curating space, to circle those limits where the meanings of the artworks are generated or extinguished, where the curator/artist is generated or dissolved as subjectivity. In this way, I think at this point it is clearly evidenced my subjectivity as a curator, a researcher adrift and of the drift, of the flow of socio-cultural events; an auctor but without auctoritas, a sub + jectum (subject, submissive) and ob + jectum (object, brought forward, exposed) in the midst of the flow of non-communication, interruption or aesth+etical failure of the artwork “The Gut”, induced by chance but also amplified by the self-intention of the actor/s.
On the one hand, edited in this way, the “The Gut” was made of almost raw film material – it was curated, but not entirely – to give importance to failures, interruptions, and non-communication of intended semiosis. On the other hand, the video presentation environment, under the Kamza bridge, maintained the same aesth+ ethical-semiotic tonality, which did not take the work of art as a model but, from an aesth+ ethical-semiotic point of view, modulated it (in fact, the video ends under the Kamza Bridge, in the place of display, exhibition) aiming and tuning in with its levels and limits of understanding (the meanings it makes in “takegiving” with that specific space, where the natural flow of the River and the “cultural” highway- intended as part of the urban planning culture but also of the artistic event 100 KM ART – break the ties and separate from each other).
Thus, considering that the exhibition space, Kamza’s (under)Bridge, was an incompleted environment, it created a symphony with the video noises as resistance and denunciation of the impossibility of its completion. In this manner, it remained adrift to the course of events and uncontrollable destiny of (socio-cultural dispositifs) of the author and his will. Thus, through this tension, the exhibition space was not completely alienated from the Tirana’s River, the context of the work of art. But aimed, even through the video-artwork (supposed as a product that enriches its cultural context), the semiosis through sensory sensations (smell, sight, hearing) that came uncontrollably from the space in question.
This procedure was a kind of tuning with all possible tonalities of the video artwork. The latter took on no other meaning than an amplified erasing, missing, failing of any meaning (the video was installed under the bridge parallel to the river flow and the spectator in front had – perpendicularly – the understructure of the Bridge that alienates the underworld of the River from the surface above the bridge). In this way, it can be said that positioned in a limbic space the art curating as polyphony is not a dialogue or dialectic with and through the artwork – to give one or more meanings to the public – but a purgatory fugue after aesth+ ethical-semiotic tuning with tonalities of the artwork/s semiosis.
“Occorre fare inizialmente un tale inventario.“
Quaderni del carcere, Antonio Gramsci.
Aesthetics of Existence. The hegemonic discourse of neoliberal institutions have managed to extrapolate, decontextualize and domesticate Foucauldian or Deleuzian concepts and turn them in catchy slogans through which are filtered cultural industry productions of post-industrial societies. In this manner, processes of de-subjectivisation, de-individualisation or de-institutionalization are transformed, through dispositifs of political power, in prolific processes of ego production, which, in the case of Statovci’s narrator’s voice of Tiranan Sydän, regard a post-bourgeois class made of former homoeroticized migrants in Finnish contemporary society.
Tiranan Sydän‘s lack of novelty in terms of discourse as well as in linguistic terms attracts the attention on the absolute lack of resistance of the narrator’s voice, which seems as a fish in water, floating unperturbed the dispositif of power of narrative discourse, this last intended as a genre or metagenre (Bakhtin). There is no fugue outside of this discourse. There is no authentic transgression or desire of narrator’s voice. If there is any, it is through a hermetic, unsolved relationship with animals and myth intended as otherness or a supposed provocative homoerotisation of a relationship between two Albanian youngsters of the Nineties:
[H]e would be a respected brain surgeon who would save orphaned children, women, and the elderly, and I would do something else, I would assist him or get a job of my own unblocking drains, pipes, and sinks or building highways. (142)
which are teleologically already reality and easily achievable in Finland:
I imagine that if I had grown up in a country like this, I would have read so many books that I wouldn’t have been able to keep my eyes open, I would have gotten myself a university education and joined a respected profession, I would have lived the best life possible and made those closest to me positively burst with pride. (p.198)
Therefore, the I or the narrator’s voice, as a subject, is produced within the territory of the other, yet not through a process of subjectivization, opening a new discursive or linguistic territory to widen the existing one, but through a process of subjectification, wearing an already existing and recognizable mask of the territory of the other (migrant from former Eastern Blok/Orient/Balkan, belonging to Islamic religion, lgbtiq …etc.).
This production of subjectivity through self-subjectification in the territory of the other in contemporary Albanian literature as well as art is very common. The most famous in literature is the psychotic case of Ismail Kadare, the writer par excellence of the past state socialist regime, which beyond the 180 degree change of weltanschauung as consequence of the change of regime, has opportunistically re-written several passages of the past publications to tune in the same wavelength of the narrative discourse in power (Ke, Jing, “The four others in I. Kadare’s works : a study of the Albanian national identity.” link accessed on 06/01/2021).
However, in Statovci’s Tiranan Sydän towards the end the subjectification or giving to the other what the other expects becomes suspect because of its obviousness:
I sit down at the front of the church, pull my new pendant bearing the cross from my beg, and place it around my neck, and when a priest greets me by nodding in my direction with the subtlest of gestures, like a barely perceptible brushstroke, I feel as though I understand something essential about Finland: people here are not impolite, they are lovely, they like to be left in peace, and they don’t need anything extravagant around them. (p.202)
Coup de Théâtre. In two occasions I was almost, literally, throwing away Tiranan Sydän. The first was when I red something like “Poverty is a state of mind.” (p.150) which regarded Tirana of 1991; and the second “The drunks are a spectacle to behold. [U]npleasant, disgusting, and unforgivable.” (p.197) which regarded the Finnish context. Yet, the intentional stimulation of this kind of reader’s reaction (the theatrical gesture of throwing a book away), through banalities, clichés, prejudice, – which to me reminded Thomas Bernhard – demonstrates always a merit of the writer revealing its capacity to manage the dispositif of narrative discourse.
Statovci’s intentional abundant use of banalities, clichés, prejudice throughout Crossing is demonstrated by their dispersive function towards the Coup de Théâtre at quasi the end of the novel, when the main character/narrator, because of an opportunity to reach fast success and fame through participation in a talent show aired on a national TV station, re-invents ethnographically, without hesitation, its identity by changing the origins from a person belonging to a sexual minority group born in Albania to a similar categorized person born in Turkey, which, as contexts, for the general opinion of a Western neoliberal post-industrial society can be considered, if not the same, interchangeable.
At this point the whole narration is revealed as a theater within theater with three characteristics which effect the (birth of the) reader.
The first one regards the structure of the novel: the text ends with a rapprochement (familial or domestic pacification?) between the son and the mother (the other) as well as the re-appearance in the final scene of an animal/horse (the otherness). This final solution debilitates the effect of the rapid mutation of the main character’s identity revealing a sarcastic theatricality of the writer playing with the reader.
The second characteristic is the almost monological narrative discourse as a tool of reality creation of contexts where the main character/narrator is involved. Through this discourse the narrator is transformed in the main character, which creates for the reader fictional and semiotized realities (in Tirana, Rome, New York, Germany, etc.), where several characters are directly engaged confirming and completing the truthfulness of the fictional realities created by the narrator/main character.
The last characteristic, to conclude with these texts regarding Pajtim Statovci’s Tiranan Sydän, is the psychic and sociological effect on the reader, which empathizes, throughout the reading, with the narrator, the other characters or, as in my case, with the cultural or mythological aspects of life ridiculed by the narrator. In each empathetic case at stake for the reader are 1) the honor of belonging to a social category, status, construct or 2) its contrary, feeling imprisoned within these lasts, as well as 3) the truthfulness of the fictional reality. Statovci’s main preoccupation are the readers which empathize with the honor of belonging to something and somewhere and readers which feel imprisoned in any prefixed category rather then the readers which care about the qualitative aspects of the narrative discourse.
“Occorre fare inizialmente un tale inventario.“
Quaderni del carcere, Antonio Gramsci.
Oriental-CommunistBlok-Balkan-Albanianism. After My Cat Yugoslavia, unsurprisingly Tirana of 1990-’91, after the collapse of the state socialism, in Statovci’s Crossing, is a completely invented context. Therefore, it is clear that the first person narrator’s voice surfs the hegemonic discursive waves of Orientalism as intended by Edward Said, and similarly one can add CommunistBlokism (see some terminological issues which came out by an exchange between me and Raino Isto link), Balkanism (see in Maria Todorova’s Imagining the Balkans, 1997), and Albanianism.
The concept of Orientalism in narrator’s hegemonic discourse, from an Albanian perspective, is historically as well as culturally even more stratified that the orientalism defined by Edward W. Said. This last has, in its East-West dichotomy, as a background the Arab world and Islam seen in British and French, and later US, colonial as well as post-colonial practices. Instead, the discourse of Orientalism in Crossing, among other strata lacks to fully evidence, as part of its background, the division of Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic Churches and Roman Empire and, consequently, the idea of their re-unification and restoration (as it was before year 395) represented by the historical figure of Scanderbeg, which Statovci highlights generally through touristic location or gadgets such as Tirana’s Skanderbeg Square, Skanderbeg liquor (Crossing, p.15), etc. So the dichotomy “orient-occident” within Orientalist or Occidentalist discourses, intended in Said’s terms, is even deeper in an Albanian perspective and belongs not only to their relation with actual imperialist forces, but also to their relation with secular as well as religious imperial forces of the past, where the Albanians propose the own solution: Skanderbeg as a leading figure.
The concept of CommunistBlokism, one can be considered as part of the Western Euro-American Cold War propaganda. The Communist State or Blok do not exist in any official document in the history of the world, appearing only in propagandistic definitions related with the imperialistic, colonial and Euro-American-centric vision of the world. Thus, from an Albanian perspective, the discourse related with this concept presents among others, as a hidden and unarticulated strata of narrator’s hegemonic discourse of Crossing, the specific and distinct history of an independent State called Popular Socialist Republic of Albania, which defers a lot from the rest of the Communist Blok. For example, to understand and deal better with the deep complexity of the context one should know that Albania withdraw officially from the Warsaw Treaty in 1968 after the invasion of Prague by Soviet troupes; or another important fact such as the interruption of any relation with China in 1979 after the Chinese support to Pol Pot against Vietnam. So beyond the dogmatic definition Communist as well as Blok there is a whole history of the Albanians and Albania and their specific relation and solution given to the state socialism which is not evidenced or ignored in Crossing.
The concept of Balkanism, according Maria Todorova, is part of an European imperialist discourse (the discourse of the Great Powers) which starts developing mainly during the disintegration of Ottoman Empire and first decades of XX Century, and continues in the ’90 (disintegration of Yugoslavia), the period partially narrated in Crossing. Yet, what lacks in Crossing, from an Albanian perspective, is the essence of the “imperialist mission” of the Great Powers to “civilize the world” and the Balkans as well as Albania of the Nineties. Lacks for example that, in 1990-91 there were of course social conflicts and massive economic emigration (is famous the lapidary expression of the Prime Minister Ylli Bufi “We have bread only for six days!”), but not yet the plague of the female prostitution and trafficking (“And we were all complicit in their [disappeared girls] fate: I was guilty of it, Agim too, because we accepted the world around us as it was, unchanged, and we didn’t lift a finger to change it for the better.” p. 184). This came massively only after the 1997-’98, with the civil war exploded after the pyramidal or Ponzi scheme tricks came to an end after years and years of publicity on mass-media during which the Great Powers of the time (Monetary Fund, EU and US representatives) were sleeping. Moreover, in 1998, the constitution was changed and blessed by the above-mentioned Great Powers. So the Popular Socialist Republic proprieties were privatized by individuals (what was before propriety of the people, being apartments or factories, became propriety of the people living in those apartments of workers working in those factories), who, for ridiculous prices, sold everything to those who had cash in their hands (former hierarchs and Party’s leaders, newborn mafia and small oligarchs, foreigners, etc.). In this manner, the shock therapy opened the way of “imperialist mission” and “civilized world” with massive human, drug, weapon trafficking, which, altogether, in this case can be considered as the Albania’s own solution to capitalism and free market.
Even the concept of Albanianism, or Albanianhood, the quality of being Albanian, can be considered slightly different from other nationalisms. In Crossing this concept is treated as something aberrant and abhorrent (“I would not be an Albanian, not in any way, but someone else, anyone else.” p. 6). Yet, strangely and inexplicably attractive through the mythological stories of Bujar’s father, which, through their scarce elaboration throughout the novel, hide, in my opinion, the chauvinism that other nationalisms can barely equalize.
Eagle and eaglet. The scarce or superficial elaboration of the myth within the stories narrated throughout Crossing, opens, from one part, space to symbolic, anthropological and ethnological interpretations. Yet, from the other part, this superficiality, considering the absence of in-depth studies regarding this mythological and cultural aspect, becomes not an agency but a stimulus for a real chauvinism and speculative political interpretation which is deep-rooted in the last two centuries of the Albanian nationalism.
There is a specific story narrated in Crossing which can help understanding of this approach. The moment in which the narrator’s voice asks to his father “why the Albanian word for ‘Albania’ is shqipëtar [sic], the son of the eagle, and why the Albania is called Shqipëria, the land of the eagle, and why was a two-headed eagle on the Albanian flag”.
The story is about a little boy haunting in the mountains, which saves an eaglet “just before” the viper’s “fangs could sink into eaglet’s back”. The viper (killed with an arrow) was left in the nest by the eagle to feed her eaglet, thinking that the snake was already dead. Then, the boy takes the eaglet with him and when the eagle returns he doesn’t want to give her eaglet back. “Your child is my child now [because] I saved him from the snake, which you didn’t manage to kill, so I can take better care of him” says the boy. Then the eagle wants to make a deal. “Give back my child and you shall have everything I own, my ability to fly, and the power of my vision. You will become invincible, and from then on you shall bear my name.” The boy agreed and the eaglet “remained faithful[…], keeping an eye on him and watching his back”. So, the “boy grew into a man, and with his bow on one shoulder and the eagle on the other, he truly became invincible”.
The story can be interpreted from a cultural, anthropological and ethnographic point of view, meaning culture as cultivation of the nature/otherness, and eventually becoming other and otherness. But there is also a political interpretation, which is very vivid for an Albanian ear and rimes with the nationalistic rhetorical discourse of the Nineteenth century not coming out from the elliptic and suggestive approach of Crossing. More specifically this interpretation rimes with the discourse of the work of Vaso Pasha and especially his poem O moj Shqypni e mjera Shqypni/ Oh Albania, poor Albania, where Albania is a mother without children/men, which are too corrupted to save her, so there is anything left except for the women lament. It is a strange nationalism this one, for its times and compered to other countries, centering and promoting in its discourse “the Albanianhood” as the “religion of the Albanian” (Feja e shqyptarit asht shqyptaria). So, in the middle of the Orietalist–Occidentalist as well as Islamic-Catholic-Orthodox conflictual discourses within the Ottoman sphere, the Albanianhood or Albanianism it is claimed with its own, unique, and unitary romantic and romanticized vision. The poem of Vaso Pasha in this manner also, and again, evokes, without mentioning it, the figure of Scanderbeg through the dead Albanians of the past. So, it demands to the living Albanians to re-unite, through the idea and imperialistic discourse, which foresees the necessary historical and mythological “rapacity” of the Albanian to guarantee unitary rule, order and security (Vaso Pasha was himself an Ottoman administrator). And the Albanians of the times, should be evidenced, had decisive the roles within the Ottoman empire, where famous political and military figures were time to time pro and against Ottoman Empire (Ali Pashë Tepelena, Omer Vrioni, Marko Boçari, Muhamed Aliu, etc). In this manner, it is clear that the symbolic political interpretation of the Albanian that becomes the son the eagle, because the eagle it is not able to take care of her eaglet, is, in this perspective, still a reactionary vision to guarantee imperialistic rule, order, and security.
To conclude, it is important to mention that Feja e shqyptarit asht shqyptaria (The religion of the Albanian is Albanianhood), which, per se, sounds like a verse that overcomes not only the imperialistic rhetoric but also the mere nationalism, is followed by an Albanian reterritorialization – from Bar to Preveza – and, after connecting historically with the ancestors or parents and family, it reconciles with religion/God.
Qysh prej Tivarit deri n’Prevezë,
Gjithkund lshon dielli vap’edhe rrezë,
Asht tok’ e jona, prind na e kanë lanë
Kush mos na e preki, se desim t’tanë
Të desim si burrat qe vdiqne motit
Edhe mos marrohna përpara zotit.
From the city of Bar down to Preveza
Everywhere spends its warmth and rays the sun,
This is our land, left us by our ancestors
Let no one touch her, for her we will all die
Let us all die as once our old men did
Upon itself before God none shame will bring.
… continues with Part IV …
“Occorre fare inizialmente un tale inventario.“
Quaderni del carcere, Antonio Gramsci.
HOMOEROTICEXILE. My Cat Yugoslavia was characterized by the same simplicity in terms of writing, which reminded Hemingway for its descriptive immediacy, but overcharged academically, bringing in mind the creative writing courses/classes, where, for his misfortune, the American author is the real mainstream.
The architecture of the novel – to maintain the Hemingway’s terminology – was a spatial-temporal ping pong over the main story. This last was supported by a double first person narration, made of the voices of a homoeroticized son and the mother. The background story was narrated by the mother – starting in 1980, in Kosova and finishing in 2009, in present days’ Finland – woven with a compilation of costumes, legends and myth of the Albanian tradition (not very elaborated; just thrown there as baits). The present story was narrated by the son (2009, in Finland). The intersected first person narration voices produced a sort of final zoom out showing a big picture with a double focus: one on the lonely mother and her cat and the other on her son starting a new same sex relationship with Sami (the name brings in mind the indigenous people in Finland).
The book wasn’t more than a writing exercise of clichés, including the sexual minorities and feminist mainstream soundtrack made of names such as Tina Turner, Cher, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga. To make the book more tasty here and there words in Albanian popped up, for me like moldy mushrooms, but, I guess, as white truffle for the palate of literary tourists or institutionalized experts.
Cats and snakes with related illusive literary tropes, to me, more than Kafka, reminded Poe, for their suggestive but under-developed symbolic elaboration and quasi-hermeticism (but maybe I am influenced by reading the text in English and not in original). Referring at times to the lack of meaning or to obvious sexual symbols they are something in between Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey monolith and Kusturica’s Crna mačka, beli mačor cats.
Nationality and immigration were challenged with the same arrogant superficiality as in the first pages of Crossing, showing off a list of well-known nervous tics of Finnish and migrant characters caused by conflicting rituals, cultures as well as contexts. In addition, this superficiality contrasted with the quasi-total lack of historic research. For example, it was not highlighted the exile experience specificity of the main characters’ family: Albanians living in Kosova, under the Yugoslav Confederation, without having same rights, in terms of political representation, as Croats, Serbs, Slovenians, etc., which in everyday Yugoslavian life demonstrated better the colonial effects as well as aspects, such as prejudice and racism (i.e. Šiptar was a derogatory term which ridiculed the name Albanians called themselves Shqiptarë); and the connection of this background with the Finnish context.
Yet, in short, the book was well-packaged, matching all the different boxes of “fighting nationalism”, “promoting integration of migrants”, “enhancing gender equality”, “supporting sexual minority rights” and bla, bla, bla, for the taste of the literary status quo, which awarded and promoted the book nationally as well as throughout global mass media.
Considering the wide-spread neoliberal ideology in Finland, I imagined as if the book was written by a youngster, following the requirements of an open call, such as one I found last year at Migration Institute of Finland (link), which infantilized young refugees as if they did have problems of functional literacy:
“We work with art therapists and visual artists to help young refugees create objects and images about relational wellbeing. We do this in three ways – first, by asking them to show us what relational wellbeing looks like in their day to day life with others in the present. Then we ask them to imagine how it might look in the future.
Finally, we ask them to remember it in their lives before they left their country of origin. Then we put their stories, images and objects together to see how relational wellbeing in the past, present and future is similar or different over time. The journey from volatility to vitality is often a long one for refugee youth. We hope to show pictures and stories of how life flows after the drama of asylum, in the quiet, unremarkable moments when they and others are drawn together and as they become part of a nation’s diversity and wealth over time (link).“
It is the same procedure followed by Statovci in My Cat Yugoslavia. His quit, unremarkable moment, with the other is, as Il Venerdì della Repubblica defines it, on the cover of the Italian edition of the book, full of sensual realism, as if we were in front of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
But what is this sensual realism? Here it is, in a glimpse:
“He wore a bespoke suit, a tie, and leather shoes, and I felt like asking him to stop so that I could look at him from head to toe and admire myself standing next to him in the mirror. I wanted to be envious of myself, of this moment. Of the fact that I had found a man like this, my very own bank manager with whom I could come to any agreement whatsoever.” (My Cat Yugoslavia, p.224).
In other words, according the narrator, this sensual realism consists in a superficial and immediate reproduction of self-image framed by a mirror, which incentivizes the ego masturbation to reach its maximal apotheosis, where love is a bank and beloved a bank manager. The perfect speculation! This last intended as an image as well as financial profit.
Before Crossing back. It isn’t strange, at all, that Pajtovci’s first work was awarded and appreciated for its homoerotic-immigrant-Finnish mythology, considering the neoliberal ideology of the country as well as the ideology of its art and culture, public and private, institutions. The book was all about ego-masturbation, veiled by a post/petty-bourgeois superficial self critique of the culture and societies of provenience as well as reception. Yet, with some differences: from the first were challenged, beyond the culture as a whole, the costumes, myth and legends, while from the second, there were no indications, as if the Finnish myth and legends did not exist, did not influence or not exploited for the generation of contemporary ones (Just to make an example: I live in Haukilahti, Espoo and the two nearest big shopping centers are Ainoa, recalling the traditional myth of Kalevala , and Iso Omena/Big Apple recalling the contemporary myth of the well-known global metropolis. Both of them are not only similar with each other, but do not have any difference with shopping centers in New York or Tirana).
This arrogance, refusal and prejudice towards ones’ own cultural, traditional, national, ethnic belonging accompanied with an unscrupulous and ostentatious positivity towards consumerism, brings in mind the problems of acculturation highlighted by Pasolini in Italy, during the industrial and economic booming, in an open letter addressed to the Executive Directors of the National TV RAI, published at Corriere della Sera on December 9th, 1973. In that letter were highlighted the processes of erasure – unimaginable even under fascism – and how the youth with a peasant, proletarian and sub-proletarian background started to refuse their roots for a petty bourgeois consumerist model promoted by mass-media and TV. But this time, through the first person narrator voices of My Cat Yugoslavia, we are in front of several overlapping acculturation problems. Here we are in front of the youth refusing not only the peasant, proletarian and sub-proletarian background but also the national, ethnic, familial as well as culture heritage, tradition, costumes, values; refusing one system (based on collectivism and interdependence such as in former-Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) for another (based more on individualism such as the contemporary Finnish bourgeois democracy). And all this not in a Fordist industrial but post-industrial booming context.
Furthermore, considering the prices, awards and appreciations collected of Statovci’s first work, the strange thing was noticing the lack of novelty and transgression, in terms of diversity. Of course, the voice of the author can be considered as different, intended as a Kosovar, positioned as belonging to sexual minorities, coming from a culture supposed patriarchal by the general Finnish institutionalized imaginary, but not diverse. Diversity is something else. It is etymologically di(s)+vèrtere, di(s)=da is a suffix which indicates leaving a place, distancing, and vèrtere means verge, overthrow, overturn, turning towards another way, and also another verse (poetically intended). So, from this point of view, there is nothing diverse in My Cat Yugoslavia. At least, there is not a single thing that the neoliberal ideology, through its public and private, artistic and cultural, as well as political institutions and mass-media, doesn’t already promote. And coming from Albania, it reminds me the good, old times of socialist realism in literature, in its particular Albanian style, which is something different from the one criticized by Roland Barthes in Le degré zéro de l’écriture.
Thus, before restart reading Crossing I thought about Mark Fisher’s questions, “how long can a culture persist without the new? What happens if the young are no longer capable of producing surprises?” (Capitalist Realism: Is there No Alternative? O Books, 2009, p. 3.). And, considering that I already knew the initial approach of Crossing, I expected the author, after contesting his traditional Kosovar costumes, culture, myth, legends, to continue provoking deeper, with the same superficiality, Kosova’s Albanian roots.
At this point, considering the lack of all these multidimensional problematic strata in Statovci’s work and its critical reception, I couldn’t help but think also about Jean-Léon Gérôme’s The Snake Charmer embellishing the cover of Edward W. Said’s book Orientalism; think about homoerotisation of immigrants and intentional confusing the concept of exile with the concept of nomadism as a good neoliberal strategy to fight the well-known neo-conservative image of immigrant serial-rapists of immaculate white, liberal, Euro-American pure women; as well as think about image of the Albanian as paradigmatic within the concept of “orientalism”, starting from numerous Arnaouts’ of Gérôme or Lord Byron’s Child Harold’s Pilgrimage.
… to be continued with the Third Part!
“Occorre fare inizialmente un tale inventario.“
Quaderni del carcere, Antonio Gramsci.
Crossing-cut. Few weeks ago I was reading at Peizazhe.com a post of the Albanian author Ardian Vehbiu regarding Milan Kundera’s biography, Český život a doba, written by Jan Novak, which questioned Kundera’s “obsessive need to control his image […] in part from a desire to whitewash some very dark chapters of his personal history“. All what I was thinking during the reading was that in Albania, this obsessive need to control the immaculate, intact personal image is beyond past or recent socio-political experiences of the individual. It is religion, culture, myth, art.
The same obsessive treatment of the personal image (fytyrë=face) I found in the work of Pajtim Statovci, whose “immigrant-homoerotic-Finnish mythology” – words of Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize’s jury awarding Statovci’s first work My Cat Yugoslavia in 2014 – intrigued me, especially for his becoming a sort of Finnish-worldwide-viral literary phenomenon.
Even more intriguing were the online key words of his second novel, Tiranan Sydän (Tirana’s Heart or Tirana’s Core, translated as Crossing, in English): “death of Enver Hoxha”, “ruins of Communist Albania”, “sexual identity”, “migration”, “heritage of Albanian myth and legend”, “human need to be seen”. In addition, from the reviews, the book seemed the narration of my life: family origins from Yugoslavia (the main character’s father from Kosova, mine from Bosnia and Herzegovina); life as teenager in Albania in 1990-’91; migratory experience in Italy and now in Finland; all written by someone born in 1990 and residing in Finland from 1992, when he was only two. Moreover, it seemed not just a book about me, but also written by my daughter (she’s almost three now and lives in Finland from last year). With these in mind, I decided to start reading Crossing.
Crossing-X-ray of reader’s gestation. The first chapter is entitled religiously God’s Rib, and is related with the sensitivity of the narrator regarding gender equality (for a deeper understanding of the meaning of which, vaguely developed in Crossing, I would suggest the reader to have fun with the work of Ziony Zevit and os baculum).
The narration, in the first person, starts with “When I think about my own death, the moment it happens is always the same” (Crossing, translated by David Hackston, Pushkin Press, 2016, p.3), a sentence suggesting Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author; author, which, reduced in narrator’s voice, a character of the novel, theoretically, seems to open space to welcome the birth of the reader, or at lest this is my reading approach. So, this text is a sort of embryonic X-ray to document my gestation, up to birth, as a reader after reading Statovci’s work.
The second sentence, “I am wearing a plain, colored shirt and a matching pair of paints, cut from a thin material that’s easy to put on”, immediately refers to the image, to the character’s sober (plain), accurate (matching) and functional (easy) look. This sobriety, accuracy and ease characterizes the description of the gradual disruption of functioning of the organs (bringing in mind The Body Without Organs concept of Antonin Artaud) and the process of dying “as easy as a gentle downhill stroll”.
For me, as a reader, the first pages of the book were simple and easy to read. Yet, the tone of the narration sounded arrogant, transpiring cultural prejudices probably as symptoms of a latent complex of inferiority. But this appears natural for a contemporary neoliberal system and its status quo, where one seems unable to be gay without being macho, feminist without being fascist, diverse without being different; where everything is a carnival without carne/meat (in Latin); where being immigrant or Finnish or any other nationality as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, in short, all communities from lgbtq to all the letters of the alphabets of the world mean pride only for the duration of a ride … generally in a boulevard.
The forced, not only philosophical but also literary, intellectualism and the book’s façade construction were ambitious. While Proust wrote about “possess[ing] other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is” (La Prisonnière/À la recherche du temps perdu), the narrator’s voice in Crossing echoed to “put in a set of blue contact lenses to be born again” (p.4), highlighting the artificiality not only of the outside image (blue contact lenses), but also of the sight (seeing through those blue contact lenses and thinking oneself as being reborn, having new a sight).
Moreover, sounded uncanny, considering the fake blue/other eyes, to read about all that moralistic impetus of the narrator on the façade – “you have to prepare yourself. To live so many lives, you have to cover up the lies you’ve already told with new lies to avoid being caught up in the maelstrom that ensues when your lies are uncovered” (p. 6) – and still notice its persistence of prejudices – “people in my country grow old beyond their years and die so young precisely because of their lies. They hide their faces the way a mother shields her newly born child and avoid being seen in an unflattering light with almost military precision: there is no falsehood, no story they won’t tell about themselves to maintain the façade and ensure that their dignity and honor remain intact and untarnished until they are in their graves” (p. 6). All these asserted not only without apparent explanation, ignoring the complex cultural background of those behaviors and/or rituals the narrator wanted to stigmatize.
Crossing lines after lines. The reading became to me an exercise to measure the limits of irritation.
Referred to his Albanian parents, the thoughts of the main character – “I would never […] invite neighbors for dinner simply to feed them with food I could never afford for myself.” (p. 6) – seemed to ignore the archaicity of tht culture, the works of Lévi-Strauss or Mauss on archaic societies and cultures, or at least Pier Paolo Pasolini’s concept of sub-proletariat and petty bourgeois acculturation.
Without any composure, there were other conceited phrases such as “[t]he people [in Albania] were poor, they smelled bad and talked incessantly, nobody seemed to have a job or anything in particular to do, everybody had yellow teeth and damp stains beneath their armpits” (p.56) but few pages later “the Swedish [like English and French] looked so pure” (p.65), which sounded like phrases written by a member of Suomen Vastarintaliike with ethnic complexes of inferiority and clear unelaborated homosexual repressed tendencies.
And the things got worse when I red something like “people queuing at the gates of the city’s churches and mosques in the hope of food aid” (p. 64). Churches and Mosques in Tirana at that time!? In 1990!? Everyone through a fast online research can easily find that during the Popular Socialist Republic churches and mosques were destroyed, transformed in toilets, basketball halls, museums or other imaginative functionalities or simply closed, and the first mass celebration dates November 4th, 1990 in a graveyard near Shkodra. And it is for this reason that churches and mosques could start helping people only after 1991 or 1992, when were officially permitted to re-open (1991).
Yet, I remembered that even in the first pages the description of Tirana was somewhat insecure. Thus, without being sure if this was a pure fantasy or scarce research of the author, a mish-mash of the author and scarce editing of the publisher, or something else, and to understand better, I decided to quit reading Crossing and start reading the first Statovci’s work, Kissani Jugoslavia, translated as My Cat Yugoslavia, and read about his immigrant-homoerotic-Finnish mythology (I red the edition of Pushkin Press, translated by David Hackston, 2017).
The idea of Jörn Donner. On September 16th, 2020 Globe Art Point organized a Morning Coffee (meeting) where Helsinki’s Municipality new Director of Culture, Mari Männistö, presented the Vision for Art and Culture in Helsinki 2030 (pdf). This last was proposed on August 18th (video), by an independent committee. The initiative to leave the Vision in the hands of an independent committee, according to Mari, was proposed by the former Municipality’s Council Member Jörn Donner. The Donner’s proposal represents a clear tendency of Helsinki’s Municipality to involve the community on the decision making process, starting from the Vision, or, in other words, from its basic conceptual and methodological framework.
Involving community and artists in power. In this blog is documented (in Albanian) the same tendency to open the decision making process and involve the community several times, for several years, but especially in 2016, where the Municipality of Tirana invited the starchitect and green-washing master Stefano Boeri (actually, according Boeri, was the Albanian Artist Prime Minister to invite him) to work on city’s Masterplan (no competition needed in Albania as one can imagine, because the global political leaders of the village know everything!). As a façade, covering the lack of transparency, covering the corruption as well as money laundering, the Municipality organized an open public event, but the “openness” consisted in inviting only Municipality’s departmental directors and employees and one independent representative of cultural scene personally related with the Mayor and his entourage. Of course, through all this long introduction, the intention is not to compare Helsinki with Tirana, because first of all the writer of these lines lives in Finland from 2019 and has not sufficient knowledge regarding the context and, secondly, it is hard to imagine that in Finland, not only for the art and culture vision 2030 where the amount of money on the plate reduces the conflict, but also for Helsinki’s Urban Plan for example where the amount of money it is tempting to speculators, people will be treated like in Albania: thrown out of their houses in the middle of the night, handcuffed and imprisoned, their houses bulldozed by Municipality and Police, all these in front of children eyes (link). So, this is only a warning: these things can happen, not only when the artists’ community is involved in decision making, but also when artists are the decision makers such as in the case of Albania and its artist Prime Minister. Thus, it is important to prevent that arts, culture as well as artists and cultural operators serve intentionally or unintentionally the mob, oligarchs, or particular group of interests or even the established political and financial powers. Therefore, this text, following the natural essence of art, as resistance, and culture, as cultivation of arts, intends to highlight the necessity of maintaining a sort of distance from certain illusions, such as the involvement of community or leaving in hands on artists and cultural operators the decision making process.
De-institutionalizing and overcoming political representivity. Thus, with in mind the necessary doze of disillusion, the first thing that can be evidenced regarding the Donner’s idea is the way in which this very good tendency to involve the community, starting from the Vision, initiated by the Municipality of Helsinki, is somewhat blocked at a level of institutional representation, considering the participants of the independent committee, all coming from established institutions:
chairman Aleksi Malmberg (General Manager of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra) and the members Leif Jakobsson (Emeritus Director of the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland), Gita Kadambi (General Director of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet), Elina Knihtilä (Professor at the University of the Arts Helsinki), Emmi Komlosi (Planner-teacher at the Helsinki Adult Education Centre), Sonya Lindfors (Choreographer and Artistic Director at UrbanApa), Teemu Mäki (Artist, Doctor of Fine Arts and Chair of The Artists’ Association of Finland), Eeka Mäkynen (Managing Director of Finnish Metal Events Oy), Sara Norberg (Managing Director of Cinematic), Veli-Markus Tapio (Senior Advisor at the Finnish Cultural Foundation).
The independent committee, considering the provenience of the members and the lack of questioning of their status, starting from the Vision, shows two faces of a same problem: institutional and representational (political as well as artistic and cultural), which contradict the tendency of Donner’s proposal and Municipality’s initiative.
Firstly, the Donner’s idea regards de-institutionalization, from the institution of Municipality Council to a non institutional independent committee. How does the independent committee build on this aspect of Donner’s idea and pushes further de-institutionalization in the Vision remains unknown.
Secondly, the Municipality’s initiative is a clear tendency to overcome the problem of political representation of majority of parties (which are represented by the members of the Municipality Council) by involving a wider community, represented by the independent committee and, through them, involving the public, the electorate, part of which are also the minorities not represented in the Municipality Council. How does the independent committee build on this tendency of overcoming the representivity and how each member problematizes and pushes further this aspects remain also unknown.
It is exactly this tendency to de-institutionalize and overcome the political and consequently artistic and cultural representative and representational problem, which must be fundamental or the basis on which the independent committee should build and push further the Vision for Arts and Culture of Helsinki 2030. Without pushing further this tendency, the Vision will confirm the status quo, which no artist or cultural operator can represent better than a career politician or a Municipality Council. Consequently, this exceptional occasion where an independent committee designs the Vision will be a lost occasion like tens, hundreds or thousands others happened not only in Helsinki, but also in Finland and other parts of the world.
Yet, let see now how the Vision is further articulated (the reference is English version).
Vision with metaphors from industrial and anthropocentric thesaurus.
The first chapter and sentence of the Vision is a proclamation: “Helsinki holds art and culture at the hart of good living and city development”. The “good living”, although not very clear (do Helsinki’s citizens share a common understanding on “good living”? any reference?), seems a metaphor regarding the psycho-physical conditions of Helsinki’s citizens. The meaning of “city development” is clearer. It regards urban development. Development as a concept belongs to the logic of industrial development, being this last clearly related with the bourgeois industrial capitalism (and infinite consumption of superfluous goods would have said Pier Paolo Pasolini, to whom I refer regarding “development”‘s genesis: “Uno ‘sviluppo’, però, la cui figura si è ormai formata e fissata nel contesto dell’industrializzazione borghese.” Scritti corsari). Therefore, “city development” regards the urban densification and its built space enlargement.
At this point, if the reader follows the Vision‘s metaphor, art and culture at the hart of the citizen and industrial urban development, it is clear that art and culture function as pacemakers. Art and culture seem perfect technologically reproducible mechanisms (Walter Benjamin echoes!) supporting the rhythm or regulating the heart beating of the citizen and the way city is developing and will develop in 2030. Considering this ambitious approach, it is interesting to see how art and culture will regulate the rhythm of industrial circulation and consumption of goods as well as how, through consumption of goods, achieve the “good living”, which is basically the fundamental idea of industrial capitalism.
The first paragraph of Vision‘s first chapter, presents the challenges: “the environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology“. These are finely seen as “customary mindsets and practices“, through which the specialists of pacemakers – artists and cultural operators – are supposed to face 2030.
The other paragraph, presents one of these pacemakers, the art, as instrument of knowledge and imagination for “alternative worlds and build paths to the future”.
The next one, defines “the hart of Helsinki”, made by “[t]he people […] and their diversifying (sic!) cultures”, which “is important engage in a dialogue” with each other and create the “common spirit of Helsinki”. In other words, the cultures – as pacemakers or industrial mechanisms – jump from physical to metaphysical sphere. Yet, a question rises: despite the fact that there are pure and impure spirits, wasn’t better instead of unifying, concentrating or homologating all citizens under one spirit to use spirituality, which seems a wider and not fully defined term?
Proceeding further, Helsinki 2030, apart from heart and spirit, demonstrates also to have consciousness:
Helsinki knows how to use the skills and thinking of artists to help in building a good city: in enhancing the well-being and health of the people of Helsinki, in ecological reconstruction and in recognising new opportunities.
It is interesting to know from the independent committee how Helsinki can “use the skills and thinking” of artists to enhance “the well-being and health of the people”, where the art can be beyond good and evil (Nietzsche), or beyond the pleasure principle (Freud). Therefore, the concept of well-being, like the one of good-living, is not clear or at least is limitative, especially when considered at an artistic level. To make an example: is it too harsh to affirm that the last thing which comes in mind to someone in front of Picasso’s Guernica, hearing Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, reading Franz Kafka or Virginia Wolf, seeing one of Kaurismäki’s film, or experiencing Aalto’s Finlandia Talo (beyond the architect’s intention), is well-being or good-living?
“[T]he ecological reconstruction” seems a confirmation of the above-mentioned idea of “city development” and sounds like referring to the last urban plan and more precisely to “Boulevardisation of Helsinki”, which, consisting in transformation of “motorway-like routes in boulevards”, are more or less human-centric, but are still to be proved as ecological (there is no published comparative study which supports the idea of transforming motorway-like routes in boulevards with more buildings as ecological). So, it can be said that “the skills and thinking of artists” will be “used” to change from an industrial-Fordist city (motorway-like routes are its classical distinctive features) to a post-industrial(?) city, where the “recognized new opportunities” consist in industrialization of artists creativity.
Finally, the chapter closes with “[a]rt and culture open[ing] the way to a creative [industry? industrial?] Helsinki, where all can experience joy and hope in their lives”.
Blurring Vision. Taking in consideration the Vision from a managerial point of view, beyond the metaphors – which would be nice if the independent committee clarifies in their concrete meaning offering a minimal syllabarium to understand it better -, after the highlighted challenges such as “environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology” it was expected to see DESIGNED priorities to cope with each one of these challenges. In addition, after the priorities it was expected to see designed TAYLORED objectives for each priority (During the presentation of the Vision on YouTube several times were mentioned, without any specification, the objectives, but in English pdf file version there is no clear objective evidenced). Moreover, after each objective, it was expected to see the measures, which permit the achievement of each objective.
But, the Vision, unfortunately, continues with other proclamations, which are somewhat related, yet not clearly focused on the challenges.
Of course, the articulation of the Vision has its own logic and a sort of consequentiality, but does not maintain fully its consistency connecting the idea of Jörn Donner (de-institutionalization, overcoming the problem of political representation), priorities/challenges (environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology), as well as aims (promoting environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology challenges as virtuous customary mindsets and practices). In general, the text can make sense for those who participated in its writing, but, beyond a metaphorical interpretation, without a syllabarium it is difficult for someone to understand it fully. And this is not a problem only for the present, but could also present a problem for the future, because if someone wants to build over this Vision after 2030 will find the same problems of de-codification.
The only consistency of the text, seen from a managerial structure perspective, is represented by the chapter “The proposed measures to achieve the vision”. But, even in this case, the “measures” present questionable qualitative and quantitative measurability, do not present parameters, numbers, transparency, and, being limited in proclamations, can be easily open to different interpretations. And, by the way, the experiences of the writer of these lines, especially in Tirana, Albania and Bergamo, Italy, teaches that a foggy vision with terminological and conceptual vagueness represent the perfect scenario for political representative bureaucrats to easily promote and disseminate as achievements reports plenty of smiley faces, colored green-washed and art-washed pictures followed by rhetorical and logorrheic emptiness.
Towards a syllabarium.
Creativity. When the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze tried to define an art work he started from its basic creative act. For him, a creative act is an act of resistance and an act of resistance is a creative act (link). Therefore, there is nothing wrong, on contrary, it is perfectly coherent the statement of the Vision “art and culture open the way to a creative Helsinki”.
But what is resistance in creative Helsinki of 2030?
Resistance is a Latin word: “re”= means “back” or “before” and confers the idea of opposition; and “sistere” is made of “si” a morphological particle which defines the doubling (reinforcement) of the radix “stare” which means “stay”, thus “sistere” = means “stay firmly”.
Thus what is concretely the firm step back of Helsinki 2030?
For an answer it is necessary to start again from the beginning. What are the challenges of Helsinki 2030? Once more: “the environment crisis, the demographic changes and technology”. Therefore, the challenges of environment crisis, demographic changes and technology need a resistance intended as a solid, firm and immovable step back.
Environmental Crisis. Considering that the Vision was conceived during a global pandemic situation, the independent committee could have easily clarify the idea of this resistance and connect it with the causes of the environment crisis – bourgeois industrial capitalism based on infinite consumption of superfluous goods – without being dispersive and without intending it in generic terms. Today is easier than ever to highlight, demonstrate and understand that the problem is the way human societies developed and/or are still developing. COVID19 exploded in China, caused by intensive, antagonistic and positivity-driven consumerism combined with urban densification. In other words, humans pressuring other species and natural space: less space for animals (bats are the wild animals from which the spillover occurred causing the pandemic exploded initially in a market of Wuhan); more space for humans or humanized space or anthropocentric space (Helsinki with a heart, spirit and consciousness!!!). Considering that the Vision suggests the environmental crisis as customary mind set and processes, and to make it more concrete and less generic for the context, by changing only the name of the bird, from bats to mallards, and the name of the city, from Wuhan to Helsinki, what is the difference in terms of intending the urban development model? Helsinki, same as Wuhan, is going towards densification, maybe using ecological material such as wood in high buildings of Kalasatama, Tripla or Länsibulevardi, but this will enlarge or diminish the space for mallards? Does a member of independent committee ask this question? Does the institution of provenience of each member ask this question? How creative are they in terms of resisting firmly by stepping back, so not only reducing impact but making space for animals, for the nature, for the otherness par excellence? It is complex, especially for a not so complex context such as Helsinki and Finland in general, but the world is complex and as pandemic teaches daily no one anywhere has the luxury to feel safe and enjoy a romanticized simple life plenty of well-being and good-living. So, are Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Swedish Cultural Foundation, Finnish National Opera and Ballet, Helsinki University of Arts, Helsinki Adult Education Center, UrbanApa, Artists’ Association of Finland, Finnish Metal Events, Cinematic, Finnish Cultural Foundation, Helsinki Cultural Service dealing concretely with this question? How? Is the response appropriate? Is it enough?
Demographic Changes. There is also another challenge which cannot be understood vaguely and in generic terms: the demographic changes. What are we talking about?
What does demographic changes mean in Helsinki? Means that the Finnish citizen of Helsinki are making more children? Isn’t better to face the problem and say that there is an IMMIGRATION challenge from now to 2030? Why in 32 pages of the Vision the word immigration is mentioned only ONCE/1? And again, considering that the Vision suggests the demographic changes as customary mind set and processes, what does it mean in creative terms, in terms of resisting by firmly stepping back, for the independent committee and their institutions of provenience? How do they concretely respond to this challenge? Is it appropriate? Is it enough involving one Albanian, Afghan, Somali, or Chinese responding to the challenge of demographic changes? Or it’s again a problem of making space without predetermined definitions, not for the animal and the otherness, as in the case of environment crisis, but firmly stepping back to make space for the human and the other? Isn’t it about welcoming and not only hospitality of the other and otherness? (The first measure of the independent committee’s Vision, “Helsinki will support distinctive, resident-initiated culture in residential areas”, sounds hospitable and welcoming towards the other like an automatic e mail from MIGRI office!)
Technology. To avoid questioning rhetorically once more the members of independent committee how they and their institutions of provenience (could) approach the technology challenge and turn it into a customary mindset and process it would be easier to remind that for Aristotle art is technê. In other words art and technology as well as artists and technologues/technologist are indivisible and indiscernible. Moreover, technology is basically projection of human body/organs (brain included) in space (Ernst Kapp, Elements of a Philosophy of Technology). Therefore, an artist using technology as part of its art work, without having its own corporeal (physical/mental) knowledge on the used technology, is not producing art work, but reproducing passively an alien and alienating technology as a consumable aestheticized good. This good, of course, can have an elementary intelligence and produce and reproduce by accelerating, as a pacemaker, pleasure intended as cultural identity enjoyment of a homogenizing ego (Roland Barthes), but cannot bring (to) “joy” (a perfect word used in the Vision), which is strictly connected with jouissance and beyond pleasure principal, with transgression of limits and de-territorialization, bringing the spirit towards the unknown and, in this manner, enriching its spirituality. Is it clear therefore what kind of creativity intended as resistance or firmly stepping back is needed for Helsinki 2030 in terms of technology challenge, especially knowing that this last is strictly interlinked to the environmental crisis (the otherness) and demographic changes (the other) challenges? Is it clear that art/technology cannot be limited in industrial gamming, with its losing-winning logic, but should be intended as industrial playing, involving and stimulating the plentitude of the human potentialities to explore the otherness and the other?
Last but not least. There is a last specification to highlight in this (by no means exhaustive) text regarding the Vision. It regards the distinction between “different” and “diverse”, which is somewhat given for granted in the Vision and, as conceptual and terminological definitions, are sometimes used in an obscure manner (e.g.: The city’s art sphere comprises a diverse set of different operators and the connections between them). In general it can be said that “different” it is about distinctions from the host, from the city of Helsinki 2030 in this case (human/animal; Finnish/non-Finnish; citizen/non-citizen; resident/non-resident); “diverse” is about change and not being hostage of the logic of the host, because the “diverse” has and uses another verse, code, rhythm, regime of doing and processing things. Trying to follow Donner’s idea of de-institutionalization and overcoming political representative and artistic representational aspect and maintaining the focus on environmental crisis, demographic changes, technology challenges as well as making them customary mindsets and processes, for the creative Helsinki 2030 wouldn’t be more consistent to change the mentality from a city which tolerates and accepts differences to a city which stimulates the potentialities of diversity? Of course for the bourgeois industrial capitalist mentality, focused on the accumulation of the value and financial profit, it is hard to sustain this change of mentality. And it is exactly the sustainability of a diversity-driven Vision in terms of accumulation of value and financial profit which seems insurmountable even for the artists and cultural operators. But someone, somewhere has to dare and, considering the privilege of scarce financial conflictuality and complexity, compared to other global situations, Helsinki seems an appropriate context.
During the last COVID19 lock-down night, on May 17th, around 04.00 AM, the activists, artists and citizens, that occupied and resisted for almost two years inside the building of The National Theatre of Albania, were beaten and violated by the “Department of Eagles“, which has nothing to do with contemporary art, but with “Shqiponjat” / “Eagles” is the exact name of police quick intervention squad, which intervened without identification numbers like “die Sturmabteilung” or “le Camicie Nere” of 2020, remembering Albanians the times they live in.
On May 17th 2020, the bulldozers of the Albanian government erased The National Theatre although the pan-European cultural heritage organization Europa Nostra weeks earlier had selected it as one of the European cultural heritage monuments at risk. Actually, the building thanks to the support of EU institutions had very good possibilities to be restored and renovated with EU funds. However, the government of Edi Rama and mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj, decided to accelerate the money laundry machine, erasing The Theatre and opening in this manner a new 200 million euros construction site for “modern” towers.
The very next day, the activists, artists, and citizens protested for several days in Tirana and started a tour of protests in several cities of Albania during which they distributed a petition, collecting signatures, for the re-building of The National Theatre “where it was and how it was” (sign the petition if you agree / link).
According my opinion, rebuilding “The National Theatre where it was and how it was” is a sort of symptomatic reaction which denotes the drift of the authoritarian governmentality of these last 100 hundred years in Albania.
The National Theatre, at the time known as “Il Circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg” was a product of fascist colonial practices carried out by Mussolini to impress “the indigenous” (Albanians of the time) with its Italian architectural rationalism, this last a sort of “misunderstanding of the modern” (at least, this was the opinion of the critic Bruno Zevi on Italian architectural rationalism). Thus, “Il Circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg” was a building which spectacularized the fascist politics and colonialism as well as the figure of the authoritarian leader, being Scanderbeg or Mussolini itself. It had nothing to do, from an architectonic and/or urban point of view, with the Albanian context of the time (it was constructed few months before the invasion or the “annexation” of Albania by Italian troupes in 1939). The only integration with the context was through the “zipper axes” boulevard (“asse cerniera”) constructed by Italians urban planners, which, as an alien urban dispositif, divided the retrograded, ottoman, old Tirana and modern, Western, “new Tirana” / Tirana e Re (this is the name, still today, through which is known the quarter of the western part of the Boulevard).
All the constructions in Albania, including the Boulevard as well as “Il Circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg“, were financially managed by SVEA, an Italian-Albanian financial institution, which, knowing the impossibility of the Albanians to repay the debts, granted large sums in the form of loans to the highly corrupted self-proclaimed King Ahmet Zogu and his government. Through this lack of repayment Mussolini justified in front of the Italian Parliament the invasion or “annexation” of Albania, as he liked to consider it, justified by a large part of Albanian collaborationist intelligentsia.
Ahmet Zogu, the former Prime Minister who had proclaimed himself King of Albanians in 1928, a day before Italian invasion, on April 6th 1939 abandoned Albania passing the Greek border with his family and a large quantity of gold.
On May 21st, 2020, four days after the erasure of The National Theatre, Erion Veliaj, the mayor of Tirana, apparently forgetting the possibility to restore The Theatre with EU funds without taxing the Albanians, send an official request to the Prime Minister Edi Rama, asking the permission to apply for 30 million euro loan at European Bank of Investment – “with very favorable financial conditions” – for the construction of the new Theatre, which will be placed on 30% of the territory of the former Theatre, leaving the rest to Fusha Family affairs.
I guess, through this elementary information, the circle of governmentality is completely evident. In other words, in Albania there is an ongoing process of return to the roots: of violence, erasure, corruption, financial speculation and political spectacularization through architectonic monumental constructions which characterized the beginnings of fascism.
To jump out of the circle, the rebuilding of “The Theatre where it was and how it was” does not indicate the right direction. Knowing somewhat the Albanian context, generally speaking, therefore including but not limiting the discourse on the case of The National Theatre, I tend to prefer neither to erase nor erect buildings nor monuments. If buildings and monuments are erased or erected, I guess it is preferable to deal with them or what remains of them, to cultivate a relation with their presence or absence. This does not means that the resistance against the mafia in government, when it erases or erects, was and is not necessary. On contrary. The resistance should be intensified. However, the context needs sobriety. Needs less, not more. Less buildings, not more buildings.
In the case of The National Theatre or what remains of it, the resistance should continue on “The Empty Space” of The Theatre, to quote Peter Brooks and maybe witness the materialization of its vision. In this space, to escape the circular symptom of “Il circolo Italo-Albanese Scanderbeg”, should be preserved the erasure and evidenced its foundations, literally, as a sort of Chris Burden installation, making clear the concrete profits of the last 100 years.