COVID19 Grant for the artist Romeo Kodra (part I).

In December 2020 I was granted by the Center for the Promotion of Art of Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture with “COVID-19 grant for artists[,…] 4000 euros, which is intended to cover two months of work [ as] short-term support for the working conditions and professional employment of applicants who have lost work orders related to their artistic work or have been prevented from practicing their profession due to the coronavirus pandemic” (link: https://www.taike.fi/en/newsitem/-/news/1337219).

Being my research focused on the “boulevard” as a historical urban dispositif of power for visual and cultural
integration of the other/ness (migrants intended as “the other” and nature with its landscape intended as “the otherness’ par excellence), I thought to produce some artistic content maintaining the same focus.

The context is auto-bio-geo-graphical: Albania and Finland. Both, as nation-states, have in common more or less the period of independence (Albania/1912, Finland/1917), the particular languages, which differentiate from the predominant European languages, as well as a strong cultural and mythological oral tradition. Yet, despite the radical social, economical, and political differences (where Finland is considered as an advanced democracy and Albania still as a transitional society), the last urban practices (Helsinki Urban Plan 2017 with its “boulevardisation” as well as this year’s Helsinki Vision for Art and Culture 2030 and Tirana Urban Plan 2016), with all their supporting institutions, discourses, legislations as well as imaginaries, present similarities which are strictly related with the cultural shift, from industrial to post-industrial societies, where neoliberal post-bourgeois governmentality pressure on the sense of cultural inferiority of Finns and Albanians (the concept of acculturation will be analyzed).

The topic of my research “Iconology and Iconographies of Boulevard: from Boulevard to Boulevardization and BoulevARTization”, imposes iconography as the method of the research, which consists in collecting, classifying, and producing imag(inari)es (‘image’ intended as ‘bild’: see in Hans Belting) of the boulevard as well as their cultural analysis, which, altogether, serve to define the mythological archetypes (see in Carl Jung) inscribed within wider contemporary urban and cultural iconography. Therefore these artworks are my iconographic and iconological contribution to contemporary produced imag(inary)es.

The first objective of my research is to define, through iconology and boulevard’s iconography, the mythologem (see in Károly Kerény) of “separation/conjunction of opposites” and the archetypal image of “the industrious”, which are fundamentally related with the boulevard, since its first appearance (replacement of Paris’ old bastions, 1668, with the first documented boulevard) and etymology (Middle Dutch ‘bolwerc’: walls of fortification/bastions). The second objective is to analyze the persistence of both, “separation/conjunction of opposites” mythologem as well as the archetypal image of “the industrious”, and the ways through which these two nurtured the systemic changes and adaptations, from mercantile to industrial, and postindustrial societies.

I do not remember if it is a real story that happened to me or someone told it to me as a kind of joke and then I turned it, as in a dream, into a real story that happened to me. I remember being in a queue for a liter of milk in 1990, in Tirana (who has experienced the crisis of scientific socialism, knows what I am talking about). It’s not dawn yet, but it’s not completely dark either. I thought I was going to be first in the queue, but I saw 7, 8 people preceded me. The strange thing is that they were laughing under their breath. I hated them. I don’t know if I hated them more for preceding me or for being in a good mood at 5 am. But I understood immediately why when my best childhood friend Cubeli made me a sign to look at who was the first in the queue: a small half-bust of Enver Hoxha produced at the time as a souvenir by Ndërmarrja Artistike “Migjeni”. So, Cubeli – who was always first in line, was often used to throwing away things (such as plastic shopping bags) that people (which we called bytha t’zgjuta/ smart-ass’) left the night before to “take a front-row seat” in the milk queue -, this time, could not dare to do anything. And the others were pissing him off with their sarcastic comments for his lack of courage. After a while, with other people queuing in, the event opened a debate, where for the first time I so an open political dissent and heard critics against the government. And is there, that, for the first time, I heard someone saying that “we Albanians are like in a prison”, “we, in Albania, live like in a grave” and someone other adding that “Even our map looks like a coffin …”.

"Even our map looks like a coffin …" mixed technique on paper (drawing/painting-gesso paint, ink, chunky graphite) 21cm x 29cm.
“Even our map looks like a coffin …”
Mixed technique on paper (drawing/painting: gesso paint, ink, chunky graphite) 21cm x 29cm.

I do not remember if it is a real story that happened to me or someone told it to me as a kind of joke and then I turned it, as in a dream, into a real story that happened to me. I remember in 1994 going with the other guys from “Ismail Qemali” High School to make the first pre-military check-up visit. Near Ura e Tabakëve in Tirana, there was a small military garrison with an improvised visit room. The doctor waiting for us smiled behind the table and said something about the usual jokes on military visits, but to relax our contracted faces, not at all in the mood for jokes, added: “I would like to leave the door open if you agree, so you’ll see that is not that terrifying this check-up.” After seeing the hands of the military doctor romancing with the nether regions and bottoms of my friends, when he called my name I refused and went out. Because of the military police night controls – which my mother told me continued almost twice a year until 1997 when my family went to Bergamo – for 18 months I didn’t sleep at home but passed the nights at my grandparents or uncles, until January 6th, 1996, when I left and emigrated from the coffin.

On August 7th, 2011, I turned back to Albania with a passport from Bosnia Herzegovina, which I got in 1996 because of my father’s origins. Being without a visa and having the Albanian passport expired since 1996 I passed several hours with a policeman in the airport’s police station declaring who I was and why I was “visiting” Albania. At 2 am, I was released by the police and went to my uncle’s home. The first thing I noticed when I came out of the gates of the police station was a banner promoting the population census of 2011.