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

I was granted as an artist, in December 2020, by Finnish Arts Center: “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.” Considering that I do not think that my vomit cleaners fellows have had any grant “for the working conditions,” I wanted to maintain a sort of security distance from the institution that granted me, Finnish Arts Center, as well as all other Finnish institutions representing the Finnish State. In this manner, I will try to avoid the infection of being part of the generally accepted narrative of COVID19 out-break-out and the consequent system’s need of social “integration” (of artists, of migrants, etc). I wanted to avoid any kind of integration – mine and my work – within a system that needs “heroes” (because “someone has to do it”) to work by risking the infection (so, I do not deny COVID19 outbreak) to maintain the system working (I deny the narrative of COVID19 breakout, which I do not see in the life and working conditions of my vomit cleaner fellows). Thus, I tried to produce disintegrated and disintegrable artworks that do not refer to COVID19 as a meat grinder but as a consequently logical effect of a psychogenic meat grinder system such as the one I am used to living in since I was born.

[Déjà vu of Déjà vu. I do not know who said it first, but exists in Albania the story of a foreigner (maybe a journalist) defining the capital city, Tirana, more or less, as follows: “I have seen cities without a boulevard, but I have never seen a boulevard without a city such as in the case of Tirana.” A certain Andrea Bulleri, Italian urban planner, quotes it as belonging to Claude Arnaud, a French writer, that seems have visited Albania in the ’70 and placed it as the context of his 1994 autobiographic book Le caméléon. However, I am not quite sure as, to me, it sounds much more older, considering the echo of this phrase in my Albanian ears. Anyway, whatever the truth is, something is sure, the person who said it was somehow quoting Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and her thoughts regarding the Cheshire Cat: “Well! I have often seen a cat without a grin … but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!” Yet, the most curious thing, for me, is that the boulevard, as a grin, often is perceived as a smile, and maybe a large one in urban terms. But this smile is like the smile of Victor Hugo’s L’Homme qui rit. It is more like a cut, an erasure, if considered that the boulevard, according its etymology, was a fortification wall. Only after the destruction of Bastille‘s walls the boulevard was used, by the reactionary forces that came out of Congress of Vienna and Enlightened Absolutism (Haussmann’s boulevards in Paris and Ringstrasse in Vienna are perfect examples), as an urban dispositive of openness that glorifies the will of the political and economical power holders (ancien régime and the bourgeoisie) as well as their need of absolute control.
In Tirana, the dispositive of the boulevard was transplanted as a calcified method: alliance, between the Albanian version of the ancien régime (Albania’s self declared King Zog and his government) and bourgeoisie (Italian fascist government and Albanian collaborators); as well as a smiling grin, which erased unilaterally part of the original urban texture, vanished without traces (“this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.”)
In Helsinki, the boulevard is not anymore a method; from the last urban plan (2016), it is a methodology named “boulevardisation” (transformation of highways in city boulevards), which intends to make a more eco-sustainable city(?) as well as a more open city (?) to accept more migrants (neoliberal propaganda to justify the densification). In Helsinki the dispositive of the boulevard of course was transplanted calcified as an alliance as well as a smiling grin, but here, methodologically, the alliance is more complex as it comprehends almost all political parties (neoliberal and neoconservative), the academics (private and public universities), an army of artists and cultural operators with their representative institutions as well as private philanthropic foundations of private companies/industries directly involved with the urban development.]

I decided to respond to the psychogenic contexts through schizophrenic artworks (Los retablos de las maravillas – two photographs of two drawings/paintings; Entr’acte: El video retablo de las maravillas – video). This means that taken separately, the first component of these artworks – el retablo of the Albanian fetus – through its declared pathetism tries to tune the institutional pathos of helping artists (especially migrants, when the institutions are run by neoliberals) during COVID19; the second component – el retablo of the Finnish coffin – through its declared pathetism tries to tune the pathos of helping natural environment (especially within the national state borders, when the institutions are run by neoconservatives); and the third component – el video retablo – through its declared pathetism tries to tune with the overall theatrical pathos of the times we live in (In TAIKE’s website the last of three evaluation criteria, after Professionalism of the Applicant and the Working Plan, is Reduction in work and income due to the COVID-19 pandemic … for which my vomit cleaner fellows were happy considering that the reduction in work meant less vomit quantity to clean, which, by the way, did not produce reduction in incomes because they were payed according predefined/fixed working hours for the cleansing of all public transportation buses). Therefore, in these artworks, there is no originality, no new model, nor a new role of the artist within a larger social level. The produced artworks are schizo-modulations of already existing (often psycho-, but not always) models/roles such as my personal auto-bio-geo-graphy; the polyphonic paintings of Paul Klee; an unedited artwork of Dritan Hyska where is used the google translator voice to read the Italian Labor Law in a foreign (non-Italian) language; extracts from Antonin Artaud’s Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu. And, considering that my art started with a quote from Leibniz “conatus is to motion as a point is to space, or as one to infinity, for it is the beginning or end of motion,” and if for Paul Klee “a line is a dot that went for a walk“, then these artworks correspond to vomit that went for a walk, from Tirana’s Boulevard (Maternity Hospital, where I am born) to the boulevards of The Boulevardisation of Helsinki. However, although separately these artworks include the dichotomy neoliberal/neoconservative narrative, altogether, maybe because the of intrinsic denial of originality, models, and roles as well as the declared intention of schizo-modulation, these artworks, hopefully, are not reciprocally included in the mainstream narrative. At least this was my intention.

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

I highly recommend to everyone the vomit cleaning work experience inside Helsinki’s and Espoo’s public transportation buses during the night shift for 10,67€ per hour (without calculating the taxes … please google the average wages in Finland). If nothing else, it gives meaning and a dream interpreting cipher to those, especially migrants like myself, disoriented within the real heterotopia of the world’s happiest country. Illuminating in this sense were also the personal stories of the workers (all migrants, of course): a Tamil that, eager to emigrate (destination: EU!), sold everything in his posses, paid 25.000$ to human traffickers which abandoned him in one of Erdogan’s concentration camps (operating thanks to EU funds) and constricted to pay another 25.000$ (he is still, after four years, paying his cousin from London that helped him) to “the officials” just for being thrown somewhere in an unknown Greek island; a Kurd journalist from Baghdad that have mentioned the corruption affairs of a politician in a daily newspaper and for this constricted to abandon his life in less than two hours; a Syrian that hates the socialists as well as the Americans and cannot understand why I “cannot see how socialist the Americans are” … but he admires Trump and sympathizes for a communist world (I think my friend’s weltanschauung is an interesting case study for geopolitical think tankers); a Bangladeshi, that was so incredulous when he learns that I know what kathakali is, for this reason, to change his shift only to talk to me about the dances of his country; etc. But the most illuminating was the outbreak of COVID19.

There was some terrible news, between March and April 2020, coming from my parents living in Bergamo, Italy. The COVID19 was causing deaths never seen in the livings’ memory. My father told me Bergamo reminded him of Sarajevo 1992, without bomb outbreaks but with COVID19 outbreaks, and, of course, more ambulance siren sounds. Meanwhile, in Espoo, I and my fellows had a problem: what to do with the alcohol tester, without blowing on which we could not start, clean, and fuel the public transportation buses? I contacted my supervisor that contacted the bus company office about this problem. “We will let you know as soon as possible” was the answer. Meantime, following the government’s advise, I and my fellows were informed by the company on how to wash the hands, how to use the hand sanitizer, and also how to wear a face mask. However, a week later we had a mouthpiece for the alcohol tester of 30 to 50 buses we had to work with every night. I told to the supervisor that this is not very intelligent considering that I will put the same mouthpiece in 30-50 different alcohol testers. After seeing him shrugging I thought was better to go directly to the bus company offices. There, when I asked for the mouthpieces, the desk officer thought I had lost mine and gave me a new one with the advice “Try not to lose it!”. I said, ” I need 50 mouthpieces!” after which the desk officer looked at me like I was joking. But when I explained the problem he understood. Yet, I could not have more than three mouthpieces that he had in his office. However, he promised the bus company “will find a solution”. After a week or so, I got a tubular junction for the alcohol tester mouthpiece.

“Is this a joke!” I said to the desk officer. “Yes? What do you suggest, though?” he asked after my rhetoric question. “I dream you could deactivate the buses’ alcohol testers,” I replied. “No, that’s not possible,” he said. “Why?” I asked genuinely. “Because of security reasons. Don’t you know that?”. I told him, “Yes, I know about your security reasons.” That was the last time I asked regarding protection dispositive for coronavirus.

I and my Tamil fellow got ill for four or five days each but nothing happened to us. The other fellows used to say that we were lucky because we already passed through COVID19, but I think it was just the normal flu, because of our low immune system, considering that the Tamil guy used to work 12-16 hours in two working places (he, after the night shift, worked in another place where he used to clean the cabins of the Helsinki-Tallinn ferries) and I used to walk (6+6km) to my working place to spare 120€ per month for the bus tickets. With my fellows we talked a lot about the outbreaks of COVID19, its genesis in a wet market in Wuhan, or the more or less conspiratory theory of the Chinese government intentionally spreading the virus, or its contrary according to which it is the US government spreading the virus. Yet, from all the theories we had the same result: the problem is the system. A system that pressures on animals (bats) living space and conditions or the superpowers’ (US, China, EU, Russia, etc.) antagonism for the supremacy within the system. The sure thing is that the system is not with and/or for us, because after COVID19 outbreaks, for us, there were no breakouts: we could not work remotely or just quit the job as we had to feed our families and ourselves. On contrary, strange enough (or maybe not so strange), COVID19 outbreaks eased and helped our job, considering that there was no vomit to clean and, generally, the public transportation buses were cleaner as, because of COVID19, fewer people traveled to avoid contact with other people.

On June 2nd, 2020 I quit my job as I was involved with the European Commission for the evaluation of research, art, and cultural cooperation projects (projects up to 2 or 4 million €) where I am paid better (450€ per day). Of course, it is a freelance job and the precariousness is always incumbent (one does not work every day), but in this case, unlike vomit cleaners, maybe because of the “nobility” or “elitist” kind of job, the system protects the employees.

Yet, because of the COVID19 travel restrictions, I feel like in Albania before 1996: in a coffin.

“I feel like in Albania before 1996: in a coffin.”
Mixed technique on paper (drawing/painting: gesso paint, ink, chunky graphite) 21cm x 29cm.