Issue #46, 2014
Scene

Towards The Future, From The Past
Vlad Basalici

Potential Monuments of Unrealised Futures,
AA Gallery London, 17 January – 12 March 2015
Artists: Adrian Paci, Edi Hila
Curators: Beyond Entropy Balkans (Jonida Turani & Stefano Rabolli Pansera)

 

When he describes the future in a video posted on the website of The Guardian1on 1st of September 2011, Zygmunt Bauman imagines a situation in which we are the passengers of an airplane that has already landed, guided only by an automatic pilot and heading towards an airport that has not even received the approval of being built, or whose architectural plan has not even been sketched yet. This is the image that came into my mind when I saw The Column, Adrian Paci’s video displayed at AA Gallery at the beginning of this year. We have here an action that started in the flux of time from the past, but implacably aims at a certain future whose conditions of possibility are still vague.

A block of marble is cut from a mountain by a group of Chinese workers. Then this block is placed on a cargo boat. We see the block of stone on the open prow of the ship, which moves in the indistinct landscape of the ocean towards an unknown destination. Another group of Chinese workers start tracing lines on the stone block and remove the material in excess. The process goes on day by day until the marble surface becomes a Corinthian column.

Paci builds his video around a metaphor of time. The past moves towards the future for becoming itself a future. But this future is only an insubstantial copy, an image of the past that is placed in a new context, which is foreign to its previous connotations, thus becoming something else. It is as if one would fabricate the copy of an eggshell without reproducing its content.

In Alois Riegl’s terms, who coined at the beginning of the last century the modern theoretical framework for the study of monuments2, a monument is an artifact that willingly or unwillingly keeps an element of the past. Paci’s column is simultaneously an intentional and an unintentional monument. The original for this piece is a column that had a defined practical function beyond decorations, namely that of supporting a temple. It had a meaning when taken together with the entire architectural structure, but has now become a monument without the original intention of those who created it, a fragment transformed into an ordinary object through dismantling. In the context created by Paci, the copy of the isolated pillar becomes a column and, thus, an intentional monument that lacks the potentiality of commemorating anything other than the idea of past, entering the register of nostalgia.

Stylistically and symbolically, Adrian Paci’s video works in similar parameters with another one of his films, Permanenza Temporanea (Center for Temporary Permanence), made in 2007. In this film we can see a group of people who could be citizens of the Third World, emigrants or both at the same time, waiting on a mobile airstair on an empty strip. The two videos are not as localized as his first video projects, where personal memory met Albania’s memory, since both the artist and his country were in transition. Paci was shifting from painting to film with very rudimentary means, a borrowed video camera (in The Column and Permanenza Temporanea we find an attention given to formal elements: the angles of the camera and building of the frame), while Albania was shifting from the controlled system of communism to a chaotic period specific to post-communist societies. However, the lack of localization makes geography more significant in these two newer videos through a-topical themes such as immigration and work migration, which arrive to a point where they do not belong to a specific place, but are all over the place, neglecting all borders.

The Columncan be displayed in two different ways. In film festivals it appears as a video only, while in exhibitions it is accompanied by the column. The object is never displayed alone. The artifact can function as a documentation of the performance enacted by the Chinese sculptors, but also as a delayed object (placed horizontally), a material trace of the filmed images.

The exhibition in London is the second time when the curatorial concept proposed by Beyond Entropy Balkans3 brings together The Column and Edi Hila’s paintings. The exhibition has also been presented last year at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in Albania’s pavilion at the Arsenale.

Their association is not random. Edi Hila has been Paci’s professor at the Tirana Art University just before 1991, the year when communism collapsed in Albania. Hila, somewhat recognized in the 1970s, fell in disgrace with the regime. He was imprisoned for three years under the accusation that his style contains Western influences. He painted far from the eye of an audience for almost 20 years. His works were exhibited only after 1991. He managed to influence the Albanian artistic scene from his position as a professor. Anri Sala is another of his students.

His paintings seem impersonal and most often consist in desolating urban landscapes or austere buildings. His personal intention can be read only through a few elements, among which the color that functions as a patina of time is important. Hila is the witness of this burdensome status quo that was built on the ruins of a past that tends to become permanent.

In the exhibition Potential Monuments of Unrealised Futures, Edi Hila exhibits his Penthouse series composed of seven paintings. In each painting there is a version of the same building made of a solid block at the bottom and a penthouse above, which takes different shapes: from the communist balcony covered with windows to the medieval fortress. These constructions from various times are not mutually exclusive and are valid in the urban landscapes of post-communist countries. Each building is placed in a monochrome scenery, which most of the time borrows the color of the building. These buildings are images of the expression of power, functioning as domestic mausoleums. Their utilitarian function fades away, leaving room to the utopian character of the architecture. Mono-blocks appear as pedestals on which these simulacra of the past are placed. Edi Hila’s penthouses become monuments in which the past is incorporated and adapted to the present. It is interesting to read the commentaries of Andrei Sinyavsky4, one of the witnesses of Stalinism, on a social realism that simultaneously attempts at presenting contemporaneousness and monumentalizing it. Only that contemporaneousness in Edi Hila’s paintings has changed because the references are now different (old balconies became penthouses), but the mechanism stayed the same. The contemporary must go hand in hand with the monumental.

Both projects, that of Adrian Paci and that of Edi Hila, present strategies whereby the past camouflages itself in a present towards the future, creating new hybrids in which the various times are difficult to be discerned.

Translated by Alexandru Polgár

 

 

Notes:
1. ‑http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/video/2011/sep/01/zygmunt-bauman-terrorism-video
2. ‑Alois Riegl, “The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Origin“, translated by K. W. Forster and D. Ghirardo, Oppositions 25, 1982, pp. 20–51.
3. ‑The Beyond Entropy projects are at the intersection of architecture, art and geopolitics. They also curated Angola’s Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2012 and at the Venice Biennale in 2013. Beyond Entropy functions as a holding with affiliated companies led by a local partner: Beyond Entropy Africa, Balkans or Mediterranean.
4. ‑Andrei Sinyavsky’s position is paraphrased by Katerina Clarck. See “Socialist Realism and the Sacralizing of Space“, in Evgeny Dobrenko and Eric Naiman (eds.), The Landscape of Stalinism: the Art and Ideology of Soviet Space, Seattle & London, University of Washington Press, 2003, p. 11.