Geert Lovink on Sun, 29 Sep 96 18:13 MET

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nettime: media art in albania

Media Art in Albania, First Steps
An Interview with Eduard Muka (Tirana)
By Geert Lovink

Eduard Muka works as an artist and assistant-professor in the visual
arts department of the academy of visual arts in Tirana. He also works
with a group of young artists to promote the alternative arts movement
in Albania. In 1990, still a student, he took part in the movements
which threw over the former communist regime. In the confusion period
afterwards, Muka spent some time in Italy and after having returned, he
was invited to teach at the academy of fine arts. The interview was
conducted during the 'V2_East' meeting, a part of the DEAF-conference
in Rotterdam.

G.L.: What happened within the Albanian arts right after the changes in
the early nineties?

E.M.: In 1992, the Soros Foundation organized a exihibition of
paintings, because that was the only known medium at the time. This was
the first moment where you could see some different tendencies (let's
not call them new). There was this huge gap of information since the
mid-fifties between Albania and what was going on elsewhere in the
world. All these people were raised according to the socialist realist
methods. Artists, which are supposed to be a rebel, having suffered a
lot under this cruel regime, scacely dared to take the ship and get to
Italy. So in 1992, in this first exihibition, artists tried to escape
reality. No escape from the country (because they did not have the
courage), but an escape from the known schemes into formalism. It was a
revival of abstract painting, looking outmoded, if you put it out of
it's context.
Nobody thought of concepts and ideas, everybody fought against them.
Take for example Edi Hila, one of the greatest Albanian artists and the
former dean of the Fine Art Academy, who had a series of abstract
paintings. Nobody could get out of this revolt against conceptuality
and realism. But Hila's work was to a certain extent influenced by the
Tirana environment, which in the early nineties was completely
destroyed. Or Vladimir Myrtezai, an artist in his mid-thirties, who has
recently made some installations. But he also comes from a painting
background. He has been one of the first formal artists, using pure
geometetrical, abstract forms. Gazmend Leka is also a painter, who
produced around 1992 a series of abstract graphics with some figurative
elements. Now he is dealing in the paintings with religious characters,
even though it is abstract.
At that time, being in Italy, I had to make my living as a painter,
making portraits and landscapes. Besides this, I began making
researches into conceptuality. When I came back after a year, I had a
personal show, which included conceptual paintings and installations.
It had good reactions from the public, but some very bad ones from the
conservative side, which, unfortunately, is in power in Albania
nowadays. The controversy started in the newspapers, they are not open
minded, they want everything to remain within the tradition of painting
as a craft. Students have to become a craftman, they are not interested
in the artistic process. We just want to make the students able to
analyse the situation in a visual way, with the medium he or she wants
to choose. But this controversy does not take place as an artistic
debate, it is just a matter of power. You are not given the right to
defend your ideas. In this respect, the help from foundations or other
organizations is vital.
Even if we lose one battle, we are going to win the war. Religious art
is not involved, that is at least one good thing. What the current
power promotes is the ability of the artist to move the brush in a
certain way and create the surface. Is it a very superficial,
formalistic demand. They don't want to offer the students something
they themselves do not even know, which is bad, because the school is
the right place to do experiments. You better direct the students in
an unknown territory, and let them discover, even by making mistakes.

G.L.: Under which circumstances the media art has to make a start?

E.M.: The isolation is still having its impact. The information we
recieve about alternative media, including media art, is very limited.
I share all the material I get with my collegues and students. Only
freedom is changing things. Media art has only just started. I can
mention a young artist, his name is Anri Sala, he used to come from a
painting background, shifted to installations, worked with photography
and has just produced two videos, a 20 minutes long piece called 'The
Tongue', which I showed here at DEAF. He also produced a computer show
recently. A problem here is the difficulty to link up with history.
Regarding experimental film, it is impossible, there wasn't anything.
But there is a famous dynasty of photographers in Shkodra, which is in
the North of Albania. There is a phototheque in this city with
marvelous material, now being restored. It contains mostly documentary
photos, done in an artistic way, landscapes, family portraits. The
first Albanian artistic photo show was held in april 1996, in the Ernst
Museum in Budapest. I worked together with Katalin Timar on this show
and was amazed by the conceptual quality, despite all the technical
problems that still exist. The students of the fine arts academy also
did a first photo exihibit with the same conceptual cargo. In 1995 we
were able to establish a photo lab in the academy, with the help of the
Soros Foundation and the Brittish Counsil.
This year the school will open a computer atelier and a designers
program. But the school broke all the programs we had prepared, due to
the political changes after the elections in may. There will be no room
for research. But they only want to teach the students the craft, not
the artistic, creative process. A new project concerns building up an
archive of Albanian art of the last fifty years, because it does not
exist at all. We would like to interview and document the works and
lives of older and younger artists, not only to conserve it, but also
to build up our new experience, whatever our past experience is. We
just cannot and must not deny it and make profit of it. Making it
accessible through the Internet could be a first step of showing what
media communication is.
We inherited a sort of hatred towards the media. There were a lot of
lies, nothing was exact, there was only propaganda. Still there is only
one state television channel and it is even worse than it used to be.
The distrust towards media could be a good starting point for artists
to make their critical approach in regards to media. I look at media as
the highest degree of manipulation humanity has ever invented. In this
sense, this could be really used, to fit the works of artists, raising
social or individual imperatives.
Nobody has any idea how it came to post modernism and contemporary art.
Everbody thinks that modernism is just abstraction, the fugitive way
from the real image. We are working on a book with translations to
clear such basic misunderstandings and we work with catalogues I
brought from abroad.
In Albania there are no rich people with access and the poor who cannot
get to the information or technologies. Perhaps 5% made money in
recents years. 0.5% is middle class, the rest is all the same. To
share information now is not so much the problem. What matters is how
to fit the media psychology into the Albanian mentality of the artistic
audiences. The controversy is not between the media and the audience,
but between media and the arts. We have to force our way into the
scene and to show what the possiblities are.

If you wish to do so, please contact Eduard Muka and send catalogues
and tapes, if possible: p.o. box 105, Tirana, Albania, tel/fax (c/o
Open Society Foundation), ++355 42 34621/34223.
Eduard Muka will have an e-mail address soon.
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