igor markovic on Mon, 5 Oct 1998 22:37:56 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> ZKP finally

City of dogs, Mercedes Benz and a lot of potential
Syndicate meeting 'Piramedia', june 1998
Some Reporters Notes
By Igor Markovic (Arkzin, Zagreb)

The Albanian capital definitely offer a lot more "reality one can cope
with", as Geert Lovink put it lately. Visitors with some previous
experience about deep-east airports didn't surprise very much with the
picture of cows and horses calm down very near the plains, but for some
"Westerners" that is definitely the first huge shock on a trip. But, that
airplane make a 180 degree circle on it, and then went back to the only
path leading to the airport building is something new for every one. But,
it would be nice if it will took as to the building. Passengers are landed
out from plain at some 300 meters from the building, and the road to it
(if you are lucky enough to avoid all parked plains) is more alike to some
southern American mini-state. Arcades with palms, and a building with size
of a smaller railway station somewhere in central Europe, sounds as a bad
recommendation for future stay. But, first look usually is wrong. Sure,
poverty present at the only international airport is widely spread all
around the town, but it's pure result of decades of isolation, cause town
is extremely interesting as soon as you are willing to look outside the
feeble fasade.

First obvious thing on the streets is - coexistence. Animals and humans.
If Trieste is known as a city of cats, Tirana is definitely city of dogs.
On every corner there is a lot of street dogs, laying on the sun, and
usually completely harmless, even if you decide to take a night tour.
Perhaps they will look a little bit different to someone with a "strange
smell", but they will restrain even from howing, not to mention anything
more serious. Beyond dogs, Tirana is also famous for its Mercedes Benz
population; according to receptionist in hotel California, there is the
highest Mercedes's per capita in the world, and old diesel versions even
more in number. Walking around it's not hard to believe that - every
second car is really mercedes. There is no clear explanation about that
passion, cause Mercedes is driven not only by nouveu riche, but by
everyone who is able to collect some money. Which is not an easy task.
Beyond smuggling of everything possible, and which should be patented as a
Balkan occupation, there is a very few possibilities for earning. Industry
is in ruins, which is obvious if traveler take a trip to the cost, as we

People are special story - usual European and especially old Yugoslavian
stereotype of Albanians as a short, dark, dirty people is not only
rasistic, but also completely wrong. It's true that you can spot some
shorter people with darker skin, but not much more then in any European
town, but it's fact that there is a lot of blondhair faces, particularly
women. In Museum of National History, which is outside of newly-born
patethic wing about victims of communism, which is arrange with lot of
taste, it's possible to find a reason for that. Through the area of today
Albania passed a many armies, and many nations, and even the roots of
today habitants are placed somewhere in deep, deep past B.C., most of the
people originate from Ilirians, and those nation definitely do not fit the
"short black" - that characteristics came during the Slavic migrations and
after, and mostly in the northern part of the country.

Main street, boulevard in a full sense, is spread from one side of the
town to another, and it's always a rush hour. The whole life is somehow
placed on a street - in front of numerous bars, pizzerias, and restorans,
with here and there some of the Admiral Clubs with slot machines
in-between. All is full, people are walking, sitting, talking, drinking,
eating, kissing - the street is not only public but a social space.
Special advantage of Tirana is a huge park with a virgin lake only ten
minutes form the University complex which closing one end of the main
street. The most fascinating thing about that oasis of peace is that there
is not a single one bar on a shore - definitely a thing which will be a
good addition to our fast, stress way of life. It's not surprising that
people are more open, more communicative, with more happier faces, then
anywhere else. In a middle of the boulevard is a main square with a huge
hotel for foreigners, National opera building, very alike to similar
buildings all around Russian East, and already mentioned National Museum.
Plus big statue of national hero, Skender-beg, and a National bank. A good
proof of Albanian extraordinary sense of humor is that they build a small
luna-park in a middle. But if Tirana is offering a picture of normality,
outside of capital is not such a bright situation. Coming back from a
small party outside of town, we passed couple of police patrols, but
Astrit, our host and driver didn't pay any attention to them. Except the
one some five kilometers from the town. Every vehicle coming to town is
stopped at that point, and searched. Later I got the info that this
checkpoint is not formal but a real border, beyond which in theory no one
will guarantee ay kind of safety. Army have not enough arms, and most of
the policemen (and there is a lot of them) haver it pro forma - there is
no munition. Almost everything is stolen during the rebellion time, we
even saw in a Alice in Wonderland, a piece by one of students, people
taking a plain from a storage. They have no clue about flying.

Natural monument is former residence of Enver Hodcha, which is, to be
honest, nothing special. If the level of interior is on the level of size
and external look, he was not so lucky, comparing to other socialist
leaders.Art impressionsThe common impression of life on the edge,
permanent possibility of further political instability also can be
observed in art works we have been witnessing. Video production of
students from the Academy proof the all thesis that it's not technical
richness, but content what is counting. If I compare those low-tech works
with let say usual Japanese production for Ars Electronica - it's clear
that Japanese are (in most of the cases) just playing with technology,
trying to reach 'boundaries', and Albanian video was about art processing
and exploration of real life. Which art is probably all about. In three
pieces, we saw [Alice in Wonderland, Aunt, and ...] the problem of modest
technical equipment is pushed aside by the content. Emphasis is on
contemporary or very recent political situations (Alice in Wonderland),
and on sociocultural trends, namely patriarchy and conservativism of
society (Aunt). Those pieces are not masterworks, but Aunt, for example,
in which was shown a part of a day in one women life, permanent work,
repetition of service to the family, no privacy etc., with it's end (women
who went in and out of house front doors many times to pick up the
laundry, to bring food, wood..., finally locking the door and
metaphorically say no to the stereotype roles of women in Albanian
society, will definitely be a candidate for award on any video
festival.It's clear that Albanian media art, (at the moment mainly video,
and video installations) have incredible potential, which was proved again
during the annual exhibition in June this year. The good strategic point,
in my opinion, is that years of isolation with all problems, also brought
freshness, and originality, so rare in most of the better informed
post-East countries. There is no tradition of following and copying 'big
authors' (like for example, Bill Viola's influence on Polish video in the
eighties - here 'great masters' simply do not exist), so the authors have
an open field of explorations, learning and creating, not paying attention
to the contemporary trends and fashion, or conformostic history of art. In
a sense, without a history of strong exile art populations, returned to
the country after '89, with a lack of information about recent projects in
Europe and around the world, they have a more freedom to play, to enjoy
their works, not to pay strong attention to curators and galerists
demands, and to explore the "pure" artistic visions, methods and models.
Their chance is in the fact that they already develop personal artistic
characters to the certain level, and coming in contact with "outside"
world may (and I strongly believe, will) result with a playful and
original works, not just with a pure or not so pure copies of what is
going on in the "centers of art", wherever they are. The peripheral
position of Tirana and Albania in general, might led them in a mixture of
styles and technics, with a strong emphasis on their own cultural capital.
Cause they already are using ideas and concepts of western art (Alice in
Wonderland is a good example), not blindly, but by methods of rethinking,
reuse, recycle... recombinant culture indeed! The exhibition at the
Academy, by students of textile department, was more or less the same
story - freshness, originality, good content & context at the same time.

We might observe wide synthesis of arts from different origins in space
and time, namely from the motifs that are not only from different places,
but also belonging to different styles. All things so desperately missing
from, let sey SCCA's annual exhibitions in so many countries.General
impression of Tirana, both on a "real-life" and "artistic" level may led
us to the conclusion that this is definitely a country which will emerge
very soon on a cultural map of Europe, and that visit to Albania will not
only be restricted to those who are there by accident or those who want to
make some money fast, but anyone who will dare to consider itself as a
'European', will have to visited it. Often. Because Albania, and
particularly Tirana is offering a different picture of Balkan. Different
from the usual stereotypes, made by "Europe", the "civilised West", like
disorder, wars, dirtiness, Orient in negative sense. If Tirana is good
enough example of Balkan, and it should be, then it's hard not to claim
that Balkan is beautiful.

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