Geert Lovink on Tue, 8 Jun 1999 01:42:00 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Interview with Edi Muka, June 1, 1999

[This is perhaps my fifth interview with Edi Muka, who is based in Tirana,
Albania. Last month he was appointed to become the director or the
national cultural center, the pyramid, for those of you who know the city.
Edi Muka is an artist, critic and teaches at the art academy. The first
interview dates from september 1996, the next one was in the spring of
1997 and there is one from jluy 1997 (hybrid workspace). The last one was
conducted one year, in Tirana, during the syndicate meeting there. All
interviews can be found in the archive. geert]

E-mail Interview with Edi Muka, Tirana, June 1, 1999
By Geert Lovink

From: Edi <>

GL: Let me first of all congratulate you with your new job. Could you
describe us the Pyramide? I suppose there is not much yet. To what extend
will it become a cultural center? Do you plan it to become a media lab as
well? And how about the visual arts? How will your activities relate to
the contemporary arts system? Is it all a question of money? In what way
could outsiders get involved in the Pyramid? What type of collaboration
are you looking for?

EM: well thank you geert for your congratulation. of course it's a
difficult task because it is coming in a very difficult moment for culture
in albania and because the pyramid building itself and its structure and
infrastructure are in a pityfull shape. also the corresponding legislation
to the state of building is a strange one with a lot of restrictions for a
purely cultural institution. anyway, like everywhere else, money remains
the main problem. in this case it has several specifics: the building
needs an immediate intervention to be repaired and maintained which would
cost a lot of money as a minimum; my project is to turn it into a TCCA
(Tirana Center for Contemporary Arts). the problem is that there are a lot
of wonderful spaces, but they need to be adopted into specific spaces. in
this idea of mine I intend to cover visual and performing arts and music
as well (in terms of sound). for this reason I am contacting different
people trying to collect ideas and suggestion on how to convert it into
these spaces. I myself am thinking of a permanent gallery for contemporary
art and I'm trying to adopt a convertable space (of course at the moment I
am without any money). the same I am doing for a non-conventional theatre
space. the good thing is that there is a main round hall of 1000 m2, which
is surrounded by a ring-space twice bigger. as i have already told you
soon we are going to have a cyber-cafee opened in the center. this shall
be of private menagement, but the center shall reserve an amount of hours
for our programs, like workshops and other projects, and all the internet
services. in my plans there's also a mediatheque for which I might work
with soros in tirana since they are interested in such a thing.

therefore besides money, projects would be the other thing I need. these
can be exchange projects which the center can develop together with
individuals as well as institutions and for this reason I did contact the
embassies in tirana to have their support in eventual projects. we shall
of course finance small part of any project and offer the space and the
infrastructure we have. at the moment I can say that this is still a
utopia, but that's ok. I hope I'll be able to do and develop something
while I'm here.

GL: At the moment you are preparing the Albanian participation in this
years Venice Biennale. What is history and context of this show? Does
Albania have a pavillion? To what extend is all this blurred, or defined,
by the (post/neo) colonial relations between Italy and Albania? And could
you tell us something about your curatorial work? Which themes, and works
of art are of significance for this difficult period?

EM: well the story is developed a bit in the albanian way of things. of
course albania doesn't have a pavillion in Biennale, since we never had
one. as you know, last year we did several international meetings on the
arts field, the most important of which was the international show
"Onufri" which I curated in December. among many guests and jury members
there was the editor of FlashArt magazine Giancarlo Politi. after his
contacts with the scene of contemporary art in tirana in a couple of
occasions, he came with this proposal of organizing the show in Venice,
under the patronage of Biennale. of course there's is this post/neo
colonial feeling and fashion as well, but things at the moment simply work
like that, and we have to kind of follow the rules. there's one difference
though which I like: Politi didn't act like several Western curators, that
come over night and go away with some kind of pre selection they already
had in their minds, that usually doesn't have anything to do with the
artists living and working in albania or wherever; he simply proposed to
organize the thing and I, as a local curator that supposedly knows the
situation better, was asked to curate the show. I still don't know what
this year's Biennale shall look like, but this is by all means an
important step for us. since we all know how difficult it is for us to
travel and present things abroad, the new policy even of the Ministry of
Culture is to open up the internal scene and to eventual exchange. and
this our participation is a direct consequence of that I guess.

as for my curatorial work, it is much focused on what is called "socially
engaged art", since the territory remains a very strong potential which
can not be ignored by the artist. it is strange enough though, but
recently this has slightly changed towards a more aesthetic problematic.
maybe because the situation became very extreme and direct that art was
out of game on reflecting upon it, so the tendency is to reflect upon
itself. this looks interesting enough to me, because the frame is
completing. there are newer proposals in the Academy and video for
example, even though it's not a trend, has become a clear and stable
tendency with interesting and sometimes surprising results.

GL: Let's talk politics as well. There seems to be a split between a
national faction, which is critical of NATO, and the current government,
which is supporting the West. Some aspects of the maffia economy might be
threatened by an increase of NATO-led militairy and police activities. On
the other hand, civilians could also benefit from Western aid and basic
security. But sceptical observers already have pointed out that will not
be any substantial financial support to rebuild Albania. Do you think that
the war in Kosova will be a turning point for Albania, or will it just be
continuation of the permanent crisis? Will the country slip away into a
post-apocalyptic state of even further decline?

EM: well this is a really complicated matter. To start from the beginning,
it is true that all political sides in albania are trying to profit from
the situation, but there isn't such a thing as being critical to NATO. If
such a thing exists, it is not because of NATO bombing, but because it's
hesitation to give a solution, even with the infamous ground troops to the
crisis. As for the mafia activities, at the moment they don't really feel
threatened and are flourishing making a lot of money. Even though there is
a feeling in the air that if things start to change, like NATO control,
"marshall plan", and so on, it shall be over for them. That's maybe why
there is this haste in making as much money as possible at the moment. As
for the people, they already saw a couple of examples from NATO control,
like the airport of tirana, the harbor of durres, certain infrastructure
points in the country. everybody feels great about that, not only because
there is real order in doing things, but also because they pay quite a lot
of money for the services they obtain. Therefore if there would be any
threat coming from NATO to maffia activities it for sure shall have
backing from people, since albanian politics shall be totally out of the
scene. As for the last point, it is very unclear how this conflict shall
develop, but I do believe that this is going to be a turning point for
Albania. In case there shall be some dirty compromise, that shall not give
any solution to hundreds of thousands of deported people, to go back to
their homes and land and take decisions for themselves. In that case it is
for sure that the country shall not be able to handle the grave situation
it is going through. It shall for sure go into a post-apocalyptic state,
which shall afflict not only the entire region, but also Italy as the
first country of the WEST, that is already experiencing the huge wave of
refuges. But if NATO shall not give up and insist on its demands, than the
result shall be a real turning point, not only for Albania and Kosova, but
for Serbia even. Maybe it is precisely this that some do not like, because
judging from the strategic geographical position that Albania has, it
means they would loose a lot in many directions.

GL: We not hear much from the Albanian side, apart from some Kadare
remarks. How did you discuss the current issues in the last two months?
What does Fatos Lubonja (Perpjekja/Endeavour) say? And Edi Rama, your
Minister of Culture?

EM: it is true that the Albanian side is not heard much. On one side this
is because we are not well prepared to fight the media war as Serbia is.
Second, on this respect we are in a situation which even worse than the
war. The situation is really grave and almost explosive. It takes a lot
efforts to handle it with the high degree of poverty of Albania, and there
is so much to be done that there is not much time and space left to the
propaganda. Anyway, this does not mean that there has not been done
nothing. Edi Rama has lively participated in several live debates in and
out of Albania. There was one for example in which he strongly argued with
the macedonian ambassador about the closing of the border to the deportees
from Kosova. On another one, live in the Italian TV, Rai uno, he had an
even stronger debate with the communist leader Cosuta which is defending
Milosevic and ignoring the tragedy of the kosovars, for the sake of an
“unjust war” that NATO is waging. Also all independent media in albania
continuously do the coverage of the crisis with every night special
editions with debates and discussions and direct news from internet, etc.

GL: In Albania there are now 800 (wild) refugee camps. How would you
describe the influence of this huge amount on the Albanian society? Do you
already see some cultural activities as well?

EM: at the beginning the situation was really an emergency one, how to
feed and shelter more than half a million people that have gone through
the trauma of seeing their relatives slaughtered in front of their eyes.
Now it is a bit different, because you have to get used to the new
conditions and life finds its way out somehow. Of course there are several
cultural activities now, and there is more public because of the many
kosovars that wonder in the streets of tirana. I can say though that the
season took place this year even under very difficult conditions.
Hopefully the situation shall get any solution and autumn shall be
different. I myself am working towards that near future, that when it
comes, I do have some things established. Therefore, this would be the
case to start working on exchange and colaboration projects.

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