See you in Prishtina!

Issue no5
Oct - Nov 2023

On this final weekend of Manifesta 14 Bardhi Haliti talks to Flaka Haliti. Both were born in Prishtina, both left the city to study abraod, both now are living in West-Europe. And bot are involved in this years Manifesta.

—Bardhi Haliti :‘Hello Flaka, we were both recently in Prishtina, but unfortunately, we missed each other by a week or so. In an earlier phone conversation witch I mentioned that the youthful spirit of Prishtina seemed to have faded, and daily life had changed significantly for many due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This became especially apparent during a six-week long residency I had with 25 students from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Prishtina in the fall of 2021, a period when cultural institutions and events were banned, with a strict evening curfew in place. On a more recent trip this year, however, I noticed that things were moving again and there was a much nicer energy in the air. In other words, spring has sprung. What was your experience of this last visit?’

—Flaka Haliti ‘I think I arrived three or four days after you left. I was following your Instagram stories when you were there. Although we have different styles in creating an account of Prishtina trips, I was excited to see how many of your shots echoed the same spots of which I took a picture in previous times. We have both been connected to Kosovo because of family and friends and our continuous engagement with the art and design scene. Nevertheless, our experience of living abroad fundamentally forms our education and work. I wondered how much of our observation or perception of the country can still be considered “a distant view”. We Albanians often say “that's normal for Kosovo” when referring to certain absurdities we are criticizing. Knowing that as opposed to critical distance, there is also always a critical proximity when one is very close to one’s research subject. How fresh our eyes are in the first two days upon arrival and how quickly our wow's and amazement vanishes when we adapt to “another normality” yet familiar for us in other ways. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this from a designer’s point of view.’

B: 'There is definitely a very strong and overwhelming confrontation with the city the moment you arrive. I still experience this feeling every time I’m in Prishtina, and this can sometimes be quite inspiring'

—B 'There is definitely a very strong and overwhelming confrontation with the city the moment you arrive. I still experience this feeling every time I’m in Prishtina, and this can sometimes be quite inspiring. One can easily be surprised by the city’s architecture, the signage in shops, the dense traffic and the way daily life happens in all of this mind-boggling environment. I try to get as much as I can from the city within the first few days of my arrival as I know that feeling of being inspired by it can quickly escape and all of a sudden your experience starts to turn slightly suffocating.’

—F 'Same, I like being wow’ed and amazed repeatedly by things that I'm familiar with, things that I know are there but forgot about. Yet, those wow's are to be seen not as an exotic encounter but as a manifestation of hope. I have to admit I don't remember the last time I had the kind of fun I had in Prishtina. I felt the same vibe as you did. 2022 could be considered a year when Generation Z finally takes over and fully enters into urban and cultural life. For Kosovo this is special because we are talking about the most isolated country in Europe. This means Gen Z is the first generation that hasn't been affected the same way by the physical borders, territories, and visa restrictions on traveling as previous generations because of global connectivity. Their mindset, expression, openness, and knowledge are stunning. And what impressed me most this time was the change I noticed in hetero normative behavior. The queer community has become much more visible. The first queer bar opened recently, and everyone hangs out there. Straight men work behind the bar there too. This fluidity is something I wouldn't have expected to occur that easily. But “better late than never”, right?!’

—B 'This generational shift is very significant and great to see it thriving. I believe there were attempts also before but to no great effect. I remember something like ten years ago or more, a gay club had opened in Prishtina, bizarrely right next to the city’s football stadium. What an odd location for a gay club. Its existence didn’t last long and it’s possible that the location had something to do with it closing down. Gen Z kids have grown up in a different world to the generations that preceded them, with unlimited access to the internet where they could learn and see new things without having to even leave their country. Apart from this, the past few years there have been a lot of different initiatives to open cultural spaces that are not only more inclusive but also have great programming. An example of this is Kino ARMATA, a public space and cinema promoting alternative culture right in the center of the city, screening films of acclaimed directors like Pier Paolo Pasolini, Robert Breston and Chantal Akerman among others, while at the same time encouraging the younger generations to make their own films, music and art by offering them equipment and a space to showcase their work.

—F 'And Manifesta 14 is coming this summer. What a great moment for this event to happen! How did you come up with green as the primary color representation for M14 for your design?’

[ question B] 'To be honest I don’t have a particular fascination with green as a color, but I like all the contradictions associated with it from nature, vegetables and healthy living to sickness and green monsters. In general, it’s quite a problematic color to work with across different platforms as it has countless shades, but somehow it felt like an appropriate confrontation in picking something to contrast the otherwise very gray city that is Prishtina, and also the fact that the first campaign of Manifesta 14 would begin in the spring. The progression of the green also fits with the three seasons in which Manifesta 14 is active: offering pre-biennial activities in the spring, the opening of the main program in the summer and closing events in the fall. While we are on the subject of colors, you do have a particular affinity for the color blue. It’s very present in a lot of your work. I still have fond memories of designing your book, printed entirely in blue, for the Kosovo Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015. Coincidentally I also recently designed a blue cover for the catalog of the Europalia Festival in Belgium, which you were part of with the work If I Want to Go Home Will Robots Send Me Somewhere Else? in the exhibition Endless Express curated by Caroline Dumalin. You created a large billboard which was installed at Ostend’s railway station. Cuts in the corrugated steel spelled the title enabling the visitor to see the changing sky behind the letters. While you could often catch glimpses of a blue sky through the cut letters, the blue was not as present as it is in your other works.’

F: ‘My interest in color comes with its speculative aspect and never-ending interpretation, projecting social transformation throughout western history'

—F ‘My interest in color comes with its speculative aspect and never-ending interpretation, projecting social transformation throughout western history, as Vanessa Joan Müller poignantly remarks in her text as part of (my favorite catalog) Speculating on the Blue about my presentation for the Kosovo Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennial in 2015. One day it’s a working-class color symbol, the next day it’s a color that is claimed back by executives and conservatives. However, out of all these political codes integrated as value, the color blue manages to neutralize again as color that represents infinity, immateriality, universe, desire, harmony, and romanticism. A color of the sky and the sea and a color of television screens or today's internet. And of course, the color of the European Union. It is needless to mention how the flags of Kosovo and Bosnia ended up being blue after their claim of independence. The other aspect I'm interested in is how the question of right and belonging is highly entangled with the specter of power. Who has the right to claim certain kinds of identity aesthetics over representation (i.e blue) if we look at it in relation to the Western art canon, let say? In a time when we speak so much about fluidity, opacity, ambiguity, and hybridity in an attempt to articulate and produce space for diversity in the process of decentering western values. The absolute claim of style or aesthetics in art is a big contradiction since it only reinforces the values of white masculine norms. That's where dominance as being visible enters. I think this has to change as its logic corresponds one-on-one with nation-building states ideas. In my work, blue as a color enters as a contextual form and not a medium. Yet while I consider the possibility of claiming it, I make sure that it remains fluid in my practice. Thus, by never allowing it to become absolute, it leaves enough room for other aesthetic aspects to enter that are often perceived as a misunderstanding when one still attempts to define my artistic practice.’

—B ‘You are also one of the participants of the upcoming Manifesta, and you will also produce new work for the occasion. Although you are quite active in Europe, you haven’t shown your work in your home city for some years now. I was wondering if you feel a certain pressure when exhibiting in a city where you grew up, and how does this compare to exhibiting your work elsewhere?’

—F ‘I'm mostly nervous (and excited) when I exhibit in cities I live or used to live in. I feel there are different projections and expectations clashing between the old and new me in exchange with a mixed audience, old/new friends, family, colleagues, plus a wider audience involved. While when I exhibit cities, I have less or no personal relationships or history to, one can just be an artist and speak from that position. Which takes out a certain kind of pressure since I suppose it allows for more of an objective exchange between the art work and the audience itself.’

—B ‘Could you also briefly explain what your work at Manifesta 14 will be?’

—F 'My new work for Manifesta 14 is titled Under the Sun – Explain What Happened and departs from discarded material in a military context. In this case I take the discarded plastic window panels from a KFOR camp hangar, now home of culture institution Autostrada Biennial in Prizren. In the course of more than twenty years these plastic panels have been burned by the sun, that in ​a way formed some kind of wavelength of horizon colors. This enigmatic process has inscribed itself in material, has left​ magic​ traces​ as​ a witness of time that ​passed by​. ​Y​et it remains an inanimate object, it’s present but still doesn't exist in a present tense. ​Perhaps it's haunted by the specter of something, carrying a story​, ​​left to be told. As poetic as the title sounds, it's still formed as an interrogative question. it will be a massive installation outdoors at the Palace of Youth in Prishtina. I intend to form an uncanny horizon as a sun set against the sky that glows or burns slowly​. Put in contrast with the cut ​out​ patterns taken from military camouflage, that alone forms a radiance of clouds at the edge of sky stimulating imagination ​as an abstraction ​of how things could be otherwise.’ ​

F: Under the Sun – Explain What Happened and departs from discarded material in a military context. In this case I take the discarded plastic window panels from a KFOR camp hangar

—B ‘It’s gonna be interesting to see a lot of visitors from all over Europe in Prishtina this summer, but I’m especially looking forward to seeing your work at Manifesta and sipping on some rakia with you.’

—F ‘Same! me you and everyone we know'', plus the stray dogs. They’re a recent phenomenon. I’m not sure if you have noticed how stray dogs in Prishtina are very much integrated and becoming part of parkour urban inner-city life. They hangout in and out same spaces we do, walking and following their favorite people from A to B. They already have names, and they might follow or block our way as they feel entitled to. It would be great if somehow these dogs become part of Prishtina guided tours for the hundred days of Manifesta 14 to come.’

—B ‘I am producing a series of items for Manifesta 14, such as scarves, a bag, and a coat, together with Venera Mustafa. For one of the scarves we made illustrations of some of our favorite stray dogs in Prishtina. It’s been estimated that there are around ten thousand stray dogs in Prishtina, and I don’t expect that there will be a fantastic solution offered by the city anytime soon to shelter them. In the past few years the dogs have become so much part of the city that it’s almost difficult to imagine Prishtina without them. They often chase cars and bark at them, and are weary just like us, of the large number of cars in the city blocking sidewalks and causing major traffic.’

—F ‘In this crowded summer more than ever I look forward to discussing more when we are there.’

—B ‘Thank you Flaka for this conversation and see you soon in Prishtina!’

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2023