geert lovink on 6 Aug 2000 20:25:45 -0000

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<nettime> Tirana, Summer 2000 - Interview with Edi Muka

Tirana, Summer 2000
An Ungoing Exchange with Edi Muka
By Geert Lovink

[The last e-mail exchange/interview I did with the Albanian curator Edi Muka
was in late May 1999, during the Kosov@ war. At that time Edi was preparing
the Albanian show for the Venice Bienale and had just heard that he was
appointed director of the national cultural center QNK, a glass pyramid on
the main Boulevard Deshmoret e Kombit in Tirana. In this update Edi informs
us about the activities of his center in its first year and further plans,
Albania and Kosov@ one year after the war and the thriving Albanian
contemporary arts].

GL: For almost a year you are running the Pyramid as a cultural center.
Could you describe the atmosphere inside the building? Tell us about the
highlights of your program. What difficulties are you facing at the moment?
How do you deal with the lack of funds and infrastructure now that you are
director of a national cultural institution? What is going on in the
surroundings of the building? Is it still bazaar street economy style which
dominates? How does your center fit into this picture?

EM: Since a year I am now running the Pyramid as a cultural center. I have
to say that it took me quite some time to understand the Albanian state
administration, which was a totally alien concept to me. Only after a while
I was able  to figure out what I wanted to do with the center and try to
draw some general strategies for its development. In the beginning I had to
introduce the way of working with projects, which was totally unknown to the
staff. Therefore a general structure of the work was outlined, which
consisted of covering the main artistic disciplines, like visual arts,
performing arts and music. Since by that time it was summer time, and indoor
events are not attended very much in the hot Tirana, we immediately started
with an open air cafe, with a huge screen of 54 m2 where we screen lots of
things, from documentary films to video art of young Albanian and
international artists, as well as DJ music. Since the hot weather summer
continued, we started a DJ exchange project in the basement of the pyramid,
which is a big space presumed to be a discotheque.
When the cultural season started, the visual arts component  became visible.
Shows with young, contemporary Albanian artists, followed by a
British-German contemporary photography show, and so on. on the other hand
the first projects in music, besides the DJ projects, started as
collaborations, because of a lack of infrastructure and experience in that
field as well as in performing arts was evident. Anyway, by developing good
contacts with Albanian musicians and using the foreign bodies that could
help finance the projects, like the British Council, Soros foundation,
Pro-Helvetia, the German embassy and good support from the ministry of
culture. The center had programming almost all year round. We did the
British film days, a clarinet festival out of which we were able to produce
a CD, other shows with young artists, and what is more important the center
started its first production on performing arts.
Finally, the Soros foundation approved two big projects I had proposals from
the very beginning. First, building of an info center in the form of a
mediatheque. Second, the opening of the educational service atelier (mostly
work with children). This is a very important project, because it has to do
with building infrastructure, something which is completely missing in
Albania and other ex communist countries. The thing with foreign donors is
that there's quite a lot of money to develop projects, but there's no money
whatshowever for building up infrastructure. This is very stupid indeed,
since the ones giving money always ask for "follow up", but how can you work
like this on a project-by-project basis, when you don't have the place and
the means to "follow up". On the other hand, even though with financial
restrictions, the center is financing the adaptation of the space where
exhibitions are held, into a permanent gallery for contemporary art, which
is going to open at the last weekend of September 2000 with a show from a
British photographer, in collaboration with the British Council office in
After securing some kind of archive, it is time now to put the info about
the center on a website, and we hope we can do this by September as well.
Despite all these initiatives, it is still hard to manage the center
financially, protect it from falling apart into different private interests,
raise our own money (since we don't have a budget from the state), and
develop new projects as well. it resembles a bit, even though with evident
differences, Albania, with its lack of long term planning, and its living
day by day. as for its surrounding, even though we managed a grant to partly
repair the building, which is very damaged, because of lack of grants of
maintenance, it doesn't look very much repaired. but at least I am glad that
people have started to know what's happening here., and We have even had
requests regarding "next projects" from the public; The implementation of
the mediatheque and the educational atelier shall turn the Pyramid into a
functional and open space, open to the public for most of the day.

GL: How would describe the political situation in Albania, Anno 2000? Is the
NATO containment policy in Kosova and the Balkans spilling over onto
Albania? I suppose you must be happy that there is no (civil) war taking
place on your doorstep - for the time being. Is the prospect of becoming a
sleepy, lazy, poor province of Brussels such a good one. I suppose there is
hardly any other option, being at the very edge of the Euro Empire. In
response people are still leaving the country. Do you see any possibility to
add new perspectives?

EM: Well, I have to say that the Kosova thing, as related to NATO impact is
over from some time now. There's a new influx between us of course, which
has to do mostly with trade from Albania into Kosova, and what's the
interesting part, with rediscovering each other, after many decades without
communication. It is for me interesting to see, talk and work with Kosovar
artists, and it is really impressive to see the work of some of them,
especially if you consider the life they lived until recently and the
"educational system" they had, if you could call it such.
On the other hand it is frustrating for me to see that there're the same
problems between generations, same barriers of communication with public,
same kind of resistance from the "elders" which had a name in the old
Yugoslavia. This is because, not knowing the situation over there, I had
always hoped they would have developed under totally different
circumstances. This should have created differences - but it is not like
that. It is true that Kosovars have a different working mentality compared
to us in Tirana. They are not waiting for NATO or Europe to rebuilt their
country, (something I don't believe will ever happen), as we did. They are
back to work,, building a new life.
The problem, as everyone can see, the difficulty of establishing some kind
of order. I don't mean the public order in the strict sense, but the kind of
order which somehow regulates daily life. This has not only to do only with
revenge towards Serbs, which is another phenomena that needs its time to be
settled, especially if we consider the fact that recently most of the
provocations and incidents come from Serbs living in Kosova. First of all
this is kind of a consequence of all these decades of "parallel economy and
state", which was legitimate as long as Milosevic was repressing Kosova, but
in the instant this frame is changed, the above structure is proved
completely not able to handle the situation. The second problem is crucial I
believe: neither Europe nor NATO have made up their mind of what to do with
Kosova. I mean it is damned clear now that it cannot be given back to
Yugoslavia. They have to start working building up a future as an
independent society. Only in this way it can be multicultural and
multiethnic on a long term. I don't see any sign of Kosova or Albania
becoming some sleepy, lazy province of Brussels.
Concerning Albanian politics I would not like to comment it, because I am
really tired of it. There's one fact that we have to admit though: If you
see it from a cold and outside perspective, you can recognize some
improvements. From inside these are so tiny that after all this time, one
gets really tired of the pace. Anyway, there's something I can tell you. As
you might know we're having local elections in October, and the news is that
Edi Rama, the artist, whom you know, is going to give up his three year job
as minister of culture. He is now candidate for the mayor of Tirana. It
sounds bizarre, and indeed it is an adventure. Only someone who has been to
Tirana knows what it means to deal with this crazy city. I think it is
because of the challenge that he is entering the race.

GL: Recently, a few shows and biennials of contemporary arts included works
from Albanian artists. All of them were well received. It look like you have
managed to escape the status of total obscurity. Albania really is on the
map. What happened over the last year? Could you tell us about the new >
interesting works, and artists?

EM: Everything started happening after the first international show we did
in Tirana in 1998. After that the Venice Bienale came, and apart from that
we were on the "five minutes of attention" of the world. Luckily, and
because of seriously good work and presentation, we could make the brake
through. From that moment on many shows started taking  place
internationally, while some of the artists could see immediate impact of
their work. This is the case with Anri Sala for instance, Adrian Paci and
Sislej Xhafa. The good thing is that there are still newcomers, and as I
mentioned above we have discovered and strengthened links with Kosovar
artists, with extremely impressive work, such as Solo Bemire, Resin
Shkololli, Mehmet Behluli, etc. I believe it is time now that whenever
proposals come, either for individuals, or group shows, there's a lot to be
presented and talk about.
All the above artists have produced new work which is not only raising
interest in showing them, but has also conquered the art market, which is
very important for the artists themselves, I guess. Therefore, there's a lot
more work to do now, and I feel good about it. There's some solid ground,
which allows serious work to be done.

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