november 17 – december 31, 2001

curated by Angela Vettese

Opening: saturday november 17, 2001 6.00 pm

Erzen Shkololli was born in Prishtina in 1976, where he lives and works. His is one of the brightest artistic voices to come from modern Albania, a land of big conflicts, in which all the most contemporary causes of discomfort are concentrated: the difficult co-existence of ethnicities and religions, the disorder of a country on its way out of a totalitarian regime and a long period of isolation, and into a richness of hope for the future. The difficulty is in reconciling this wish for renewal - almost exclusively lived as an approach to the so called Western world - with the necessary conservation of old traditions (independent of the switch from one political status to another.)

At first glance his work might seem like simple ready-mades taken from these traditions, as in The Bed (1999), a perfect replica of those used to give rest to the deceased: a quilt of satin, several layers of laces, and a pallet give the person all the dignity he never had in life, or that his body lost anyway. Obviously the operative intention isn't Duchampian or anti-artistic. The choice of the object doesn't come from an emotive indifference, but from the exact opposite. It comes from a deep involvement with the events of a population that mourns its dead, like anyone else, but that during these last years has been forced to bury even a good number of martyrs.

Assigned to a group of women from Kosova, the embroidery has all the power of a resistance to pain itself. It's a skill handed down from mother to daughter (we don't know for how long

yet) that carries with it the wish to give shape to beauty and to holiness inside domestic walls; even when outside conditions suggest a brutal loss of values. In this case, beauty recovers its ethical character: it certifies the will of reacting, of facing the future by looking to the past, and of not suffering the dramas of the present without giving them a bearable shape; a position in which to sublimate the pain.

The artist doesn't mean to speak only of pain though. What he concerns himself with are all the rituals in which a community sees itself for what it is, from generations through the centuries, in spite of the face that recent history gives it. That's why he celebrates not only death, but also the wedding, the birth of a family unit that will generate new lives. In his sculpture The Bride (2000), the artist shows a hereditary figure looking at herself through a mirror, as if to emphasise her double life: the past as a young girl, and the still unknown future as a bride. In the same-titled video, Shkololli recreated as a performance a ceremony still present in the rural areas of his country: the day after the wedding the bride dances in front of the local women, driven by obsessive rhythms, dressed in a gaudy way, and provocatively made up. She exposes herself to the glimpses of the other women who consider her wedding to be a turning point, and - according to the elders and the wise - the end of youth and the emergence of duty.

The exhibition at Claudio Poleschi Gallery will be articulated in two sections: in the first one, circular embroidery will cover a hole in the floor of the gallery. A traumatic grave, soothed by an abstract and permanent crown of flowers, the installation is a gulf covered with regret and consolation. The second part of the show will be installed at the church of S. Matteo; a medieval structure brought back to its essence from later interventions. In this smooth yet sacral context, the artist will cover the choir's balustrade with embroidery purposely commissioned and made in Kosova. There will also be the corsets-armours worn by the brides on the occasion of the day-after ceremony. There will be a video-projection in the apse, where these shapes - still unknown to the Italian eye - will show themselves in their own environment, acquiring full significance.

It would be limiting to give to Shkololli's poetics a sociological or ethnographic meaning only. If it's true that his poetics finds its roots in a world on the brink of disappearance, as the frequent reference to images from the artist's youth would confirm, there are also wider issues free from geographical borders. For instance, it explores how art can help to preserve a collective memory, the kind of relationship it entertains with craft, and what dying and being born really mean. These are the questions that we find expressed in a language always able to retain different registers, mixing the sweet with the sour, the popular with the experimental, and the dramatic with grotesque comedy.

Angela Vettese

© 2020 Claudio Poleschi Arte Contemporanea