To mark the second edition of the biannual Mario Merz Prize, winning artist, Petrit Halilaj has developed a major new three-part project titled Shkrepëtima. The first element will take the form of a one day performance in Runik, the village where Halilaj grew up, (7 July 2018), an exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern (20 July 2018 – 19 August 2018) and the final culminating exhibition at the Fondazione Merz, Turin (29 October 2018 – 3 February 2019).
The performance, produced by Hajde! Foundation with Fondazione Merz, and taking place on July 7th in front of the ruins of the former House of Culture in Runik, will involve over 30 actors and musicians, and represents Halilaj’s first major intervention in a public space. In Albanian, Shkrepëtima means “flash”, “lightning bolt” or “a sudden and intense feeling.” Shkrepëtima was also the name of a multi-ethnic cultural magazine published in the 1970s and ‘80s by actors, teachers and students from the village. Following extensive research, Halilaj has created a project that functions as a spark, a Shkrepëtima, seeking to initiate cultural awareness and social transformation in his community. The Yugoslav-era building used to house a library of around 7000 books, a theatre and the farmer’s cooperative. The Centre was very active until the political situation deteriorated in the 90s and the building was closed and stripped of all its contents during the war. The structure was left in a state of total abandonment until Halilaj, together with his team and members of the community, cleaned and secured the site in order to host the performance Shkrepëtima.
The starting point is Runik where, between 1968 and 1983, several archaeological excavation campaigns revealed an important Neolithic settlement. Among the numerous artefacts, an ocarina, the oldest musical instrument ever found in the Balkans, was also discovered. The largest part of this collection of artefacts, including the ocarina, remains inaccessible to the citizens of Runik, having been loaned to the Belgrade Museum and never returned due to the war. In contemporary Runik there is no visible trace of this discovery since, after the war, many houses were built directly on the archaeological site. The absence of an official narrative has left room for the inhabitants of Runik to fantasize about their past in an attempt to tie it to a present in which there is a strong need to build the cultural identity of their country.
The two exhibitions at the Zentrum Paul Klee and at the Fondazione Merz will present 40 new drawings realized directly onto archival documents of the cooperative discovered by the artist in the ruins of the former House of Culture. The series of drawings functions as a conceptual storyboard of the performance and at the same time as a visual storyline of the cultural history of the village. Playfully occupying the empty spaces between the writings, we discover bird-shaped Neolithic artefacts, characters from the plays that were performed by amateur actors in Runik during the late ‘70s, and theatre props such as curtains and costumes.
The exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee will also present the two-channel video installation The city roofs were so near that even a sleepwalking cat could pass over Runik without ever touching the ground and a series of sculptures from the RU series realized for his solo exhibition at the New Museum in New York in 2017. The works will be reconfigured in a new site-specific installation conceived for the exhibition. The video installation is the result of dozens of hours of filmed testimonies of the citizens of Runik. They discuss historical facts merged with anecdotes stories and mythologies related to the Neolithic history of the village and the objects that they discover while cultivating the fields.
The objects in Petrit’s work, however, become migratory birds able to cross geographical boundaries and free themselves from the weight of recent history. The sculptures are displayed in dreamlike landscape of branches on suspended structures.
The exhibition at the Fondazione Merz in Torino represents the further and final step in the course of the entire project. The fundamental part of it will consist of a site-specific intervention, which will include video materials, sounds, sculptures, installations and drawings created by Petrit during the Runik event.
Curator: Leonardo Bigazzi
ZENTRUM PAUL KLEE
Monument im Fruchtland 3
3000 Bern 31 | Switzerland