“Prishtina is the capital of European contemporary art,” said curator René Block when he visited in the early 2000s.
I am serious.
And he was correct to make such bold statements. At the time, as my artist friend tells me, it was a particularly energetic art scene and there was some sort of current flowing through the entire city, charging everything in its path. It could also be that this electricity in the air was the usual post-hangover effect that my artist friend felt during his younger years while partying and having a good time.
Teletubbies told war stories. America’s might was illustrated through local conspiracy theories. Bards with çiftelias sang of the glory and great artistic exploits of Kosovar artists and of their conquests and adventures in the four corners of the World — from New York and London to Paris, Berlin and beyond. All these great things happened, but I barely knew about them.
It reminds you of the constant bickering and gossip between groups of artists.
My good friend blames it all on the lack of proper art critique written locally. But I disagree.
And I will prove my point by writing a review of my friend’s art exhibition. But for the sake of posterity, and since I want to retain good relations with my friend, I won’t mention their name nor the name of their art show, or the place where it is currently exhibited.
“You see? That just proves my point,” said my friend and called me a coward and a cheat. “It is all a friends’ club and no one wants to risk their position. So everyone just keeps patting each other’s backs.”
And perhaps that is the phenomenon that my friend tried to explore in their installation, entitled “Together-Apart.” One really has to focus through the concrete, steel, and rubber covering the back side to untangle its meaning. It reminds you of the constant bickering and gossip between groups of artists.
So much so that I immediately remembered how sick I become every time I hear about the lack of cooperation between artists and about all the backstabbing, as I try to keep track of who doesn’t talk to whom for whichever reason. (My artist buddy could talk all they want about a “friends’ club” but their mind and hands proved the opposite by having created an installation like this.)
What really adds an additional layer of meaning is the installation’s lighting — the way the soft rubber in the back is illuminated by the faint neon light makes you think about the vulgarity of fake relationships and friendships. Perhaps this is the way of the world now?
As you walk through the exhibition space, you will see a painting on a large canvas entitled “Cake,” and to my disliking, I have to admit that it failed to escape the oh-so-obvious nationalistic flairs, while at the same time trying to appeal internationally.
“Cake” could’ve been so good if my artist friend just continued with their initial impulse for experimentation, but they couldn’t resist the call of the Cash Sirens who drove their potential masterpiece to crash into the cliffs of kitsch that is neither nationalistic nor one of those cheesy reconciliation projects that have shepharded so many artists to create works as plastic as their true feelings toward the topics and works they had been commissioned for.
But, it is sad that we live in a poor place in which the artist must sometimes trade their artistic pursuits for the plain old square meal of survival. I wish that my friend’s stomach was not caught in the middle between glorification of either of the pseudo-ideological games, and I wish they had the energy to engage with the creation of art as it’s meant to be and experiment and perhaps try to answer some of those deeper questions about life.
If only good old Walter Benjamin was still around — I wonder what he’d make of this porous relationship between the avant-garde and the kitsch.
But what could be more fundamental than an empty stomach? It is a truth one can reach only through the truest of suffering. Despite the magnificent artistic process that merits all praise, it still all falls apart in “Cake” since it is so obvious that my artist friend is jabbing at their patrons and sponsors by putting words in their mouths like, “Well, let them [the (starving) artists] eat cake, then.”
One of the interesting pieces comes in the form of an artist’s book entitled “But is There Growth and Innovation?” and its whole deal is that it asks this very question in different forms on every page. It has a print run of 1,000 copies (an astronomical number for such an artbook) and sells for a hefty price (I won’t ruin the surprise). It is an example where the content and concept follows the form, and perhaps answers Walter Benjamin’s dilemma of whether there can be an Art that can be reproduced mechanically.
But what should be said about an artwork that treats art as an industry rather than as an avant-garde, research-based, experimental process seeking to uncover deeper philosophical truths about what it means to live and to be human? Is the industrialization of art the deepest truth we now hold in capitalist/consumerist societies? Is this the Utopia we strived for?
Perhaps this is the ultimate merger between an artwork and a mass produced object. For what other choice is there for a work of art in the time of mechanical reproduction? If only good old Walter Benjamin was still around — I wonder what he’d make of this porous relationship between the avant-garde and the kitsch.
Maybe the best artwork created by my artist friend is not even exhibited in this show; I am talking about my friend’s Instagram feed.
What better representation for a cyber-urinal than any of the social networks?
Besides it being an annoying reminder of how much my own life sucks in comparison to the fun things they supposedly do and my ever-growing envy for all their travels in the name of art (which in these days of prolonged visa isolation is like rubbing salt on my mental wounds every time I watch those insta-stories), it actually is by far the closest thing that approaches the idea of what role art should hold in our times.
Initially, you may be fooled into thinking that my good artist friend’s art practice has declined to the point where travel has become an end rather than a mere byproduct of their art. But let me assure you that underneath all the vanity, narcissistic impulses and the undeniable need for personal marketing, there lies a (perhaps accidental and unintentional) artistic concept that perfectly fits the times in which we live.
Think of it this way: If Marcel Duchamp lived in our information-age, what kind of a readymade object would he use instead of his famous “Fountain?” And what better representation for a cyber-urinal than any of the social networks?
This idea is elevated to an even higher level once you find out that the majority of the things that my good artist friend publishes are in fact re-posts from other people. And I find such a thing genius, as I do the Instagram handle, “Mediator Maximus,” which should in fact be considered as the artwork’s title.
“Mediator Maximus” is a virtual readymade that exemplifies the mediation of reality as predicted and discussed by Guy Debord in “The Society of the Spectacle.” It has been a long time since we have experienced the real world through our own eyes.
Even this article, if it isn’t shared and doesn’t appear on Facebook and Instagram, it does not exist. For we do not know how to look at the world anymore if it isn’t through our phone screens or through camera filters such as “Valencia” or “Lo-Fi” or “X-Pro.”
There is hope for contemporary art, though. As long as we look at an artwork, and as long as not everything is spelled out, and as long as it makes us ask ourselves, “What does it all mean?” then we are still in good shape.
And as for my artist friend’s oeuvre, there are still quite some of their artworks that tickle that part of my brain, and I hope yours as well.K