from 3 December 2015 to 13 March 2016 – Space: SHED
“Space Shuttle in the Garden” brings together and connects, for the first time, a selection of works by Petrit Halilaj (1986, Kosovo) from recent years as well as new ones conceived specifically for the occasion. Setting out from the life and history of the artist and from the changes that have occurred in his native country, the exhibition explores universal themes such as memory, the search for identity, and the concept of home as both a shared and private space, arriving at reflections on community and on the creation and preservation of a common cultural heritage.
The exhibition is above all a journey into the artist’s universe and mythology. Moving between imagination and reality, Halilaj’s works describe a world which is both familiar and surreal: sculptures, drawings, performances, videos and installations explore the tides of history and the evolution of the world around us, blending together yesterday and today, the real and utopian, relative and absolute. Each piece, while drawing on events, objects and stories equally from the past and present, looks to the future, always harboring the artist’s hopes and desires, hinting at romantic, humorous and also often peculiar visions and dreams that have yet to come true. Positioned outside Pirelli HangarBicocca, the work They are Lucky to be Bourgeois Hens II (2009) serves as an antechamber to the show: a wooden rocket ship constructed by the artist’s relatives, neighbors and friends, with its interior painted an elegant Klein blue, is inhabited by chickens, preparing to discover a new still to be invented world.
Location: Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Artist: Petrit Halilaj
Exhibition: “Space Shuttle in the Garden”
Allestiment: curated by Roberta Tenconi
Engineering: MOSAE srl
Team: Michele Maddalo, Alice Brugnerotto. Special consultant Stefano Monaco
Photo: Agostino Osio
Pictures in slideshow: from the exhibition
They are Lucky to be Bourgeois Hens II, 2009
Displayed outside the exhibition space, They are Lucky to be Bourgeois Hens II serves as an ideal entrance point to the show: a rudimentary space rocket that conjures up the notion of a voyage of discovery; a trip to explore other realities. The interior with its Klein-blue vault is home to a number of hens – a recur – rent motif in Petrit Halilaj’s work – that are as free to move among the works in the exhibition as the visitors. The action brings to mind the artists of Arte Povera who, at the end of the 1960s in Italy, introduced nature into art spaces. Like Jannis Kounellis’ iconic installation 12 Horses (1969) – that included live horses inside the exhibition space of Galleria L’Attico in Rome – Halilaj’s They are Lucky to be Bourgeois Hens II removes all notions of hierarchy between living creatures. As is often the case in the artist’s work, the title taken from his writings introduces a humorously-inflected desire for change, in its association with animals of a class value normally attributed to man – that of the bourgeoisie. The hens are inhabitants of a miniature society, aspiring to a different life and integration into a new context. The original idea for the work was born out of a conversation Halilaj had with his sister Blerina. For its construction, the artist asked friends and relatives in the town of Runik to build, accord – ing to his instructions, a space rocket that could function as a henhouse. The structure was created using the same materials employed building his family home and the entire venture was recorded on video. In the months following its construction, the structure was exhibited at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Pristina, thus obtaining a new life as a work of art. The rocket-shaped installation is the latest part of the project They are Lucky to be Bourgeois Hens, begun in 2008 as part of “Art Is My Playground”, a group exhibition held in an amusement park in Istanbul. There, Halilaj presented a series of sculptures made from water, iron, wood and objets trouvés, with which he created a sort of theme park for hens and for eleven days shared the space and the objects with them. One of the exhibited works is a sculpture in the form of an aquarium that stands on an iron pedestal in the shape of a bird’s foot, inside a cock’s feather is made to swirl back and forth by the movement of water generated by the aquarium’s motors. In Pirelli HangarBicocca, the work They are Lucky to be Bourgeois Hens is shown at the entrance to the narrow corridor that takes visitors into the space, which the hens of the space rocket can also access.
The places I’m looking for, my dear, are utopian places, they are boring and I don’t know how to make them real (2010-2015)
Created in 2010 for the 6th Berlin Biennial, and newly presented for the first time, this installation is made from the wooden superstructure used to construct Petrit Halilaj’s new family house in the capital Pristina after they decided to leave Runik, where they had lived for years. Like a negative, the structure – a mould of the building – fills the exhibition space with its empty spaces, defining the different rooms.
During its first exhibition, The places I’m looking for, my dear, are utopian places, they are boring and I don’t know how to make them real was inhabited by a group of hens and occupied the space of two floors of the Kunst-Werke, one of the main locations where the Biennial was held. Free to move throughout the installation, the hens symbolically referred to the idea of rebirth and reconstruction, to which the work bore witness. Unlike the 2010 installation, in which bricks were included at the base of the shell as an allusion to the involvement of local mafia necessary to obtain building authorization, this new, brickless version is the result of a development that reflects the changes that have taken place.
Additionally, in Pirelli HangarBicocca the work has been fragmented; it is literally “exploded” and is presented on different horizontal and vertical levels. The common areas of the house, such as the kitchen and living room, serve as central section of the installation. Those related to a more individual and intimate space have been separated and set out singularly, thus creating a constellation of volumes that intersect with the architecture of the exhibition building. Like fragments, some of the elements seem to extend beyond the limits of the space in which they have been placed. The installation is strongly graphic in character: straight and perpendicular lines, angles and volumes dialogue with the totality of the Shed and the other works on display, creating a series of highly diverse perceptions and perspectives that characterize the entire exhibition.
In its conceptions as both physical space and a place for sharing and belonging, the house is a recurrent motif in Halilaj’s work. For the creation of his 2011 work Kostërrc (CH), he transported some of the land on which his family house in Kosovo stood and used it to fill the booth of his gallery at Art Basel, transposing the soil from a country whose political and juridical status is uncertain to a country – Switzerland – recognized as politically neutral.
The act of leaving an empty space and filling a new one stands in direct relation to Halilaj’s life, his frequent movements and his attempt to adapt to new realities while maintaining his own identity. The act of removing the block of land and exhibiting it in an entirely new context, which would seem related to Land Art actually examines social and cultural issues connected with the fledgling Republic of Kosovo and the exodus of its people.
As a desire marked by expectation, a feeling that precedes any move to a new city, The places I’m looking for, my dear, are utopian places, they are boring and I don’t know how to make them real is a family portrait in which past and future intertwine to compose new stories related to the vicissitudes of the lives of its inhabitants. As in many of Halilaj’s works that combine and recreate objects related to his personal life, the installation affirms the artist’s interest in loss and constant process of redefinition of an individual’s identity and self-identification. During a conversation with his sister, he stated, «I cannot live without dedicating my attention to my house because it is like us: full of mistakes».
26 Objekte n’ Kumpir (2009)
The installation 26 Objekte n’ Kumpir is presented as an imposing structure of branches and earth held in the air by slender supports. The interior is composed of hidden display cases resting on copper plates, which contain twenty-six commonly used objects. They are replicas of those made and customarily used by Halilaj’s paternal grandfather, all of which have been remodelled in different materials by the artist. He often uses natural, humble materials such as earth and wood, but also metal, to create organic ecosystems that symbolically store memories and objects linked to his personal history.
Similar in materiality and choice of colors, one of Haliaj’s most intimate works I’m hungry to keep you close. I want to find the words to resist but in the end there is a locked sphere. The funny thing is that you’re not here, nothing is was created in 2013 for the Kosovo pavilion at the Venice Biennale. This outsized nestlike structure was transformed into a secure space populated by two canaries: an intimate refuge with its interior only visible through a few openings into the structure. Both works are characterized by the relationship between interior and exterior, discovery and stratification, roughness and preciousness.
With the work 26 Objekte n’ Kumpir, Halilaj, who at the time was already living in Berlin, tackles the question of the distance separating him from his family. He replicated daily objects linked to his family customs from memory – including walking sticks, footwear and frames handmade by his grandfather – in an attempt to re-examine this form of non-verbal communication associated with making. Placed and illuminated in display cases as though in a museum, the objects are fixed and crystallized in time: «I do have the desire to dedicate my attention and be there in the middle of you. And not forget you. But you must not change anything in your life», Halilaj declared in a conversation with his sister Blerina. The work offers evidence of emotions linked to memory, as well as the potential, inevitable changes that time wreaks on reality and our affective and family dynamics.
This reflection is further highlighted in the text handwritten by the artist and hung alongside the work: Halilaj reflects on the lack of verbal communication between members of the family and the processes of creating a language that may also arise through the very production of objects. The sheets of paper on which the text is written seem to have been ripped out of a personal diary: grammatical mistakes and deleted words highlight the intimate nature of the text and the manner in which it was written, with a mix of languages and identities.
In the work Untitled (objects), close to the installation, Halilaj has combined a series of waste materials, such as wood, plastic and piping, taken from 26 Objekte n’ Kumpir.
Si Okarina e Runikut (2014)
The series Si Okarina e Runikut is made up of several sculptural objects created from clay and brass, modelled in the form of an ancient wind instrument found in the archaeological zone of Runik, where the artist’s family lived for a number of years. Similar to ocarinas, these instruments hark back to the prehistoric origins of music and relate to the Neolithic period, which we can only assess through objects, with the contemporary era.
Halilaj created these works after studying the technique from Shaqir Hoti, one of the last people to make and play these traditional musical instruments. However, the artist inserted new elements in them: slender brass tubes with the dual function of precariously-seeming support for the object, and as a mouthpiece that allows the instrument to be used and to generate sound. Simple, light elements are juxtaposed with the rough, material appearance of the ocarinas, thus connecting modernity and antiquity. Operating and manipulating the functionality of the object, Halilaj turned it from personal to choral, suggesting the participation of several people.
Si Okarina e Runikut acknowledges one of the themes central in Petrit Halilaj’s artistic practice – the intent to establish communication channels between individuals and to create moments of sharing through objects.
It is the first time dear that you have a human shape (diptych I – earring) (2012)
Started in 2012 and exhibited for the first time at the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, the series consists of various metal sculptures that are reproductions of jewellery of Halilaj’s mother enlarged one hundred times. Through these large objects, Halilaj explores the relationship between visitors, the works and the surroundings. For the exhibition at Pirelli HangarBicocca, the artist presents two earrings – It is the first time dear that you have a human shape (diptych I – earring) – and two new works, a bracelet and a necklace with a pendant in the form of a butterfly, arranged gracefully in the space. The stones, which are usually set in jewels, have been substituted with coloured powder and building material taken from the ruins of his family’s original home in Kostërrc, which was destroyed.
It is the first time dear that you have a human shape (butterfly collier) (2015)
Forced to flee the village where they lived, Halilaj’s mother buried her jewellery along with her son’s drawings in the ground on the hill where their house stood. Family heirlooms to be kept and handed down and Halilaj’s children’s drawings are a reflection on the concept of belonging and renewal. His mother’s gesture encouraged him to consider and tackle these themes: «You know, when our mother talks about the future? That’s art… She is the light and she always showed us enthusiasm».