When Art Is the Only Administration Left

By Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei,
When Art Is the Only Administration Left
Edi Rama's wallpaper at the Venice Biennial 2017. Source: Marian Goodman Gallery.

The front page of the cultural supplement of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera today features an enlargement of one of Prime Minister Edi Rama’s doodles, with which he also papered a wall at the current Venice Biennial, curated by COD board member Christine Macel.

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What is remarkable is that the doodle features Rama’s official agenda from January 10, 2017, and lists a series of meetings with several ministers and deputies regarding the judicial reform. At 16:00 a meeting with former Minister of Interior Affairs Saimir Tahiri and Secretary-General Engjëll Agaçi, at 16:30 a meeting with Minister of Finance Arben Ahmetaj and Agaçi, at 17:00 a meeting with again Agaçi and Fatmir Xhafaj, current Minister of Interior Affairs and former chair of the Legal Affairs and Judicial Reform commissions in Parliament, and finally a briefing with deputy Taulant Balla, his parliamentary attack dog.

On January 10, the Parliament opened the applications for the members of the new institutions of the High Prosecutorial Council and High Judicial Council. These procedures have still not finished, and several deadlines have been postponed after not enough qualified candidates had applied for the positions.

Two days later, on January 12, former Minister of Justice Ylli Manjani launched a public attack on former Minister Tahiri about the alarming levels of cannabis cultivation, also stating that “The current situation in the judicial system is chaotic. No one is controlling anyone.” This “situation” has turned meanwhile into the status quo.

The process around the justice reform has been highly opaque. Journalists or citizens have hardly any access to internal documents, and legislation has been often unclear to deputies themselves even at the moment they vote for it. The passing of new Criminal Procedural Code was a case in point. It is therefore ironic that one of the few insights into the internal mechanisms of Rama’s court are revealed through his art works.

The publication of a facsimile of an official state document, the agenda of the Prime Minister, on the front page of a foreign newspaper, while inaccessible to ordinary Albanian citizens, raises a number of important questions about confidentiality, access to information, and archiving. But these questions are not merely theoretical; they have actual and direct implications on the way in which citizens are able to control their governments, and on how governments communicate with their citizens.

For Prime Minister Rama, this mode of communication is very clear. He will talk either uninterruptedly through his own Facebook video channel ERTV or by means of government documents exhibited and sold for private profit. We may as well forget about any other form of “transparency.” It is all about one-directional propaganda.

All of this becomes even more ironic if we listen to recent words of Minister of Culture Mirela Kumbaro, who has presided over the largest, state-sanctioned destruction of cultural heritage in Albania since the implementation of atheism during the Cultural and Ideological Revolution:

Politics in Albania and in Kosovo has much to learn from them [artists], if it is smart it can even profit from them, if it looks behind the horizon it should support them, if it is emancipated it should ask for forgiveness, because owes decades of unpaid debts to them.

It would seem to me that Albanian politics has already learned more than enough from art – that is, a very specific form of art: an art that, in the spirit of the recent Mediterranea Biennale openly claims to be apolitical, to be innocent display of frivolity and color, while at the same playing the role of the “avant-garde.” The avant-garde not of “democracy,” but of the wholesale evacuation of democratic values from the public sphere. As Rama stated in his recent promo video for the Venice Biennial: “In politics too, I am trying to paint a canvas. I visualize how I want our country to be, to feel, how I want it to change.” How Rama wants it, not his voters.

We are still waiting for the moment the international art press will shift its attention from Rama’s wallpaper and doodles to the actual “political canvas” this man has been painting in Albania, which has included landscapes of weed plantations, concrete-covered archeological treasures, natural reserves exploited by oligarchs for enormous profits, and a stunning portrait of a collapsing political system.

We are still waiting for the moment the international art press actually starts reading the documents that Rama purloins and pilfers to serve his egomania, and starts to ask some fundamental questions about how art and politics are actually related in the oeuvre of a man who is about to become the next Balkan autocrat.

Some signs are hopeful. Recently, Alexxa Gotthardt and Scott Indrisek wrote for Artsy:

Over at the Giardini segment of “Viva Arte Viva,” one huge room is wallpapered with a series of colorful, geometric drawings, a bit like the sketchbook experiments of a particularly talented collegiate stoner. To be perfectly frank, the works wouldn’t matter so much if they hadn’t been made by the prime minister of Albania.

To be indeed “perfectly frank,” these works matter nothing at all except the fact that they are made by a self-styled “world leader.” Gotthardt, Indrisek, and their colleagues would do therefore well to look into exactly what that means, being “prime minister of Albania.”



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