Curating the New Cultural Space - Adela Demetja in an Exclusive Interview

Art Fairs, Interviews

September 21, 2016

As part of the Special Zone of this year’s viennacontemporary, and as a special presentation, the production of the Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania region is explored. Curated by Adela Demetja, one of the leading young curators from Albania, The Focus: Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania represents a cross-section of the region’s art production. Attempting to explore the production of major off-centers, Demetja was fascinated by the major difference in the motivation behind the birth of such institutions in South East Europe to the goals of such places in the West. Developed for exactly the opposite reasons, lack of contemporary art and absence of the art market, the key to the essence of art production of the focused countries could be unlocked. Inviting independent art spaces of the region to choose young and established artists they feature, Demetja opens up the dialogue within the featured institutions and beyond the borders.

Widewalls was intrigued from the start since the creativity of the countries in question is often left to stand on the sidelines of the bigger picture. Does Adela Demetja share our views? What are her thoughts about the role of contemporary art and of art’s responsibility to the particular community it comes from? Delighted upon her acceptance of the invitation for the interview we offer for you today, thoughts of Adela Demetja.

english language is just one of many you will hear at the fair.
Focus Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania, viennacontemporary. Photo by Alexander Murashkin

The Mistakes of Concrete Definitions

Widewalls: How would you describe the curatorial practices of the South East Europe, with focus, of course, placed on the Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania region? The powerful past, with all its past heroes and monuments that need to be adored, are they crucial to the practice and, if not, where would you say is the ‘look’ of the curator, such as yourself?

Adela Demetja: I don’t think that there is any specific South East Europe curatorial practice, as I don’t believe there is any specific South East Europe artistic practice. I believe that curating can be as subjective and individual as art making. Generalization, simplification, concrete definitions have led to the creation of stereotypes and a fixed image about the people, the countries of Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania in the past years. Similar problems may arise in the attempt to specify and unify the way of illustrating and reading the art and culture developments from the countries of this region. There are, for sure, some common political, social, economic and historical factors that led to the creation of similar contexts, which should serve as common ground for understanding and reading the complexity and plurality of contemporary art narratives, while avoiding homogeneity. The past has left us with a rich but controversial art and culture heritage and when dealing with this heritage it is important to emphasize the complexity of the socialist past and highlight different leanings ranging from denial and contempt to nostalgia and fetishism. “Dealing with the past” has systematically been the concern of many art institutions and projects in the region. Actually, Tirana Art Lab is part of the collaboration project “Heroes we love” and in April of this year we organized an international conference “The Art of the Socialist Period between Contempt, Fetishism and Transition“ where curators, art historians, artists and architects were invited to discuss. My curatorial “look” is half within me and a half outside me.

Focus Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania, viennacontemporary. Photo by Alexander Murashkin

The Place for Contemporary Art

WW: Can you tell us a little bit about your latest project, Focus: Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania, at the viennacontemporary? We couldn’t help but to notice that the importance was placed on the independent art spaces of the region and how do they differ from the ones of the West and the rest of the Europe. Can you tell us, why is this important and what crucial point you saw in such a difference?

AD: For this year’s Focus: Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania at viennacontemporary the program will consist of invited alternative art spaces from the countries of Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania, who will present three artist positions from different generations that have been part of their program through the years. During the 70s in Western Europe and North America, the alternative and independent art spaces emerged and developed in opposition to the art marked and played an important role for the institutional critique, in Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania the alternative art scene was created and developed as a result of the opposite: the lack of contemporary art institutions and the absence of the art market. As a result, many of the independent art spaces that emerged during the 90s, mostly initiated from a young generation of artists, curators, and art historians, have played a key role in establishing the art system especially contemporary visual art in the region and promoting it beyond. While alternative and independent art spaces remain in most of the SEE countries the leading actors for contemporary art, they face daily problems of existence taking in consideration that their financial survival depends on public money and private funds for which they have to raise for almost every project. I have invited some established spaces and some young initiatives that offer different models of alternative art spaces and that are sites of production, discussion, and display. For the selection important has been the quality of the program and the critical engagement of these spaces and their program with the local context and their participation in current international art discourses. The Focus will bring together a variety of spaces highlighting the different structures that have emerged to meet the needs of the local art scene in the countries. The invited spaces are MMC Led art/Šok zadruga from Serbia, Apoteka Space for Contemporary Art from Croatia, Serious Interest Agency from Macedonia, Tirana Art Lab-Center for Contemporary Art from Albania and Galerija Alkatraz from Slovenia.

WW: How would you describe, or better yet, define the term contemporary art and what would you say is the place that the production of the Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania region in relation to the ‘big picture’ holds or shares? Does the big picture even exist?

AD: I don’t have any specific definition for contemporary art I think that would only be a limitation for me. For sure the “big picture” exists but I am more interested in what is happening outside it’s frame and the art from South Eastern Europe is often produced independently from the “big picture”. This has both its positive and negative sides.

The New Art of Albania

WW: Since 2010 you hold a position of the Art Director of the Tirana Art Lab – Centre for Contemporary Art. Quickly guiding the Center to becoming one of the crucial and important art hubs, which place great importance on the research and critical reflection, you seem to stand at the front line, helping to build the new art of Albania. Do you feel this to be true and can you tell us more about the art scene of Tirana and Albania itself?

AD: In 2010 together with a group of experts from the broad culture field (artists, scientist, archeologist, social-activists, designer, and journalist) we put together the board of Tirana Art Lab – Center of Contemporary Art and founded this independent initiative of which I became the executive director. Tirana Art Lab from the beginning on was conceived as a space somehow positioned between production and exhibition. It is above all a space for reflection regarding the creative process, regarding the exhibiting process, regarding the relation between the creative process, representations and power structures on the local and international level. In six years we have transformed immensely, from a project-oriented initiative without a permanent location and a sustainable program to what we have become today: a multifunctional space consisting of exhibition possibilities, artists in residency facilities and a library of contemporary art publications and above all a stable program. The art scene in Albania is relatively small and suffering from many problems: lack of support (grants for productions, research, and travel), a discrepancy between established local structures like art academy, national gallery and culture policy and the needs of contemporary actors in relation to what is going on internationally. Many Albanian artists have to leave the country in order to develop further as positions and young generations of artists grow up with limited perspectives for the future. Faced with these conditions it becomes difficult for them (artists including curators or art historians) to maintain a healthy environment for creation. In terms of content, the Albanian reality is quite rough and controversial, offering a fertile terrain for reflection and creation if one manages to overcome certain obstacles and cultivate a sense of resistance. As a result, Tirana Art Lab has created a program in order to support these artistic resistances and we all including the staff and the artists, understand each other as group that shares the same conditions and we try to develop altogether a dialogue between each other and with the public that follows us locally and internationally.

Focus Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania, viennacontemporary. Photo by Alexander Murashkin

The Future Goals and Hopes

WW: What kind of future do you see for the art production of the region that you represent and have curated for the viennacontemporary? If you could tell us a little bit about your own plans and the plans of the Tirana Art Lab – Centre for Contemporary Art which you see will be fruitful for the region in question?

AD: Many of the alternative spaces in the region have consistently faced economic problems and questions about the future existence of these structures are enduring. The participation and the presentation of these alternative spaces at viennacontemporary and their approach to the art market can constitute an alternate strategy for the future development of the independent art scene in the region. I hope that we will use this possibility in Vienna to elaborate some questions and guidelines for a future strategy regarding the relation with the art market.

The focus of Tirana Art Lab is to engage with issues and topics as well reflect and discuss questions that come from the reality in which we live. All our activities involve artists and practitioners from the local and the national scene and in this sense we create the setting for the local actors to act and to become visible. For example, the current exhibition format “Double Feature” enables us to conceptualize small-scale exhibitions pairing two artistic positions and engaging with issues that reflect on the local context. “Double Feature”, so as to resist to the top-down and external-internal fluxes, aims to bring together national and international positions; positions from different disciplines; positions belonging to different generations.

At the end of September, we will organize a series of national residencies, followed by presentations of young Albanian artists and their first solo shows. Through this format we offer the possibility to young artists to spend time in Tirana, to develop new work and to present their practice, we curate their first solo show at TAL, accompanied by a small publication for each show. In November we will continue with the second part of the project Heroes We Love with a public intervention, workshop, and exhibition with Russian artist Nikolay Oleynikov. In the meanwhile, we continue to work on enlarging our library of contemporary art publications and finding interactive ways to make it accessible to the local scene. I live since 2007 between Germany and Albania. For the moment I am researching on my PhD on contemporary curating as a subjective practice.

Vienna Contemporary 2016 Art Fair

As always, viennacontemporary stands at the forefront as one of the most inspirational and thought-provoking art fairs. With over 112 galleries from 28 countries, it offers the most extensive array of contemporary art from Austria, Eastern Europe, and other international galleries. With special attention placed on the emerging art markets, viennacontemporary celebrates young and established artists from all over the world. Starting on 22nd September 2016, and lasting until 25th September 2016 , this year’s fair, under the slogan Art/Must/September, will display new talents of the art world.

All images used for illustrative purposes only.Featured image: Adela Demetja - Portrait.Photo by Valentina Knezevic