Petrit Halilaj’s exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee forms part of a series of projects in New York, Runik (Kosovo), Bern and Turin in which the artist explores the history, identity and environment of his hometown in Kosovo. Halilaj is the laureate of the Mario Merz Prize 2018.
The exhibition revolves around the Kosovar village of Runik, where Halilaj grew up before fleeing with his parents to Albania in the wake of the Kosovo War. Halilaj explores the fact that the village of Runik, rebuilt after the war, is situated on top of one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Southeast Europe. Today, villagers still find Neolithic artefacts in the area, including pottery, ceremonial objects or figurines.
The artist’s current work is driven by the question of what cultural and social role these historical artefacts play in the community of Runik today, or what role they could potentially play in the future. In the absence of formal cultural infrastructure, knowledge about the distant past remains scarce. Instead, the historical artefacts from the past stimulate the popular imagination, and speculation about their origin is rife. By means of telling the curious history of these objects, Halilaj’s video installation The city roofs were so near that even a sleepwalking cat could pass over Runik without ever touching the ground (2017) offers a portrait of contemporary Runik, and, by extension, of Kosovo as a young nation yet uncertain about its history and identity.
In parallel to the exhibition, Halilaj is staging a major cultural event in the former (currently abandoned) cultural centre of Runik. Halilaj has invited numerous locals from the village to participate in this performative and participatory event that he has conceived as a spark (Shkrepëtima in Albanian) that he hopes will initiate the cultural and social development of the community. As part of the exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee, Halilaj will present drawings, conceptual studies and sculptures that he has produced in the context of the preparations for this event. Here, the objects from the Neolithic past are poetically activated and transformed into migrating birds and other species that travel, trespass borders, explore new habitats, and settle temporarily in different places – be that in Runik, New York, Bern or Turin.
As part of the exhibition opening, the artist and curator Leonardo Bigazzi will give a presentation on their research and activities in Runik.