Focus On Art With Adela Demetja

Albania’s Art Scene: Limited Capabilities and How to Deal with Them

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Focus On Art With Adela Demetja
Nada Prlja, A Worker Who Cannot Speak English Is Not a Worker, 2008, courtesy of Mladen Stilnovic and SIA (Serious Interest Agency)

Tamara Dinka met independent curator Adela Demetja on this year’s viennacontemporary to talk about art and her homeland Albania.

Adela Demetja is an independent curator from Albania and Art Director of Tirana Art Lab. I met her this year on viennacontemporary Art Fair, where she was responsible for curating Focus, a part of exhibitor space dedicated to the former republics of Yugoslavia and Albania. Regarding her international experience, I have concluded that she is trying to bring out the best of the places without developed art market, but with potential sources of various styles and influences, and accordingly to historical, political and social changes.

Adela, what is Albanian art reality right now? How do you see it?

Thank you for your interest and for this interview. I always get this questions related to Albania, because people don’t know much about it, or they know very little. The most common question I get is: “How is the situation in Albania?” and then I am super confused, where to start and where to end, and I finish with: “I don’t want to talk about it.” There are so many things going on, but I can talk only from the position where I stand. I am coming from the art scene. I grew up with it and since I was 13, I have been always engaged with other artists. Then, I studied art and later management, curating and art criticism in Frankfurt. On my way of becoming an independent curator and writer, at some point, the group of artists and me started to organize. We made structures, in a way to support our needs and the needs of younger generations. That is how Tirana Art Lab started and that is my contribution to Albania. Since the possibilities in Albania are pretty limited, especially in the context of contemporary art, to begin with the Academy of Fine Arts, divided art scene, institutions who are supporting only big and established names, and where no one cares about the local scene, we created Tirana Art Lab, as that kind of institution where art is not only the final product seen at the exhibition, but the whole process of creating and production.

As an independent curator and Art Director of Tirana Art Lab, what are the difficulties and challenges you are facing in your everyday work? What are the good sides?

It is difficult to work in Albania. We are the group of artists who support each other, trying to be involved in local and regional scene. We see our position as an artistic resistance towards established power structures. The good sides are the satisfaction I am getting by working with so many people, through recognition of institutions who want to collaborate with us. As a curator, I want to understand where I live, I want to understand myself and I want to understand the world. We are the neighbor countries. From my experience, many artists from Serbia, Austria, Croatia, after visiting Tirana and Albania, have great impressions. Do you collaborate often with artists from the region, and do you find some similarities on these art scenes? Are we much closer, despite the politics which is saying a different story? How can we make our collaboration better? Thanks. I think that the key is in networking, which already exists, but it takes a lot of energy to make it better and established. We need to make the structures. Tirana Art Lab is inviting artists from the region all the time. So, we are making good and real collaborations.

Do you know people from Šok Zadruga (Sr), Apoteka Space For Contemporary Art (Hr), Gallery Alkatraz (SVN) and Serious Interests Agency (Mkd) from some previous collaborations? Why did you choose them for Viennacontemporary?

I have been working in the region for a longer time, and for me it is important to know who is behind events, and who is behind the institution, and in the end, there are people. So, many things happened on the personal level. When I was looking for participants for Focus at Viennacontemporary, I wanted to bring together different structures, individuals and art collectives who are connected to the local scene and have approach to the international scene as well. Šok Zadruga was familiar for me from the nineties, but under the different name. Apoteka Center for Contemporary Art have a very interesting program, it is not placed in the capital and works as well with some of the artists I have already shown (Damir Očko, Ibra Hasanovic). Macedonia is one of those countries where you don’t have many possibilities to choose, and Serious Interests Agency is one of the youngest initiatives, with Nada Prlja, who is already internationally known artist.

What were your hopes as a curator on this year’s Viennacontemporary Fair? What did you expect to “take” out of the taking part in such an art fair?

I wanted as a curator to present as Focus on Viennacontemporary parts of artistic realities, without reducing our presentation by fulfilling expectations related only to political and economic situations in our countries. Our institutions are facing the same problems and this was the possibility for us to approach the art market as an alternative way of financing our institution with a commune good strategy.

Is there a way, that we, as small and third world countries, exit from the grounded clichés, such as post-communism, poverty, emerging artists, etc. and do something bigger and solid?

This is a very good question, because the problematic is going on for many years. But, now many changes have happened and the conditions are not the same as 20 – 25 years ago. So, I personally believe that we have had to question any kind of explanation that others have on us – that outside view. Because, in the beginning of the 90ies, especially for those countries like Albania, who were completely isolated, this look from the outside was so much needed, because we didn’t have the opportunity to connect and to be the part of something bigger. And when you accept the things in total, how they are, just because you needed something, you get it all – good and bad all together, because you didn’t have that possibility and strength to think and to reflect in a moment. The second aspect is to redefine ourselves, from inside to the outside and not the other way around, and that is the harder part. Also, it has been always very difficult when you are coming from the smaller places, or from the periphery, or when you’re coming from the “third world countries”. But, as I know, there is only one world and we all live in it, and If there’s the second, the third world countries, it must be a fictional construction and there is an on-going philosophical discussion about this.

How do you find the sponsors and who is buying art in Albania?

There is no art market in Albania, and If it’s there, it’s sporadic, invisible and more individual. People are buying more traditional art, painting, but not the contemporary art. And, that is, in a way, good and bad, because artists are not influenced by the market, and they are producing completely free. But, on the other side, there is no income and artists cannot live from their art. We don’t have private sponsorship yet, but we are applying for different funds and until finally we are being supported by State funding (although very low) even from the Ministry and mainly by international funds and sponsorship.

What are your plans for the future?

With Tirana Art Lab the work always continues, we keep on with existing exhibition program and we keep on enriching the library of contemporary art – books. As independent curator, I don’t have anything starting right after, which doesn’t mean I don’t do anything. I use those gaps between project for my reading, writing and enjoying my personal life from where I often get the inspiration for the work.

Text by Tamara Dinka