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Pavilion of the Republic of Albania presents works by Leonard Qylafi
Imagery #2, 2014. Oil on canvas 80cm x115 cm. All Images: Courtesy the Artist © Leonard Qylafi.

VENICE.- Albania’s representation at the 57th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, is the exhibition Occurrence in Present Tense by Leonard Qylafi, curated by Vanessa Joan Müller.

As the presence of the past in the today, recollection shapes our understanding of history. The evolution it undergoes over time is an issue of quality as much as distance: experience becomes fact, witnessed events turn into objective matter. Living recollection is superseded by collective memory, which for its part resorts to material supports such as books and archives, films and photographs.

Leonard Qylafi’s artistic practice takes these material supports of remembrance as a point of departure to look at the process of transformation that shapes our understanding of the past. His paintings and videos are as much investigations of the processes shaping his country’s recollection of significant events, as they are reflections on the nature of the image.

The sources for the paintings are photographic: photos published in New Albania, a state propaganda magazine from the 1980s when the country was still socialist, and photos that artist took himself. The images depict noteworthy occasions in the history of Albania, although one might not consider them iconic. Official photographs of the former communist party’s parades, sporting events, and other occurrences considered characteristic for the People’s Republic of Albania under Enver Hoxha on the one hand, and photos taken in Tirana at a demonstration against corruption that ended in violence. The location of the events is the same, but the colors and the array of the people on the boulevard differ drastically: a collective body of young people, choreographed as mass ornaments, versus an assembly of individuals. The minor quality of the magazine images and the blown-up details of the photographs documenting the 2011 demonstration lead to blurred contours and a general out-of-focusness, which in itself forms a metaphor for the dissolution of lived experience into general fact.

The paintings are presented alongside selected books that point to the artist’s personal struggle to become an artist, and the role that art has played in Albanian society then and now. How do ideas and knowledge affect the intellectual and cultural understanding of oneself? How do they shape the “reading” of the present and past when filtered through an ongoing stream of images? The exhibition looks at these questions from a personal experience, presenting items that had an influence on the artist at a time when he discovered the importance of art for himself. An Italian manual on painting was given to Qylafi by his first teacher in drawing who had himself received it from his own teacher. Being an Italian book, it was kept hidden during the time of communism, as it was considered inappropriate for the art education of the new generation. Qylafi’s first art book in Albanian–that was printed and edited in Albania–is on display too, showing how influences and traditions change, merge, and create an idea of the contemporary as a continuously changing concept.

Two videos complement this highly personal approach to art and point to its power of poetical evocation beyond reality, history, and facts. An olive tree in the wind as seen from the window of the artist’s house while the television is on. Voices mixed with ambient murmurs. Nature as seen from a living room. The artist playing the recorder while looking at an unfinished work. A moment of indetermination between art and its production.

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