PRINT January 2001

Hans-Ulrich Obrist

ANRI SALA, A YOUNG ALBANIAN FILMMAKER, KEEPS surprising us with his mysterious, deeply personal yet insistently political films and videos. Intervista—Finding the Words, 1998, which I first saw in Stockholm early last year at the Moderna Museet’s survey “After the Wall: Art and Culture in Post-Communist Europe,” takes as its point of departure Sala’s accidental discovery of documentary footage from the late ’70s of his mother’s official trip to Germany as an activist in the Albanian Youth Communist Union. The black-and-white film captures the artist’s mother at rallies and award ceremonies as well as giving an interview, but the accompanying sound track has been lost. Hoping to reconstitute the missing dialogue, Sala tried in vain to dig up transcripts of the interview. Finally, a lip reader was able to resuscitate the mother’s youthful voice. “Twenty years later, my mother has to face her words pronounced at the time. What would she say today?” the artist asks. Intervista explores the tension and contradictions between past and memory, between Sala’s personal family history and the collective history of his country.

In Nocturnes, 1999, shown at Manifesta 3 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, earlier this year, Sala teases out the feelings of solitude harbored by two quite different men—a former UN peacekeeper in the Balkans and a tropical-fish enthusiast who has strange visions. The theme of inner exile is further explored in Uomo Duomo, 2000, a short film loop of an old man waiting (for what?) in Milan’s Duomo, like a character out of Samuel Beckett or Thomas Bernhard, seemingly imprisoned in his own self-imposed silence.

“Peripatetic” is perhaps the adjective most overused to describe HANS-ULRICH OBRIST, the Swiss-born, everywhere-based curator and head of the Programme Migrateurs at the Musêe d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Of course, it is Obrist’s wanderlust that makes him a reliable ear to the ground, enabling a decade-long string of shows including, most recently, “Media City Seoul,” in which he had a hand. A related symptom: Obrist’s penchant for interviewing anyone and everyone who piques his curiosity along the way. The fruits of his handiness with a tape recorder will be assembled in what promises to be a brick of a book.