St. Gallen

Petrit Halilaj, It is the first time dear, that you have a human shape (detail), 2012, steel, stones, dimensions variable.

Petrit Halilaj, It is the first time dear, that you have a human shape (detail), 2012, steel, stones, dimensions variable.

Petrit Halilaj

Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen

Petrit Halilaj, It is the first time dear, that you have a human shape (detail), 2012, steel, stones, dimensions variable.

The installation It is the first time dear, that you have a human shape (all works 2012) opened this solo show by Kosovar artist Petrit Halilaj. One might be tempted to describe it as a sort of neo-Povera assemblage made up of imposing hollow metal structures that wind around the floor of the exhibition space, from which spill quantities of stone, some of it ground fine. Contemplating these large objects at greater length, one gradually began to realize that their forms are reminiscent of jewelry: a necklace, a pin, a pair of hoop earrings, and a pair of drop earrings. The form of the pin seems to recall a bug or spider, its body a basin that collects white powder; the necklace is made up of many metal crates, uncovered and containing very small, lightly colored stones. The earrings collect in their grooves an almost impalpable material, like dry pigment, red for the hoops and yellow for the drop earrings.

Purely on the level of the visual, this exhibition, “Who does the earth belong to while painting the wind?!,” might have seemed to be about symbols of the feminine and the primeval relationship between women and the earth. But the press release revealed another, autobiographical dimension to this work, relating to the war that shook the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. The rubble in question comes from Kosovo; these are bricks and stones that once formed the house where Halilaj lived, the home his family had to abandon when war broke out and which they discovered in ruins upon their return. The sculptural forms allude to the jewelry the artist’s mother buried when she had to flee. And so Halilaj’s art becomes an occasion to contemplate and transcend these events, moving toward a more hopeful future.

Another room contained the video that lent the exhibition its title. Its first seconds show fleeting images of the artist at age thirteen, followed by views of a sunny countryside, rich with fruit trees, flowers, and butterflies. Deft editing has united an extremely brief fragment of a video shot by a Swedish journalist reporting on the story of Halilaj’s family at the end of the war with new footage by the artist. His mother also interred along with her jewelry a number of drawings that little Petrit himself had made up through the age of twelve. These drawings could be found in the third and final room of the exhibition, floating in the air on metal threads clustered between the jaws of another large sculpture, Several birds fly away when they understand it. This piece resembles an enormous mole cricket that has dug up the drawings from the oblivion to which they had been condemned in the earth. Even without knowing its backstory, one could easily understand this as an exhibition in which nature is seen as a matrix and a reserve of energy, capable of projecting into the future a potential charged with all the richness and pain of the past. That the work’s emotional tenor emerged in such a spontaneous way from the artist’s lived experience is a reminder of how one’s power of understanding can rise above the terrors and uncertainties of the human condition.

Marco Tagliafierro

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.