Edi Hila, Dall’alto (From Above), 2021, oil on canvas, 45 1⁄4 × 45 1⁄8".

Edi Hila, Dall’alto (From Above), 2021, oil on canvas, 45 1⁄4 × 45 1⁄8".

Edi Hila

While under lockdown in Tirana, Albanian artist Edi Hila conceived his exhibition “Al di là del vetro” (On the Other Side of the Glass), projecting critic Brian O’Doherty’s thinking about the white cube and its creative possibilities onto a maquette that reproduced, at a reduced scale, the exhibition spaces of Milan’s Galleria Raffaella Cortese, transforming them into what the artist calls “a creative terrain” that mirrored a personal yet universal experience of solitude.

In this way, the maquette lost its function as a tool with which to design an exhibition and was transformed into an independent and magical object bearing witness to states of mind and private moments of daily life during the pandemic, itself becoming the subject of many of the paintings newly made for the show. In La luce che modella (The Light That Shapes), 2021, for example, the maquette appears kissed by the morning sun, broken down into forms that are well-defined but also merge with one another. From the curtain in the back emerges the luminous recess of a window, beyond which lies the silence of twice-removed skies without aircraft, a peaceful image in which the mind can find a moment of respite. In Dall’alto (From Above), 2021, the maquette instead appears crushed beneath a small glass table whose metal structure, accentuated by dark colors, circumscribes it like a crown of thorns. Here, the domestic universe has collapsed and shattered into thousands of bits of information, into voices from newscasts, recurring thoughts, memories of definitive and irreversible choices, anxieties, and deepest fears. But if the space of art can expand to the point of simply coinciding with a physical place, it can also move hyperbolically to exceed it, allowing the artist to see the gallery outside the gallery, in the streets or in the woods—as in Natura dipinge gli alberi I (Nature Paints the Trees I), 2021, in which a rectangular stream that reflects the trees around it hangs like a painting in a forest of opaque colors, as if to overstep the anthropocentrism of creative thought and allow nature the chance to paint itself.

In the rarefied air of these domestic, natural, and architectural landscapes where the abstract and solitary perfection of an inner rhythm is achieved, a secret fire vibrates. It can’t be seen; it needs to be felt. Viewers could perceive through epidermic osmosis the emotional tension within these pandemic-era works, which seemed to slowly and steadily enter through the pores of our skin like dust settling onto an object. By contrast, the older triptych People of the Future, 1997, was in a dense and unexpected way overwhelming. Exhibited in isolation in one of the gallery’s three spaces, this work was created in the aftermath of a news story: When a boat carrying Albanian stowaways collided with an Italian navy corvette in 1997, more than eighty people died. Here, too, Hila has chosen to remove the human figure from the scene, filtering the drama through suggestion via objects and places, colors and shapes. The concept of a national border is confronted not only in geographic terms, but above all in its political and social aspects. As in many other countries, the passage from dictatorship to democracy in Albania was marked by economic chaos and a questioning of national identity, where the contradictions and falsehoods of a capitalist society viciously appeared amid enthusiasms and broken promises. Who are the “people of the future”? The story of migrations is potentially infinite, and meanwhile people continue to die in the Mediterranean.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore