Pristina, Kosovo

Cevdet Erek, Brutal Times, 2022, multichannel sound, animation on LED screen, moving lights, wood, iron, and netting. From Manifesta 14 Prishtina. Photo: Ivan Erofeev.

Cevdet Erek, Brutal Times, 2022, multichannel sound, animation on LED screen, moving lights, wood, iron, and netting. From Manifesta 14 Prishtina. Photo: Ivan Erofeev.

Manifesta 14 Prishtina

Various Venues

This past summer, the fourteenth edition of Manifesta, the nomadic European biennial, unfolded in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. Stretched out across twenty-five venues, with more than one hundred artists and collectives, the hundred-day biennial—titled “It matters what worlds world worlds: how to tell stories otherwise”—explored multiple modes of collective storytelling. For its “creative mediators,” Catherine Nichols and Carlo Ratti, a central theme was Kosovo’s unsuccessful privatization following the 1998–99 war. The exhibition was housed mostly in the facilities of state-owned enterprises, which, in the face of economic transition from a socialist to a capitalist system, no longer have a collective purpose. Despite their central location, most of these enterprises fell into neglect and were undersold, but through artistic interventions and site-aware praxis, some have resumed their place in the local cultural memory.

Cevdet Erek’s Brutal Times, 2022, was a site-specific intervention in the Rilindja Press Palace, formerly a multicultural coworking space for the editorial teams of three newspapers: the Albanian-language Rilindja (Renaissance), the Serbian-language Jedinstvo (Unity), and the Turkish-language Tan (Dawn). Later, after privatization, the printing-house facility became an electronic-music venue. As with most such enterprises in Kosovo, the site’s new owners gave little attention to preserving stylistic features of the iconic socialist building, severely altering the exposed béton brut of the main facade, for instance. Inside the facility, Erek’s piece pays close attention to the building’s layered and competing pasts, working with what was already present in the space, including girlie posters left behind by the former (presumably male) staff. The work includes an LED wall with moving graphics that present the entire time line of Rilindja’s cover pages. Headlines from 1948 focus on Yugoslav/Soviet relations, while those of the late 1980s report heightened ethnic tensions and brutal repression in the autonomous Kosovo, then still part of Yugoslavia. In 1990, with the rise of the repressive Miloševic´ regime, Rilindja was permanently shut down and Albanian employees were blocked from the building until the war’s end in 1999. The techno-music soundtrack to Erek’s work could be heard emanating from the printing house’s basement, but access to that area was blocked.

Manifesta 14’s main venue was the Grand Hotel Prishtina, one of the city’s most important architectural projects of the late 1970s, in disrepair since privatization. Among its once noteworthy features were the modernist paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and prints commissioned by local artists that adorned its stately interior. Later claimed by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, the Grand Hotel’s artworks were added to the National Gallery of Kosovo’s collection in 2021. Majlinda Hoxha’s Grand Hotel Prishtina, 2016–22, consists of thirteen photographs, eight showing some of the hotel’s dispersed artworks—exhibited exactly where they used to hang—and five offering portraits of the hotel’s workers, accompanied by recordings of interviews with them. As a reminder of the Grand Hotel’s former role as a promoter of the local art scene, the project “New Grand” consisted of a display of paintings—the medium that once dominated in this setting—by six young artists, Blerta Hashani, Arbnor Karaliti, Lumturie Krasniqi, Mimoza Sahiti, Valdrin Thaqi, and Ermir Zhinipotoku.

Elsewhere, artworks evoked stories of different time periods. Chiharu Shiota’s intervention, Tell Me Your Story, 2022, led to the opening of the Great Hamman, a fifteenth-century Ottoman bath that had been closed to the public for six decades. An in situ project, School Without School, 2022, by local nonprofit organization ETEA at the Hertica School House, told the story of peaceful resistance and citizen-led education at a private home that was used as a school at a time when Albanian-language education was being closed down by the regime. The seemingly chaotic, unregulated, and eroded public spaces of Pristina offered Manifesta 14 a multifaceted terrain to tell stories differently.