Apr 18, 2014

Featured Thought | Creatives, Cultural Institutions, Mindsets & Complexes in Albania

A few articles I've been reading lately, and just as few (stray but circulating) thoughts rambling (more like partying) in my head in the middle of this night, will find themselves out in the open below. They might not all make sense to many of you, but I do hope (maybe) a few will. I will write in English, so first off I apologize to all the Albanian-speaking readers for my inability to ramble fluently in my native language. (I am working on mastering just that.) The thoughts expressed here are my own. From my very tiny corner of the world (might as well be underground too), this is more of an affirmation (than critique) of what I've been reading recently (here, hereherehere & others) and what is being said in our (oh so) vast creative community.  
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Let's compare arts & culture (the creative fields in general) in Albania to democracy
Then, let's ask: How has the concept of democracy changed after 9/11 in US? (and the world for that matter)
How has the concept of democracy changed in Albania after the fall of communism? How about after 9/11?
What are the democratic consequences when the country itself, its territory, identity, history, future, livability, social morality (ethics mostly) and emancipation becomes a geopolitical landscape, a technology of war, a materialistic organization where all is fair game?

David vs. Goliath??? In communism, it was very clear who' was who, but democracy has us all confused. 
So, I'll ask again who's David and who's Goliath in the (pyramidal/house of cards) democracy we have constructed, and more naively, stubbornly or stupidly believe in? By definition, democracy is never meant to be easy. I contradict myself at times, let alone having a whole group or even a generation agreeing on something.  In principle, the voice of a plural (demo) democracy-making class is ideal for all the good things promised but reality as we've come to know it, turns into quite a mess. (now go back and replace democracy with art & culture)

For the sake of this argument let's not cast the characters of David and Goliath yet, but simply assign a visible power (state) and a latent regime (us /creatives). What Saskia Sassen says about urban warfare should be easily applied to artistic warfare (ah, I mean transparent relationship) between cultural institutions and creatives in Albania; seemingly diplomatic but deeply bitter exchange that is embedded in the asymmetric nature of modern warfare (a.k.a. democracy).  

Asymmetric wars are partial, intermittent and lack clear endings. The center no longer holds. It is hard to find a balance. (s.s)

In an increasingly interdependent world, the state is not a great power anymore, but it is still a visible one, therefore when it fails in self-restraint it becomes publicly exposed. But the self is not the only source of its restraint. There are other multi-dependencies that can function as latent regimes, variables that often present themselves in an ambiguous and powerless capacity, but that are far more complex in assuring the direct dependence of the very livelihood of the state. (s.s) So, the same visible threat to this (seemingly weak) regime from the power of state is its latent power, us. We are this regime. The artists, the creatives, the enthusiasts, the people. Today's modern asymmetry is the force that continually shifts, expands, retracts, and offs its center. It is the new public format, our creative battlefield with the institution. Our timid but seemingly fierce warfare. Although since I use timid to describe our fight, maybe i should use a more 'timid' word for warfare no? 

Exchange it is. And this is where it all seems to take off. I wouldn't describe it as a duel, more of a in front of a mirror selfie, or a head, pounding on a concrete block wall, sometimes a far-fetched reach through a barbed wire fence. 

As I read one of the articles earlier today, (the lack of) showing up seems to be a recurring condition. I think before we the artists, creatives, enthusiasts, critics and people start the blaming game, we should make sure we're present in the warfare exchange. No half-assed deliveries by middle men, please. (Directed at people that can physically be present there.) It should be our fault for not taking the first step of responsibility and SHOW UP!! Showing up is the first step in checking out and understanding the battlefield; listening to other minds and lips; reading through the lines; sorting through the fluff and all that good stuff. 

Experimental and emergent projects that come up, will never be of any productive use because they will be short-lived, if we are not fully committed to participate and take responsibility for our own fight. To Show Up!! If we will not show signs of caring and just leave it to the state, then we shouldn't whine at how incompetency and politics are interfering with (and already shelving) innovation and change. If we make an attempt to create and further foster some kind of productive exchange with the other side (it'll probably start off disguised as a relationship and it'll quickly turn into a full blown warfare), then of course we can't expect a dialog or a multi-log. Only a monologue on their part. A monologue that is (surely enough) not deep enough, painful enough, truly digging in the trenches of the ugliness we have come to know as (mainstream/institutional) culture and art in Albania. A monologue that is recited at times in front of a mirror and at times to the harshness of a wall. A monologue that screams for help. The camouflage of pain in the ephemera of compliments and appraisal of the so-called culture is but a commodification of trends. For awhile there, crisp shiny (green) objects {$__$} were very in. 

The first few of us to start the trend are always finding inspiration imitation elsewhere. God forbid, we find it in-house. Then, it continues down the chain to the lesser(s) (or the ones with no such access). Unfortunately, we don't steal depths (ah those 3D wonders) like fundamentals, philosophies, mediums, points of view or ways of looking at the world. And, we don't stop there. While on a high roll (of inpiration) we reject our own originality, where we come from, how we've traveled, what we've learned thus far or what we think we know. So, all we're left with are cheap knock-offs. Our work. A plethora of ephemera, that is not truly, painfully, originally, hauntingly ours. It never was. A remote plethora of ephemera. Even that we do without participating. Without showing up in the exchange. Remotely. We (mis)understand remotely. We (dis)miss remotely. We critique remotely. We produce in vain. We don't take the first step toward responsibility (about this whole mess we find ourselves in - creatively): to fully commit to our thoughts, to our opinions, our behavior, our process, our production, our means and ends. Our depth has become our distance. Remotely.

We don't read authors. We quote from their most famous books.
We dismiss theory/philosophy as ways to deepen our understanding. Instead we listen to what is being said or delivered by middle men that heard it or caught a glimpse of something in a conversation somewhere. 
We are either too lazy to formulate our own opinion or just too afraid that it might differ from what's out there topping the charts.
We claim to be artistic and culturesque just because everyone cool is, and maybe one day we'll go on to become bohemian-like or have that non-explicable other: a quality that if one dares define, it'll ruin our whole existence.

Even the littlest potential that new initiatives and experiments promise as they rise in the distant horizon, quickly disburse into thin particles (take your pick: glitter or dust) that fall in the already carved - more likely dug six feet into the ground - path of habit, dependency, perceived security, comfort and cowardliness. A cowardliness that squanders away our former intelligence (such as it was) and talent, or at least what has remained of it all - a touch of intuition. Senses that need to be relearned, retrained, and released. By not showing up (physically and performatively) we loose that touch. We keep our distance from the trenches of battlefield but even shrapnel kills. If we don't want a state-controlled culture (we already had that) or artistic production (work) that aimlessly knocks-off (forgive the pun) behind trends, then we need to show up. Show up to ourselves and to our work. And then to the rest of the exchange.

If we want a public (format) culture, art or what have you, then we need to make our latent capacities and consequent power contagiously public; by showing up and committing to this creativity. It is the greatest opportunity to challenge the most interesting-ness of life, to unleash the potential, passion and talent that is whimpering, buried in that already beaten path of habit and comfort we have dug ourselves. Only then we can expect or better yet hold accountable the state-powered institutional organization to appropriate the creative fields legible to a more inclusive, capable and committed stakeholder (us). To render its role as truly artistic, not as a spectacle for consumer and pseudo-territorial authority that has grabbed on the reins and feels a certain entitlement not only to fees, taxes or EU promises, but to artistic expertise, guardianship and curation.

To gain access we need a participation that not only is, but does. A participation that performs itself and its work. That doesn't improvise but delivers its identity. We should bury deep, deep, deep down a rabbit hole what the creative institutions have been doing for the longest time. The spectacle of being seen or the desperate need of being seen as doing something (ah the attention..): the mirror, the wall, the ephemera, the constructed and perceived extent of imitation. It is time for the doing (itself) to be seen, our beings performed, our creative daemons unleashed. 

The material gifts we buy for ourselves, most often than none costs more, mean less, and are soon after forgotten or lost under piles of ephemeral hoards. But, the work we put in, the tantalizing process of creativity and production, the people that celebrate (or cry for that matter) with us, the places we come from and go to, passionate conversations, controversial subjects, uncertain futures and so much more. All of these (re)make us over and over again. They help us show up, just so we can reciprocate right back - continuously off-ing the center, shifting variables and speeding latency. So, why haven't we showed up yet?
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As I write this, I realize that understanding art & culture through democracy might be a bit far-fetched, even wrong for some, considering that artistic originality (known to some as the creative ego) and democratic values of equality shouldn't be allowed in the same sentence let alone be used like this, but it has helped me better understand the cultural mindset and (inferior) complexities of the Albanian setting; as well as the role of state institutions and private talent in acknowledging, supporting and (hopefully later) producing work worthy of the artist, its surroundings and a whole generation of talent that will serve as framework scaffolding to repair our much publicized, vastly "expert-ised" cultural heritage (traditional and contemporary). 

Also, the artist needs to be aware of his role in this creative warfare; the extent, latency, and capacity (even though vague) of a powerful regime (made of others just like him) so complex that accounts for the livelihood of the state. Quite an interdependent exchange that is inherently not timid, even if our approach to it is.

As I end this very long train of thought (along with a few digressions), I'd like to also mention that in comparing democracy with art (in its own right) and culture (of a nation), I think both are inherently controversial, ambiguous, utopic, and so complex that albeit well-defined (at times) -our global interchangeable reality has fundamentally transformed their core values, definitions, roles, and accessibility. If in principle, democracy has been based in equality and inclusion, now it has trouble defining its subject, us. The inter-dependency of the global reality (which I can easily see it as a modern warfare) has made us global travelers, but it has failed and it continuously struggles to geopolitically and democratically place us as immigrants, citizens, outsiders, foreigns, tourists, nomads or indigenous individuals. (s.s) 

Democracy has become a business of exclusion; all 99% of it. And, the same is happening in the arts, blurring lines and statuses through all its mediums, clients, mediocrity, capital, data bots, formal expressions and political correctness. A paradigm shift to the core.
So if you can't make the connection, too bad. They all seem to be thriving in my rambling thoughts. (☻)

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1 comment:

Elian Stefa said...

Well written Irsi! keep it up!