The space of language, as the central space of the festival of the Slovenian word, entitled Slovenian Book Days, gained its reverberation this year also within the space of contemporary art. A solo exhibition by Kosovo artist Driton Selmani (b. 1987) is taking place as part of festival events under the auspices of the HOoST initiative, settling and intervening into the house of the Slovene Writers’ Association and its immediate surroundings, using it as a some kind of pavilion. The famous house, where the Slovene consciousness as a nation and a state was built and became established, has on this occasion – also in view of the opening of all the national pavilions of the Venice Biennale less than a month ago – become home to the one that comes from the youngest country in Europe. Kosovo, which has been marked by much political and social unrest in the last quarter of the century, received its partial independence only after the 1998/99 Kosovo War, which was also followed by its renaming into the Republic of Kosovo. Nowadays, this is one of those countries that certain people still do not want to recognise and for whom it therefore still “does not exist”. It is precisely the inability of positioning that establishes itself as a weakness and a strength at the same time – the in-between position (of Kosovo) as a place of establishing dialogue. This is for instance clearly discussed by the playful, and the oldest piece in the show, Tell me where I am from? (2012), which remains just as fresh today as it was at the time of its production. Selmani, who was studying in England at the time, frustrated by the fact that his country was always omitted when he wanted to order things from Amazon or purchase plane tickets (and he hadno place to fly to when he wanted to fly back home), asked his fellow student colleagues and artists to draw Kosovowithout looking at the map. The exhibited series of drawings was produced with the artist’s mother as the author of the embroidered map. The map shows Kosovo as a blue patch the colour of the sea, embracing the European continent.
In the forefront of Selmani’s media-diverse art practice (which includes everything from objects, videos, installations, photographs and interventions into the public space) are the issues of constructing (national) identity, the duality between the individual and the collective, and between memory and history. There is doubt about all types of reality. His creative process is driven by the confrontation with his own personal history, which is expressly marked by the history of the country in which he grew up. From his early work I, Why, Why? (2012), which was embroidered by the artist’s mother (let us point out that the Albanian word “vaj”, which sounds like the English “why”, means mourning), we move to the work Untitled (2018), a handmade knife with an eraser at the end of its handle, that does not merely act as representation of the contrast between creating/destroying, but rather leads us to consider whether something can be erased and forgotten? Started again? The artist designates the piece as a self-portrait into which he has stored, frozen, archived his feelings, but it can also be understood in a much broader manner – as a metaphor of the Balkans over the past decades. The personal and the political can not be separatedfrom each other, and even if one can define this as one of the characteristics of the vital Kosovo art scene, which hasrecently received widespread international attention, Selmani integrates the social and political pole subtly and poetically in his work. He is transparently direct only when he wants to be.
In Call it fate, call it karma (2015), a single big shoe becomes the touch point of two yellow trouser legs. A shoe, tailor-made to suit neither the right nor the left foot, is therefore obliged to be shared by both. To imagine adeformed foot that would actually become such when fitted with this type of footwear is painful, but also pointlessand utterly useless. Why would one want to wear a shoe that is neither left nor right, but merely and only – in-between? It seems that this in-between, “post-ideological” shoe, as the only possible means of survival, presupposes a constant search for balance. In the time of political correctness, indeterminability and the inability to name things with their right name, the latter appears to be monstrously topical. Yet at the same time, it draws attention to the complexity of the position from which we are constantly looking for a path to dialogue with wavering balance.
The video These Stories (2018) also combines two different moments, two events from the same period of time – theoriginal clips from the Apollo 11 mission and the audio narration of Sadik Cena, born in 1956, a close relative of the artist. His story relates to the same period when NASA’s mission to the moon took place. At the time, many Kosovofamilies, including that of the artist, experienced a radical change with the arrival of electrification to their village. By combining two stories, global and local, Selmani questions their significance and importance, creating a singleHistory.
Intimacy is revealed in Selmani’s projects through minimalist gestures and, in recent times, also through more noticeable interventions into the public space. He is quietly drawing attention to what is no longer, and increasingly loudly to what is arising. He uses everyday objects and (more or less) public spaces, for instance, as surfaces for humorous or ironic sayings, quotations, public acknowledgements. Precisely playfulness and humour are one of thecharacteristics of his art practice as a whole. The seemingly fleeting jokes, that can become totally lost among theinnumerable adverts of the media landscape, are crying out for attention as black on white, disclosing uncertainty,hopes and fears. If those on the surfaces of cars or vans, that drive off to unknown places after the exhibition end, aretransient, the series entitled Love Letters, which has been in the making since 2018, remains forever. Not only because of love but largely also due to the surface used to make the notations – plastic, which is much more enduring and long-lasting, even more so than love. The series of love letters is made up of hundreds of plastic bags, which the artist initially kept in line with the requirements of the contemporary consumer after making a purchase from one of the local traders. Now, however, he manically collects, stores and uses them in order to pass on his messages (I Surrender, 2018). The monolithic remains of a world of the past are in Selmani’s work mixed with the current values of an unstable everyday life. They point to the barely noticeable vibrations of human relationships and the ways in which all our paths accidentally cross – regardless of where we have come from and where we are going.
Three interventions have also been made with the thought of the Ljubljana exhibition. Tears Don’t Cry (2019) is a site-specific installation, located in the basement spaces of the house. Our Past Is Our Common Future (2019) is “moveable” and stands in one of the streets near the Association, while I Cannot Be Myself All the Time (2019) is positioned in the garden behind the house. At the same time, the work acts as a “black box” within which the video These Stories (2018) can be viewed.