I am really glad that Tirana was the first stop of this project. I met so many wonderful and inspiring artists and people, and had a genuinely fabulous time there. Nearly everyone I met would ask me "so, what do you think of Albania?" with a quizzical tone in their voice that seemed to suggest that they expected me not to like it. But like it, I did, and this was actually my second visit to the city, so I must have liked it enough to return!
Overall I was inspired by what is happening in the contemporary art scene there, but also frustrated by the lack of infrastructure, institutional and governmental support for the arts. This was one of the more challenging research trips I've been on. Usually I contact "the contemporary art center" in whatever city I go to and ask them for names, contacts, etc., and the use of their archives. Many of the people or addresses I wrote to in Albania didn't respond. I've never really had that happen before. It's probably because they are all so busy, working several jobs and running back and forth between virtual venues. I was also told, flat out, "there are no books. The best way is to meet people." So this really put my "performing the East" idea into practice, as the only way I could learn about what was happening here was through conversations and interviews. In many ways, contemporary art is still an oral history here.
It is also interesting how focused my research became on really contemporary artists, as there wasn't much of an underground to speak of during the communist period, unlike in other Eastern European countries. So performance art here is really a post-communist phenomenon.
I think one of the things I like about Tirana is how vibrant it is. The first time I came here I was fascinated by the freshly painted facades that were part of Edi Rama's beautification of the city. But it is more than just the colors. The Albanian flag has always struck me as a powerful image. The black Albanian eagle sits on a solid field of red - what could be more striking. And Tirana is not just vibrant visually, but musically, so to speak. There is no silence in the city, because every moment is punctuated by the sounds of car horns honking. I don't think they are actually honking at any obstacle or danger, nor are they an act of road rage. I think they are just people enjoying honking their horns, and making music while they drive! (That is probably just me giving some poetry to the city). I tried to record the beeping, but of course, when I went to capture it, the beeping wasn't as prevalent - Murphy's Law. The horn honking is such an issue that there are even signs prohibiting it - at least around hotels where guests might like to get some sleep.
Albania was on the verge of an election when I was there, and I found that exciting, because it seems to present the opportunity for change. One campaign poster promises Europe to Albanian citizens "without visas," and another promises to save Albanians 4,000 Lek per month by lowering taxes. Change, I think, is necessary at least where the arts are concerned, because they are struggling at the moment. The building that was once going to house a museum to Enver Hoxha and was then going to be converted into a contemporary art center is in complete disrepair, and set to be destroyed.
If every country on my trip is as inspiring as Albania, I don't think I will be able to fit everything in just the one book...
So, goodnight, Tirana, and thanks for the lovely visit! Until we meet again!