The research for this book started long ago. It started with research in Russia, Latvia and Poland, which grew out of research for my PhD dissertation. Looking back, that work seemed so easy, because I had the luxury of a.) speaking those languages and b.) living in those countries for extended periods of time. (In reality it wasn’t easy, but it seems so comparatively.)
Over the past years I have been expanding my research. I have been to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. Now, I am embarking on the next leg of my journey: a tour of the Balkans. Now I neither have the luxury of speaking the language, nor the luxury of time, as I have a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time. In total, my research involves around 20 countries and I have done research in about 6 of them.
I received funding from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh to travel to several of these places over the next few months, so I have to be economical with my time (and funds) to get all of the research done.
I find it fitting that this stage of my research begins with a visit to Albania, the first country alphabetically, yet unfortunately quite often the last country listed on an art historical list. Prior to this visit I knew virtually nothing about Albanian art. After having been in the country one day I already know a considerable amount more than I did, but that is still not saying much!
I was nervous and anxious before arriving here, for several reasons. Firstly, not only do I not know the language, but the language is completely unlike any of the languages I do know. Secondly, I felt the less prepared for this visit than I ever had when visiting a country. There is very little information available about Albanian art, less about contemporary Albanian art, and even less in English. In fact, I was told, flat out, “there are no books – it is best just to meet with people and talk to them.” So that is what I have done. Finally, I was mostly worried about finding my way around. Many of the places I wanted to visit didn’t list addresses with house numbers – just the street name. In fact, this seems to be common practice here.
Now that I have been in the country for a whole two days, many of my fears have been allayed. Surprisingly, I understand more Albanian than I thought I would. Well, I understand the important words – art historian, American, performance art. Well, important for me, I suppose. Secondly, I have quickly adapted to this “new” way of doing research and consider it a performance in and of itself. How interesting to meet with people and get their views on the art scene, or the first-hand commentary by artists on their own work! And how different is it, really, from reading a book or an article, which also presents its own particular views from a distinct bias. But meeting people is much more fun. Finally, I realized that not having house numbers on addresses is not all that different from the way things work in the US or UK. For example, I have a house number, but usually I give the taxi driver the street name, and once on that street explain to him/her, descriptively, which house it is. The same goes for giving directions – you always give a landmark or a color of a building or something (other than a number) to describe a physical address. Well, almost always. But anyway, the system works, and I found all of my addresses!
Albanian flag on the Parliament building