My visit to Tirana coincided with an event organized by Tirana Art Lab, which I had been looking forward to attending. I did not, however, attend, but the adventure that I had trying to get there speaks to the situation of contemporary art in Albania. I will admit that the main reason I missed the performance was because I didn’t read the invitation carefully enough, to find out where it was being held, but it also resulted from my confusion over the particularities of the contemporary art scene in Tirana and its virtual venues. I essentially got lost in the map of the art world here.
Currently, there is no contemporary art museum or art center in Tirana to speak of. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are various organizations and ventures, and Tirana Art Lab is one of them – one of the mobile venues that organizes events in different places across the city. In my struggle to get to grips with these virtual and physical presences in the city, I mistakenly assumed that the event was at the one fixed venue, Tirana Ekspres. Getting there was quite an adventure. The taxi driver hadn’t even heard of the street that I told him to go to, even though he lived a few blocks from there. As we drove down a dirt road full of potholes through this warehouse ghost town, squatters in the nearby buildings stared curiously, and I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. When we finally found the building, we discovered out that there was no performance scheduled for that night. There was going to be a concert, but that would only take place later, at 9 or 10PM. At any rate, I didn’t want to wait around, and the event I had been anticipating was a lecture/performance, not a concert. So, the taxi driver took me back to my hotel.
When I got back, I checked my email and realized my mistake. I had gotten the time and date correct, but the venue wrong. While this was admittedly my fault for not reading the email more carefully, I think it also says something about a place that has to depend on temporary venues for its events. If you know that such-and-such organization is planning an event, you know where it is, because it usually is where that organization is. But when your organization is mobile, it is easier to lose track of where an event might take place. Driving away from Tirana Ekspres I was struck by a sense of sadness for an art scene that has to exist on the run, so to speak. It must be difficult to keep the momentum going when you have to find a new place to host event after event. That said, my previous night’s meeting is witness to the fact that Tirana’s contemporary art scene is a close and tight-knit one, and the artists’ commitment to promoting contemporary art in Albania is unflinching. When there’s a will, there’s a way, and despite these challenges there are many interesting things happening in Tirana. I am also quite certain that those involved in the arts here are much better at reading their emails and invitations than I am!