Studio 203

Studio 203

I didn’t manage to meet with the artists of Studio 203 when
I was in Tirana, but the wonders of cyberspace helped us out. Once back in
Aberdeen, I had a conversation via Skype with Stefano Romano, an Italian-born
artist who is one of the founders and members of Studio 203, an artistic
and architectural collective based in Tirana, Albania.

Stefano’s story is an interesting one. An assistant in
Adrian Paci’s studio in Italy, the artist travelled to Albania with Paci to
help organize a workshop between students in Bergamo and Tirana. In 2004, he
relocated to Tirana permanently, and is most likely the only Italian to make
the move in that direction (usually the migration is from Albania to Italy) for
cultural (as opposed to business) reasons. Stephan later became one of the
co-founders of TICA, the Tirana Institute of Contemporary Art.

Now Stefano works as part of an artistic team, Studio 203,
together with architect Eriselda Çobo and
Guido Affini. They call themselves an architectural collective because their
work is focused on urban space, as opposed to architecture in the stricter
sense. Stephan tells me that in this context, “architecture” refers more to a
way of thinking than actual physical buildings. Indeed, the artists have
intervened in the physical space of Tirana in a very vibrant and overt way.

 The Pyramid in Tirana in 2013

The Pyramid in Tirana in 2013

In the very center of Tirana sits the
Pyramid, built in the 1980s as a monument to the former communist leader of
Albania, Enver Hoxha, and intended to house a museum dedicated to him. After
1991, it became a conference center, and later it was set to become a cultural
center, but now the plans are to destroy it, and erect the new Albanian
Parliament building in its place. Love it or hate it, it is a presence in the
city, part of that city’s history, a meeting place and cultural icon, and many
are arguing against its destruction.

In 2012, Studio 203 made their own
comment on the situation, by staging a performance/intervention where they
placed a banner along the side of the Pyramid. Because of the design of the
building, it is often used by children as a gigantic slide, and the day that
the artists placed their banner there was no different. The Roma children that
were present on that day in fact helped them unveil the banner, after having
been explained what the action was about. They agreed with the artists, and
didn’t want the building destroyed. Once the banner was unveiled, the word
written on it was revealed to be “HISTERI” (hysteria), which, in Albanian, is
just one letter different from the word “histori,” or history. By placing the
banner with this text across the façade of the Pyramid, the artists called
attention to the hysterical reaction to history by those who wanted to erase
that history from the landscape. They called the work HISTOERI REMOVING; with the placement of the banner they hoped to
remove the hysteria, but not the history.

 Histoeri Removing

Histoeri Removing

While the artists occupied one public
city space with their banner in HISTOERI
REMOVING
, in Void3 (Void Cubed) it
was the participants in their performance, fellow inhabitants of the city, that
undertook a different type of occupation altogether. Using balloons as “a
metaphor for
the physical space that each of us
occupies within the city,” participants alternated between blowing into the
balloon, inflating it (and thus exercizing “their right and ability to assert a
personal living space”), and then deflating it. The process created a
multisensory experience for participants and viewers, involving not only the
visible and tactile action of blowing up and deflating balloons, but also
included the auditory element of the breathing, which eventually turned into
gasping, as participants started to become exhausted. (It should be remembered that
John Cage recognized that absolute silence was impossible when he sat in a
soundproof chamber and heard his heart beating and the sounds of his own
breathing.) Viewers also became co-opted in the piece by breathing the expunged
air from the balloon, which was once occupied the city space of another. What
this piece drove home was the struggle and fight that takes place on a daily
basis for individuals to find and successfully occupy a space of one’s own in
any landscape – urban or rural – city or country. The physical effort required
by participants to occupy their balloon-space is multiplied many-fold on a
daily basis, as individuals aim to carve out a place for themselves to live,
exist, and breathe, peacefully and easily. The performance piece is documented
as a four-minute video.

 Void3

Void3

These two works by Studio 203
demonstrate the manner in which the group responds to local and global issues,
using formal means that are readily accessible to the passing consumer, yet
supported by philosophical groundwork that provides further depth and
substance. In city that is currently lacking in stable venues for contemporary
art, the group finds its own way to occupy the space of Tirana and bring art to
the people, addressing contemporary needs and issues at the same time.