Petrit Halilaj‘s largest solo show to date opened at Wiels Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels. Poisoned by men in need of some love is the title of the incredibly powerful installation curated by Elena Filipovic. It includes a three-part film, drawings, and hand-sculpted copies of taxidermy animals that used to be displayed in the Museum of National History in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. This exhibition is the result of a long project in which Halilaj has been involved for years.
The Museum of Natural History had a collection of more than 1,800 individual stuffed animals of various species gathered between 1951 and 1971, during Tito’s most active years of rule. After the fall of Communism and the outbreak of ethnic conflict, new priorities emerged. In 2001 the entire animal collection was removed and stored in hidden rooms, while their space was used to display folk tradition and heritage.
Halilaj managed to have the permission to pull down the wall behind which the animals were stored and secretly filmed the whole process. While watching the video we perceive a tense atmosphere. The ambivalent feelings of the Museum’s staff, people who have been working there for several years, clearly emerge: tension, shame and curiosity. In the hidden cellar-like storage facilities all stuffed animals are found in terrible conditions.
Inspired by these remains and by some old images, Halilaj, over the last two months, has recreated through his sculptures the taxidermy animals. The material he uses is a very rough one, a mix of earth and animal excrement, partly from Kosovo. The choice of the material is connected with the sculptures’ history. Halilaj recreates three-dimensional animals, gives them a new life while simultaneously communicating, ironically and metaphorically, his disagreement with the history behind them. His art provides them a different context, another way of being displayed. This aim is connected with the artists’ feeling of being part of a society reinventing itself after the war and of a new generation in Kosovo who wants to shape the present and the future.
Trash objects, like old showcases from the Museum of Natural History, are also part of the installation and find a new existence in contemporary art. What fascinates Petrit Halilaj, he says, is to find a poetic side, and convey a sense of levity that enables the public to watch the installation and discuss about it.
The sculptures, drawings and old museum objects provoke, on the one hand, uncanny old feelings connected to war, forced exile and loss but also, on the other hand, the perception of new possible realities, imaginary dimensions and utopian places.
Petrit Halilaj was born in Kostërrc (Skenderaj-Kosovo) in 1986. He lives and works in Berlin, Kosovo and Mantova. Recent solo exhibitions: Kosovo Pavillion, Venice Biennale, curated by Kathrin Rhomberg, commissioned by Erzen Shkololli, Arsenale, Venice (2013); “Who does the earth belong to while painting the wind?!” curated by Giovanni Carmine, Kunsthalle Sankt Gallen, St. Gallen (2012); Petrit Halilaj, Kunstraum Innsbruck, curated by Veit Loers (2011); Statement, Art Basel solo presentation, with Chert, Berlin (2011); “Back to the Future”, curated by Albert Heta, Stacion, Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina, Kosovo (2009). Petrit Halilaj, solo exhibition, Chert, Berlin (2009).