The paintings of Albanian artist Edi Hila depict street scenes of his home country in transition as it changes from a closed economy to a market based one. With reserved, pastel colours, these paintings provoke viewers to the issues and absurdities surrounding an Albania in development through surreal concoctions of what would be otherwise a mundane daily sight.
An incomplete building project sitting on a monolithic concrete pedestal, a fish tank carrying fish for sale that’s leaking water and a 4-wheel drive SUV used as a ‘just married’ car because the roads are all muddy; these are some of the scenes in the daily life of Edi Hila and speak for themselves to the issues that Albania faces.
Being mostly street scenes and cityscapes, Hila’s works are quite architectural, as he understands the value of architecture as a cultural expression; that what is built reflects the owner’s values. Seen collectively, they become an expression of ideology in society. In the ‘Penthouse’ series of paintings, mundane suburban houses with extruded exterior walls seem to rise up out of the ground, as if the house is sitting on top of a tower.
That they are painted in whats known as the ‘3/4 view’, a traditional figure portrait pose, suggests these houses are being characterized, animated with the blank wall and an expression at the ‘penthouse level’, of the owner’s attempt to display individuality and perhaps social standing. Yet ironically, the windows are all dark, suggesting they are vacant, maybe even abandoned houses.
So, the depiction of a series of abandoned houses, or the animation of abandonment says something about the state of the nation; that people have left their houses and what was once their hopes and dreams to go somewhere else. This has been the case throughout the 1990s and 2000s during what’s known as the ‘Albanian dispora’, as waves of skilled and/or intellectual people emigrated abroad resulting in a massive brain drain to the country.
That Hila chose to stay, against the mainstream rationale with chaos, disfunction and the threat of war looming in the background, demonstrates a kind of quiet resilience and a surety of identity. This surety is reflected in the various forms of structure depicted in the works. From the elongated vertical walls of abandoned houses to the cross shaped, 4 panel wooden cupboard to the repetitive square framed concrete trellis of Marche (2007), the structures are a sign of this quiet, inner strength.
However, the absurdity of the scenes, most of the time, is not that absurd or far from reality. The desolation seen in Municipalite De Tirana (2011) is actually fairly similar to the feeling of being in Mother Teresa Square in Tirana.
In fact, both Municipalite De Tirana (2011) and Parlement (2011) essentially deal with ‘the government’, even though one is a government building and the other the legislature. That they are covered over, washed out with a foggy atmosphere might indicate a non-existence, an ineffectiveness in the system of governance.
Boulevard 3 (2015) is actually quite an accurate depiction of this stepped fountain located in Mother Teresa Square except that, again, there are these extruded vertical walls around it which make it look like a concrete water tank. Perhaps there is some deeper meaning to this gesture that makes houses look like towers and water fountains look like water tanks. Perhaps it is about this ‘situation’, the system in the country, where the need to hoard things, to defend or have some protection distorts perfectly normal structures into something absurd.
As a centrist, Hila’s paintings demonstrate a reserved, abstract realism, that doesn’t need to be loud to get a point across. Given his appointment for the Documenta 14 exhibition in Athens and Kassel, it goes to show that quietness and a steady hand can also go a long way to achieving one’s dreams.