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Dammi i Colori (review)

by on March 25, 2007

Dammi i Colori

“… the most burning issue to do with art today: is it possible to generate relationships with the world, in a practical field of art-history traditionally earmarked for their ‘representation’” (Bourriaud, 1998/2002, p9)

Tirana, capital of Albania, the poorest country in Europe. The mayor, Edi Rama, who is also an artist, gives us a guided tour of his collaborative art work; a patchwork of colours, painted on low-rise blocks of apartments that seem to sit uniformly throughout the tiny town. His commentary gives us a high level exploration of many current questions in art, often at odds with striking, tightly composed film footage of a war-torn city in deep crisis provided by Anri Sala, who conceived this project of a film about the piece.

Tirana’s art work is constantly changing, growing, decaying and being reborn, through the choices made by it’s residents. Sala’s film seeks to capture a moment in that process, as seen by the artist Rama: one that often contrasts his words with the realities of the everyday life of the environment, portrayed through Sala’s footage, and perhaps seen through his childhood eyes (Sala now lives and works in Paris)[1].

Sala’s film encourages us to hear (read, in my case) a philosophical, academic assessment of the potential of art; while visually striking us with the physical realities of the city and it’s inhabitants.

(Transcript here:

In the 1993 exhibition Common Wealth, curator Jessica Morgan suggests relational art fulfils the function of an exploration of “the shared and communal ” and the “private and restricted”. Albania, undergoing an economic transition from “Communism” to Capitalism, is perfectly (sic) placed in an economic, ideological, and social interstice, in which to be open to exploring other ways of existing together, in themselves “symbolic of a larger system of relations”. Talking about the various exchanges that take place, for example between the mayor and the townspeople, and between “them” and “us”, she notes “[T]heir interaction evokes associations with social, material and economic systems of everyday life” (Morgan, 1993 p16)

As Rama says, “I think that the ambition to make this city a city of choice and not of destiny is a utopia in itself”. An ambition we hope, understand, is shared by both the mayor and the townspeople, a relationship he compares to “an artist and the spectator”. Sala seems to suggest that the townspeople are both artists and spectators, and Rama seems to have this hope at the core of the conception of the piece. One of the features of relational art, apparent in both pieces is of a “utopia … being lived on a subjective, everyday basis, in the real time of concrete and intentionally fragmentary experiments.” (Bourriaud, 1998/2002 p45) He seems successful, since he tells us, “the hottest discussion in coffee bars, in the homes, in the streets, was what were the colours doing to us”?

This idea means that it’s not surreal to then hear Rama say “”it does not mean … that other cities should envy this city…” Wouldn’t we like to have the hottest discussions in town be about art? As Bourriaud says “Relational art … arises from an observation of the present and from a line of thinking about the fate of artistic activity.” This seems to be what the mayor is giving us, both in his piece and his interview, which we experience vicariously through the not-seen but very–obviously-present Sala.

The methods and techniques Sala utilises strengthen the feeling of the piece. It’s simple narrative structure, quiet, night-time panning shots cut with extreme close-ups in bright sunshine – abstracts created by the viewfinder – keep us un-distracted from the subject of the film, and makes us feel more connected to the “simple” life of the town. At the same time, we are seduced by the play of light and colour, in both the day and night (for example, the play of headlights across some scaffolding is highly cinematic and evocative.) Through the use of low tech camera work and post-production, Sala also gives us a feeling of intimacy with the mayor. This type of filming has only recently been possible, with the availability of DV, and Sala makes good use of the possibilities provided by such a small camera.

For example, we can look Edi Rama in the eyes and see the sincerity and conviction with which he speaks, clearly so at odds with the material state of the town. At odds with the slick production values of much post-modern video, and using conventional construction in the editing process, the film also seems suited to the style of Tirana’s own piece. Rama describes “his” piece as “avant-garde”. Bourriaud brings it up to date, with his description of relational art: “Through little services rendered, artists fill in the gaps”. Rama offers the townspeople the choice of being artists, and Sala confirms Rama’s piece in his film.

By shooting at night, Sala encourages us to focus on only the mayor’s vision for and of the town, rather than the harsh realities of the daytime. Although the mayor makes only passing mention of the social problems facing the town, Sala concretises them with a few daytime shots: a homeless man changing his trousers at the roadside, the rest of his clothes hanging on the bars of a window balcony; a teenage boy in trainers obviously too big for him, walking aimlessly over rubble.

There has been criticism of Dammi I Colori because of it’s ”naïve” subject matter, interpreted as reflecting an apparent hope for the town’s future: as emblematic of it’s collective hopes for democracy. Rama does acknowledge the material circumstances of the people who live there, but he quite clearly attaches equal importance to his complete belief in the power of art. In the opening monologue he sets this out, “… This is a question of finding out how this city can become habitable, and how to transform it from a city where you are doomed to live by fate into a city where you choose to live.” As Stallabrass (2004/2006, p120) says “ … [A]rt that encourages social interaction among its viewers reacts directly against a general trend to increasing fragmentation, … the tendency for people to lock themselves away in their homes in the company of media rather than other people.” While the people of Tirana weren’t sitting at home watching TV, the social process and outcome of the piece fulfils the same function.

Rama is no stranger to publicity or controversy. One of his first acts as major was to build a cinema showing Hollywood and other foreign films, to decrease the feeling of isolation Albanians had from the rest of the world. Critics complained he should be addressing the fundamental problems of the city such as electricity and water. He has however, simultaneously undertaken radical environmental developments in the city. He is also surely one of the few people to have survived assassination attempts from both the communists, who he criticised while they were in power, and the democrats, who he accused of corruption after they came to power. He stood as an Independent when he ran for, and was elected as mayor, although he subsequently joined the Socialist Party. In 2004 he was elected world mayor by City Mayors in an internet poll.

The relational and collaborative nature of the film necessarily raises questions about authorship. Indeed, although the film is copyrighted to Sala and Rama, the Tate Modern display only credits Sala, perhaps because he more readily meets the criteria of the author function (Foucault quoted in Art in Theory, pp 949-953). This sits somewhat at odds with what I perceive to be Sala’s intention or the role he envisioned in making the film i.e. that of facilitator; conduit.

Despite the sometimes harrowing and depressing visuals in parts of this film, we return to the constructed naivety of this piece at the end of the film. After a thoroughly developed academic polemic about the value and purpose of the project throughout the 15 minute film, we are left with the mayor’s ultimate confirmation of his feelings about art, in his instruction to Sala, who is filming outside the taxi. “Take some red colour from the car’s break light and throw it out in the dark. It looks nice”.


Bourriaud, N. (1998/2002) Relational Aesthetics: Les Presses du Reel

Hall, D and Fifer S  ed (1990) Illuminating Video: an Essential guide to video art: Aperture

Harrison C and Wood P ed (1992, 2003) Art in Theory 1900-2000: Blackwell

Morgan, J (1993) Common Wealth exhibition catalogue: Tate publishing

Stallabrass, J (2004/2006) Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction, first published as Art Incorporated: Oxford University Press, [accessed 4 January 2007] [accessed 4 January 2007]

Transcript of film Dammi I Colori conducted with permission of the Tate on 18 November 2006

[1] Sala has made other work in Tirana, his place of birth, including “Intervista – Finding the Words”, (using found footage of his mother) and “Mixed behaviour”(made in the same year as Dammi I Colori).

  1. “The city was dead. It looked like a transit station where one could stay only if waiting for something. It looked like a body that kept growing silently older where all the turbulence of the riots and the events that occurred took place as if in an alien setting. It swallowed up everything without being affected. This is a question of finding out how this city can become habitable and how to transform it from a city where you are doomed to live by fate into a city where you choose to live. The colour was a process that made it possible to experience time as a common element.

    “All this landscape modified through the use of colour is a landscape that reflects the decades-long debasement of the individual through the indifference of the state. The question here is that colour has also another role: it must bind together all the volumes that have been brutally and individually added to the original surface, not by the hand of an artist but by the anonymous hands of the residents who have had to expand their living space, and who normally when building their balconies, or in adding another floor or a shop, were not concerned that the form that would be created by their brutal action should be in harmony with the form that would be created as a result of the violation of the building surface by the neighbour, or the neighbour of the neighbour. It is not a matter of what colour you may want to have the balcony painted; it is not a matter of what colour you may want this or that building, because that would be a question of trying to add up all the tastes and find the golden mean, which would be a grey.

    “What we have done is not an outcome of democratisation but more an avant-garde of democratisation. This is rather a process that precedes and co-travels with the democratisation of this country, this community, than a process that is closed in itself, and which sets a model. This does not mean that it should also happen to other cities. It does not mean either that other cities should envy this city. It would make no sense for this to be in a city that establishes communication and relationships with people in other ways quite natural and satisfactory for them. This is the difference.

    “Colour has an impact on the intensification of the rhythm of breathing, the breaking of a dust screen, and the creation of a new era for the city. There is a paradox here because it is the poorest country in Europe, rife with problems, and I do not think there is any other country in Europe, be it the richest, where people discuss so passionately and collectively about colours. The hottest discussion in the coffee bars, in homes, in the streets, was what are the colours doing to us?

    “I think that the ambition to make this city a city of choice and not of destiny is a utopia in itself. I think that a city where things develop normally might wear colours as a dress, not have them as organs. In a way, colours here replace the organs, they are not part of the dress. That kind of city would wear colours like a dress or like a lipstick. I do not know how it is for others, but the relationship between the mayor and his elector is like the relationship between an artist and the spectator. It is a very stressful relationship, it’s a daily effort under people’s very eyes which after all, aims at people’s hearts. The colours I use are no longer an element or a frustrating presence within four walls that come back to me with the idea whether it is worthwhile painting at all today, if my painting makes any sense, if it makes sense that I have settled in a foreign capital and paint. Who am I to paint and why should I paint rather than do something else instead? What is important to me is that I am done with this debate. I am not interested in it any more. I do not deem it necessary to respond to these questions.

    “Take some red colour from the car’s break light and throw it out in the dark, it looks nice.”

  2. paula permalink

    was this your essay for stage 1 ppd ?….if so…im worried…it’s brilliant….you write so eloquently x

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