When aesthetic, ethical, political, and poetic dimensions coincide. A Conversation about NEXUS 1 with Adela Demetja
Adela Demetja with Laurel McLaughlin
Over a shared document, Adela Demetja and I had the chance to collaborate on the following conversation. Back and forth, we sent one another edits, rephrasing, and commenting on various portions of the conversation—at other times, pausing to consider a particularly resonant concept (many times for my part). What was not occurring in real time for convenience sake, was imitating the kind of expanded performance that Demetja implements within the exhibition structure of NEXUS 1, featuring the work of Dante Buu, Raluca Croitoru, Adela Demetja, Emily Henderson, Adrian McBride, and Selma Selman. The contours of the conversation, much like the oft-presumed temporally linear, individual, and medium-specific borders of an exhibition, were reconceptualized outside of their normative bounds, in disparate times and spaces, individually and collectively.
Laurel McLaughlin (LM): Could you tell me how the collaboration of NEXUS 1 began?
Adela Demetja (AD): NEXUS 1 emerged conceptually in this constellation in the beginning of 2019. I just had gotten back from Portland, where I spent 5 weeks in a residency at PICA. During my stay in Portland, I had the chance to meet a lot of artists and curators, and visit different institutions. Among the practitioners I got to meet were Portland-based art historian, curator, and writer Emily Henderson, and sound artist Adrian McBride. With both of them I had done a small collaboration for the project 9 Hours Away that I presented at PICA in November 2018, where I combined together in a 90-minute program, four video works of European artists Silva Agostini, Chto Delat, Anna McCarthy, and Damir Očko, part of an installation by American artist Abigail DeVille, and an audio conversation between Emily and me. At the same time, I had just met Raluca Croitoru in New York, as both of us where part of the Artslink International Fellowships organized by CEC Artslink, an amazing program that offers to artists and arts managers/curators from overseas countries a five-week residency at an established, non-profit arts organization in the U.S. Through a call for projects, CEC Artslink gives former fellows the opportunity to apply for co-production support to undertake projects in the United States as a way to continue and deepen the relationships that emerged during the residency. I saw this call as an opportunity to continue the collaboration with PICA and the artists that I met in Portland; and this time, to involve Raluca Crotirou, Dante Buu and Selma Selman as well, whose practices I knew, but had not had the chance to work with directly yet. While thinking about the nature of this project, I looked for a definition that would reflect the process and the nature of this undertaking. The Latin word “nexus,” meaning “a binding together,” “a connection or a series of connections linking two or more things,” was, for me, the perfect definition for my conceiving and curatorial approach. NEXUS 1, therefore, is the format or the structure in which the practice of these European and American art practitioners and different media of performance, video, installation, sound, and language bind together. In terms of content, it was important for me to combine the works of these specific participants in NEXUS 1, in order to create a piece that would reflect on relevant issues for both the current situation in the U.S. and Europe.
Courtesy of the artist.
LM: NEXUS 1 also emerged from a residency—at PNCA and PICA. What were the structures, aims, or questions that the residency posed?
AD: NEXUS 1 was put together for the stage during a 10-day residency where all the participants came together to Portland to create in collaboration the final presentation. For me, NEXUS 1 functions structurally like a group exhibition, where different art works come together and need to be placed in space and, in this case as well, within time. I call this format a time-based exhibition. For example, Raluca and Selma are participating with performances that they have created and performed before, but here, they had to make a different version of it. Dante Buu has developed a new performance which he will be showing for the first time in Portland. Apart from the performances, I have asked Selma, Dante Buu, and Raluca to create or adapt video works, which are projected in the space. Some of the video elements have been developed during the residency as well. With Emily, I have been developing a written conversation, and during the residency we continued to write together in order to include thoughts more related to the immediate experience and we finally recorded it. I asked Adrian to create a soundtrack which has been prerecorded and runs in the background of the entire piece. During the show, he is intervening live with instruments and, during the residency and the rehearsals, he had the chance to develop his approach in relation with the movements of the other performers. In a way, during the residency, we had to combine and re-adapt all the pre-produced elements together, while including new ones that emerged during the process and supporting each other technically. It was important as well that all the participants get to know the practices of one another and meet in person. Taking into consideration that the piece combines the format of exhibition and stage, the Mediatheque at PNCA and its experimental environment, offered the right conditions for us to meet and to rehearse during the residency and the final shows.
LM: What was your curatorial methodology for this project?
AD: My curatorial approach combines and explores interdisciplinary methods of working together and gives priority to collaboration, exchange, and process. I believe that it is possible to have a curatorial practice that is not based on a specific methodology but on performative discourse while aiming at producing meaning. Through my practice, I aim at breaking with temporary and unique features of the contemporary exhibition and propose enduring ways of working together. I am interested in the idea of an exhibition in flux, that continuously keeps developing and changing in time.
LM: Could you discuss your processes of collaboration with the artists and perhaps give us insight into their working processes with one another?
AD: An important aspect of the collaboration has been the concept that each artwork/element should keep its identity and integrity. By this, I mean that each of the elements in the piece is developed so that it can function by itself even if taken apart. When combined with other elements, it contributes to a greater meaning and understanding.
The first layer we concentrated on has been text/language and content; the second layer was moving images; the third layer was movements on stage; and the fourth layer has been sound and music. For these four layers I have discussed, exchanged, and collaborated with each of the participants separately so they could create the single elements first. During the residency in Portland, we then all worked together as a group to bring the single elements together according to a script I proposed. Each overlapping or interaction between the aforementioned layers is the result of a collaboration between the participants.
For the most part, the collaboration happened on-site during the rehearsals, where the shared stage has served as container where each of the participants had to perform his/her own work while respecting the others. By having worked on a set of elements separately, we also have the possibility in the future to combine them and rearrange them every time different and in smaller groups. For example, the soundtrack, combined with the audio conversation with Emily, and video material, can create a new work. Collaboration, therefore, is presented and understood as an option not an obligation.
LM: The exhibition then culminates, in a way, in a singular work by all of the practitioners. As such, it challenges the concept of authorship, but medium-specificity as well. Could you describe their collective and intermedial approach?
AD: My idea from the beginning on was to create an exhibition for the stage and one of the questions that I was interested in was, how to include different performances as part of one exhibition. Most of the time, performances are not really part of exhibitions but events in conjunction to it. My interest in performance is due to its power to communicate, transmit, and inspire, especially within the engaged art discourse. When I invited Selma, Raluca, and Dante Buu to perform simultaneously in the same space, they were challenged by the idea but saw this as an opportunity to try something new. By proposing an understanding of authorship as a collective act, the piece does not challenge the concept of authorship per se, but its relationship with hierarchy. What I like about NEXUS 1 is the intelligibility and transparency that it enables, while at the same time being an exhibition made of different works/elements and a singular work/piece. The “singular work” though becomes such only through its enactment—its performativity in time and space. And it is through this enactment that the binding and a unity (rather than a singularity) is achieved. The practice of all the involved practitioners evolves beyond the post-modern, medium-specific discourse and so does NEXUS 1. For us, aesthetic ethical, political, and poetic dimensions coincide.
Courtesy of the artist.
LM: The artists come from the United States (specifically Missouri and Oregon), Montenegro, Romania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The concept of international exchange is salient, and even radical, within the project. Could you discuss this strategy historically within SEE (Southeast Eastern European) countries and what you hope a “binding” exchange can bring to this exhibition situated in the turbulent and divided U.S. context?
AD: Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, international exchange, collaborative projects, and initiatives have been informing the cultural scene of SEE and Europe in general. Especially in the independent art scene of countries like Albania, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Romania. They are independent and financed solely from foreign international exchange project grants. There is still a lack of structures and financial support on national levels, which makes survival for young and emerging artists difficult. While within Europe, the commune culture policy of European Union makes it possible to keep international exchange alive, but it is much more difficult to find ways to collaborate with U.S. artists and institutions. CEC Artslinks is one of the few initiatives in the U.S. that fosters the collaboration with overseas countries, especially with Central and Eastern European countries.
During my first visit to Portland, I was very surprised to realize that socially and political people here are facing similar problems as in Europe, although the context may be different. This is a fact that we can use to connect and unify in fighting, resisting, and overcoming these problems together. We hope that through this collaboration we can use the different perspectives brought up by the participants to communicate with the public while creating awareness and inspiring viewers. We hope to continue this collaboration and strengthen it in the future, involving other colleagues and institutions from the U.S.
LM: How does the project resonate with TBA19’s missive to celebrate artists of our time, collectively gather in real time, and venture into the unknown?
AD: Taking into consideration the form, content, and process of NEXUS 1, as discussed above, I feel like we are at the right place and at the right moment in time. PICA and TBA put a lot of effort in supporting engaged and experimental artists and productions. By being open and visionary they have become one of the most important hubs for engaged contemporary art discourse. We are happy to be sharing and experiencing this gathering with a great number of other practitioners. In this coming together, and through practicing what we believe, we unite, reaching our potential in the present, and creating our future.
LM: How does NEXUS 1 align or deviate from your curatorial work as the Director of the Tirana Art Lab—Center for Contemporary Art, Albania, and independently?
AD: At Tirana Art Lab (TAL) our curatorial and managerial approach is based on the concept of the rhizome. With our program, we try to resist politicization, polarization, and neo-colonial practices in contemporary societies. Therefore the curatorial practice of TAL takes into consideration various approaches like inside-out, bottom-up, polyphony, transparency, and inclusion.
In NEXUS 1, I have used similar approaches and have been interested in creating a relevant conversation binding together the voices of European and American practitioners. The voice of the artist of Romani origins, Selma Selman, is representative of her life struggles and the struggles of her community. The voice of Dante Buu is rooted in intimacy, and addresses today’s brutal sociocultural environment and questions concerning gender roles, identities, sex, and stereotypes. Raluca Croitoru’s voice reflects upon individual and collective corporeal memory and the social symptoms of neoliberal capitalism. The voice of Emily Henderson reflects poetically upon our relationship to nature and the intangible. The “voice” of Adrian McBride, in the form of sound/music, functions as an abstract connector and creates harmony between all the other voices. Although NEXUS 1 is the first in the series, and it was derived from a similar format that I initiated at Tirana Art Lab under the name of the Performative Exhibition. This format intends to disclose exhibiting and to make public through performativity not only the processes of artistic creation and curating, but also find ways to include in the exhibiting process the means of production behind and beyond the event itself. NEXUS 1 is intended as a series that I will continue to produce in different constellations and contexts.
LM: How do you hope audiences will encounter NEXUS 1?
AD: I am very happy that an experimental collaboration, bringing such different perspectives and characters, has been welcomed by PICA and TBA, and we hope as well that the public will appreciate it the same way. To me, as a curator, and for the all the practitioners, the public and relationship we build with them are crucial to our work. In NEXUS 1, the public sits in the middle of the installation and, in this way, it becomes part of the piece. To be acting and presenting publicly is both an honor and an obligation to use the exhibition as wisely and carefully as possible. We have the opportunity to communicate, to inspire, to empower and we hope to be able to transmit an uplifting experience.
LM: Your thoughts were so insightful and I’m very grateful for your participation in this interview project. I think TBA audiences will really value the chance to read about your perspective in depth here.
AD: Thank you dear Laurel, for your challenging and inspiring questions and point of view.
Adela Demetja is a curator and author born in 1984 in Tirana, Albania. She holds a Master’s Degree in Curatorial and Critical Studies from Goethe University and Städelschule, Frankfurt/Main, Germany. Demetja was first trained as a painter and studied from 2002 to 2006 at Academy of Art in Tirana, Albania. She is the director of Tirana Art Lab–Center for Contemporary Art, Albania’s leading independent art institution, which she established in 2010.
Laurel McLaughlin is a writer and curator from Philadelphia, currently based in Portland, OR. She received degrees from Wake Forest University, The Courtauld Institute of Art, and Bryn Mawr College, and is currently a PhD Candidate in the History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. Her research examines the intersections of contemporary performance, new media, and migration. She has presented her research at the University of California, Berkeley, the College Art Association, New York, and the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present, Hong Kong, among others. Additionally, she has held curatorial fellowships and research positions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Slought Foundation, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the ICA Philadelphia.