- By Tiffany Liu
Made up of three floors at the New Museum, Anri Sala’s most comprehensive exhibition in the United States to date, Answer Me, is a sound, video, photography installation of a post-communist Albania. Rendering a space for sonic and visual communication, Sala guides us through present-day tensions that haunt a developing country.
Sala is an Albanian video artist, with an impressive track record behind him. He graduated from the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs - and decided early on to work with video. This bold choice, from an Albanian artist with BA in Painting from Tirana, led him to the Hugo Boss Prize nomination in 2002. He lives and works in Berlin and represented by the giant Hauser & Wirth gallery.
Anri Sala, Ravel Ravel, 2013 Photograph: Tiffany Liu for Global Art Daily, 2016
In the center of the retrospective, located on the 2nd floor, Dammi I Colori (2003), is the only piece that includes verbal communication. Sala narrates the film and accounts the paradoxical situation of Albania in regards to its progression in architectural development. In the film, Sala shows the facades of buildings with vibrant colors painted geometrically. He attributes such characteristics as a process of revitalization. Yet, the project only confronts the aesthetics of a decaying space, failing to meet the psychic and emotional extent of those who inhabit the buildings.
In this sense, Sala believes Albania is a utopia in the making with an underlying sense of deceit.
In this sense, Sala believes Albania is a utopia in the making with an underlying sense of deceit. When the limitations of semiotic representations are met, sound has the visceral ability to provoke erased histories and inform lived realities. This is particularity true in the piece Ravel Ravel (2013) where Sala recreates two performances of Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D-major” (1929–30). In a semi-anechoic chamber, the installation is made up of two videos of Ravel’s piece. While the re-performance itself is remarkable, the sensation captures a tension of potential and failure. Sala pairs the videos in such a way that the overall composition is organized both harmonically and contrapuntally i.e. when music is intentionally out of sync. Much like a conversation, the two videos interact and generate an echo effect. Paradoxically, the effect does not meet full potential because it is partially absorbed into the walls where it would otherwise reverb and bounce off. Sala creates the present as a place and time of tension, which speaks largely to the architectural forging of the future at the expense of psychic resolution of the past, as stated in Dammi I Colori. That Ravel Ravel is trapped in a spatial impasse, the performance ceases to fully exist like a ghost confined to a threshold of neither life nor death.
Anri Sala, Long sorrow (2005), still. Photograph: Tiffany Liu for Global Art Daily, 2016
Located on the 2nd floor, Long Sorrow (2005) evokes similar sensations through communication of light and sound. On a two-sided video installation, the performance includes a video of a jazz musician playing the saxophone as he is suspended high up on the outer face of a building. On the back of the video is a light installation that flashes in accordance with the music. Paired together, the two create paradoxical sensations of cathartic release and uneasy ambiguity.
That timing of the flashes are in sync with Moondoc’s playing suggests a substitution of sight and sound where free jazz takes places of words and linear narration is replaced by flashing lights.
The video unfolds as fragments that piece together the realization that the musician, Jemeel Moondoc, is hanging in mid air. While the fragmentation of visuals is affective for visitors to enter the performance at any given time, the emphasis is not on the narration of the film, but how it is presented. Long Sorrow encourages visitors to rely on another form of sight-sound communication. That timing of the flashes are in sync with Moondoc’s playing suggests a substitution of sight and sound where free jazz takes places of words and linear narration is replaced by flashing lights.
Sala creates counternarratives using space, sound, and video. He challenges the representative realities by rendering visible unresolved tension that lurks within the newly painted walls of Albania. Answer Me is a space where noise is valuable and verbal communication is deemed degenerate.
ANRI SALA, ANSWER ME FEBRUARY 3 - APRIL 10, 2016 THE NEW MUSEUM, NEW YORK CITY, USA