It was difficult to find a place for the group to stand without disrupting the flow of the exhibit. We were herded left from the crowded entryway and then further into the exhibition hall, eventually settling into a video installation’s dimly lit viewing space. As coats were removed and listening postures assumed, Albanian artist Adrian Paci set himself apart from the group, clapping his hands together and clearing his throat.
The exhibition opening that evening, Lives in Transit at Jeu de Paume through May 12, showcases a decade and a half of Mr. Paci’s creation across a broad range of media, from painting and sculpture to video and photography. The artist explained that instead of accompanying us through the extensive exhibit, he preferred to deliver a general context and then to set us free to explore and interpret.
With his gaze largely fixed on a point in the distance beyond his audience, he went on to deliberately and sincerely recount the personal and professional history that gives rise to his work. He told his story as an evolution of perspective, relating our group’s difficulty in finding a space for our exchange to his struggle to define his outlook as an artist in the world.
Born in Albania in 1969, Mr. Paci was formally trained as a painter. He explained that the country’s (now formerly) socialist government isolated its citizenry and left students with limited access to contemporary art; formal art education in Albania ended with impressionism. Artists were funneled directly into employment creating propaganda for the regime, and Mr. Paci was certain that he would not be satisfied with this role.
He left Albania for Italy for the first time in 1990, discovering there emerging art-forms and opening his own work to the media of video and photography. During this period, he decided that the role of the artist was to express his or her own feelings and thoughts through creation. After a return to Albania cut short by the precarious near civil war conditions in the country, Mr. Paci settled again in Italy in 1997, this time accompanied by his wife and two young daughters.
Watching his 3-year-old daughter at play one day, Mr. Paci came to a realization that dramatically shifted his perspective on art and has defined his career since. His daughter was inventing a story with her toys that combined elements of the violent reality of their last days in Albania with the uninhibited nonsensical imagination of a toddler. He was so struck by her behavior that he grabbed for his video camera to record it. Since then, he has looked at an artist’s work not as that of self-expression, but as that of capturing experience and relaying it in a meaningful way.
He introduced the exhibit by saying that it focused in part on the rituals that mark individual lives (from handshakes to weddings to funerals) and in part on broader themes like memory, mobility, loss, and displacement. He re-emphasized his aim to draw meaning from the everyday, the constant interplay he sees between metaphor and reality.
His paintings are transportative; you feel the joy of a feast or the chaos of a street riot in his evocations of these scenes. The sense of humor evident in his manner of speaking was especially present in a video installation called Electric Blue, which includes a scene in a small-town pornography theater in which a camera has been placed above the screen, documenting the expressions of viewers of all ages and backgrounds. Another memorable video installation is called The Column. It follows a piece of marble as it is excavated from a quarry, shipped across the ocean, and chiseled into an ornate column (present today in the Jardin des Tuilleries near the Jeu de Paume) in the belly of the ship that takes it from China to Europe.
The depth and breadth of the work exhibited is evidence both of the artist’s talent and of the value of his constant reflection and openness to change. Even though Mr. Paci himself is not a regular installation, Lives in Transit is certainly worth a visit!
L’opportunité d’entendre un artiste expliquer sa propre exposition est toujours une expérience enrichissante. Adrian Paci (l’homme aussi bien que l’œuvre) retranscrit une perception optimiste, romantique et intelligente de son vécu. Rendez-vous pour l’exposition « Vies en Transit », visible au Jeu de Paume jusqu’au 12 mai.
Par Elisabeth Cramer
Source de l’image : Electric Blue, Jeudepaume.org