Petrit Halilaj does not shy away from using his personal biography as a source for his work. The Kosovo-born artist’s childhood memories, centred on the drama of war and the subsequent refugee tragedy, are the motor for the creation of complex and often monumental installations. For those affected by these recent historical events, the search for an understanding of home and cultural identity is still a significant theme today, and Halilaj makes it tangible for everybody by mixing world history with a very personal definition of his own identity. A perfect example was the installation at the last (6th) Berlin Biennale, in 2010, where he occupied the ground floor of the KW Institute for Contemporary Art with a gigantic wooden skeleton of a building: The places I’m looking for, my dear, are utopian places, they are boring and I don’t know how to make them real (2010). This was the ‘ghost’ of the house that his family was supposed to inhabit in his homeland; his brothers and his father worked with Halilaj on its construction.¶ The artist, who is in his mid-twenties, uses simple materials such as earth and wooden slats, but also live chickens and found objects from the archives of vanished museums in Kosovo, to illustrate this permanent quest. Operating close to the aesthetic of Italian Arte Povera, combined with a sense of Land Art, the artist searches for the spectacular without losing track of a fundamental simplicity. Despite his youth, Halilaj’s exhibitions are precisely conceived narrations, in which the fictional – sometimes even the science-fictional – infiltrates the real sociopolitical context of the works on show. Not many artists know how to move an audience and awaken their emotions without becoming pathetic: and this is only one of the qualities embodied in Halilaj’s work.
This article was first published in the March 2012 issue.