Adrian Paci: The people are missing

By Barbara Casavecchia

Adrian Paci, Interregnum, 2017, video, colour, sound, 17 min 28 sec. Photo: Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy the artist and Kaufmann Repetto, Milan & New York

Kaufmann Repetto, Milan, 29 March – 29 April 

There are millions of people, but no individual bodies, in this exhibition. In his new video Interregnum (2017), Adrian Paci skilfully edits together found footage from the public funerals of communist leaders such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Josip Broz Tito, Kim Il-sung and Enver Hoxha, obtained from state archives and national televisions. Hoxha, a cult figure in Paci’s homeland, founded the Albanian Communist Party in 1941, after the Italian fascist invasion, and ruled as secretary of the Party of Labour of Albania from 1944 to 1985, while forging alliances and conflicted relations with Yugoslavia, Russia and China. In the video, we see nondescript crowds assemble to pay homage to the adored deceased (who is never seen), in a public display of mourning where compulsory tears are impossible to distinguish from sincere grief. The death of the ‘father of the nation’ is celebrated with plenty of emotional intensity and epic pathos, but all manifestations of sorrow take place under the camera’s gaze, as much as under public scrutiny, in a permanent state of surveillance. In scene after scene, we follow the faces and postures of ‘the common people’, while the impressive final sequences zoom in and out of a long, winding procession, an interminable line that zigzags across streets, along facades and pavements, choreographing the massive fluxes of anonymous individuals involved.

Paci has lived in Milan since the 1990s, but has never cut ties with his country and culture of origin – in 2015, with his wife Melisa, he opened Art House, a gallery/residency programme in Shkodër, northwest Albania, to invite artists, friends and scholars to his family home. He has also never stopped looking at his own past as a tool for interpreting contemporary phenomena such as migration, globalisation and, now, populism. The word ‘interregnum’ refers to a state of exception, the gap occurring in a social order before a new form of power comes into place. In our current times of violent rhetoric directed at the masses, calling for direct action and the suppression of ‘the elites’, Paci recalls the effects of propaganda, ‘alternative facts’ and manipulation by situating them in the recent past and its bygone ideologies (Italy, by the way, had the biggest Communist party of Europe after the Second World War, thus the work also ends up having a very site-specific resonance).

By contrast, The people are missing (2017), the installation from which the exhibition borrows its title, is empty and silent. Paci built a double set of white bleachers, four steps high: quite literally a ‘public arena’, where only a few footprints on the ground testify to the passage of humans. The structure recalls a parliament, a theatre, maybe a stadium, a sanitised space where it’s easy to imagine debates and applause bound to remain virtual, unless embodied and directly enacted. In the adjoining tiny project room, an old-fashioned petrol-and-ethanol-powered water heater for showers, once in use in Albania, is at work (Untitled, 2017): the fire burns, the water drizzles from a small hose, the rusty tank radiates heat, dangerously close to its user’s absent body. A relic from a time of extreme paucity and nonconsumerism, it operates like a restrained monument to existenzminimum and basic physical needs.

In the basement, Paci closes the exhibition with a single photograph from the series Malgrado Tutto (Despite Everything, 2017), shot in a former Communist prison in Albania. The image records a fragment of the graffiti and drawings, akin to prehistoric carvings, left on the stone walls by former inmates. We are left to ponder how consensus is built and orchestrated, and at what terribly dire price.

From the Summer 2017 issue of ArtReview