Anri Sala

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communication, exclusion, home, language, loneliness, memory, migration, Society
Visual Arts (video art)
Europe, Southern, Europe, Western
Albania, Germany
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September 1, 2009
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The Place Where Animals Speak with Each Other

Anri Sala’s Poetic and Political Uncertainty

Anri Sala’s first major solo exhibition „Wo sich Fuchs und Hase Gute Nacht sagen“ ("In the Middle of Nowhere,” or literally „Where the Fox and Hare Wish Each Other Good Night“) was curated in 2004, by Julia Garimorth and Hans Ulrich Obrist at the nördlichen Deichtorhalle in Hamburg. Born 1974 in Albanian Tirana, and currently living in Berlin and Paris, Sala is indeed an artist, whose work comes from a wondrous place: where animals wish each other goodnight.
Sala’s works: drawings, photographs, and especially videos carry their own photographic signature. He finds his subjects, as described in the press release for the Hamburg exhibition, at the "the edges of Western civilization". Viewers encounter wondrous people, animals and things in these photographs and videos.

A homeless man sleeping in Milan’s Cathedral turns his back on the hustle and bustle of the location. An emaciated horse on a highway in Tirana is hardly able to stand. Blinded by passing cars, he holds still in the dark. Crabs on a South American beach “steered” by flashlights. A threatening, aggressive scenario filmed at night. All this can be seen in Sala’s art, which has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Berlin Biennale, the Manifesta 3in Ljubljana and in numerous solo and group exhibitions.

"What we need are moments of freedom to think," says Anri Sala, who studied at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris and at the National Art Academy in Tirana. Sala directs his gaze at what lies at the edge. His images are unusual, surreal and bizarre, the locations in his artworks often cannot be identified: A parking lot, a beach, a pre-fab building, a street, a high-rise in Marzahn. There is no plot in the classical sense, no story being told. The films have a very deliberate, slow style. Sometimes the camera doesn’t move at all.

In earlier video works, Sala took personal experiences as his subject. In his first video, "Intervista" from 1998, he developed a dense portrait of his mother - against the backdrop of his native Albania’s communist history. His source material was a silent home movie which he found in his parent’s home, which showed his mother as a young communist, the chair of the “Youth-Alliance”, giving an interview on national TV. Sala: "I wondered how this film could quasi transform into a mouth— a mouth that can tell you something."

Hearing disabled students helped Sala reconstruct what was said. But could they really? Sala was doubtful and his film argues otherwise. Language is always legible within the system it was spoken - it is untranslatable.

"Nocturne" was shot on 16mm in 1999. The film portrays two men who had never met, and who came together through art: Denis, a French mercenary who fought in the Balkan War, and Jacques, a lonely fish collector who owns an aquarium. Both men are united, despite their very different biographies, by the pain they experience in life.

In the movie "Byrek" from 2000, Sala discusses the homelessness of immigrants: we see the arms of a woman kneading dough from Byrek superimposed over a recipe that was written by Sala’s grandmother many years before. A year earlier, he created the video "Uomoduomo," Sala’s entry for the Venice Biennale. The film shows a sleeping homeless man in the Milan Cathedral. What the video so poignantly and symbolically expresses is the fragile, vulnerable intimacy of sleeping in public.

In 2001, Sala produced the video "Arena", which features a slow, suggestive camera moving through a dilapidated zoo in Tirana. On display are deserted compounds, a desolate site in decay, which Sala intends to be seen as a reflection of the social reality in Albania. Along with the crab video in 2002, he produced “Ghost Games” and also the surreal photographic work “No Barragán, No Cry ": an exploration of a lost sculpture in the garden of the Mexican architect Luis Barragàn. ”Three Minutes" (2004) shows nothing more than a drum basin, whose surface reflects the light of a stroboscope.

In more recent video works, Sala’s subjects turn more abstract, such as in "Who is Afraid of Red, Yellow and Green" (2008) or "Answer Me" (2008), which was created in the dome of the former NSA-Abhörstation at Berlin‘s Teufelsberg. Here we see a would-be conversation between a woman and her male partner, but he turns his back on her and starts playing the drums, making his silence audible. Communication and closeness are impossible.

The Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin is showing Anri Sala’s work “Why the Lion Roars” as part of the "The Spirit of the Haus." In the installation, which was commissioned by the City of Paris, temperature determines the sequence in which films are projected. Each film corresponds to a degree on the Celsius scale. If the temperature changes outside, a different film switches on automatically in the auditorium."

The artist’s protagonists are always part of a political, historical and social context, yet Sala’s visual language of memory is metaphorical and poetically unsettling. Sala’s particular stylistic device is darkness. Many of his images are found in twilight. In the transitional moments between day and night. Often in places where the fox and hare say good night, in the middle of nowhere.
Author: Marc Peschke


Born 1974 in Tirana, Albania. He lives and works in Paris.


Group Exhibitions (Selected)

Exhibition / Installation
2005 Situated Self, Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade 2004 Delay, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam , The Netherlands; Situations construites, attitudes espace d´arts contemporains, Geneva, Switzerland; utopia station: auf dem weg nach porto alegre, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany; Time Zones: Recent Film and Video, Tate Modern, London, UK; Point of View - An Anthology of the Moving Image, UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA; Point of View: An Anthology of the Moving Image, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York , USA; Terminal 5, Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center, JFK Airport, USA 2003 Fast Forward, ZKM | Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe , Germany; In den Schluchten des Balkan - Eine Reportage, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany; Dreams and Conflicts: the Dictatorship of the Viewer, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy; Die Erfindung der Vergangenheit, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany; Hardcore - vers un nouvel activisme/towards a new activism, Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Witness, The Curve, Barbican Centre, London, UK 2002 el aire es azul – the air is blue, Casa Museo Luis Barragán, Tacubaya, Mexico; Missing Landscape, Galerie Johnen and Schöttle, Cologne, Germany; In Search of Balcania, Graz, Austria; The mind is a horse, Bloomberg Space, London, UK; Geschichte(n), Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg, Austria; Haunted by Details, DeAppel, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Cardinales, Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo, Vigo, Spain 2001 Berlin Biennale, Berlin, Germany; Yokohama Biennale, Yokohama, Japan; Believe, Westfälischer Kunstverin Münster, Münster, Germany 2000 Media City Seoul 2000, Seoul Metropolitan Museum, Seoul, Korea; Geographies: Darren Almond – Graham Gussin – Anri Sala, Galerie Chantal Croussel, Paris, France; voilà- le monde dans la tête, Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, Paris, France; Manifesta 3, Ljubljana, Slovenia; The world in mind, ARC, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France; Wie Weg - Disappeared, Association for Contemporary Art, Graz, Austria; Wider Bild Gegen Wart- Positions to a political discours, Raum Aktueller Kunst, Vienna, Austria; Man muss ganz schön viel lernen, um hier zu funktionieren, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany 1999 After the wall, Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm, Sweden; Albanischer Pavillon, 47. Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy; 1997 Ostrenanije-97, Video Festival, Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany 1995 Tunnel 95, National Gallery, Tirana, Albania; Spring 95, First Prize, National Gallery, Tirana, Albania; Symposium Kultur Kontakt, Kunsthaus Horn, Austria

Solo Exhibitions

Exhibition / Installation
Dammi i Colori, DAAD-Galerie, Berlin, Germany; Videos, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Long Sorrow, Nicola Trussardi Foundation, Milano, Italy; 2004 Alfonso Artiaco, Neaples, Italy Anri Sala - Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany 2003 Blindfold, Galerie Johnen and Schöttle, Cologne, Germany; Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria; Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Torino, Italy 2002 Programa, Mexico City, Mexico; OPA (artist run space), Guadalajara, Mexico 2000 De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Galerie Johnen and Schöttle, Cologne (with Martin Boyce) ; Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich (with Torsten Slama) 2001 Galerie Chantal Croussel, Paris, France 2002 Hauser & Wirth, Zurich, Switzerland


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

The Spirit of the Haus

20 years of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt

(02 September 09 - 30 September 09)