Showroom Series: Petrit Halilaj — AT ChertLüdde

Petrit Halilaj
Online Viewing Room
5 Jun 2020 – 29 Aug 2020

“The story of man and his friends the birds is filled with many fine examples of ways in which these noble creatures were added to the beauty of the world” — Alfred Hitchcock (1).

The world of birds has provided an endless source of inspiration for the Kosovar artist Petrit Halilaj, who since a young age found himself captivated by the flying creatures. Comprising several different bodies of works and spanning over seven years of research, this Showroom Series explores the particular fascination between Halilaj and birds.

The drawings from the series Several birds fly away when they understand it (2) depict images from the bird archive of the former Natural History Museum of Kosovo (whose story was the subject of the exhibition Poisoned by men in need of some love (3)). Creating risographs of original photographs of the birds, which were found in the archive of the former Museum of Natural History of Pristina, Halilaj modified the prints by hand-painting ornate, exotic masks on them in an effort to restore dignity and beauty to the forgotten taxidermic creatures. The drawings and risograph prints were made on inventory cards found in the Natural History Museum of Kosovo. Poisoned by men in need of some love revolves around the lost taxidermic collection of the former Museum which, after the Kosovo War and Kosovo’s subsequent establishment as the Republic of Kosovo, was discarded in favor of a more nationalistic display that replaced the animals in the Ethnographic Museum of Kosovo (4).

Halilaj produced an extensive body of work, encompassing sculptural reproductions of the lost taxidermic animals, vitrines and artifacts from the original collection, a 3-channel video documenting its rediscovery and drawings made on original archival papers of the museum. The series has since been the subject of several exhibitions and presentations and represents one of Halilaj’s most important projects to date. (5)

The poetic significance of bird calls and our human attempts to imitate them is another facet of Halilaj’s work, where bird songs are connected to the idea of language and narration. (6)
One of the earliest mimicries of bird song can be found in the Runik instrument, the ocarina (7). Coming from one of the oldest Neolithic settlements of the Balkan region, this ancient musical instrument is a principal motif of Halilaj’s, in its connection to Runik tradition and its transmission through generations. Following the history of this ancient artifact, Halilaj came to discover the work of Shaqir Hoti, a Prishtina-based composer who in recent years brought the ocarina and its unique sound back into the realm of contemporary music, by reproducing the instrument using traditional techniques and publicizing its sound in concerts.

With the same intentions, Halilaj learned from Hoti how to build and play the ocarina, an instrument which has since made its presence into many of his artworks. Especially for a culture that survived mainly through oral tradition, the ocarina becomes a vessel of voices connecting old and new, a melodic link between the need to grow roots and the desire to transcend imposed limits. Ocarina sculptures resembling little birds on brass branches reflect the desire for a borderless existence, the possibility of a national identity and cultural heritage that transcends territorial confinement and defies the ethnic discrimination endured by Kosovo citizens.


via CHERTLÜDDE, Berlin
Featured Image: Photo by Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy of ChertLüdde, Berlin and Petrit Halilaj.