Getting lost in Venice it’s wonderful, Gallery Traghetto. Venice, Italy
One of literature’s most fascinating, and at the same time most enduring figures is without doubt that of the traveller, which culminates in the Romantic period in the expression of the painful wandering in unknown lands. While opening the doors of consciousness, it never quite manages to assuage the pain caused by the nostalgia for the places we know, whose familiarity protects us from strange threats and fears. It is a metaphor for the courage to venture into unknown fields of knowledge, whose awareness will mean that the safe haven of one’s own land will no longer give that relief felt before departure, but it is also real representation of the experience lived by those who are forced to face the abandonment of their birthplace in order to venture into unpredictable situations and their disturbing consequences. So, despite the fact that the constant mass movement of contemporary society might cause one to think the opposite, it follows that the traveller continues to be a relevant figure today. The experience lived by man, be it as a tourist or, more intensely as an immigrant, continues to be the same, bringing with it huge emotional baggage. Even though the world seems much smaller and easily accessible today, and so, as a consequence, seemingly more easily mastered, this is a temporary false conviction that man has not yet been capable of fully taking in.
Starting from this presupposition, for the 51st Venice Art Biennale, Anila Rubiku created a set of stickers to be placed in different public spaces of the city, easily visible to the throngs of visitors coming every day to one of the most important open museums of the world. Printed in black ink on yellow stickers were a selection of ironic phrases, suggestions, or simple affirmations that the artist generously bestowed upon the tourists, permitting them to perceive a friendly presence, seemingly ready to appear in moments of need but that, for the time being, simply followed and reassured with discretion.
With this action, re-proposed in this exhibition via photographic documentation, Anila Rubiku is trying to give to the confused tourist that magic gift that each of us wishes for, when, for all kinds of different reasons, we find ourselves trying to get about in an unknown place. Being a tourist, in this case in Venice, is always seen as a situation of pleasure, the fulfilment of a dream, which in some way can be true. On the other hand it can be similar to the situation an immigrant finds himself dealing with, that of having to confront an unknown environment that seems both hostile and difficult to manage. An experience that, short as it is (for the tourist), presupposes an effort, required by the necessity to grasp different customs, habits and linguistic barriers that project us outside our familiar spheres, where our belonging allows us to have an automatic and spontaneous reaction to everything around us. This is a state that Anila Rubiku knows very well, having chosen to leave her birthplace of Albania to live in Italy. The first encounter with the unknown place always brings a feeling of apprehension. One tries to organise and predict the surprises that can lie in store as much as possible, and to prepare the spirit to confront the solitude that comes with being a foreigner in a particular place. An enforced solitude, which demands a great strength of will in order to make it constructive, to make it as productive as the solitude sought. We could define it as a trauma, which, once overcome, in Anila’s case flows into the desire to alleviate it for the next arrivals, giving them a sign of her presence, and so her understanding of their situation, by way of the phrases on the cheery yellow stickers. Probably Anila too would have wanted to find similar stickers along her path, those comforting presences that can eliminate the anxiety caused by the unknown, to give her the strength to continue with enthusiasm.
Another fundamental element to help untangle oneself in a new place is to get organised, that is to arm oneself with maps of the city, to know how to predict and picture future movements. This is a necessity that offers an optimum instrument to combat our initial bewilderment. Consequently on display we also find works that represent maps of the city, in this case Venice. A painstaking and slow task, resulting in the creation of tiny jewels with the street layout of the Serenissima, re-drawn, in fact, via the particular technique of embroidery. The choice of this technique, which Anila demonstrates masterfully, has a special significance. One must not forget one’s origins and traditions, but rather, maintaining a strong connection with one’s own land is one’s strength.
The first consequence of abandoning oneself to an apparently globalised world is the annulment of one’s own being, to give in to a superficial and transitory conception without any meaning. Globalisation, at least in cultural terms, does not exist; only goods have the capacity to be “globalised” without suffering any consequences. Anila Rubiku has understood this perfectly, and what could be a weak point instead becomes her strength, that is the preservation of traditions, handed down from mother to daughter for generations, in her homeland.
Embroidery is a slow and precise work that needs great time and ability, and it belongs to an antique tradition. In the context of Anila’s work it is actualised with subjects represented in a contemporary language. We see city postcards on display and in numerous works the theme is often that of the home, women, the hearth, domestic images that evoke the security given by the fixed points one absorbs during one’s childhood living in a specific place, and on which we build our cultural bases. Roots, still rich in ages-old traditions and not yet destroyed by progress, have been maintained thanks to the fact that her land still belongs to the generation that grew up under a strict political order, deprived, as we all know very well, of the over-abundance of the Western system and characterised by a spartan way of life.
In Anila Rubiku’s work we relive these traditions typical of her land where women get together, gossip and embroider their own trousseaux. Anila too re-proposes this technique but in the style of the traveller, aware of the strength that this tradition can assume through the language acquired by the new experiences. In this case it is interesting to note how the technique assumes a certain power if combined with the artist’s ironic interpretation of the stereotypes of a city like Venice. They are the same views, always the same symbols and monuments of the Serenissima, by now true contemporary icons that everybody recognises, but in Anila’s work they are enriched with their own aura, from her re-working of the images in such a way as to make them cast off the overuse that our mass media-saturated society imposes on everything. All too often in these contexts the word new is used, but it is an abused expression, as it is useless to look for the new, but rather I would say that our artist re-reads everything that she meets for the first time with different eyes, granting us tiny fragmented visions which cheerfully follow one another along the delicate surfaces of this notebook that has been patiently embroidered with all the imagery that a traveller carries with himself.