Film & Lecture
Architecture + Art : Edi Rama & Anri Sala
When former artist Edi Rama became mayor of Tirana in 2000 he immediately set upon a controversial project to enliven the troubled Albanian capital by re-painting the city’s decaying buildings in a riotous array of colour and pattern. An aesthetic and political act, which prompted social transformation, and much debate, through its visualization of signs of change. Three years later Rama and the project became the subject of artist (and friend) Anri Sala’s film, Dammi I Colori. The next year, Rama was voted World Mayor 2004.
Dammi i Colori is a sixteen-minute colour video projection with sound that focuses on the changes to Albania’s capital city, Tirana, three years after a programme of urban transformation was initiated there that involved painting its buildings in a range of vivid colours. The film’s footage consists of scenes of the city filmed by Albanian artist Anri Sala and a voice-over in which the city’s then mayor and leader of the project, the painter Edi Rama, explains his regeneration project to Sala. The film begins with a slow panning view of Tirana night accompanied by Rama’s voice, followed by shots of the city in daylight with audio consisting of street sounds, including the noises of cars, building work, running water and the activities of pedestrians. These day and night-time scenes then alternate throughout the film. The night scenes are set against a black sky, and were filmed from a slow-moving car. In some of these shots, the camera is pointed up towards the tops of the buildings, while in others it points straight out of the vehicle’s window so that half of the frame is filled with brown soil or grey pavement. The daytime sections of the footage were filmed directly in the street and focus on the city’s activity and close-ups of the buildings’ coloured facades. Towards the end of the film viewers see shots of Rama, dressed in a black suit, sitting in the back of the car, and the final frame shows him leaving the vehicle.
Dammi i Colori was made by Sala in 2003. The artist was born and raised in Tirana, and studied for his BA in the city, but left Albania in 1996 to live in France. This film’s title, which translates as ‘Give Me the Colours’, is taken from the first line of a libretto from the 1900 opera Tosca by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924). The libretto is sung by Mario Cavaradossi, a painter who is working on a portrait of Mary Magdalene while thinking of his beloved, Tosca. Although Mary Magdalene had blonde hair and Tosca’s hair is brown, Cavaradossi sings that ‘Art, in its mysterious way / Blends the contrasting beauties together’. In the voice-over to Dammi i Colori, Rama explains how he wanted to make Tirana more habitable by transforming it from ‘a city where you are doomed to live by fate into a city where you choose to live’. By making reference to Puccini’s libretto, the title of Sala’s work emphasises Rama’s ambition to unite the inhabitants of Tirana, especially following the riots of the 1997 Albanian Rebellion that resulted in the toppling of the country’s government and which caused major damage to cities including the capital.
In Sala’s video, colour and sound are employed in a series of repeating contrasts: the buildings’ bright and varied tones are off-set against their muddy surroundings, daylight is framed by darkness, and Rama’s voice is interwoven with silence and incidental sound. Sala made use of these contrasts to invite reflection on the success of the project, and to draw attention to what he considered to be its ‘utopian’ aspects. In 2006 he stated:
I wanted to show images from a place where speaking of utopia is actually impossible, and therefore utopian. I chose the notion of hope instead of utopia. I focused on the idea of bringing hope in a place where there is no hope … It is about dealing with the reality where the luxury of time and money is missing.
(Quoted in Anri Sala 2006, p.133.)
The sense of impossibility described by Sala is perhaps alluded to towards the end of the video, when darkness fills the screen as Rama utters the word ‘utopia’ and viewers see the first shot of the mayor himself, by now silent and looking away from the camera.
As a video work focusing on painting, Dammi i Colori harks back to Sala’s and Rama’s previous experiences as painters, while also drawing out resonances between the two different artistic mediums. Rama had worked as a painter before becoming a politician, and Sala had studied fresco painting earlier in his career – a type of wall painting similar to that used in Rama’s project for Tirana’s buildings. Sala uses the film to reflect on the relationship between art, politics and urban life: near the end of the film, Rama discusses the similarities between the work of politicians and artists, but he also says that he felt more free undertaking a painting project across the buildings of a city, rather than ‘within four walls’.
Dammi i Colori was first shown at the 2003 Venice Biennale, where it was projected onto a wall in a darkened room as part of the exhibition Utopia Station, which looked at how different societies considered the concept of utopia.
Svetlana Boym, ‘Modernities Out of Sync: The Tactful Art of Anri Sala’, ARTMargins Online, February 2005, http://www.artmargins.com/index.php/2-articles/177-modernities-out-of-sync-the-tactful-art-of-anri-sala#ftnlink_artnotes1_10, accessed 20 March 2014.
Mark Godfrey, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Liam Gillick and others, Anri Sala, London 2006, pp.38–47, 133.