Edi Hila’s latest paintings, ‘Portraits of Houses’, create the illusion of windows opening onto a strange landscape of impossible structures. It is difficult to know what these mysterious constructions were built for; their inhabitants are implied only through their absence. The mysteriousness of Hila’s paintings seems not to be dictated by the artist’s complex personal history but rather to be conditioned by where he lives: Albania. By concentrating on these unfinished, anonymous structures, Hila highlights and testifies to an essential feature of that country today: its transitional state. None of these buildings look functional. They are all pictured in the here and now; tomorrow they could disappear.
In his paper Ideology, Identity, and Architecture: Modernism, Postmodernism, and Antiquarianism in Taiwan (1995), William S. Tay defines the relation of architecture to its social, political and demographic surroundings: ‘Architecture is ideology frozen in time. As long as it is not destroyed, architecture is a permanent, synchronic existence. But beneath any surface synchronicity, there is always a layer of historicity, the specific moment when a structure was conceived and constructed […] ideology and its traces, diachronic in nature, are then frozen or buried within the architectural presence. By ideology I do not only refer to the explicit trends, modes, and movements of architectural history, but also to the implicit value systems, world views, and imaginary ways one comes to feel, understand, and interpret materialistic existence and its concomitant human relationships. It is in this sense that architecture can also be read as indicators of identification, icons of identity.’ All of this is relevant to the buildings in Hila’s paintings.
A painted skeleton of an unfinished skyscraper that looks like an abandoned rocket launch site; a round blue building; a beach by a shipwreck; a kid playing billiards in a park; a white house in a forest with a tree-trunk through its ceiling, empty houses, all magically painted with a soft light, delicate touch and masterful brushstrokes. If their shapes are determined by the historical moment, what ideology is hidden in their layers of bricks and mortar? Space, not just time, is stilled as if touched by a metaphorical frost. Each painting seems to imply an intrigue too complex to be read in a single glimpse. In this Hila’s landscapes are faithful representations of an unsettled time.
Hila has said in relation to his paintings: ‘We’re living through a process of transformation that involves everybody and forces us to make important decisions that can change the course of our life. In these abandoned houses hope and the desire to inhabit them has departed with the migrant. These houses have been transformed into objects, almost weird and absurd, born of an immediate necessity. Their architect is a hero of an old legend, who has never settled and is still on his anonymous errand. I think there’s no better example of truth determining the wrong proportions. That’s what gives credibility to these objects implanted in the midst of the green meadows. How nice to live in a house like that!’
Yes, how nice to live in a house like that. How nice to understand the whys and wherefores of these constructions and undertake the journey the artist has taken us on. How nice to have an insight into a social reality. But most of all how nice to be able to gaze on such masterly painted canvases.