Petrit Halilaj


New Museum, New York
27 September 2017 – 7 January 2018

In March 2017, the New Museum and Kvadrat announced a three-year partnership focused on supporting the realisation of ambitious new works by artists that had not previously received a significant exhibition in New York. This collaboration was initiated by South into North together with the museum’s curatorial department, as part of our ongoing advisory and curatorial work for Kvadrat. RU by Petrit Halilaj is the first of the three commissioned works planned to be developed within this partnership.

Petrit Halilaj (b. 1986, Kostërrc, Skenderaj-Kosovo) often uses his own biography as a point of departure for his works, incorporating materials from his native Kosovo, and using drawing, text and video to create ambitious spatial installations through which he translates personal relationships into sculptural forms.

Excavation, archives and the intertwining of personal, political and mythic history are recurring themes in Halilaj’s work. Continuing his exploration into lost, concealed and repurposed histories, Petrit Halilaj’s new multifaceted installation RU explores stories and objects connected to a Neolithic settlement beneath his birth village of Runik. The results of an archeological dig in the town uncovered 505 objects that comprise part of the country’s most significant material history from the period. Now spread across several countries as the result of the Kosovo War in the 1990s, the most valuable of these objects currently reside in storage at the Natural History Museum in Belgrade. Out of public reach and inaccessible to the people of Runik, these objects hold great symbolic value for a nation missing parts of its shared frame of reference, all the while evidence of the early civilisation regularly manifests itself within present day Runik, forming part of a collective narrative in a site still marked by conflict and fracture.

In Petrit Halilaj’s RU, Halilaj presents a number of new video works, several large textile sculptures, and an extensive environment that draws on his research on the flight patterns and habitats of migratory birds.

RU is entered through the bare branches of a forest-like space in which some 500 ceramic artefacts are reimagined as a flock of migratory bird-like forms on brass legs. Accessed through this denuded thicket and its ceramic-sculpture inhabitants is a space of oral history and myth making. Here we discover Runik’s Neolithic civilisation as encountered, interpreted and reimagined by the living population of the village. Halilaj’s friends and neighbours tell stories of mysterious objects discovered on their land – horns, heads, torsos – which are attributed mystic significance. Soft, earth-stained textile versions of these ‘discoveries’ litter the floor, functional décor that suggests the comingling of history and myth in the absence of official narrative.