Photo: Rina Statovci / Paper Gallery

New exhibition at the Paper Gallery wants you to sit uncomfortably

Burim Berisha’s exhibition “Root Rot”, currently showing at the Paper Gallery in Prishtina, features installations making use of natural decay to explore societal responses to Kosovo’s socio-political reality

Last Friday, the Paper Gallery opened its third exhibition, Burim Berisha’s “Root Rot” which showcases two pieces curated by Nora Weller. 

The show is made up of participatory installations that invite visitors to reflect on the relationship between the cause and effect that underlies social disorders, and their echoes in the natural processes of decay and decomposition.

As a sculptor, Berisha typically uses clay as his primary material. However, for the two artworks that make up Root Rot, he has worked with soil collected from locations across Kosovo. “The idea behind this is that I take something from nature, make use of it and return it back to where I took it from,” he told Prishtina Insight.

Photo: Rina Statovci / Paper Gallery

By placing huge mounds of soil in the artificial environment of the gallery, the first installation evokes a metaphorical laboratory. Shielded from the outside by a glass wall, the space encloses a meticulously shaped layer of soil with an empty square for visitors to stand on. After closing the door and standing in silence, it’s impossible not to notice the humidity rise, as earthy odours seep through the room. 

Berisha explained that this is because of the limited air circulation. “When you are in this room you begin to feel like you are suffocating,” he said. “What we need to do is open the door to let the oxygen in.”

If left to itself, the soil would begin to decompose and produce a strong and unpleasant smell. “The main idea behind this is to invite visitors to reflect on how to prevent further decay, and take this contemplation with them when they leave the exhibition,” the artist explained.

By entering the room, each visitor actively participates in the installation. According to Rina Statovci, project coordinator at the Paper Gallery, every entrant to the room also “helps the healing process of the soil.” 

Statovci added that this aspect of participation is at the centre of what the gallery aims to achieve. “We want visitors to engage with the artworks that we exhibit,” she told Prishtina Insight.

Photo: Rosa Hergan / Prishtina Insight

For the second installation, the artist chose to visually represent the process of natural decay. On a large screen in the gallery’s meeting room, a silent clip shows a skillfully edited montage of different black and white shots of partially submerged sculpted faces constructed from soil. The interval of each shot drops from 10 to 3 seconds until it jumps back to 10, leaving the visitor with the impression of a frantic search. 

“This piece reflects Nora Weller’s professional background as a cultural heritage scholar and draws attention to the pervasive negligence towards preserving cultural heritage sites in Kosovo,” Berisha told Prishtina Insight.

The artist also clarified that instead of firing the sculptures in a kiln, as with clay, they were merely air-dried so that they can once again be decomposed into the soil after use. 

“The process of soil decomposition helps us talk about how we feel in Kosovo,” Berisha said. “Everything looks good in Prishtina, but we are stuck here while underneath things are decaying.”

The exhibition’s description states that: “Root Rot leaves us with the effects in a form of a smell which can not be caught, controlled or suspended with ease, but they are also no longer possible to live with.” 

Meanwhile, the participatory element of the installation is not only site specific but aims at edging visitors towards overcoming the foul smell of apathy towards the “chaotic social order” they live in. 

Root Rot is the third show at The Paper Gallery since its opening in February this year. The venue will display further exhibitions, each lasting for a three-month period until 2023.

16/09/2020 - 10:56

16 September 2020 - 10:56

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.