– Spring/Summer 2018

Subtitling Communism: Beneath Anri Sala’s Intervista

Vincent W. J. van Gerven Oei

Anri Sala, Intervista (Finding the Words), 1998, single-channel video and stereo sound, 26min, edition of 6+2 AP. Courtesy the artist and Ideal Audience International, Paris; Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; Esther Schipper, Berlin; Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich; and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

In Anri Sala’s film Intervista (Finding the Words), which ostensibly deals with the traumatic legacy of the communist period in Albania, the reconstruction of the lost soundtrack to a mute video reel becomes a metaphor for the uncertainty and subjectivity of memory and remembrance.1 The film opens with the artist finding an old reel of footage featuring his mother, Valdete Sala – a member of the communist elite and later director of the National Library of Albania – attending a congress of the Labour Youth Union of Albania in 1977 at which she was interviewed by Albanian National Television.2 In the footage she dons a red partisan scarf and smiles, positioned next to dictator Enver Hoxha, the First Secretary of the Party of Labour of Albania (PPSh) from 1941 until his death in 1985, amidst a standing ovation. The sound for the film has been lost; Sala sets out on a quest to reconstruct it – to translate the silence into sound –

  1. Intervista (Finding the Words), 1998, single-channel video, 26min, stereo sound, colour.

  2. She was certainly not one of the ‘ordinary people’, as erroneously suggested in Mark Kremer’s article, ‘Getting Lost Is of the Essence: Anri Sala’s Cinematic Parables’, Afterall, vol.5, 2002, pp.78–83. Nicholas Pano observes: ‘As is the case with many of the communist-era elite, Valdete has prospered during the post-communist period. She is now an executive with the Soros Foundation in Tirana. In contrast, Todi Lubonja, like most Albanians who ran afoul of the communist regime, lives a modest life’ (‘Review of “Intervista” by Anri Sala’, Slavic Review, vol.60, no.3, Fall 2001), p.600). Although this is nowhere explicit in the film, Charles-Arthur Boyer suggests that Valdete Sala was already director at the time of the interview. See C.A. Boyer, ‘Images Never Sleep’ (trans. C. Penwarden), Art Press, vol.268, 2001, pp.25–27.

  3. ‘(No) Paris No Cry: Hans Ulrich Obrist interviewing Anri Sala’, Nettime [online mailing list], 28 April 2001, available at http://nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-bold-0104/msg00633.html (last accessed on 25 December 2017).

  4. See Mark Godfrey, ‘Anri Sala’, Art Monthly, vol.278, July–August 2004, p.18.

  5. David Ryan, ‘Anri Sala’, Art Monthly, vol.351, November 2011, p.29.

  6. Paolo Magagnoli, ‘Documentary Fictions: New Concepts of Truth and Representation in the Works of Anri Sala and Hito Steyerl’, Object, vol.12, 2011, p.44.

  7. Ossian Ward, ‘Beyond Translation’, Art in America, vol.92, no.11, 2004, p.111.

  8. ‘(No) Paris No Cry’, op.cit.

  9. It doesn’t matter whether Sala made these and other translations himself or not. They are part of the film as it is distributed on the art market and should therefore be considered an integral part of the work. There also exists a version of the same work with French subtitles. I have been unable to verify whether the analysis that follows below can be equally applied to that version of the work. But see Nadia Fartas, ‘Temps de la transmission, écarts de la familiarité. Intervista d’Anri Sala’ (‘Transmitting Experiences of Temporality: Gap of Familiarity. Intervista, Anri Sala’), Images Re-vues, vol.9, 2011, available at http://imagesrevues.revues.org/1629 (last accessed on 25 December 2017).

  10. An iconic cinema during the communist period.

  11. Søren Grammel, ‘Finding the Words’, Afterall, vol.5, 2002, p.69.

  12. Ibid., p.68. See also Magagnoli, ‘Documentary Fictions’, op. cit., p.43: ‘In this documentary, truth appears to be inseparable from the mediation of opaque archival images and from an equally obscure language’.

  13. The Central Committee was the second-highest level institution in the party hierarchy of the Party of Labor of Albania, and included all key government officials and prominent members of the intelligentsia.

  14. See for a full analysis of the rhetoric of communist Albania, Ardian Vehbiu, Shqipja totalitare: Tipare të ligjërimit publik në Shqipërinë e viteve 1945–1990 (Totalitarian Albanian: Characteristics of Public Discourse in Albanian During 1945–1990), Tirana: Çabej, 2008.

  15. As Edi Muka states, ‘Intervista – Finding the Words addresses a personal story but reaches the full dimensions of an Albanian universe. It is the personal story of every individual’. Cited in S.Grammel, ‘Finding the Words’, op. cit., p.69. The description on the website for distributor Icarus Films speaks of a ‘reflection on the country’s – and one woman’s – history and present state’, available at http://www.icarusfilms.com/new99/intervis.html (last accessed on 25 December 2017).

  16. Even in the French translation: ‘honnête, sincère’. See N. Fartas, ‘Temps de la transmission’, op. cit., p.12.

  17. Dammi i colori, 2003, video on DVD, colour, sound, 15min 24sec.

  18. In this sense, Rama’s political style needs to be analysed as a predecessor to Trumpian politics.

  19. For further discussion see my ‘Give Me the Colors… And the Country: Albanian Propaganda in the 21st Century’, ArtPapers, March/April 2016, pp.10–16, also available at http://artpapers.org/ feature_articles/2016_0304-Albania.html (last accessed on 25 December 2017).

  20. Hans-Ulrich Obrist, ‘Hans Ulrich Obrist on Why We Need Artists in Politics’, Artsy (18 September 2017), available at https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-hans-ulrich-obrist-artists- politics (last accessed 25 December 2017).

  21. The People’s Parliament was the name of the legislative body during the communist dictatorship. As there were no free elections, its role was mainly symbolic.

  22. The Sigurimi, officially the Directorate of State Security, was the state security, intelligence and secret police during the communist dictatorship, responsible for the arrest, imprisonment and torture of many political dissidents. An internal order from the Ministry of Interior Affairs dated 2 April 1991 signed by Ruçi states ‘Hit hard from the beginning of the protests, […] take up high positions with prepared snipers […].’ ‘Dokumenti: Masakra e 2 Prillit ‘91, zbulohet urdhri i Gramoz Ruçit: Qitësit të zenë lartësitë, goditi ashpër!’ (‘Document: The massacre of 2 April 1991, the order of Gramoz Ruçi discovered: Let snipers take up high positions, hit them hard!'), Balkanweb, 14 September 2017, available at http://www.balkanweb.com/site/dokumenti-masakra-e-2-prillit-91- zbulohet-urdhri-i-gramoz-rucit-qitesit-te-zene-lartesite-goditini-ashper/ (last accessed on 23 January 2018).

  23. Xhafaj was also briefly Minister of Interior Affairs in Rama’s first government, from 12 March to 22 May 2017.

  24. See Desada Metaj, ‘Sikur Fatmir Xhafaj…’ (When Fatmir Xhafaj…), Exit, 17 March 2017, available at http://www.exit.al/2017/03/17/sikur-fatmir-xhafaj/ (last accessed on 23 January 2018).

  25. See Raino Isto, ‘“It’s Very Exciting to Talk About Artist-run Countries”: Edi Rama, the COD, and the Problematics of Celebrating the Artist-Politician’, ARTMargins [blog], 22 December 2016, available at http://blog.artmargins.com/index.php/74-it-s-very-exciting-to-talk-about-artist- run-countries-edi-rama-the-cod-and-the-problematics-of-celebrating-the-artist-politician.html (last accessed on 25 December 2017).

  26. For board members see the Centre for Openness and Dialogue website at http://cod.al/?page_id=21. The board also includes Philippe Parreno, Christine Macel, Maja Hoffman and Alastair Campbell.

  27. See ‘Edi Rama’, Artfacts [art information database], available at http://www.artfacts.net/en/ artist/edi-rama-21783/profile.html (last accessed on 25 December 2017).

  28. For example, Jason Farago, ‘Anri Sala: Answer Me Review – Art Cures 20th Century’s Broken Dreams’, The Guardian, 4 February 2016, available at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/04/anri-sala-answer-me-review-art-cures-20th-centurys-broken-dreams (last accessed on 25 December 2017).

  29. V.W.J. van Gerven Oei, ‘Give Me the Colors’, op. cit., pp.13–15.

  30. Edi Rama, keynote lecture at ‘2014 Creative Time Summit: Stockholm', available at http://creativetime.org/summit/2014/11/15/edi-rama/ (last accessed on 25 December 2017).

  31. See, for example, ‘RCC Balkan Barometer 2017: Unemployment remains the chief concern, while anxiety over corruption grows’ [press release], Regional Cooperation Council, 9 October 2017, http://www.rcc.int/news/304/rccs-balkan-barometer-2017-unemployment-remains-the-chief- concern-while-anxiety-over-corruption-grows (last accessed on 25 December 2017).

  32. ‘(No) Paris No Cry’, op. cit.