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Olson Lamaj

‘The Cat above and the Mouse below | Macja sipër dhe Miu poshtë’

10 September / Shtator – 15 October / Tetor, 2019

Curated by / kuruar nga Markus Waitschacher

In 2017, the Albanian artist Olson Lamaj, born 1985 in Tirana, spent several months in Vienna, Austria. He soon stumbled upon a local phenomenon: young men disguised as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart try to sell concert tickets to tourists from all over the world in a variety of languages. Among others, these many Mozarts come to talk in his solo exhibition, the cat above and the mouse below. In a multi-channel audio installation, we hear multilingual sales pitches.

Lamaj, who deals with decontextualisation of symbolic, language and performance levels of cultural phenomena in his art practice, also dissects this peculiar event into different levels of meaning. He combines the talking concert ticket vendors with a sequence from the animated TV series Tom & Jerry. Tom appears as an opera singer, but is thrown by Jerry by all sorts of tricks under the stage floor. At the end, the little mouse shines with an opera aria. One of the Viennese Mozart's, many of them Albanian from Kosovo, told the artist that he knew classical music at most from television - from the popular series Tom & Jerry, which was then seen on Albanian TV.
Not only does Olson Lamaj address global mass tourism - for which cultural peculiarities have to be packaged and marketed as simply as possible, but also a specifically Eurocentric, primarily Western, access to high culture from the center of Europe, also from Vienna pushed into the whole world.

In his exhibition, the artist combines this form of international cultural imperialism with a concrete history of appropriation and rededication in Albania. A church in Albania's Shkodra was rededicated to a sports palace during the communist era. Where once a man preached to the mass, the mass later celebrated itself. The artist is less concerned with a comparison than with the symbolic levels on which the two systems operate. Thus not only ornamental structures are hybridised, but also actual symbols are transformed. Gymnastic rings of fluorescent tubes hang from the ceiling in his room installation. Their luminous circles inevitably recall attributes of the saints. Whether the martyrs of the sport get to inner enlightenment?

In his art practice, the artist devotes himself not only to this social life practice, but also to national cultural structures and how these phenomena interweave in the interplay of daily life and superordinate systems. All power structures work in both the big and the very small. In the end, both Tom and Jerry are not self-determined individuals, but players of an intransparent game whose rules we can only decipher piece by piece.

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