Sislej Xhafa

Vienna, Austria

Christine König Galerie

Rocket Ship, 2011

Upon entering Sislej Xhafa’s exhibition, visitors were confronted with a work that ‘got in the way’ in the literal sense of the term. The sculpture oblique motionless (all works 2011) stretched diagonally from one corner of the gallery’s foyer to the other. Just to enter the main space, one had to crouch down and creep in underneath the sculpture or else squeeze past it along the foyer wall.

oblique motionless looks like a playground swing whose bottom half has been removed: an eleven-metre crossbeam made of steel piping, anchored to the floor in three places by arch-shaped struts. Three pairs of metal chains hang from its main horizontal bar;
the lower part of the swing seemed to disappear into the floor. Rather than adapting to the room’s dimensions, the swing took claim of the space, even if this solution led to a loss of overall visibility.

Xhafa was perhaps referring here to his own work Y, an oversized, swing-like catapult installed last autumn in Zurich’s Hardaupark. By enlarging a prosaic outdoor object and relocating it to an interior space as oblique motionless, Xhafa opened up new levels of meaning, which went beyond the simple ready-made trick of robbing an everyday article of its function by promoting it to the status of an art object. The imposing dimensions made the work seem more threatening than playfully childlike. An object that usually escapes attention on account of its banality becomes visible in another, almost irritating, way.

Rocket Ship – a rusty wheelbarrow filled with glowing chains of electric fairy lights – is laden with autobiographical content. According to Xhafa, the work refers to a childhood memory: his uncle’s promise to bring back presents from a visit to Peja, the artist’s home town in Kosovo. While the title promises a fantastic journey, the object itself was helplessly isolated, as stiff as the steel swing frame in oblique motionless. Of course, moving the wheelbarrow would ruin Rocket Ship since the lights need to be plugged into an electrical socket. While the title suggests a longing for all things foreign, the process of dislocation would extinguish the dreams – so many glimmers of Xhafa’s recurring theme of migration.

While oblique motionless and Rocket Ship were convincing in their subtlety, the site-specific work Hije lacked their delicateness. Hije, which means ‘shadows’ in Albanian, does what its title describes: A slide projector illuminated a handrail above the flight of stairs in the gallery. The rail’s shadow is cast like stripes onto the wall, although the result was more reminiscent of prison cell bars. Unlike the other works, Hije did not go beyond purely formal referentiality into narrative. Of the works shown in this exhibition, oblique motionless stood out in a good way, embodying most clearly Xhafa’s artistic practice of intentional irritation.
Translated by Jonathan Blower

—by Bettina Brunner