Armando Lulaj, Live, Sunday, May 17, 2020, 4:31AM, 2021
Video, Color, Sound, 9’45”
Original footage: Doriana Musai, Alliance for the Protection of the Theater (AMT)
Sound designer: Matteo Di Simone
Post Production: DebatikCenter of Contemporary Art (DCCA)
Special thanks to: AMT, Doriana Musai, Jonida Gashi, Pleurad Xhafa, Graziano Chiscuzzu
On Sunday May 17th, 2020, around 4 am, while the country was in lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic measures, a large number of armed police erupted into the building of the National Theater of Albania. The police were wearing balaclavas on their faces, they had no identification numbers on their uniforms, and they were carrying machine guns. Inside the building were a small number of activists and artists, who had been occupying the theater for two years in a row with the intention of protecting it from demolition.
The government's plan to demolish the National Theater was executed in several stages, and through a series of illegal and unconstitutional acts that bore clear signs of state corruption. It began with the proposal of a ‘Special Law’ by a local oligarch, who offered to build a new and contemporary theater on the grounds of the existing National Theatre, ostensibly “for free”, in exchange for the transfer of the public land on which the National Theatre stood into his company’s private ownership, and permission to build a series of skyscrapers and shopping malls on that land. This new and contemporary theatre was supposed to be built by a ‘starchitect’ who is very close to PM Edi Rama. It would be an understatement to say that the land on which the National Theater once stood, which is right in the heart of the capital, is one of the most coveted pieces of real estate in Tirana. The government’s demolition plan was nothing more than a scheme to open up space for new constructions, which is the reason why many other historical buildings in Tirana have met a similar fate to the National Theatre. The primary function of this construction boom is, in turn, to launder the money of organized crime. That is why the protest for the protection of the National Theatre became something much bigger than the protection of a historical building, concerning also the concept of the commons, of democracy, the abuse of power, corruption and the incessant rise of fascism in the country. This is also why the protest had to be suppressed at all costs, because it was demonstrating day after day that in front of them, in front of us, there was not only the machinery of the state apparatus but also that of organized crime collaborating intensively with the state. For this government Art has always been the perfect cover. For this government Art should not criticize. Art should not protest.
The attack carried out on the National Theatre was indeed very violent. There are many videos which were shot by protesters outside of the building that show activists and artists being beaten, arrested, and injured. The video I chose is the last video to have been recorded inside the National Theatre. It is the result of a Facebook Live made by an activist just before the collapse. She was hiding in a corner of the lodges on the second floor, until the moment she was caught, forced to stop recording and escorted out by the police. Her courageous act made it possible for all of us to see the police violence inside the building but also (potentially) identify some of the officers involved.
In the original footage, both the image and the sound were of very low quality. In thevideo you see here, the sound has been developed in order to bring out as many ‘hidden’ details and nuances as possible, which were impossible to grasp in the original footage. In order to develop the sound, I decided to work with a sound engineer in Italy who has extensive experience working with the courts in the context of criminal cases. Consequently, the video you see may be submitted as evidence in a court of law, evidence that can help determine the identities of the police officers involved in the brutal attack against democracy on May 17th, 2020. Today this has to be the power of art in Albania. Art should expose. Art should protest. (Armando Lulaj)