This is the first time Halilaj’s work is being presented in the Netherlands. While RU revolves around heritage and archaeology, with Shkrepëtima Halilaj explores theatre as part of community life and as a medium for reflection on identity. With this exhibition, Halilaj shows how, just like people, landscapes and ruins retain memories. His work celebrates the power of shared dreams and the way stories and histories shape communities.
RU is evocative of the archaeological excavations in the 1960s and 1980s in Runik uncovered the remains of a Neolithic settlement. At the time, the finds were removed from Runik and scattered in different museums – and after the war and break-up of the former Yugoslavia, in different countries. Halilaj reunited them by making copies of over 500 archaeological objects, including the Runik ocarina, one of the oldest wind instruments found in the Balkans. This installation raises questions about ownership and historiography and the accessibility of heritage. By providing the objects with a new identity as migratory birds, Halilaj gives them boundless freedom to settle in temporary nests in museums around the world. In this room-filling installation, the visitor walks amongst the bird-like creatures and under the nests that seem to grow out of the ceiling and walls.
The exhibition leads visitors past the different nests full of birdlike artefacts to a video and a sculptural installation consisting of stage sets and props from Shkrepëtima. This project, the title of which literally means something like ‘spark’, or ‘flash’ revolves around the former House of Culture in Runik, for many years the heart of a lively community. The former House of Culture is the only major public building in Runik that survived the Kosovo War of 1998-99, albeit as a ruin. When political tensions in the region escalated in the 1990s, it was closed and fell into disrepair. Halilaj resolved to revive the building and the community with a new theatrical performance involving actors and residents from Runik. He created a new theatrical piece inspired by four plays that were once staged there. Using stage props, scenery and costumes from Shkrepëtima, Halilaj transforms one of the exhibition rooms in the Fries Museum into a dream-like scenario in which different times and realities converge.