Kur dielli të ikë do ta pikturoj qiellin (When the sun goes away we paint the sky), 2022

Kur dielli të ikë do ta pikturoj qiellin (When the sun goes away we paint the sky), 2022, Single Star: Powder-coated stainless steel, plexiglas, LED, DMX controller

The installation When the sun goes away we paint the sky was developed in 2022 upon the artist’s invitation to participate in Manifesta 14, which was held in his hometown of Prishtina, Kosovo. He conceived it for the town’s Grand Hotel; once a symbol of Yugoslav prosperity, the hotel had later become the embodiment of the socialist republic’s collapse in the 1990s. Its sign, and its five stars, went dark for decades and the hotel remained unoccupied. Halilaj decided to transform it from a symbol of decline to one of great hope for the present and future by reassembling and reconfiguring the Grand Hotel’s original stars and adding new star sculptures to shine from the hotel’s facade. After the European Nomadic Biennale, the installation was donated to the city of Prishtina, where it now remains a permanent display.

After spreading across Prishtina, the installation also made its way over to the facades of Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City, Museion Bolzano and Merian in Basel. As with the major installation atop the Grand Hotel Prishtina, each star in the project is activated by a light system that turns the star on and off in an intermittent dialogue and collective dance of lights.

The origin and meaning of the constellations are historically linked to foundational myths and legends across many cultures and traditions, and it has taken many forms according to the context and local traditions. Constellations can be seen as cartographies guiding our understanding of terrestrial life from a cosmic perspective, helping us make sense of the world and of our place in it. Halilaj’s project When the sun goes away we paint the sky – whose title freely quotes an essay written by 12-year-old Prishtina resident Njomza Vitia in 2014 (“Kur dielli të ikë, do ta pikturoj qiellin”) – departs from the visions kindled by the constellations, and transcends them to question the conflicting representations of the stylized five-pointed star—a common symbol of representation that appears in myths and legends standing for desires, freedom and the possibility to keep on dreaming, but that is also largely used in heraldic objects and flags, representing at once mechanisms of inclusion, exclusion, and even violent oppression.

The common denominator of the conflicting aspects conveyed by this sign might be that, essentially, all life on Earth with its multiple, unavoidable contradictions is made possible by a star—the sun—which directly or indirectly enables the maintenance and evolution of all forms of life as we know it. When the sun goes away we paint the sky activates an ever-evolving constellation, resulting in a planetary dance of earthly stars with its pulsing core in Prishtina, Kosovo.