Adrian Paci


at Kunsthaus


Adrian Paci’s concise exhibition, “Motion Picture(s),” which consisted of several videos and one big painting/construction, provided a good look at various aspects of his work over the past decade. Paci was born in 1969 in Shkoder, Albania, and moved to Milan in 1997. Made for this occasion, Electric Blue (2010, 15 minutes, English subtitles) is set in the 1990s chaos of Paci’s hometown. It tells of a young filmmaker, struggling to provide for his family, who gets involved with supplying sex tapes for a makeshift porn theater in an abandoned hotel. He hides this activity from his children, but one night finds his teenage son watching one of the tapes; dismayed, he considers how to destroy them. Then the Kosovo war begins. Obsessively following the TV news, the filmmaker overwrites the sex tapes with scenes of carnage and bombardments. Much later, replaying one of the tapes, he sees that slivers of pornography persist between war sequences.

There’s both irony and a moral of sorts here; but the work’s principal strengths are its moody depiction of life’s difficulties in the dilapidated Albanian city, and Paci’s selective use of close-ups. In one striking passage, his camera scrutinizes the worn faces and neglected teeth of the men who slowly file into the cinema. What they see, on an old TV monitor, is conveyed mainly through their expressions-of embarrassment, skepticism, hilarity-since Paci offers only fleeting glimpses of the sex scenes. The entire piece is an object lesson in elliptical presentation. Like the other works on view, Electric Blue is scripted and acted, and its formal subtlety is paramount.

Two shorter quasi-narratives, Per Speculum (2006, 4½ minutes) and Centro di Permanenza Temporanea (2007, 5½ minutes), deliver carefully timed visual surprises. The first opens with seven children standing outdoors on the grass. When the camera retreats, the group is seen to be reflected in a large mirror. One of the boys takes aim with a slingshot; in a violent instant, the mirror is shattered. Then the children climb an enormous tree; holding pieces of broken mirror, they direct blasts of reflected sunshine back at the now distant camera. A wind is blowing; the light shimmers impressionistically. Many painting references reinforce the power of the work.

Centro di Permanenza Temporanea (the title refers to Italian detention camps for illegal immigrants) takes place on an airport runway and is politically pointed. A number of dark-skinned individuals dressed in work clothes mount a wheeled staircase in the blazing sun. As they approach the camera at the top of the stairs, their faces receive prolonged, respectful attention. When the staircase is packed to capacity, the viewer expects to see them board the plane that is presumably just outside the frame. The camera pulls back. There is no plane. These workers are in limbo.

In Paci’s painting/construction, Secondo Pasolini (2010), frames from the director’s 1972 film Canterbury Tales are depicted in brownish acrylic (with touches of red) on the wooden sides of an industrial spool almost 8 feet in diameter. The meticulous rendering reflects Paci’s painting studies in Tirana, where he specialized in portraiture.

Photo: Adrian Paci: Electric Blue, 2010, HD video, approx. 151⁄2 minutes; at Kunsthaus Zurich.