A city frozen in time

By Doruntina Kastrati

When the lockdown period started, it wasn’t very hard for me, due to my daily routine that is more inside than outside. However, work didn’t stop and this kept me somewhat active even while inside, and I didn’t feel the pressure of quarantine, except the overall situation. In the beginning, I didn’t take this period very seriously. As human beings, we tend to not take things seriously until we get infected or get directly affected by it.

Because it was in China, a spatial dimension that seemed very distant, you fail to take it seriously because you don’t understand the weight it could carry. At first, I completely ignored it, “It’s just a virus, let’s move forward.” The moment it started to be more present was when it spread in our country. Two of my relatives were probably few of the first people infected, at that time, they had come from Germany, and I started to take it more seriously. Their health condition was not good, but for me, it was the first encounter with the virus and the moment when I began to change my attitude.

When the city was quarantined, I had a work permit with which I was outside the whole time. So, apart from the hours I spent at the home working for the office, I was simultaneously working on the exhibition “Public heroes and secrets.” We filmed. I like that in the video I made you notice the atmosphere of the COVID—19. These are city landscapes. The video captures some certain areas of Pristina and Kosovo. It was during those months when it was convenient for me not to have people and cars present.

Maybe there were cars, but there was no presence of people. Very, very strange. The city was very empty. I think I need some time to process this situation, because it is very unclear what I’ve seen and what we’re going through. A very new situation for me personally, but overall it is new what we are going through.

When I went out to film, this emptiness of the city, without people, there was a dominating presence of it, but, at the same time, it was very, very empty, there was nothing, a post—apocalyptic world. Everything there, it isn’t destroyed, everything is frozen in time. It is very weird. I spent the longest period of my life in Pristina, knowing the urban chaos that we live through, Pristina without people and cars is a little inconceivable. If I tried to compare how it was three months ago and today, they’re two completely different realities. The idea of going back to reality, I am a little skeptical, I don’t think that it was ever that normal to go back to it.

When I started filming the shops, the workers were not present during this period because work was suspended. The only ones present were day laborers at the Llap Mosque and Bill Clinton Boulevard. There are day laborers waiting to see if anyone hires them during the day. Otherwise, the construction sites were completely suspended. Work was discontinued. Like everything else, the work was stopped halfway, you could not know if something failed, or if it’s going to continue? Everything was on the brink of collapse. It is difficult to explain, very difficult to describe it. For me, as a situation, it was very unclear what was happening, what will happen the next day, next month? It has been almost half a year since the moment the pandemic was declared, and I simply don’t know what will happen.

2020 was a year that I thought, I said, “Okay, this is definitely my year. The exhibitions are happening, work is going well, I invested in this moment and I can finally see it. I can touch it, it is happening.” And it is simply not happening, we’re not there. Three or four very important exhibitions for me were supposed to happen month after month, projects which I invested a lot in these three—four years. I want to grow with them. Some kind of change that I felt myself, an overall maturity that was taking place in my work.

This affected me psychologically. I talked to people with whom I share more personal experiences, my friends. Overall, I have this concern about my lack of focus, which I probably had even before this period. Lack of focus, not very good sleep, some anxiety sometimes, maybe the change of the routine, the change… irregular sleep patterns, the anxiety that I am feeling, a nervousness or a greater sensitivity towards situations, which I believe came from this period.

Otherwise, those days my head was in the air, I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t focus and sit, because I didn’t feel safe, there was no safety. It is quite hard to be left without a job during this period, because what else is there? Where could you apply for another job? I mean, yes, you can apply, but it definitely isn’t the best period to find another job.

Communication during this time was done completely online. I did not accept exhibiting or showing anything online. There were two about which I… I don’t think my work is… maybe I’m wrong, but I didn’t think you could experience my work online. It can’t be translated online. Two galleries that I communicated with, in which I had to exhibit my work, agreed to postpone the exhibition for next year, because I didn’t think that a work that I am currently exhibiting could be followed closely through an online platform. Everything else is postponed to next year.

At the moment, it’s impossible to think that I can create something that can communicate virtually. Maybe this is something that I need more time to think about. But we have to resist this, hoping that this will end at some point. Of course, this will create a new reality in which we will have to adapt. However, physical space continues to be very important to me, it is the work itself in a way, the presence, the communication between these components. It isn’t just about the work, but the space of the work. It would be a challenge for me if I try to translate this, to adapt my work to something that is not seen or preserved by the human presence. Physical space is a component of my work.

The current situation in our country is concerning. To see such a large presence of people in public places with the measures that changed overnight, it seems to me that they’re extremely contradictory. One thing I thought of often, if we as humans would sit for a moment to reflect and… it was the first time for me in such a long time I understand the relationship with the government, what is the government? Coming out of lockdown is a new period for all of us, and such a bad management of this serious health condition made me reflect.

It was the first time I was faced with the question of what the government is. How can it be managed, how can a nation completely collapse because of some individuals in politics who are absolutely incompetent. You are simply in the hands of some people who… I understand that all of this is new to us, but I think there are experts and there are people who would have managed this period differently. With the health system collapsing at this moment, and with such a large number of infections, I don’t have facts or anything, but I think the data at these times were manipulated a lot.

During this period, I’m afraid of this collapse that has fallen over us, and until yesterday, I thought that if I got infected, I’d have a place to get treatment, now I don’t. This makes this situation even worse, when you are aware that there isn’t a solution and we have to deal with the consequences ourselves. The images of patients that are appearing in the media lying in chairs in the absence of beds are not images that you can just let go, “Ah, okay!” and continue the rest of the day with the idea that you yourself are good. For me, it is unacceptable to go through this with such ease.

Doruntina Kastrati (b. 1991) is a Pristina—based visual artist. Her work has been on display in numerous national and international exhibitions in the past six years. In 2017, she produced her solo exhibition Red Landscape in collaboration with Stacion—Center for Contemporary Art in Pristina. In 2014, Kastrati earned Artists of Tomorrow Award and, in 2016, was the winner of the first edition of the Hajde! Foundation. She was a resident artist at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (Brooklyn, New York, United States, 2015), Art House (Shkodër, Albania, 2018), and Initiator (Athens, Greece, 2018). Kastrati was born in Prizren and graduated from the University of Prishtina, Faculty of Arts, Department of Graphic Arts.