Mary KElly: the Ballad of Kastriot rexhepi Murcia AV Space
Harmonic Horror PEDRO MEDINA A headline in the Los Angeles Times read: “War orphan regains his surname and family”. The article was rounded off by a somewhat contrived-looking photograph of the parents kissing their lost child, who recovered his surname and homeland, and whose journey was internationally portrayed as a symbol of the survival of Kosovo. The Ballad of Kastriot Rexhepi tells the story of this Albanian child, who was left for dead at 18 months and then saved by Serbs, before being reunited with his parents four months later, around the time he was learning to talk and establishing his identity. Mary Kelly (Iowa, 1941) recreates this game of identities and messages and combines it with the features that have defined her work since the 1970s, as we can see in the shape the piece has taken: a long line made of compressed fluff (resulting from washing and drying clothes in a washing machine), which looks like a wavy section of film tape with 49 framed panels and a length of 63 metres, divided into 4 verses that
The Ballad of Kastriot Rexhepi, 2001 Coutesy: Espacio AV
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envelop the area with the iambic rhythm of repetitive sentences, over music by Michael Nyman. It is the first time this exhibition has been shown in Europe, and the first show of any of Mary Kelly’s work in Spain. The piece is consistent with the conceptual and minimalist sense of aesthetics she has always been known for, as we can see in the repetition of an abstract consecutive shape, the formal and chromatic simplicity, the significant role of words and ideas and their exploration of subjectivity and memory, with the latter perceived as forming part of the gender dialectics symbolised by the intimate washing of clothes, a cyclical movement of the machine which is consistent with the repetitive nature of most female work. As in her previous work, she presents a condensed and dramatic tale which interprets everyday life to encourage the viewer to reflect on a journey from the textual to the visual, where figurative elements are also absent. In fact, “absence”, perceived as an expressive resource, is essential if we are to discover the relevant information through voids, and turns the piece into a cycle of sorrow. Its expressive reductionism is paired here with music, creating a deeper emotional impact, between ethnic and post-minimalist rhythms, in complete tune with that wavy repetition which is simply “a visual invocation of voice” –as Kelly herself acknowledges. Even so, it never becomes sentimental, and instead turns into the perfect contrast to the manner in which the new media exploited this event. Accordingly, it is an installation in which words, rhythm and movement are used to communicate “stylistic, intellectual and emotional paradoxes” –as Maurice Berger says–, where the elegant tone of the piece and the surface of the panels pose a contrast to the terrible facts of Kastriot’s story, thus reflecting the paradoxical position of the Albanian child in his identity process. As Nyman pointed out, all of this means that the ballad is really “an antiballad, where there is no value in martyrdom”. It is a reconstruction of myths through artistic language, uniting poetics and politics as the place to express the tensions inside every culture. This enables Kelly to narrate an event that flees death, a horror of ashes that spread everywhere, as if Paul Celan were still speaking, although this time memory would not be forged by the Nazi Lager, but by the Balkan hell. It is, then, a poetic evocation which makes visible the continuous horror running through history.
Dossier: COMIC WORLD / MUNDO CÓMIC 2006