- Petrit Halilaj born 1986
- Carpet, wool, polyester and chenille wire
- Overall display dimensions variable
- Partial purchase with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee and partial gift by Jennifer Chert, Florian Lüdde and Kamel Mennour 2020
Do you realise there is a rainbow even if it’s night!? 2017 is an installation that consists of six large sculptures that take the form of colourful fabric moths. Each sculpture consists of a steel and brass armature on which two fabric wings made from antique Kosovar rugs have been fixed and from which emerge two long polyester fabric tails. The giant fabric insects’ bodies measure over two metres with their shimmering tails extending a further two metres in length. The insects’ heads are made from Flokati handmade shag-pile rug from which protrude antennae made from Chenille wire. The moths are referred to by the overall title Do you realise there is a rainbow even if it’s night!? and are differentiated individually by a colour description. In light green (Tate T15458), the body of the moth is made from a finely woven Dyshek carpet bearing a small, repeating green diamond pattern, bordered by weaved stripes of yellow, blue and red dyed wool; the tail is turquoise. The moth dark pink (Tate T15459), is also formed using antique Dyshek carpet with a dark red diamond weave, bordered by black Chenille wire, with black brush-like antennae and a shiny red tail. There are two pairs of moths which are always displayed together as pairs and installed near to flickering light-bulbs: they are grey and warm yellow (Tate T15460); and light yellow and warm violet (Tate T15461). The moths grey and warm yellow are both made from antique Qilim (or Kilim) rugs: the former is primarily blue and red with a repeated decorative flower-like geometric patterning in blue, green and pale blue; the latter has a red ground with a repeating dark-blue motif. The grey moth is lined with a silky silvery-cloth and has grey furry antennae. The warm yellow insect’s dark red and blue body contrasts with a bright yellow textile tail. Light yellow and warm violet are made respectively from biege Qilim carpet with repeated brown abstract motifs and a bright yellow tail; and a solid cream antique Jan rug with a rich violet-coloured tail and orange fuzzy antennae. Do you realise there is a rainbow even if it’s night!? was commissioned for the exhibition Viva Arte Viva at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017 and installed in the Arsenale; here a total of eighteen moths were displayed, suspended from the ceiling and walls, with their long fabric tails trailing onto the floor, and one work placed directly on the floor. The moths can be presented together or in smaller paired groupings. In total the artist has made twenty-three moths. A number of these were included in his solo exhibition at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles from September 2018 to January 2019.
Halilaj worked with his mother in Kosovo over many months to make these monumental sculptures. Their collaborative process evokes powerful familial ties between mother and son and at the same time questions gender roles and cultural identities, both in general and specifically in Kosovo which remains a strongly patriarchal society. The materials, including locally sourced traditional antique Kosovar carpets, reference Halilaj’s use of historical artefacts in his practice, grounding the work in the particular context of his home country. Personal biography is a central element of the artist’s approach, with fragments of family history confronting broader themes of absence, loss and a sense of belonging. He has spoken of childhood memories of chasing moths around light bulbs in his family home in the Skenderaj region of Kosovo – a home which was destroyed during the Kosovo War (1998–9). In reference to the inexplicable actions of moths, which – as positively phototactic creatures – are attracted to (often dangerous) sources of illumination, the sculptural insects in Do you realise there is a rainbow even if it’s night!? are installed near to flickering light bulbs. The insects’ long trains are reminiscent of the elegant long frills on the ends of the wings of Luna moths, which spin during flight confusing predators and helping them to evade attack. Despite their large-size, Halilaj’s fabric creatures seemingly evoke fragility, chaos and mortality.
Like many of the titles of his works, the sentence that forms this installation’s title is taken from one of the artist’s poems, published in his book of course blue affects my way of shitting (Chert, Berlin 2014). The title Do you realise there is a rainbow even if it’s night!? refers to the beauty that sometimes remains hidden and is discovered unexpectedly in life. The analogy is with the wings of night moths that are superficially just grey or brown on top but hide colourful patterns underneath (like the tails of the moths in Halilaj’s work). The exclamatory question in the title becomes an invitation from the artist to the audience to look beyond appearances and discover the true essence and beauty of reality.
The artist created his first giant moth with his mother in 2016, in order to wear it as a costume in a performance. During the event, he circled around a lamp and hid in the corners of a room, while a voice-over read a scientific text and poems about moths. As if metamorphosing into this nocturnal creature, Halilaj engaged with the audience whilst masking himself – perhaps with reference to his own queer identity. In relation to this idea of transformation, and in recognition of his own sexuality and childhood experiences of war and forced exile, the artist has commented:
I can enter [into the costume] and the body disappears becoming an insect. So with this idea of hiding and becoming an insect, I just escaped another time to talk and confess about something that is still too complicated … I would try to dream something beyond verbal, a different kind of language that would be added to my body. This is the first costume or performative sculpture that has different layers coming from history, culture, and personal nature.
(Quoted in Garcia-Vasquez 2017, accessed 18 May 2018.)
Halilaj’s formative experiences of having to flee his family home in Kostërrc, Kosovo for a refugee camp in Albania and the ensuing years of ethnic conflict, corruption and loss, have poignantly influenced his practice. Commonplace materials and personal memories – from the neglected collection of insects and butterflies at the former Museum of Natural History in Pristina (1951–2001) to the relocation of sixty tons of earth from the exact location of the family’s destroyed home in Kosovo during the war to politically ‘neutral’ Switzerland for his work Kostërrc (CH) 2011 – are used as part of his search for meaning in relation to the concepts of home, nation and cultural identity.
Petrit Halilaj, exhibition catalogue, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Bundeskunsthalle, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Cologne 2015.
Marina Garcia-Vasquez, ‘9 Breakout Artists from the Venice Biennale’, Vice, 21 August 2017, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/j553jg/9-breakout-artists-from-the-venice-biennale, accessed 18 May 2018.
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