Anri Sala's Dammi i colori

Artvehicle 8/Review

Short films are necessarily on a loop in art spaces. Sod's law has it that you'll miss the beginning, particularly when pieces have a linear structure. Imagine the consternation if cinemas projected the last reel first.

This video is a documentary, sort of, and needs to be seen from start to finish in that order to get a full sense of the quiet dramatic power that lurks beneath its LoRes visuals. Unfortunately, the leader is a bit short, so what seems to be the introduction gets mixed up with the end credits.

We first see a lighted window in a shadowy, non-descript tenement block and hear music from within. A car briefly illuminates the walls, revealing a surprising patchwork of vivid colours. The car passes and they fall back into gloom. Now the camera is moving, looking sideways. Facades as bright and varied as jellybean assortments meet earth and rubble where the pavements should be. Arc lights on the cruising vehicle bleach out the leafless trees in the foreground and catch wan-looking dogs snuffling about wooden gangplanks that link the doorways with the road. In the background, block after block is saturated in technicolor.

It must be the dead of night because there's nobody about. We find ourselves wondering where we are exactly. The first sign we see, FASTFOOD, doesn't narrow down the possibilities much. Beneath the makeover, this place could be a part of Moscow, Beijing, or any number of other metropoli. There is little sound besides the soothing voiceover that's been with us from the outset, ruminating on how colour has been put to work to revitalise the heart and mind of an impoverished city.

Although we aren't specifically informed of the fact, we are being shown around Tirana. Our dulcet-toned narrator is Edi Rama. Sala and Rama spent time in Paris together as artists. After returning home, Rama was first given the post of Minister of Culture, and later elected as Mayor. Though his meditations on the soundtrack are mostly confined to the positive effect of the painting project on the city, his efforts have been massively more far-reaching than that. To read his biography is to scratch one's head in disbelief.

He has initiated the construction of roads, schools, parks and playgrounds, the restoration of buildings, the installation of power cables and water mains in outlying zones, and, more controversially, the demolition of acres of unregulated buildings that were the focus of smuggling, prostitution and drug dealing in the city. These projects have generated employment and a sense of hope in Tirana, and even inspired other places in Albania to follow his lead. Rama is seen as a hero by most, but has inevitably made enemies along the way. To date he has survived two assassination attempts.

This video is Sala's crystallisation of his friend's dizzyingly intensity. Perhaps this is why he feels the need to add the text to the beginning/end asking himself if he actually knew such a man or merely dreamt it.

We cut to daytime, and the hush is broken by the rhythm of chisels on concrete. A packed orange bus crowds the screen for a moment. People hurry back and forth across gangplanks, serious faced, getting on with the day. Above them, painters paint. A montage of buildings, with motifs that hint at a number of designers. Some seem to resemble the odd-shaped Hundertwasser apartment buildings in Vienna, though this might be a trick of the colour scheme. The camera closes in and pans, blanketing us in orange, then blue, then grey where the brushes haven't reached yet.


Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG

Daily, 10am-5.50pm

Anri Sala's Dammi i colori —  Anri Sala  Dammi i Colori 2003  Video 16 minutes  Tate  © Anri

Anri Sala
Dammi i Colori 2003
Video 16 minutes
© Anri Sala