RKS² | Transcendent Locality: Discussion with Poliksen Qorri-Dragaj on the Kosovo Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023

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Kosovo Pavilion

RKS² | Transcendent Locality is the exhibition presented by the Republic of Kosovo at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023. Kosovo Pavilion explores the concept of translocality, which represents a model of life where individuals live in multiple places simultaneously and maintain connections between their host land and homeland.

The exhibition focuses on the experiences of the Albanian population during the breakdown of the Yugoslavian Republic and the subsequent migration wave from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. Many individuals sought refuge abroad, leading to a prolonged period of waiting and uncertainty. The exhibition delves into the concept of transcendent locality, which refers to crossing boundaries and creating connections between different spheres.

The exhibition at Arsenale, Venice, aims to provoke a deeper understanding of migration and translocality, encouraging dialogue and reflection on the experiences of individuals living in multiple places simultaneously. The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of the Republic of Kosovo, along with exhibitors Poliksen Qorri – Dragaj and Hamdi Qorri, invite visitors to explore the pavilion and engage with the concept of transcendent locality.

Here is a conversation between Poliksen Qorri-Dragaj, one of the exhibitors of the Kosovo Pavilion, and Serra Utkum Ikiz of PA!

Serra Utkum Ikiz (PA): What motivated you to focus on the concept of transcendent locality in the Kosovo Pavilion, and how does this concept relate to the broader theme of the International Architecture Exhibition?

Poliksen Qorri-Dragaj: In recent decades, Kosovar society can look back on a history of migration that has shaped it enormously. In addition to labor migration in the 1960s and 1970s, war-related migration in the course of the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia marked a major turning point for the people – in 1999, up to 90% of the Kosovar population was fleeing. This makes it clear that basically every Kosovar has a direct or indirect relationship with migration. It should be emphasized that people who have to flee due to war do not make this migration decision voluntarily – it is dictated by external circumstances and is forced.

This was also the case in Kosovo in the 1990s: the predominantly Albanian-speaking population was deprived of their cultural identity, excluded from political institutions, and the Albanian language was officially banned from schools and universities. By the end of the 1990s, reprisals had steadily increased and led to war. The refugees thus experienced a feeling of powerlessness: the repressions experienced in Kosovo, the war-related flight and the accompanying forced geographical uprooting were sharpened to the maximum. In this very vulnerable state, people sought an inner shelter and refuge, which we equate with the transcendent locality as a place of remembrance, longing, of melancholy – a place between the present now and the abandoned before. The transcendent locality is very individual and subjectively perceived. It consists of memories, longings, and desires related to the place of origin, but at the same time, it is shaped by new experiences at the place of arrival.

The concept of the transcendent locality as a place between immanent and transcendent perception is found as a motif in many artistic or literary works. This reference can also be found in Lesley Lokko’s statement on this year’s title of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, – The Laboratory of the Future. Du Bois and Fenon are presented in relation to the ‘double consciousness’ and the internal conflict of all subordinated or colonized groups. Our concept takes up the idea and puts the focus on the internal conflict of refugees. It serves as a starting point for dealing with the spatial implications of migration experiences.

Kompleksi memeorial UCK – Terstenik, Drenas. Image Courtesy of Kosovo Pavilion

Serra (PA): How does the exhibit contribute to broader conversations around migration, displacement, and urban development, and what impact do you hope it will have on these discussions? How can the lessons and insights from the Kosovo Pavilion be applied to other contexts and regions, and what impact do you hope they will have on the future of architecture and design?

Poliksen: We use the concept of the transcendent locality for a change of perspective in the debate on migration: flight as an individual stroke of fate and an inner struggle between a here and there that can last for a very long time. We continue to follow this change of perspective and address the phenomenon of return and translocality – many of the migrants voluntarily return to their homeland after a war or conflict. However, many of the migrants also remain in the host country, their second home, and form the diaspora. The relationship with the homeland is still very important for the diaspora, and thus it is present in several places.

The planning debate is often dominated by the perspective of the impact of migration on destination and host countries. The effects on the countries and cities of origin are rarely considered. However, cities are being shaped enormously by returnees who bring new experiences and lifestyles to their homelands. At the same time, there are networking processes taking place in the migrant communities in the host countries, which have an enormous impact on the countries of origin: there is an exchange of intangible values that influence lifestyles and lifestyles, as well as material values such as money transfers and capital investments, which often account for an enormous proportion of GDP. The remittances are also used by the recipients, usually family members and friends, to buy or build real estate. On the other hand, the diaspora itself also invests in the real estate market – in a second home in the home country, which is only occupied at certain times, usually during the holiday season.

Migration and translocality thus have spatial effects on cities in the countries of origin. In Kosovo, two phases are of decisive importance: Immediately after the war in 1999, an enormous demographic movement followed. Refugees returned to their homeland. With the hope of better life prospects as well as easier access to jobs and education, many of the returnees moved directly to the less destroyed cities. The same hope connected many people from the countryside, who also moved to the cities. In addition, new residents arrived, the so-called “internationals,” consisting of military personnel, security forces, and employees of various institutions and NGOs. Other groups remained physically absent and acted from a distance, like the diaspora.

It soon became apparent, however, that the cities could not cope with this pressure and that the housing needs could not be met by the influx of returnees, rural-urban migrants, and “internationals“. As a result, irreversible informal construction activities have taken place to this day, due to unclear planning responsibilities, rampant corruption, and a critical reconstruction program. Housing was needed – so it was created informally without further ado. To this day, residents of Kosovar cities suffer from the consequences of informal development: entire districts of the city are almost completely sealed and do not have any noticeable open space structures. A defective building substance and the static problems of informal extensions represent a real risk for the residents of the buildings.

In addition to the consequences of informal building, the lack of affordable housing is continuously increasing due to rising property prices. One of these reasons is the demand by the diaspora for real estate in the cities. The motif is quite relevant here: Real estate investments are not always pure capital investments – they form a physical connection to the homeland. These second homes, which are only used seasonally, lead to different conflicts: infrastructure is provided that is only used for a fraction of a year. The maintenance of these must be financed by the people living in Kosovo through taxes. In addition, many infrastructures are overloaded during the main holiday season in summer, when the diaspora comes back home.

Through our exhibition, we hope for a change of perspective that creates awareness of migration-related spatial transitions beyond Kosovo. Return and the effects of translocality are important issues for many regions of origin, which will become more important due to the tendency of increasing migration – at a time marked not only by conflicts and wars, but also by a variety of other crises, such as climate change, pandemics, and demographic change, which will lead to increased migration. Accordingly, it is important to include the migration factor in planning and to involve the relevant stakeholders, such as refugees, diaspora, and returnees, in planning processes in a participatory manner.

Serra (PA): For individuals who have experienced or are currently living as migrants, what do you hope they will find when they visit the Kosovo Pavilion?

Poliksen: From a personal point of view and one’s own migration experience, it is sometimes difficult to admit that one lives between two worlds. We hope to evoke a moment of inner reflection for individuals who have experienced or are currently living as migrants: How do I understand myself in my present state? How do I understand the meaning of the word “home”? Do I see myself at the point of having several homes? How do I influence or act in my country of origin, and do I feel responsible for this influence?

Serra (PA): What is your next plan? Do you hope to continue exploring the themes and ideas raised in the pavilion, or are you planning to move on to other projects?

Poliksen: The decision for the concept is obviously not only an objectively socially relevant one in Kosovo but at the same time a subjective one motivated by our own experience; thus, we will not be able to disengage ourselves personally from the topic of space, place, and migration. At the same time, we hope to initiate a discourse through the exhibition that will lead us, as a Kosovar planning society, to further insights into the exchange with other planners and architects, and bring us a step closer to livable Kosovar cities not only for today but also for future generations.

We encourage you to stay tuned to ParametricArchitecture for detailed updates on the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023.

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