Inextinguishable Stars: The Politics of Celestial in Olson Lamaj’s work
The metaphysical association of the individual and the cosmic, of the political and the astronomical, is an old one, hearkening back to the reading of omens, the dependence on the sky for navigation, the Baroque court of the Sun King, the esoteric assertion “as above, so below”. The link between the individual (and the political, material realm) and the celestial was also a theme in socialist official culture, which sought to create an imaginary future realm for itself that would intertwine the bodies of its citizens with scales of time and history accessible only from the Archimedean point of the celestial.
The investigation of this cosmic scale is characteristic of several recent works by Albanian contemporary artist Olson Lamaj. These works juxtapose the human scale of political action and ideological construction with the timeframes of celestial phenomena, creating a kind of artistic astronomy of Albanian sociopolitical conditions. Through juxtaposition and re-contextualization, Lamaj’s projects emphasize the semiotic oversaturation—and the mysterious, almost mystical qualities—of objects and images related to political ideologies of various kinds. Lamaj’s art metaphorically links everyday experiences and objects (socialist monuments, four star hotels, the EU flag, metal sewage drain covers, cobblestones thrown in protests) to objects of (inter)planetary character (the variable atmospheric conditions manifested in the color of the sky, meteors, the birth and collapse of stars). In these juxtapositions, the material realities of sociopolitical existence become somehow removed in time and space: they take on the intangibility and mystery of nebulas and galaxies, entities that we can view only remotely through extremely mediated modes of perception. At the same time, however, these everyday political realities and experiences take on a permanence, a sense of continuity; human action is not only monumentalized—it exceeds the purview of human memory and instead manifests in astronomical events. The metaphor of astronomy also introduces the suggestion of a pattern, a physics that perhaps we cannot grasp but that nonetheless exists and lends meaning to events that surpass our understanding. Lamaj’s artworks function as a collective mythography of the present, laying the groundwork for the projection and creation of new myths.
Lamaj’s works evidence a train of thought catalyzed by a shared conviction: that we cannot know the meaning of our lives directly. Not in retrospect, not as we live them today, and not through prophesy or divination. From this condition, the impossibility of directly grasping the objects of our experience, of our actions, emerges the need for metaphors, for symbols, and the fluctuating systems that they comprise. From this condition emerges the project of understanding systems that are greater than we are, the need for astronomy (and astrology, too), for both science and mysticism. This need, of course, is a dangerous one: for as much as it promises us, it also leaves us open to sacrificing ourselves and our beliefs to dreams whose completion we can—by definition—never see. Ideology and praxis, propaganda and hope, science and mystery: Olson Lamaj’s recent works immerse themselves in these themes. These works dwell in the possibility that by looking beyond ourselves as well as around us, by looking to the stars and to the scale of the universe, we might find something of ourselves reflected therein, inextinguishable.
Text by: Raino Istro M.A
PhD Candidate, Modern and
Contemporary Eastern European Art