On the 24th of October 2013, the Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette was twenty… that’s to say, twenty days old. For the occasion it opened the doors of its building to the general public for the first time, who, during the FIAC, came to see Petrit Halilaj’s exhibition.
By inviting a young Kosovan artist to inaugurate its pre-launch programme, Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette made itself a promise: ceaselessly support the most forward-looking scenes, allowing them to create freely in the centre of Paris. The choice of Petrit Halilaj, originally from a small village called Skënderaj, by way of the school-benches of Milan’s Brera Academy, and now based in Berlin, carried the seeds of our institution’s ambition, balancing local and international, and exploring the constituent parts of a developing identity. From this first invitation, Lafayette Anticipation made all means of production available to the artist, as well as the assistance of a Master Craftsman, Stéphane Tambeur, to create new works which would accompany the presentation of the video installation “July, 14th?” There is no more apposite work than this video, which records the resurrection of a forgotten Pristina museum, to inaugurate a building committed to a new future.
For the first time the public converged on our building on the rue du Plâtre, located between the Hôtel de Ville, the BHV department store and the Centre Pompidou. The pre-launch programme would occupy this terrain, inscribed in the centre of Paris, in the history of the Galeries Lafayette Group, and in a network of major institutions. In this respect, “July, 14th?” displayed continually during the personal exhibition of the artist at WIELS in Brussels, curated by Elena Filpovic, allowed us to immediately enter the logic of a hub. Almost three years before the official opening of Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette, it was Petrit Halilaj, and other artists through him, who laid the first stone.
A summer in autumn, that’s what Petrit Halilaj’s “July, 14th?” created, a menagerie arranged on the ground floor of Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette. Barely down from the walls of the Kosovo Pavillion at the Venice Biennale, where his reputation took off, Halilaj came to Paris to announce a sort of renaissance, the possibility for every identity to culturally renew itself, without nostalgia.
Echoing his solo show at WIELS, Brussels, at the rue de Plâtre he evoked the rediscovery of buried treasures at the Pristina Museum of Natural History. This museum, very popular in the former Yugoslavia, was once reputed for its incredible collection of stuffed animals. Literally entombed in the basement, these ghosts, destined to be forgotten and rot, had been supplanted by a presentation of national folklore objects. Halilaj excavated them, and filmed every moment of their reconditioning. The film “July, 14th?” shown at WIELS before coming to Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette, followed this process of rehabilitation.
To double down on this resurrection, the artist created copies of the mummified animals, based on descriptions of their state before decay. The ghostly presence of these earth and copper phoenixes evoked the myth of the “lost” museum in the space on the rue du Plâtre. Their resonance in the inaugural pre-launch programme comes in the submission of the artist’s cultural roots to the material constraints of the spaces. Displacement anchors all his work. Originally from a small village called Skënderaj, by way of the school-benches of Milan’s Brera Academy, and now based in Berlin, Petrirt Halilaj perpetuates the memories of the rural world he comes from. The suffering of war and exile give way neither to pathos nor regret, but amplify a work on domesticity. The recollection of the treasures from Pristina’s museum, combined with the animal motive, moved in this direction. Burgeoning in the corners of Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette, we saw peacocks, fish, rabbits and lizards, leaving the belly of the building, breathing again and living with it.