How to be together.

Zekate House, XIX Century, Gjirokaster (Ph. Kreshnik Merxhani)

Proposal: For Albanians, the guest is already a new friend.

The Albanian word Mikpritja has not a specific translation although in many European languages it is translated as hospitality. The two words share the same etymological meaning coming from Latin hospitalĭtas, that means to host someone, a foreigner, a guest or a stranger in very generic terms.

Perhaps, is the Italian translation of mikpritja (të presësh mikun) literally “accogliere un amico” (which in English have a very schematic definition, just “to host a friend”) which better explains the meaning of this word where the act of accogliere, to welcome, to accept, to let come in someone in one’s own house, in Albania is related to the realm of domestic space and to a defined space of the Albanian house. An enclosed space for being together and gathering inside: precisely in the Oda e Miqve or Oda e Madhe (Guests’ Room or Large Room).

For this 17th Biennale, we have decide to respond to the call of Hashim Sarkis “How we will live together” by proposing a reinterpretation of the historical Oda, the emblem of how Albanian used to live together. We will show the way it was inhabited in the past and how it can be used today. We propose an interpretation of the historical Oda transforming it in a “collective room” for visitors, architects, researchers and students that will have the possibility to sit down together, meeting each other and interacting with strangers, so giving form to a room open to a multitude of spontaneous relationships and cooperation – as we hope and imagine – within the Albanian pavilion. Because it is only by proposing a revisited version of this essential part of domestic life that we are able to explain the word mikpritja, a different form of hospitalitywith the possibility to be expanded also to social and public life even in our days.

Skenduli House, XVIII-XIX Century, Gjirokaster (Ph. Kreshnik Merxhani)

Researching from the past: My house is also yours!

Having ancient origins, from the social rules of first Kanuns and peasant habits, the Albanian mikpritja is something that goes beyond mere hospitality. Considering guests and foreigners not as just strangers but, even without knowing them, as already friends or comrades, unlike hospitality, Albanian mikpritja can be interpreted as a sort of project of life: after knocking at someone’s door in a medieval or ottoman house, for the landlord the stranger guest becomes a friend as soon as he stands on the threshold of the house and once inside in, welcoming – l’accogliere – gives origin to some new form of collective life between the two or more of them.

The recurrence of the mikpritja as a strong value up to our days is not so much a question of tradition, as it is a question of collective discipline, a modus vivendi and a habit maturated within the domestic character of Albanian communities. Considering how it has been preserved and inherited through wars, occupations, colonial exploitations, conserving almost the same shades of friendship, of sharing, of care, where my property, my house, and possessions are also yours, it is strongly arguable that on the concept of the mikpritja lies a potential for future forms of collectivity.

In Albanian language, this term is both a noun and a verb. Landlords welcomed their guests and gathered around the room, sitting cross-legged in the lower sofa along the sidewalls, or directly on the ground on fur rugs or large Islamic carpets. The void in front of them was a sort of sacred space, left always empty even when it was full of people. The way it was inhabited was similar to a democratic assembly of people facing each other and having the same role and right to speak within the group. Partying or celebrating a mourning, a marriage, a baby birth, or some other event – exclusively between men smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol – was a sort of temporary form of cooperation: a moment of collective otium where men discussed about politics, about everyday life, family affairs and business, speaking loudly all together or between groups of those sitting close to each other.

However, this form of being together had an ambiguity, this was possible only due to the patriarchal family structure and to the hierarchical role of “The Man of the House” over women. This was the very obscure part of the Albanian mikpritja and the mechanism behind men’s collectivity: when gatherings occurred, the woman (wife, or daughter) was just an exploited servant. She entered in the room only with permission for serving food and regale her husband’s friends, left totally outside important choices and discussions, but still educated with the notion of hospitality.

Albanian Pavillon

The project: Mikpritja, how to be together.

Our revisited Oda, dealing with a new society model which aspires to overcome any form of patriarchy, and to go beyond individualization, isolation, and self-interest, with its theatrical architecture and auditorium character, and its spatial dimension for large gatherings, becomes the host itself, becomes the abstract subject welcoming us and others, all future friends. Seeing the other, the stranger, the different, as not just a guest, but as a friend, means removing any barrier and being able to an open dialog, first between two individuals, later more to an extended group of people, and finally to a collective collaborating, sharing and performing solidarity together.

Hence, in our proposal, we want to create a scenography for flexible forms of activities, where the large sofa will invite people to spend time together. Different scenarios can take place: from an empty room with just two people to a crowded situation of the room full of people (for a talk, a temporary exhibition, a book discussion, a lecture, etc.). Recalling historical windows, in the three walls will be always projected different frames, showing different situations of the Albanian outside world and research illustrations. 

MIKPRITJA. How to be together
Proposal for the Albanian Pavilion, 17th edition of the Venice Biennale
Open call, 2019

With Loris Rossi, Blerta Hocia, and Shpëtim Selmani

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