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Helidon Gjergji was born and raised in Tirana, Albania, where he first studied art and earned a BFA from the Academy of Arts in Tirana. With the opening of Albania's borders in 1991, he moved to Italy, where he further studied the visuals arts, obtained a degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples, Italy, and traveled widely throughout Italy and Europe. In 1997, he then moved to Chicago, where he earned an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University, Chicago, and had his first American exhibitions. He currently lives in New York City and teaches as an Assistant Professor at the Visual Arts Department and Honors College at SUNY, Old Westbury.
Work and exhibitions
Over the course of his career Helidon has worked in a variety of mediums, from painting, to media installation, and to architecture. However diverse those mediums, Helidon's work has consistently interrogated the porosity and fragility of the borders between the media, the self, and the parameters of individual agency. In particular, his first exhibited works both thematized the narcissism of our engagement with the media, by phantasmagorically situating televisions and their viewers alike within mirror environments, and provocatively staged the potentially redemptive quality of the same, by inviting the viewer to make pulsating action paintings via the playful tele-command of programming shimmering through a veil of canvas. Since those first works, Helidon has continued to explore the sensory constitution of the self in installations conceived not only for major public exhibitions but also for public spaces. For the Venice Biennale 52 (2007), he created a burial site for the media that at once recalled the earth art of a prior generation and replaced its objects of natural decay with the flat screens of our present day media landscape. A small retrospective of his video art was featured at the National Gallery of Art of Albania in 2014. Beyond his site specific work for exhibition venues, Helidon has also produced monumental works of public art. For the Facades Project section of Tirana International Contemporary Art Biennial 4 (2009), Helidon was invited to paint the facade of an oversized Stalinist building, which he overlaid with contemporary icons of the digital age, making plain the cognitive dissonance between the architectural skin and interior habitus of contemporary post-communist society. For the Project Biennial 3 in Konjic, Bosnia & Herzegovina (2015), which commissions artwork for the atomic bunker of the former Yugoslavia, he created for one of its rock-ribbed tunnel-like corridors a hall of mirrors in which the slogans of militaristic video games rebound ad infinitum, surrounding their viewer with the watchwords and two-dimensional illusion of gaming. Helidon has also brought quintessential elements of the public marketplace into that of the exhibition hall, by investigating the role that scents plays in our perception, experience, and negotiation of our world. For Manifesta 8 (2010), he created an olfactory installation out of marketplace spices associated with the ethnic communities resident in Murcia (Spain). The public was invited to visit this invisible and yet open “museum” of scent, and the public’s own affective reactions to the individual aromas and their sequencing was elicited and discussed.
Among many other exhibitions he has participated in:
Venice Biennale 52; Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain; Tirana Biennale 1; Project Biennial 3, Konjic, Bosnia & Herzegovina; Venice Biennale of Architecture 12; Tirana International Contemporary Art Biennial 4; ReMap 4 at Kunsthalle Athena; The Festival of Ideas 1 – New Museum, NYC; Present Future, Artissima 10, Turin, Italy; Ludwig Museum, Budapest; Madre, Naples; Apexart, NYC; National Art Gallery of Albania, Tirana; National Museum of Montenegro (Cetinje); Villa Arson, Nice, France; Lothringer 13, Munich; Kosova National Art Gallery, Prishtina; Chelsea Art Museum, NYC; Fondazione Museo Pino Pascali, Italy; The Suburban, Chicago; Botkyrka Konsthall, Botkyrka, Sweden; White House Biennial, Thessaloniki; National Museum of Art, Cluj-Napoca, Romania; National Museum of Fine Arts, Malta; National Gallery of Macedonia (Skopje); etc.
Helidon was also one of the three directors of Tirana Open, an international contemporary arts festival of the visual arts, film, architecture, music and literature. Tirana Open 1 collaborated with major museums, galleries and artists, such as Moderna Museet, Sweden; State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessalonika, Greece; Marina Abramovic Institute, NY; Fondazione Sandretto, Re Rebaudengo, Torino, Italy; MAXXI, Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo, Rome, Italy; T.I.C.A. Tirana Institute of Contemporary Art, Albania; National Gallery of Tirana, Albania; Museo Pascali, Italy; Stacion Center for Contemporary Art, Prishtina, Kosovo; MAM Foundation, Tirana, Albania; Fondazione Pistoletto, Italy; Tirana Art Lab, Albania; Kunsthalle Athena, Greece; Galerija Zeta, Tirana, Albania; Galerija FAB, Tirana, Albania; Gagosian Gallery, NYC/London/etc.; T293 Gallery, Italy. Galerija Gregor Podnar, Berlin, Germany; Blain Southern Gallery, Berlin/London; Houser & Wirth Gallery, NYC/Zurich/etc. Some of the artists shown there were William Kentridge, Anri Sala etc.
Helidon’s artistic work has been supported by the following grants and fellowships: Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant, Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (twice), City of Chicago, Department of Cultural Affairs, Project Grant, Soros Foundation, Project Grant for Tirana Biennale, two year Teaching Fellowship at Northwestern University, Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, Art History Seminar Fellow, Naples, Italy.
Beyond his many professional recognitions, Helidon is the recipient of a Golden Medal of Honor from the President of the Republic of Albania, for his service to his country as a student dissident under Communism, whose participation in student protests and, then, a hunger strike galvanized the popular rebellion against the Communist regime which not only brought its downfall but also ushered in democracy in 1991.
He has lectured about his work at Harvard University, Teachers College - Columbia University, Parsons New School of Design, The School of Art Institute of Chicago, C Festival (Faenza), Université du Québec, American University in Dubai, Northwestern University, The American Academy in Rome, Demanio Marittimo.Km-278 (Italy), St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity (Valletta), the Academy of Fine Arts of Tirana, Tulla Culture Center (Tirana), SUNY Old Westbury, etc.
- Cathryn Drake, 2018, “Cetinje, Montenegro: Helidon Gjergji, National Museum of Montenegro,” Artforum
- Ian Bancroft, 2017, "Tito's Arc: Bosnian Nuclear Bunker Transformed into a Contemporary Art Space," The Independent.
- Daria Sito-Sucic, 2015, "Bosnian Artists Plan Cold War Museum in Tito's Secret Bunker," Reuters.
- Jessica De Korte, 2015, "Underground Art in Tito’s Bunker," The Irish Times.
- Cathryn Drake, 2014, “Tirana, Albania: Helidon Gjergji, National Gallery of Arts,” Artforum
- Santa Nastro, 2014, "Stalin? Lo becco su Facebook. Helidon Gjergji a Tirana," Artribune
- Elsa Demo, 2014, Interview at the National Gallery of Albania, ABC News, Albania
- Public Talk, 2014, "Building Communities Through Public Art," Teachers College, Columbia University
- Julia Draganovic, 2011, Interview at Venice Biennale 54, Clocktower Radio
- Marco Purpura, 2011, "Transmedia Memory of Albanian Migration in Italy: Helidon Gjergji's, Adrian Paci's, and Anri Sala's Moving-Image Installations," California Italian Studies Journal
- Ana Vukadin, 2010, "New Residents of Murcia," Manifesta 8, Art in America.
- Santa Nastro, 2010, "Da Manifesta: L’opera Piu Apprezzata Da Tutti? Non Si Vede...," Exibart
- Catalogue 2010, Venice Biennale of Architecture 12.
- Francesca Picchi, 2010, "Beyond Color," Domus.
- Diana Marrone, 2010, The Tirana Façades Project, CultFrame
- Marie Liljedahl, 2010, Interview, Swedish Radio
- Katie Donoghue, 2009, "Helidon Gjergji: Waves," Whitewall Magazine.
- Amanda Browder, 2009, Interview, Bad at Sports
- Amalia Piccinini, 2009, Flash Art
- Valentina Sansone, 2008, "Silica," 'Flash Art.
- Jessica Savoia, 2008, "Helidon Gjergji," Espoarte.
- Nicola Bozzi, 2008, "Helidon Gjergji," Exibart.
- Catalogue 2007, Venice Biennale of Art 52.
- Carlo Simula, 2007, L’Uomo Vogue.
- Chiara Canali, 2006, "Helidon Gjergji," Flash Art.
- James Yood, 2006, "Helidon Gjergji," Contemporary Magazine.
- Ivan Quaroni, 2004, "Helidon Gjergji," Flash Art.
- Enrico Giacomelli, 2004, "Helidon Gjergji: Hawaii," Exibart.
- Donatella Galasso, 2003, "Present Future," Teknemedia.
- Pedro Velez, 2002, "Kaleidoscope," Sculpture Magazine.
- Jon Anderson, 2001, "Park-in salutes cars many uses," Chicago Tribune
- Michele Grabner, 2001, "Helidon Gjergji at Temporary Services," New Art Examiner.
- Giancarlo Politi, 2001, "La Biennale di Tirana 1," Flash Art.
- Catalogue 2001, "Tirana Biennale 1."