The Tirana Time Capsules are a series of three virtual environments that act as time capsules for three different neighbourhoods of Tirana in 2021. The chosen areas – 21 Dhjetori, Kombinat, and an area of the Tirana Great Park – each embody different aspects of Tirana’s urban development over the past 100 years. Particularly since the early 2000s, this has been characterised by the gradual disappearance of public space as the building sector has increasingly become controlled by private interests.
Drawing on the metaphor of the time capsule and employing so-called high-fidelity recording techniques such as photogrammetry and field recording, the work re-appropriates and re-constitutes these different areas of the city as virtual environments as a way of exploring the intersection of personal memory and community heritage. In addition, the work seeks to question the promises made by such recording technologies that claim to render and preserve reality as a high-fidelity digital copy: in short, what exactly is being preserved when we use these techniques of digital preservation? In the context of Beyond Matter and other ongoing efforts to digital preserve spaces, this is becoming a more and more relevant question.
Tirana Time Capsule #2 is a browser-based virtual environment created using 3d scans and sound recordings from Kombinat, one of the peripheral neighbourhoods in the south-west of Tirana. This neighbourhood takes its name from the Textile Kombinat “Stalin”, built in the beginning of 50s with the support of the Soviet Union. Until then empty and inhabited, the area developed into an industrial city where the workers lived and worked. With the end of Communism all the state-owned factories were closed, abandoned and destined to decay. With the free movement of citizens and internal migration that followed, the various factory buildings were partly privatise and partly into living spaces and subsequently occupied. The current plan of the Albanian Government foresees a revitalisation of the Kombinat area, with the intention to demolish almost all the industrial building complex and build new living spaces and art institutions. This would inevitably mean the displacement of the current inhabitants and small business within the industrial buildings.
Tirana Time Capsule #1 is created by Alex Walmsley using distinctive details brought together in a non-hierarchical and anachronistic approach. Visuals and sound, edited and rearranged from an individual and subjective point of view, capture a “reality” that will not only drastically change but threatens to be erased soon enough.
The Tirana Time Capsules were produced by Alex Walmsley in the period May-June 2021 as part of a residency undertaken at the Tirana Art Lab – Center for Contemporary Art in the framework of the Beyond Matter project. His residency was partly supported by Goethe – Zentrum Tirana and co-founded by the Creative Europe Program of the European Union.
Text by Alex Walmsley & Adela Demetja
Alex Walmsley is a British virtual reality artist and developer based in Berlin. He is particularly interested in the relationship between the physical and virtual worlds, and how they are socially and technologically mediated. His work takes the form of interactive computer-generated environments, be they historic, speculative, or abstract, that make extensive use of digitised elements of the physical world. He comes from a background in archaeology and anthropology (University of Cambridge, University of Geneva). Alongside his artistic work, he is also currently a research associate for VR and 3D visualisation at the HafenCity University, Hamburg.