When the sun goes away, we paint the sky – Petrit Halilaj
Dear people of Prishtina, and the surrounding region,
I am so happy to return to Prishtina with a new project! When the sun goes away, we paint the sky will be a constellation that I invite you to create with me collectively, and illuminate together on the 22nd of July, 2022. The work will begin with the sign atop the Grand Hotel Prishtina; its stars, which are now lying flat on the roof of the building, will be remounted and multiplied, so that they stream down the building and spread across the city.
The Grand Hotel Prishtina is a historical and architectural landmark; it is a reminder of the history of Kosovo as part of the former Yugoslavia and its aftermath. It is a reminder of the darkest times, when it was used by the forces of mayhem, but it also reflects recent times, marked by a certain indifference to the old focal points of collective memory.
All the changes and transformations that our society has gone through are reflected in this place, which can be seen as a portrait of Prishtina itself. Today, we have the unique chance to imagine how we want to bring the city into the future. Since 2010, the stars that once shone atop this building have not been lit. They have been removed one by one as a consequence of the hotel’s decline.
I first saw those fallen stars strewn across the roof of the Grand Hotel Prishtina in images sent to me by my dear friend Nita Deda, who was there shooting a video for Manifesta 14. This was the first spark that ignited the project. I immediately associated the stars with fallen ideologies.
At the same time, I thought about Prishtina as a new place, one where I landed from a small village called Runik, and how I feel connected to the city though its people – friendships have been a way to build new stories and create belonging. Perhaps we should take the opportunity these falling monuments offer to dream a new reality out of those ruins? Can we play a game of hope and make wishes on these falling stars?
For this project, I have been inspired by an essay that was written by Njomza Vitia, a local resident of Prishtina who was twelve years old at the time: When the sun goes away I will paint the sky [“Kur dielli të ikë, do ta pikturoj qiellin”].
The story speaks about a young girl’s tension with the adult world and the feeling that society is dashing her dreams. But it also strongly conveys her hopes and energetic vision for the future.
I wonder if we can associate her words with the stars, and make them light up the stars again like a brush reaching towards the sky? I wonder if the letters of the Grand Hotel Prishtina can be rearranged and added to—to form a new sentence, a poetic message that shines anew for the city?
By transforming the “I” into “we,” a personal wish has become a collective one; by multiplying the five stars, a declining hotel can be reimagined as something new and vibrant.
This letter is an invitation for all of you. An invitation to put stars in your own spaces, balconies, rooms, windows or gardens. I am asking you: can we reclaim the stars as a way to reclaim our space—a space that is already here, but to which we can look again with the courage to create a new story, to tell it in the here and now?
Inspired by the wish to see a new sky over Prishtina, which is only possible in collaboration with you, I have drafted simple suggestions as a starting point that everyone can use to create a lighted star. Through these guidelines, that you can follow alone or in a group, at home or in school, online or on the street, we will create our stars and activate a different sky through a process of intimate and shared storytelling.
I encourage everyone to interpret the design, to produce wildly creative variations on the shape of stars, to situate them within your most utopian dreams. I want to share these stories and consider what stars stand for and what they symbolize—from their mythological origins to their political connotations.
By making your own star and hanging it at home in a place where it can be seen by passersby, it will become part of our public space. We could encounter the stars in the most unexpected places—those that are important to us, or others that we will notice now for the first time, forming a narrative constellation that will spread across the city of Prishtina and beyond.
This project is not intended as a permanent public piece or a monument, but as a moment we share. Afterward, the original letters will return to the Grand Hotel. The stars will go dark and lay down again, sleeping and waiting as they were before. In the future, this project might resonate with us every time we look back at the old hotel signage and its hidden stars, and what will remain is our shared experience and dreams.
I hope you will join me in lighting this new sky on July 22!
‘When the sun goes away we paint the sky’ has been commissioned by Manifesta 14 Prishtina and supported by Autostrada Biennale and Ammodo. The project has been conceived by Studio Petrit Halilaj and realized by Grafx Studio.
The text by Njomza Vitia was included in the book Miku Im (“My Friend,” 2014). I am grateful to the Department of Education and the team at Manifesta 14 Prishtina, who found the book during the renovation of the Hivzi Sulejmani library.
Follow these steps to make a star:
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