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, and obtained a degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples, Italy. 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 lives in New York City.
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 other venues he has exhibited at:
Venice Biennale 52; Manifesta 8 (Murcia, Spain); Tirana Biennale 1 and 4; The Festival of Ideas 1 – New Museum (NYC); Venice Biennale of Architecture 12; Project Biennial 3 (Konjic, Bosnia & Herzegovina); Industrial Art Biennial 3 (Pula, Croatia); ReMap 4 at Kunsthalle Athena (Athens); Thessaloniki Biennale 4 (Collateral Events); Present Future at Artissima 10 (Turin, Italy); Ludwig Museum (Budapest); MASS MoCA (North Adams, USA); MADRE – Museo d'Arte Contemporanea (Naples); Apexart (NYC); Museo Pascali (Polignano, Italy); National Gallery of Albania (Tirana); National Museum of Montenegro (Cetinje); National Gallery of Macedonia (Skopje); Lothringer 13 (Munich); National Gallery of Kosovo (Prishtina); Chelsea Art Museum (NYC); Suburban (Chicago); Botkyrka Konsthall (Botkyrka, Sweden); MURAM – Museo Regional de Arte Moderno (Cartagena, Spain); The American Academy in Rome; National Museum of Romania (Cluj-Napoca); National Museum of Malta (Valletta); Platform Project, Art Athina (Athens).
Helidon has organized several exhibitions, among which Tirana Open, an international contemporary arts festival of the visual arts, film, architecture, music and literature, where he was the Artistic Director. Tirana Open 1 collaborated with major museums, galleries and artists, such as Moderna Museet, Sweeden; State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessalonik, Greece; Marina Abramovic Istitute, 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, Project Grant at Northwestern University, 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.
His work has been reviewed and featured in Artforum, Art in America, Mousse Magazine, Sculpture, Contemporary, Flash Art, Domus, The Independent, Reuters, Artribune, Exibart, New Art Examiner, Swedish Public Radio, Malta Public TV etc.
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, St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity (Valletta), Demanio Marittimo.Km-278 (Italy), the Academy of Fine Arts of Tirana, Tulla Culture Center (Tirana), etc.