On December 6th, 2023, Harabel Contemporary inaugurated “Alchemies of bodies and other entities”, an exhibition of Iva Lulashi and Lek M. Gjeloshi, curated by Harabel, at NAAN Gallery.

Alchemy was originally born as the complex of theories and techniques that aim to transform metals into gold, or natural elements into elements useful for healing the body. The term derives from the Arabic kīmiyā’ which was the name of one of the reagents for the transformation of metals, known in the West as philosophorum or philosopher’s stone.


Traces of this practice have been already found in ancient China, but the combination of practices that influenced and developed the most in the West, especially during the 15th and 16th centuries, had its origins in Egypt in the 1st century AD.

In its development over the centuries, alchemy is increasingly linked to the occult world and the possibility of governing the forces of nature and the cosmos to recreate lost balances and re-establish the correct relationship between man and nature. In the following centuries, the concept of alchemy was inserted into a broader frame of cosmological and religious relationships, both because the alchemist placed himself in some way on the same level as the creator, the one who manipulates the different relationships between the things that make up reality, and for the liberation from corporeity in order to ascend to deeper levels of reading reality. In fact, in some Christian texts there are references made to the search for the philosopher’s stone, as well as the search of Christ and the return to the creative principle.

The principle underlying alchemical techniques and theories is that of a common raw material for all the elements of our reality, living and inanimate, so the alchemical operation becomes a reproduction of the original cosmic creative process. As if there was a sort of sympathy between the elements of the cosmos (sympathy, which also for Plotinus was at the basis of divine creation), which makes it possible to carry out transformations on individual elements which automatically have repercussions on everything. There is therefore a correspondence between things, even if we operate on apparently different levels, living and non-living beings, visible and invisible elements; everything is connected and the philosopher’s stone can mutually change the different levels of our reality.

The idea behind this double solo exhibition lies precisely in the alchemical dialogue situated on different levels, which the two artists Iva Lulashi and Lek M. Gjeloshi unconsciously establish between them.

Iva Lulashi’s works, installed on the ground floor of the gallery, talk about bodies and relationships between bodies, their origin lies in the world of immaterial archives of internet pornographic films or old films produced during the communist regime in Albania. In the imagery of pornographic films, the naked body is exposed without any hesitation, while in the case of films produced during the regime, the naked body is never exposed, thus, we go from total exposure to total denial.

In Iva’s paintings the subjects live in a sort of suspension between pleasure, debauchery and a mystery that is never revealed; a moment of suspension through which the spectator is brought into an indefinite space-time, which speaks to each of us, leaving us alone with our obsessions.

However, the subject of her paintings is not only found in bodies or portraits, the subject is also something else, something that passes through the body to reach a moment of near liberation from corporeity, a moment of transformation of our gaze, which through the body questions the hidden instincts of our inner world, our vices, our needs and our relationship with others.

Going up the stairs, as if we were making a real ascension from the earthly world towards an ephemeral world, we find the works of Lek M. Gjeloshi. We immediately perceive the alchemist dimension, the search for the philosopher’s stone, the artist’s attempt to make us see something for what it is not. In the series of blue photographs, whose aesthetics are the result of chance and Lek’s ability to recognize a value in them, the images take us into a rural world, made up of gestures that mix tradition and religion together and whose blue light creates a sort of temporal detachment from the events of the images, a melancholic space. The nativity scene according to John[1], however, takes us into an ambiguous dimension, where once again the elements of the sacred and the profane merge, this time in a gray and dark atmosphere.

Even in Lek’s works, the subject extends below the surface of what the images show to us and touches invisible levels that belong to us as human beings, as finite beings who aspire to the eternal salvation of our spirit through the repetition of ritual exercise.

On the other hand, since ancient Greece the term “spirit” has meant the “breath of life”, “the soul”, the principle that rules the cosmos, thus becoming part of the medical vocabulary that positioned the spirit in the heart, brain and liver, assigning it various vital functions. A tradition also continued in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance where the spirit became “very thin matter”, therefore invisible, but capable of carrying out important functions within our body. Descartes, for example, assigns to the spirit the function of the vehicle of sensitivity, flowing within the nervous system (esprits animaux).

Therefore, if according to the ancients, the spirit passed through our body, we can understand how this passage between different levels, dialectically opposed to each other as body and spirit, material and immaterial, is in reality inseparable. A passage which is in itself an alchemy between material and immaterial, between what we see and what is invisible in our perception, between bodies and objects that form our image of reality in the constant search for the original creative process, be it a physical act or a mystical act.

Curatorial text by Stefano Romano