Issue #42, 2012
Scene

The University Square
Bogdan Ghiu & Raluca Voinea

The University Square is situated between the National Theatre, Intercontinental Hotel, the Faculty of Architecture and the University of Bucharest, Romania. It is not a place for authorities, but of the autonomous opposition against the formal, regulated political.
It is a place for opposition and celebration. Precisely for (self-)celebration it was recuperated, after 1990, by the political powers, which are considering the revolutionary process started in 1989 closed, and only in that sense something to be celebrated as history. Already
in May–June 1990, the University Square was the subject of attempts to retake, reoccupy, and re-actualize what had begun in December 1989. In the context of the mass popular movements from Romania during winter 2012, the University Square became again the place
of self-constituent opposition, rearticulating the popular desire to continue or to retake what has been regnited in 1990. The University Square has always been threatened by neutralization and normalization, when it is precisely the opposite: a place for the violent broadening of the public, of breaking the frame of normative politics,
of irruption into politics, of re-constituting as political subjects and actors, the place of free access to politics – and as such a contemporary challenge to radical imagination.

We are constantly looking for the different “squares“ where we could cross paths, to meet in a crossroad. From time to time we turn a place-for-passage into a place for meeting each other, also for meeting ourselves in a different moment in time.
University Square in Bucharest is a scale model of the Romanian history after 1989.

“How can the phenomenon University Square – Kilometer Zero be represented? And how could we represent the spatial and temporal expression of the mechanisms that transformed in the last 20 years the intersection of two boulevards into a landmark and even symbolic space?

[This work is constructing a] model as a narrative image over these questions by an inventory of the events that took place here starting with 1989, all gathered in a diorama-report where the consecutive facts are represented simultaneously hereby making a inclusive collection of perspectives over the construction of the ’Square’: a reference point, a departure and arrival point.“ (studioBASAR)

We must explain, demonstrate why could the University Square in Bucharest be interesting for someone outside, someone non-Romanian, so also for the Romanians in general, later in time for example (for the foreigners in space and time), to ask which are the non-
exotic particularities of this phenomenon.

One must return and insist on the originsof the University Square. How and why it appeared, these origins marking its particularity,
its profile.

The University Square phenomenon should be explained through
the urban characteristics of Bucharest’s city centre. On the 21st of December 1989, the Revolution started in the Palace Square, as it was normal, as it should have happened, in its place, in front of the headquarters of power (the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party).

If there the masses have been provoked (a counter-power act, of a coup), later they were chased and followed, the Palace Square was evacuated in force and the crowds
(or a part of them, the young ones for example) ran, took refuge and barricaded themselves, literally, not far, in
the University Square, which thus became a place of the masses, of the people, a place of rebirth of the collective political subject in moments when power is abusing it, when it provokes it by forgetting its existence.

The pictures of Laurențiu Gâlmeanu are a rare document, showing the University Square at the moment of its emerging as a place for the masses, the first moment when it gets unified as a public square, with the side
of the Fountain/ University and the side of the Theatre/ Intercontinental being brought together, however not by the people (still hesitant in occupying the street) but by the tanks.
21 December 1989 is the moment when these pictures are shot and it is also the actual name of the square on the map of Bucharest.
A name which was never adopted in the popular consciousness, as it irrevocably institutes the Square as a place of mourning and commemoration. To continue to name it “University Square“, to refuse the official name is to remember and constantly go back to its 21st of December 1989 moment, to take that moment as the beginning and not as the end, to see it as a place of rebirth and not of burial.

The differences between thePalace Square, which is a proper square, and the University Square, which is a crossroads and a roundabout,
a system, a constellation (installation) of small squares which could,
if the case, reunite, thus generating a big square which is otherwise, in normal times, divided, invisible, existing only as a potential: just like the people itself! The homology between the urban structure and the situation of the collective political subject (which oscillates between virtual and actualization).

In the University Square the crowds were chased behind the barricades, literally. The University Square was born in the night of 21–22 December 1989 through a literal grouping behind a barricade – this being an absolutely new phenomenon in Bucharest, with no tradition in this sense (popularly and politically Bucharest is not even by far “Little Paris“).

So not occupation of a place of power, belonging to power, but resistance and reaffirmation, barricade against the invasion and the abuses of power – so a place of autonomous constitution, of gathering for the people, of collectively finding each other and of reconstitution, wherefrom also the jubilatory aspect: the University Square has always had a side of celebration too.

Although this means it is also used by the power as a place for official celebration, as well as for displaying the different devices that define power’s normative aesthetics.

“... a symbol of power (of any kind), even if it is placed parasitically in another context than the usual one is not questioned by those who own that power and is accepted as such.“ (Vlad Basalici)

The Media-Historic Evolution of the University Square

1 – University Square 1989 – Revolution

The political subject is collective, homogenous, undifferentiated, massified. No message, no staging, no “picture“. Images, with few exceptions are non-theatrical and without message or with only one message, which is rather non-verbal, mostly mimic, facial, gestural, of postures: pure irruption into image, pure apparition as image,
in image. People are not, yet, interested by image in itself. Nobody is playing, is not staging (oneself) and does not have the political
and practical consciousness of the image. At the most, at television,
in the studio, so already in the “apparatus“ (țusser), inside the device, in the image: tableaux vivantes.

The images (for example the transformation of tanks into allegoric chariots for the self, in which the actors are playing themselves),
the archiving are not for now perceived as being part of the process of political (mimetic) self-constitution.

Only a nude expression, apparently negative, the wholeto be filled from the țag, the image-whole,as breaking of the non-image, of the false totalitarian image which preceded it. The image – whole in the false image.

The boundary stone implanted in front of the National Theatre, in University Square, declared km 0 of freedom, with different looks and messages in the past 20 years was one of the most durable monuments (albeit not an official one), in the post-communist public space. Taken care of almost from the shadow by the members of the 21st of December Association, serving as a gathering point for every commemoration of the ’89 Revolution, the symbolical km 0 boundary stone lays today on top of a simple pedestal, painted in the colours of the national țag, and instating the “neo-communism free area“. The whole in the Romanian tricolore was by now (2011) not the emptiness full with potential from the days when the socialist emblem was cut off from the țag, but a black shape that perpetuates mourning and proves a lack of political imagination.

2 – University Square May–June 1990

The revolted subject continues to be massified, unitary, homogenous. It depends on a unique centre, elevated, dominating:
the 2nd Balcony(or the U Balcony), which corresponds to the
1st Balcony(or CC[Central Committee] – over his own people, Ceaușescu was already, since long, in the air, he was since long announcing the ascension to the skies on helicopter!), the balcony of the last, failed, speech of Ceaușescu. Through the Balcony, as a topos, from the University, in 1990, the place of the political subject, inaccessible until then, was occupied, keeping though also the effect of massification, of demonstrators-public. Ego-mass.

As his contribution to the project Spațiul Public București |Public Art Bucharest 2007,the artist Dan Perjovschi proposed the project Monument (History|Hysteria),consisting in a living sculpture performed for a few hours every day, during a week, in the
University Square and evoking the violent miner-lead incursions (mineriade)into the heart of Bucharest in 1990. The monument was enacted by two actors, one representing a miner (and dressed accordingly), and the other a “hooligan“ (the name broadly used for the category of intellectuals, who were at the time of the fights identified as the enemies of the government). Next to each other, the two actors were frozen during the performance in a few different positions, some seemingly confrontational, others peaceful and others more ambiguous. The living sculpture became an allegory of the social body, captured in its recent history as in a limbo.

 

3 – January–February 2012

The revolutionary display has changed completely, becoming truly
a technological display: manifestation-virtual, computer screen.
To affirm/constitute oneself as a political subject-actor means to be the support of one’s own message. A multitude of sandwich-people, each one showing their own messages. It was also called the “A4 revolution“: each text looks like a “impressible area“ on a touch screen, which must be “opened“, actualized. Juxtaposition of press-keys. The depth and the density, the tri-dimensionality of the unique, unitary, unifying, homogenous-massified collective subject is replaced by the horizontal, bi-dimensional, with selective access and juxtaposition. The “tableau vivant“ from 1989 has now become a screen: individualism, subjectivation, self-broadcasting. People are transmitting, there is a media pressure which is made positive and anticipated, instrumentalized. Staging, mis-en-scene not of people but semiotic, of texts and images, short-text-messages turned into slogans. Not by coincidence, the țag from 1989 is waved under the balcony from 1990. In 2012 we meet in the opposition but we each speak our own language, no one is presiding (from the balcony) onto anybody, the effect of collective subject is a result, an association, but society does not let itself totalized from a superior standpoint.

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In 2012, the demonstrators mutually and mimetically, narcissistically even self-constitute themselves politically through image.

Mirrored political self-constitution, as a political subject through the imitation, the embodiment, the repetition of the image.

Mirroring, repetition, mimesis are necessary precisely for/as transformation, as production of new, as differentiation through repetition.

To the extent in which over the University Square there is a permanent pressure for normalization, for neutralization through regulation, the University Square, meaning history, must be repeated: resistance through repetition,through re-actualization of some images.The new is repetition itself.

Screenings, debates are part of the process of political subjectivation and resistance through repetition mediated imagistically. Self-gaze. What happens (what do we do) when nothing happens (when we don’t do anything): we watch the archives about ourselves, we watch ourselves as others (as political subjects).

Not only “the double body of the king“ (Ernst Kantorowicz), but the double body of the political subject in general (the civil, private body and the image body, the political “avatar“). The political subject is discontinuous, intermittent, processual, in act. Between the political hypostases (scenes, roles, “seasons“), when only the civilian, private “support“ resists, the image of the role(the political, phantom double) is the one insuring political continuity.

By 2011 the tanks with țowers of 1989 and the burning buses
of 1990 have left the place for the monumental and the incontestable. The bronze statuary group adds to the marble crosses and turns the square into the timeless cemetery. What is left to the human, living body is to expose itself, to stage itself in its frail, dispensable condition, to affirm itself in opposition to the dead, objectified political decision.

The monument becomes a prop for the protesters’ banners, the ghosts of power are holding the manifestations of popular discontent. The mis-en-scene is completely theatrical but standing in front of the television cameras, playing in order to be re-played.

During the opening of the exhibition, one group of performers stayed in the University Square, being broadcast live in the gallery space through a permanent webcam which is live-streaming and which many people watched during the protests in January–February 2012. A telephone connection was established with the performers and the public could give them instructions what to do.

 

“The action aimed for a disenchantment, an exposure of
mechanisms.
It was an enactment, a rough bringing into the open of the spectacle in the University Square – The National Theatre, in reference to the recent protests from January 2012, when the space for protest literally had become a stage under television lights. The agents/performers from the square performed mostly for an invisible public, the one behind the screens (webcams or television screens). Presenting this mechanism in the gallery space was an attempt to re-spectacularize, re-capture, to bring the spectacle from ’reality’, from people’s homes, into the representation space.

By constructing a frame in which the public can manipulate, they can act through the performers, a new perspective appears, that of the video game, in which you can operate safely, using semi-avatars.“ (Alexandra Pirici)

Mediality of media images and intermediary link in the political existence of individuals. The political existence of each one of us is mediated... by the media. We depend upon the images of our own political hypostases, which “virtually“ maintain our continuity, our political subjectivity.

We must copy ourselves, which is our own public images: practical mimesis, political narcissism. In order to become public again, we are copying our own public images. Image = public.

This text is based on the following presentations and events:

Raluca Voinea & Bogdan Ghiu: Piața Universității – The Site of Perpetual Re-enactment: Self-mirroring and Difference, presentation at the international symposium “Re-Visions of the Romanian Revolution in Arts and Media Theory“, Berlin, 1–2 June 2012;

Km 0: Representations and Repetitions of the University Square, exhibition, tranzit.ro/ Bucharest, 30 November 2012 – 28 February 2013, curator Raluca Voinea;

Bogdan Ghiu & Raluca Voinea: Bucharest, Piața Universității: Site of Perpetual Re-enactment and Political Invention, lecture-performance,
KEX RESIDENZ, Vienna, 12 December 2012(concluding a residency offered toIDEA arts +society magazine by Kunsthalle Exnergasse).