Issue #44, 2013
Scene

Tranzit.Ro/Cluj – Prehistory Of A Curatorial Project.
Alexandru Polgár in a Dialogue with Attila Tordai-S.

Attila Tordai-S.(b.1970) lives and works in Cluj, Romania. He studied visual arts at Ioan Andreescu Art Academy in Cluj. In the period 1999– 2007 he run Studio Protokoll. Between 2001 and 2003 he was the editor of Balkon (Cluj) contemporary art magazine, and editor of IDEA arts +society magazine (2003–2007). In 2010 he initiated Protokoll Project Association/șPAC (People’s School for Contemporary Art). He is co-founder and co-director of tranzit.ro Association, being responsible with the program of tranzit.ro/Cluj.

 

Alexandru PolgárπI would like to start by talking about your various curatorial projects, but first of all I would be interested in how you became a curator.

Attila Tordai-S.∫Everything had started when I gave up on being an artist. I was in Nuremberg with an Erasmus scholarship, working on a conceptualist piece that hung untouched on the wall for a few weeks. I had no idea how to continue, but I could not leave it either. All of a sudden, I realized that it is not absolutely necessary for me to keep on making art. From here to curatorship was only one step. I only had to agree that art is still important, but someone else had to make it, while I could assist as much as I could. For sure, things are a bit more complicated. Probably, the creation of the Protokollexhibition space was key to my decision, but, to my mind, this very first attitude was also very important.

πWhen you started working on the Protokoll project, what was the direction you tried to keep, what was your point of interest?

∫There are at least three periods in the history of Protokoll. During the first one we mostly presented works by Hungarian artists, and this for two reasons. At the time, due to the impetus of the 1990s, there were many good works in Hungary. These were pieces that you could not see in Cluj. On the other hand, it was easy to bring them here, we had the necessary connections, Hungary is a neighboring country. In the second period, we exhibited mainly local artists, grouping the various shows around local issues such as the increasingly widespread capitalism in the Romanian society, the rampant nationalism or the relationship between religion (especially Eastern Orthodoxism) and the laic state. In the third period, in the space on Dorobanților St. 12*, we presented works by Romanian or foreign artists that had not only a local significance, but also a global one. One must add, however, that the Protokoll Studio never functioned, I believe, for more than one year and a half. There were always interruptions caused by lack of resources.

πI remember that you also used your own (meager) financial means.

∫Mostly, yes, but there were a few people who helped me. Péter Szabó at the beginning, but, for instance, Chase Johnson and Ailisha O’Sullivan were on the side of Protokoll from the very beginning. But I could mention here all of those who provided us with their TV sets, cars, houses and other commodities.

πYou were also an editor of IDEA arts + society. What kind of relationship existed between the curatorial project of Protokoll and that of the gallerycolumn in IDEA?

∫The space was different, therefore, I asked the artists for a different type of works. But the topics were not necessarily different. IDEAwas a dedicated, two-dimensional space. We offered the artists twenty pages in the gallery section of the journal. It was known that there were not enough galleries in Romania and in that period Protokollwas not functioning either. IDEAhad therefore to take upon itself not only the mirroring of the art scene, but also the production of artworks. From a journal of “re-presentation”, from a neutral space, the journal has transformed itself into a production site, but this was possible as soon as it got engaged on the side of a cause. It could renounce its neutral position for an affirmative one. For this reason, the editorial team was an engaged one.

πIt was the same with the texts. Usually we published what we would have liked to read.

∫Regular art journals ințuence public discourse through reviews and pieces of art criticism. But, to my mind, the IDEAproject has desired to become a conglomerate composed by various forms of art production, together with theoretical, reflective tasks. It was a time when we dreamed with Tim Nădășan about a center, which even had some architectural plans. It was supposed to host a residence program, but we were thinking also about a sort of postgraduate school. Our engagement on the side of local art also appeared in the fact that on the cover we would always put a work from the gallery column, in which we always presented a Romanian artist. There was some risk in this, but we were willing to expose ourselves to it. We changed this rule only in 2006, when I became one of the three curators of the International Biennial Periferic 7 in Iași. Then we invited Nedko Solakov (one of the participants to the biennial) to create a piece for the gallery section of the journal, and since then the exclusive focus on the Romanian scene has been replaced with a focus on the East European context... In a sense, this is overlapping with the third period of Protokoll.

πYou have started tranzit.ro/Cluj with Miklós Erhardt, an artist whom you have already tested…

∫Not really. With him I started the Protokoll Studio...and, in a sense, I closed it with him, but the final moment was marked also by Dan Perjovschi, who is one of the important figures of the Protokollproject.

πGood that we returned a bit to the end of Protokoll, because I would like to hear more about a period in your work that I know less, namely that between Protokoll and tranzit.ro.

∫Between the two there was the People’s School of Contemporary Art (PSCA, or șPAC in Romanian), which is somehow still Protokoll. Or, more precisely, in its background there are, obviously, both Protokolland IDEA,even though as regards me I stopped working with both. However, I could not do the exact opposite of the things I hitherto believed in. In relationship to these two projects, the most obvious novelty of the drawing school has been its participatory character. For me, at the time, the school had a genuine political character, or at least its possibility.

πI really liked your motto: It doesn’t matter how one draws, it matters what one draws!

∫This tied everything together. It allowed for a certain orientation of both discourse and content. In addition, it made multidisciplinarity possible and actually realizable. Art has not been interpreted as goal or form, but as some kind of language through which one could speak. șPAC was one of the initiatives of Protokoll Project, which I maintained together with Dénes Miklósi and Szilárd Miklós. On the basis of different points of view, the Protokoll Project has been enriched by our theory colleagues, such as Alex Cistelecan, Lorin Ghiman, Veronica Lazăr and Andrei State.

πWhat was the relationship between your project and the already existing popular art school from Cluj?

∫We thought that this name can be appropriated by anyone. For this reason, the phrase “people’s school” is present also in the name of our project. But we added “contemporary art”, which signifies a niche culture. However, we wanted to exploit the knowledge that had been gathered over the years. If you take a look at the two handbooks that we have published before starting the school, you can see that the artists and authors we refer to are those that we used to publish and read before this project.

πAnd how did the whole story end? Or is it still on?

∫Most likely, everybody has a version about this. There was a dead period from which we could not get out on time... Something has ended, for the time being, but you know that about Protokollnobody knows exactly when it will start again.

πPresently you are a curator at tranzit.ro. What have you managed to do up to now?

∫We have managed to create a space where people come, where principles clash and objects are exhibited. In two years of existence, we organized some exhibitions, colloquia, seminars, collaborative projects and we hosted some events. The latter are all projects related, in a way or another, to our efforts. The space has been opened with Culture States, a conference held by Société Réaliste at the Sociology Department of Babeș-Bolyai University. This was followed by Culture and Politics of Crisis, a debate organized at our own venue on Sámuel Brassai St. 5; the first guests were Boris Buden and G. M. Tamás, and then there were some exhibitions, in chronological order: Pata-Rât: Roma Pushed to the Margins, a collaborative project in which we presented works by șPAC students; an exhibition by Miklós Erhardt called Instrumental; the Social Forum organized together with some local left-wing activists and intellectuals, helped by the European Alternatives organization; then, at the beginning of last summer, an exhibition by Daniel Knorr called Instant Community, followed by a performance combined with a workshop, both by Elske Rosenfeld – A Vocabulary of Revolutionary Gestures, and, at the end of the year and of our first cycle of one year and a half, the exhibition Universal Anthem of the already-mentioned Société Réaliste.

In the first half of this year, we showcased projects of some Romanian artists, the șPAC student Vlad Iepure, with the exhibition Children Should Be Supervised when Consuming this Product, the poet Zsolt Visky (Gilles the Postman) with an interactive project called Lost and Lost. There was also a public debate combined with two book presentations moderated by the CriticAtac group from Bucharest under the title: Which Side Are You On? This spring we organized an exhibition of the H.arta group called When Is Happiness Possible?, followed by a debate between Anselm Jappe and Aakash Singh Rathore about Marxism and post-colonialism as possible counter-hegemonic gestures; this discussion has been the second installment of Culture and Politics of Crisis. Lately, there was a project organized by Krisztina Sipos called the 10,000 Penny Opera, which brought together street musicians from Cluj.

πIs there any link between all these projects?

∫tranzit.ro, which is a Romanian network within an international network, has a frame concept called Fiction – Rhetoric – Facts. When, at the invitation of the ERSTE Foundation, we coined (with Livia Pancu and Raluca Voinea) our institutional proposition, there appeared the title Facts and Fiction, which we inverted and enriched with the word “rhetoric” as a middle term and vehicle between the two parts. Thus, the emphasis is not on the distortion of reality, but on its various constructs, on how they come into being and on their mechanisms. The projects and the exhibitions are linked together by these basic ideas; they shed light on those contents that we accept as natural and unchangeable realities, from the ubiquitous formula of capitalism to the genesis of communities and the self-creation of nation-states.

πWhat is the relationship between this project and that of șPAC, for instance?

∫First of all, the means are different. There is a different potential. It does not function as the șPAC and it would lie if it wanted to look like șPAC. The first exhibition organized by tranzit.ro/Cluj, Pata-Rât – Roma Pushed to the Margins – No Place for the Roma?, has indicated quite clearly the strategic difference between the two projects. Mostly we presented the same material as that of șPAC, which a year and a half before had organized a conference at Pata-Rât, in a house that hosted an Evangelical church. Although we had full house there, the work of the students went unnoticed. And this in spite of the fact that a video by Katinka Bajusz & Co. had been projected on the wall, and on the pulpit used by the speakers hung a work by Zsófi Gábor – a teddy-bear made of thrash and meant to evoke the housing situation at Pata-Rât. Also, the politicians were given, together with the press materials, works by Jutka Józsa, Emese Apai, Paula Boartă, but the activism of the participating artist was not paid any attention. I had to take the microphone and explain for the public the work created by Teodora Dănilă and Vlad Iepure, and then to ask a member of the European Parliament to give this work to the mayor personally, which she did. Only after this intervention the organizers of the conference realized that there was a considerable artistic contribution. However, it was undoubtedly a good moment. The critical work has arrived to the target-person, and the one who has been responsible for the Pata-Rât phenomenon could confront the hypocritical character of the housing conditions there, even though this happened only through a game-like simulacrum. Practically, as it became clear later, the mayor has received the work, but has not paid any special attention to it.

πWhat was this work about?

∫It was a miniature model of a social housing apartment offered to the Roma families, together with miniature pieces of furniture that had to be fitted in the small room. The tiny house, packed with furniture, and in which there was no room for people, has been interpreted by those in charge at the city hall as a box full of small stones. They told us that if we send them things like that a negotiation will be impossible. But this message had arrived only to a handful of people. In spite of this, there was a lot of potential in șPAC, we kept on learning and teaching others that it is possible to have debates with the public officials, our concerns and opinions had to be expressed not in the closed circle of culture, but it is worth fighting for our rights and those of other people. It was a pedagogical experiment of which we put into practice only a small part.

πAnd tranzit.ro?

∫tranzit.ro is not as poetical, but it is quite political. Its main goal is to achieve an institutional position in which activism, political projects, public debates, social forums and even pedagogical attempts can not only receive a place, but also “legitimize” themselves before the political public sphere. Of course, it is not I who legitimizes the whole thing, but the format, the people, the consistency. The question of Roma from Pata-Rât has arrived into a downtown institution, where before there were a book launching and an international conference. We built and exhibited the life-sized model of a social apartment from Pata-Rât. The smallness of the 16 m2 house was quite obvious. These were the “apartments” received by evicted families formed on an average of 6 to 8 people (the “big” houses had 18 m2). Received from the city hall, let us be clear. And these were some new constructions, planned as such, and not some that would exist before this. But the situation is even graver. How can a child study in such conditions? In the exhibition space at tranzit.ro we could have built five such “apartments”, but ultimately we decided that we would use the rest of the space to present the protest paintings of children from Pata-Rât, together with works by former șPAC students. A text written by Veronica Lazăr has been printed on the wall, and another one by Andrei State, which could have been even a sort of manifesto, had been placed next to the model of the apartment, in such a way that one could also read it from the street. The documentary films created by Enikô Vincze and Tibor Schneider, together with projected photos helped the public to better understand what happened in fact during the eviction on Coastei Street. This time, our target-public was not primarily the mayor, even though he was invited, but middle class citizens, culture consumers who know nothing of the fate of those with whom they live in the same town or, if they know, they do not pay much attention to it. Or, if they do pay some attention, this is not enough for them to participate in a demonstration meant to express solidarity with those in trouble.

πWhat is the relationship between the other projects and the one you have just described?

∫They are projects with a similar sensibility, even if they are not as dramatic. The exhibition of Miklós Erhardt called Instrumental is a quite direct statement. He proposed, among other things, a huge national țag, counting on the fact that the sum of the Romanian and Hungarian national țags is that of Seychelles. tranzit.ro has hosted more than one time the Cluj Autonomous Market, but also other events, such as those organized by Joia Mînioasă (Furious Thursday), with which we feel very connected (an example would be the projection of a movie called Blokada,which presents the Croatian Occupy movement in various universities, a movie that initially had to be projected at Babeș-Bolyai University from Cluj, but students were kicked out). Occasionally, the space has been the stage of public discussions about the organization of protests at Roșia Montană, and I would also have to mention book launching events organized by Tact publishing house and Marx seminars organized by us and held once a month by Alex Cistelecan (Seminars on Modernity – Revisiting Modern Legacy), as well as the events of an activist group called Creiereală, which are not organized by us, but we are glad to host them. This is no longer șPAC, but many things from this project were kept, just as from the Protokoll Studio. It would have been nice if all of this could have been organized in the framework of șPAC or Protokoll Studio, but this was impossible. At the end of May, we finished the second installment of Culture and Politics of Crisis: Marxism and Post-Colonialism: Which Counterhegemonic Narrative for the Post-Communist East? Both speakers enriched with important elements the discourse built in Cluj by local groups of theoreticians, artists and activists. In 2011, when the possibility of creating tranzit.ro has appeared, we wrote the application in the name of Protokoll and șPAC. Similarly, in Iași, the aim was to support Vector [a cultural organization involved in promoting contemporary art and organizing the Periferic Biennial], and in Bucharest E-cart [a contemporary art webzine and cultural association]. This was impossible and we faced a decision. It seemed to me that the activism in Cluj develops, luckily, in the right direction and with the required energy. Therefore, we needed a place where all these groups, works and debates could establish themselves. Also, it seemed meaningful to signal to the town that critical thinking and activism is not a cause of a few. They have the right to exist. Art sensitive to social issues, engaged on the side of progressive values can be a real alternative to conservative cultural practices – despite the fact that in our days the latter can wear the clothes of contemporary art.

π This sounds like a good conclusion. Thank you so much for this conversation.

Translated by Nostradamus Kerepesi