Issue #45, 2014
Scene

Reflections On Artistic Practice In Romania, Then And Now
Amy Bryzgel and Corina L. Apostol

Traditionally, it has been the role of the academy to pass on and develop artistic styles and approaches. In Western Europe and North America, leading figures of the avant-garde often became the teachers of the next generation of experimental artists; for example, Jackson Pollock studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League, whose work in mural painting exposed Pollock to large-scale painting; Pollock’s partner, Lee Krasner, studied under abstract expressionist painter Hans Hoffmann; Allan Kaprow also studied under Hofmann, in addition to studying time-based composition with John Cage at the New School for Social Research. His exposure to both led him to develop the Happening, citing Pollock’s Action Painting as a foundational influence.[1]

In Eastern Europe, however, under communism, experimental art practices developed as an alternative to official state-supported artistic production. The academy maintained a commitment to tradition, focusing on skill and technique over innovation. As Kristine Stiles has stated, specifically with regard to art in Romania, “no experimental art was taught in art academies. Information from generation to generation was obtained mostly through word-of-mouth, and then it was dangerous to exchange experimental ideas that were vulnerable to scrutiny by Securitate, the Romanian secret police. Each generation was forced to reinvent experimental art for itself. This made it more difficult for experimental art to gain density, weight, gravity or momentum in history.“[1] The consequences of this have been significant not only for artists working during the socialist period, but especially for the generation coming of age after the system change. In post-89 Europe, artists from the former East are operating on the global stage, and are expected to have the skills, knowledge and experience to compete in that arena, despite having had little access to that history through formal education.

Throughout Eastern Europe, younger artists nowadays lament the traditional education afforded them by the academy. When speaking about the artistic predecessors of her generation, such as Sanja Ivekovic’ and Dalibor Martinis, Croatian artist Sandra Sterle stated that because those figures didn’t become teachers, “we lost something“,[1] referring to the gap in knowledge and development that passing on traditions normally affords. While in the early 1990s it was more difficult to come by information, with the advent of the Internet, younger artists began to self-educate, learning about conceptual art, performance, and other postmodern approaches, online. In some instances, this resulted in younger artists knowing more about developments in contemporary art outside their country than within. For example, when asked whether she was aware of the experimental work by artists such as Ion Grigorescu and Geta Brătescu, Romanian artist Veda Popovici replied that initially, she was not, but when she learned about their work, it intensified her own activity, knowing that there was a precedent for the work that was doing within her own cultural history.[1]

In the course of our research, we have both noted these generation gaps in terms of both art historical knowledge and socio-political understanding of the distant and recent past. In an effort to understand better the nature of these differences, we conducted interviews with four Romanian artists from generations: two who came of age under Ceaușescu’s dictatorship, Ion Grigorescu and Lia Perjovschi, and two from the current generation, Vlad Basalici and Veda Popovici. In posing a similar series of questions to all of the artists, we hope to illuminate the differences in experience by artists of different generations, not only in terms of artistic practice, but also historical understanding. By including two women artists, we were able to address the issue of feminism, a concept that was barely present, if at all, during the socialist period. Life in socialist Romania guaranteed equality in theory. which stifled the development of a second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s. While women had equal access to work and readily available childcare, Ceaușescu’s megalomaniac plans to increase the Romanian population meant that there were restrictive laws regarding abortion and contraception, thus the state maintained strict control over a woman’s body. Furthermore, traditional gender roles were often maintained in the domestic sphere, thus women bore a double burden of having to work outside the home and maintain it as well. In the post-communist period, feminism has become a relevant issue for those citizens suddenly finding themselves in a post-feminist world without ever having gone through a feminist revolution.

In posing targeted questions related to issues such as working conditions, artistic legacy, and the social and political environment, these interviews aim to identify key differences and similarities between artists working under socialism and after its fall. In doing so, we demonstrate both continuity and transformation between artistic practices in Romania, then and now.

 

 

Notes:

[1]1. ‑In 1958 he penned his famous essay “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock“, in which he cited the temporal aspect of Pollock’s painting as significant, signifying a shift to a new type of art making, one in which the artist abandoned painting for the more visceral experience of real life and action.

[1]2. ‑Kristine Stiles, “INSIDE/OUTSIDE: ’Balancing Between a Dusthole and Eternity’“, in Zdenka Badovinac, ed., Body and the East: from the 1960s to the Present, Ljubljana, Slovenia, Moderna Galerija, 1999, p. 19.

[1]3. ‑Sandra Sterle, interview with Amy Bryzgel, April 24, 2014.

4. ‑Veda Popovici, interview with Amy Bryzgel, March 27, 2014.

 

 

Interview with Lia Perjovschi

 

Lia Perjovschi... born in 1961 in Sibiu, Romania... Art Academy Bucharest 1987–1993... Founder and coordinator of CAA/CAA (Contemporary Art Archive and Center for Art Analysis) an organic still in process project (under different names since 1985) and Knowledge Museum (based on interdisciplinary interest and research since 1999)... She has shown her works in more than 500 lectures, workshops, personal or group exhibitions around the globe (from Nasher Museum at Duke University Durham NC US 2007, Centre Pompidou Paris 2007, Tate Modern London 2008, Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven 2010, documenta 13 2012, to art schools, or alternative spaces). She lives and works in Bucharest and Sibiu, Romania.

π What were some of the challenges you faced as an artist before 1989? And the artistic community in general?

∫ Corruption.

Isolation.

Lack of information and of true professional debates, as well as of contemporary art institutions.

I had to confront the corruption in the educational system. I was accepted late, in 1987, after many attempts, at the Bucharest Art Academy. Exhibitions at that time had only titles, not also concepts. There were no transparent criteria for selecting the artists. I did not face censorship, as other artists who exhibited in that time. My problem was rather what topic to choose. We were not trained to think, they trained only our hand, so we could draw nicely. To think, to place yourself in a situation, to critically react to your context – these were questions that were not discussed. Art has been still covered in the mystery of the 19th century, linked to allegoric language.

To my question: “Why stay in the academy if it is so cold?“, the answer was: “You must“. When I had to go to work in Ceaușescu’s Palace [today the Palace of the Parliament], where I had to do a mosaic, I asked: “Why?“. At that time, the majority of people avoided this question. I used to ask my colleagues from different fields, from theater or journalism, about how they managed to do their jobs, about the questions they asked. I had the impression that we were all used to talk with hidden meanings, that it was no clarity.

It seemed to me that people in general had no prospects. It was a boring routine: school, work, home. This is a generation that even now does not realize that it depended on them to create institutions after the revolution. I have changed my strategy. And my practice also, because I took over the role played by lacking or not functioning institutions.

π What are, in your opinion, the main challenges faced by current artists?

The art market.

The absence of contemporary art institutions.

∫ Under the influence of the market, art in the US is largely kept in a very naïve stage. In England things are somewhat different, there is such a thing as funding the institutions, and not only the art market. In Romania the agenda of the market is quite clear – the works of the artists become inoffensive. Approached topics are read in a convenient manner for people who have money. I believe that when you start thinking more about them or recipes for selling works than about yourself, there intervenes a dangerous self-censorship.

In general, there is engaged social, political, survival art, and there is commercial art, which is more neutral, for not bothering anybody. There are almost two parallel worlds.

π Who were some of the artists or intellectuals whom you have found interesting when you started working as an artist?

∫ Nobody.

Unfortunately, I have not seen anything that I would like or something that would help me in developing as an artist in the 1980s. In that time, there were no catalogues, only brochures with names and lists of works. Some books, movies and drama plays had an important role for me in the 1980s. Alexandra Titu’s book Experiment – in Romanian Art Since 1960 has been published only in 1996. Up to then, there was no usable portrait of the art community. Together with Dan [Perjovschi], we organized some meetings in our apartment in Oradea, with friends, colleagues in journalism, film, theater, speleology.

π How would you characterize the art scene in Romania before the revolution?

∫ Anemic, boring.

It seemed that not even artists believed in what they were doing. The public consisted in artists and their friends. At some galleries of UAP [Association of Visual Artists], located downtown, a few people would enter, but mostly because they were curious why people gathered there.

π How would you characterize the Romanian art scene presently?

∫ More diverse, but increasingly abandoned to the art market.

Now the art scene is more diverse, there are events, projects, exhibitions. Even though I never manage to see them all, I feel that something vibrates.

π What topics you deemed interesting and relevant before 1989? And now?

∫ What is art and how to survive by doing art.

Now, just like then, I am concerned with the role played by art, but I am not necessarily interested in creating a socially or politically engaged art. Instead, I appreciate a lot honest gestures by some artists who are socially engaged. The lack of context made me analyze and build. Today I see myself as a builder, depending on things that are missing.

π How did the fall of the dictatorship affect art in Romania? How did it affect artists from here?

∫ Positively; it is more than an aesthetic change.

It made artists to wake up.

Revolution woke us up. It seems to me as if we have been released from prison; we have learned how to articulate our ideas, to move, to see the surrounding context more clearly. I do not want it to sound too dramatic, but in my case I had the feeling that I was kept under the horizon, that I had no prospects.

Things changed after I started travelling. Initially, I was impressed by the large, clean spaces, works professionally and respectfully installed abroad. But also these large exhibitions, such as Documenta or the Venice Biennial, had something unconvincing for me. Usually, I choose some works of them as landmarks for a debate.

After the revolution, subject matters, topics, attempts at articulating some problems and the context appeared. However, I believe that the generation after the revolution faced the lack of a methodology in art education. Revolution has influenced a few things, but not the structure.

π Was feminism relevant for you before the revolution? What about today?

∫ Being a woman, yes, it did influence my works, my art practice. I was a feminist without knowing the history of the movement. Information on feminism came too late for me, this is why I am a feminist with a small “f”.

Before the revolution I looked at what was dominant in society, for instance, the gaiety of 8th of March (Women’s Day), which was hard to swallow. In that day, restaurants were full of women, and in the domestic sphere children and husbands would wash the dishes, but only on that day. In a way, I tried to boycott this submission, but I was not aware of the depth of feminist thought, theory and history. Kristine Stiles [professor of art history at Duke University] introduced me to this topic in 1992, and after that I have started to read texts in Europe and the United States. I liked women’s and gender studies programs in universities. I have not participated to feminist exhibitions, because I did not want to be put in a certain box. I consider myself a citizen of this planet, I live here in Romania, I am a woman. All these articulate my subjectivity, but they are not predominant topics in my works.

In the 1990s, when I was doing performance art, I had very little visibility, because I did not correspond to what was looked for: in that time, performances had to be tough, categorical, with vigorous and often naked women. These were not my instruments. This was one of the reasons why I focused on research. I started building the archive, the center for an analysis of contemporary art.

 

 

Interview with Veda Popovici

 

Veda Popovici (born 1986, in Romania) works as an artist, theoretician and activist mostly in a dilettante manner. Her interests include collective representations in art, colonial (and) patriarchal histories and the political harmfull-/harmlessness of art. One of her latest project, The Other Us – a Workshop for Reinventing Identity, critically addresses national identity and seeks to clarify the mechanisms behind its construction. Currently, she is a Ph.d. Candidate at the University of Art in Bucharest with a research on nationalism in Romanian art of the ’70s and ’80s. She lives and works in Bucharest. http://veda-popovici.blogspot.ro/

 

π What are the challenges you face as an artist today?

∫ The biggest challenge in my opinion is to position myself in a consistently critical manner against the political regime in power. Today, this regime is the neoliberal one, and the questions of co-optation and appropriation of art’s radical content are very important and real. It is a challenge for me to have a position that manages to slip through the fingers of these tendencies of domestication and pacification.

π What were in your opinion the challenges faced by artists before 1989?

∫ In the 1970s and 1980s there was a similar type of appropriation and co-optation, but by other means. I believe that then the most important thing would have been for artists to have a critical position against the notion of nation, which, in my view, was the biggest political stake of the regime in that period. Through this notion and its conceptual family, the population has been manipulated very well. Despite the fact that the Ceaușescu regime had socialist components, this was a nationalist and xenophobic regime, hyper-authoritarian, with an extraordinarily developed apparatus of control and surveillance, which artists also had to face.

π How did revolution affect art in Romania? How did it affect artists from here?

∫ The moment of the revolution was a foundational one for a new collective subjectivity in general, and not only for artists. The revolution had an anti-authoritarian fundamental component. Workers, intellectuals, engineers and peasants, categories differently influenced by the regime, went out in the streets shoulder to shoulder in order to end this system, which they have perceived as being extremely invasive as regards their life. This solidarity has been, from where I am standing, the fundamental component of the revolution and the one that, paradoxically, has been the first to be forgotten in the next decade.

In the context of artistic community, many people were permeated by this anti-authoritarianism, while others were oriented rather towards recognition from the West. After the revolution, the West has showed a colonial interest towards artists in the region. This dynamics made some people to partially lose the critical awareness and premises from which they started: revolt against authority, regimentation, definitions, conventions, canons, tradition.

π How would you characterize the art scene in Romania before the revolution?

∫ The fundamental differences between the art community now and before 1989 have to do very much with external conditions. The important changes that Romania underwent after the revolution sprung not only from the anti-authoritarian spirit of the people, but it was also a well-known geopolitical circumstance.

Many artists from the 1970s and 1980s were seduced by the nationalist essentialism, reproducing the discourse of the regime, and a different part of them were nourished by a huge desire towards the West. These two types of ethos were not necessarily in contradiction; it was possible to entwine them. From this point of view, I believe that we can speak of the political character of art production in that period.

π How could you characterize the present art scene in Romania?

∫ There exists today an experimental, progressive area, which suffers of precariousness and marginalization within the art system, just as artists before the revolution. An important difference is the disenchantment with the Western art system. One cannot find the same desire of being part of or of being recognized by the West as in the previous decades. My generation is much more critical of this geopolitical space. I think this is an important shift in comparison to the 1990s, even though the seduction of the West still exists and functions. The art community with which I identify myself is much more involved in the local context. It is important, of course, to work with our female comrades in the West, to exchange ideas and experiences, but in the end we come back to where our work can count most. It is a sign of maturity, for I believe that the golden age of altermondialization and nomad-artists is over. These local projects are perhaps not seen abroad as some great achievements, but they are very relevant in the specific context from here.

Similarly, I believe that among young artists from today there is a tendency towards creating strategic communities and collectivities, when confronted with the tendency towards atomization and individualism under neoliberal capitalism. Politically, I see myself as a communitarian. I do not believe that there is a certain political truth that I can reach by myself, and I build all of my truths according to the community of which I am a part.

π Who were some of the artists or intellectuals that you were interested in when starting to work as an artist?

∫ Dada, clearly, is a fundamental landmark. I think it is important that Dada has been an international movement, which has functioned in many contexts, dissolving certain dichotomies between East and West, in spite of economic and cultural differences, and of the imperialism of that time. Situationism is another political and cultural form that I find relevant. Especially if we think about the role played by situationists in the social movements in France in 1968– 1969 and their political engagement.

In the Romanian context, I find interesting postmodern art criticism in the 1970s, which is the topic of my dissertation at the Bucharest Art University. I believe that this was a period reach in affects, ideas, collaborations among artists and intellectuals, who had the feeling of building something important. I also believe that the 1990s and 2000s generation had developed certain progressive ideas that were planted in the 1970s. Especially the conceptual, political and social commentary part – artists such as Lia Perjovschi, Dan Perjovschi, Mona Vătămanu, Florin Tudor, Vlad Nancă, Ștefan Tiron, Alexandra Croitoru. I feel that I come in the continuation of what they have started.

π What topics seem interesting and relevant for you today?

∫ First of all, the function of art in the larger sociopolitical coordinates of capitalism. I search for new instruments of artistic language, which would have an emancipative, anti-authoritarian and subversive political potential. This is the challenge. Art points out to the neoliberal capitalist system the main characteristics of subversive critical consciousness, and the system tries to neutralize this consciousness.

For me, it is important to define myself as an engaged, political artist both locally and internationally. I am interested especially in the contemporary mechanisms of colonial capitalism and of the patriarchy, and, in reality, my art serves as an instrument for criticizing these systems of oppression. I believe that artists should recuperate the area of agitation and engagement in art, which are unfortunately demonized.

π Is feminism relevant for you and your artistic practice?

∫ Feminism and the queer movement are collective political visions with which I identify. Both correspond to international movements, and this is often lost from sight. There is the globally reproduced prejudice according to which anti-authoritarian movements of emancipation, revolutionizing, progressive, very visible in the West, can be born only in that space.

Some artists believe that the function of art and their practice have no relationship with genderization, that they are above these categories. I can empathize with this position only from the point of view of desire for a post-gender world. The problem is that this ideal world, where there is no discrimination and inequality between genders, is very remote from us. Strategically, I think that it makes more sense to work with gender and sexuality than with other constructs. We must build our islands of freedom in our own context, without legitimizing the existing patriarchal hegemony.

 

 

Interview with Ion Grigorescu

 

Ion Grigorescu, born in 1945 in Bucharest where he lives and works, is an iconic figure of performance and conceptual art in Romania. By the end of the ’70s Grigorescu began recording his performances, which concentrated on ritualized actions around his body. His works have been acquired by collections such as MoMA New York, Museum of Modern Art Warsaw, MNAC Bucharest or Kontakt, and have been shown extensively around the world.

 

π Which were some of the challenges and obstacles you confronted as an artist before 1989? What topics were relevant to you before 1989?

∫ In the 1970s, I have started making some exhibitions with photographs in my apartment, exhibiting my works and those by visual artists, art critics, composers about whom I knew they have also made classic photography. These exhibitions had not taken place within the Artists’ Association, which refused to give us a hall for showing such works. Officially, they explained this through the fact that they did not have a photography department, but I found out that they declared directly: “This is not art“. Art was painting, sculpture, handmade artifacts that excluded devices and mechanic reproduction. This is how I started to make these exhibitions at home, initially with photographs, and later I have been captivated by the film camera and the tape recorder. I used to record conversations, friendly meetings with other artists or simply myself without a specific program. It was a form of self-teaching. For economic reasons – the emergent crisis of rolls, photo materials and imports –, but also for practical reasons – I did not want to make only this type of essays, or to complete them, for that matter – I decided to abandon this, I simply stopped doing it.

In 1974, I had a piece at an exhibition called Art and History: it was a photograph of a television screen showing the August 23 demonstrations, juxtaposed with quotations from Ceaușescu’s speech published in the Scînteia magazine. My goal was to test this text, which I used freely, to emphasize Ceaușescu’s text about how much sacrifice the Romanian people has brought for the current achievements and about the coming cultural revolution. I have realized that the censorship cannot touch this work. But immediately after, there come a prohibition for artists to extract quotations and to use them as they wanted in their works. Later, in the 1980s, it was not even possible to use printed words, only images.

At the end of the 1970s, the difficulties discussed by everybody have appeared: the infernal lines for food products, travelling on fully packed trams and buses in the mornings, surviving on staircases – people would live inside their frozen or overheated apartments. To my mind, all these difficulties seemed to be completely linked with the concept of art. In this period I got bored with the other artistic genres, film, photography, and I was thinking about a new version – performance; at that time I did not know it was called like that, terminology came later.

In the 1980s it was dangerous to obtain photographic evidence of demolitions taking place in Bucharest and of construction sites. Today, there is a documentation – incomplete, it is true –, but there is one.

π Who were some of the artists or intellectuals you were interested in when you started to work as an artist?

∫ When I started to work in the late 1960s, there were sources of information on art in libraries, the Library of the Artists’ Associations, the Library of the National Art Museum, the Arta magazine. I could also access international journals: Artforum, Kunstforum and Art and Artists Guide. These were in a certain sense up to date, and here, at the periphery, the distance between developments in the art world and their representations in journals was almost insignificant. I recall that I was interested in some artists working in contemporary art and following the developments from abroad: Paul Neagu, who had an exhibition before emigrating to the UK, or Iulian Mereuță, who was also an editor of the Arta magazine. At that time, I had some isolated attempts at doing something, without discussing with other artists, without checking on each other. We did not exhibit and had in common only very little and very vague things.

π What are for you the value and the significance of collaborating with other artists?

∫ In the 1970s, I met other artists and we would improvise. Nobody was forced to do anything. Everything was very spontaneous. We did not even set as a goal to ourselves to make art. We have met rather because of the pleasure of seeing each other, of taking a walk somewhere, of examining the virtues of a landscape together. In 1978, many artists with whom I have started these things emigrated and I was left to work alone. Since then I have never managed to create such strong friendships again. The same year I quit my position at the Pioneers’ House, and in the next decade I isolated myself completely from the Bucharest art scene. I withdrew from the public life of galleries and went to work on church restoration sites. This is how I earned my living at the time, not from art.

Presently, I consider that it is too late for me to work in collaboration, partially because of the age difference. There is a generation break. Youngsters who could do something are too respectful and place me somewhere too high. At the Venice Biennial in 2011, I have worked with Anetta Mona Chișa and Lucia Tkácová for the Romanian Pavilion, but the idea of exhibiting together came from the curators. Indeed, for me it was difficult to see the internal link, but externally, formally, it was alright. I worked with Ion Bitzan for the Romanian Pavilion of the 1997 edition of the same biennial. At that point we both tried to imitate old art objects, but it was a failure – I realized this was not what was needed in that context. I have also worked with Nicu Ilfoveanu, an artist who had the photographic means and a good comprehension of what I wanted to work on, but I would not see it as collaboration in the very sense of the term.

π How did the fall of the dictatorship affect Romanian art? How did it affect artists around here?

∫ In the autumn of 1989, I was gone to work on a church restoration site in Mehedinți county. There I have listened to radio Free Europe, as other people, priests and peasants, did, even though we never talked about what we were listening on the radio. In December I heard about Timișoara, and I went to Bucharest immediately. I arrived at the moment when they were shooting at people and canons were placed in the windows of the Art Museum. Although I was in the crowd, in those moments I was more concerned with my family, I did not have the intention of entering the Central Committee’s building, as other people did. I was thinking very little about art, and I did not take any pictures, although these were events worth of recording. I felt that it was a fever of participation, and not of aloof recording, remote from the events.

In the first “free“ art salon since the events in December 1989, there was not a single work on revolution, or about the fact that people have died and have shot one another. There were almost exclusively landscapes and still lifes, just as before the revolution. I believe this also demonstrates the culture of a people. At that time, I exhibited a work with a pentagram having a goat in its middle instead of a man, the center of the universe; around this image I wrote the words “The Romanians have lied“, together with some explanations by Petre Roman [the prime minister of Romania between 1989 and 1991] about the farewell to Securitate and the building of capitalism. For me, these explanations were only lies.

In the 1990s, stimulated by the establishment of the Soros Center, artists and theorists have started to build archives and publish studies about the previous generation, materials that were very good. Some interested researchers from abroad started coming. At the same time, I have noticed that many youngsters took me (and not only me) as a model, a dissident with an exemplary attitude. I realized that I must create exhibitions in which I can show the truth, speak about the compromises, about the fact that everyday life was not only about clenching our teeth against a dictatorship that I believed to be endless.

π What are in your opinion the main challenges faced by artists after 1989? And what about the present times?

∫ After the revolution, Romanian artists still had as a spine the UAP [Uniunea Artiștilor Plastici – the Association of Visual Artists], that is, without this institution they could not exist, and very early they have seen how their “spine“ becomes less and less, and with the disappearance of grand industries, the money of UAP disappears, too. Consequently, some searched for independence, others lost their studios, became poor, continuing to be members of UAP. Around 1994–1995, the Ministry of Culture made its last acquisitions. National salons ceased to be organized; therefore, the last hopes that the state will feed artists perished. Even education at the Academy, which became the Art University, lost its importance. Artists were used to work and sell behind the counter, and they developed a little under capitalism.

Among youngsters, concepts such as curator and gallery owner started coagulating, which helped them in affirming themselves and in finding a place of public expression. The older ones have nourished the hope that the Ministry will open a museum and their historical merits will be recognized. The Museum [MNAC – Muzeul Național de Artă Contemporană – National Museum of Contemporary Art] has appeared through great hardships [in 2004], after many expectations and without public consultations. Once again, it was the new generation that has benefited from the Museum, art journals and galleries, which, gradually, have also taken the merchandise abroad. Only recently the situation has become more balanced only, after the appearance of auction houses that, as if in response to old collectors of art from the 1960s and 1970s, especially collectors of paintings, have somewhat changed things. Not that they would regain the market value of old artists, but at least they mobilized the accumulated merchandize staying unmoved in studios. Not the market value, I say, because at that point, new artists have already emerged, painters from Cluj (graduates of the Art Academy), launched abroad. It would be perhaps interesting to study comparatively the age and the aesthetical and political aspirations of art benefactors in the East and the West.

It is funny, or frightening, that, in the compulsory wealth declarations by politicians and state officials, one can find certain quantities of art; in coffee shops and restaurants, in banks and private institutions one can only see art of an average quality, an unhistorical modernism, especially painting. Some institutions in Strasbourg or Brussels played the role of benefactors blindly, choosing European topics that Bucharest has not yet developed (minorities, identities). More than under socialism, artists had to learned independence from sources pertaining to art administration. Many times they had to set a price, and when artists set a price, they know with whom they shook hands and what kind of art they have made. Participation in different artistic contexts, where galleries have a different age, and money has a different influence, has acquainted us with an almost military rigor. Our domestic indecision is still poetic! What arguments are able to command there? We should wait for our market value to grow!

 

 

Interview with Vlad Basalici

 

Vlad Basaliciis visual artist and performer, he lives and works in Bucharest and London. In his projects he researches the modes in which we perceive temporality. His works, individual or realized in different collaborations, have been presented in institutions or contexts such as: the Festival eXplore Bucharest, Alternative Film/Video Festival Belgrade, Dansehallerne Copenhague, Alert Studio Bucharest, Paintbrush Factory Cluj, Center for Visual Introspection Bucharest, National Dance Center Bucharest, tranzit.ro/ Bucharest, Brut Vienna.

 

π What are the challenges you face as an artist today?

∫ My objectives are to be rigorous in what I am doing, to complete projects I took on, regardless whether they are big or small. I also desire to survive through what I do as an artist. Now I work and live between London and Bucharest. I was active in several contexts with foreign artists, where I received more support from Romania than what they received from their own countries. This does not mean that here one is not in a precarious condition as an artist, but in comparison to what happens in other parts of the world, things are more nuanced.

Generally, artists trying to live of their art depend on certain structures. I believe it is important to set yourself clear rules, connected to how much you are ready to negotiate. There were situations when I was part of a larger project, where I had to renounce certain things for the sake of functioning. There also were situations I entered in a certain context, which later gradually changed. I realized that my piece would have not function in the new situation, and I decided to withdraw. I try to avoid the position of the victim. If my project can be done, I am happy, if not, everybody follows their path.

π What were in your opinion the challenges artists faced before 1989?

∫ I believe that artists faced similar difficulties at that time: to survive and to be rigorous in what they were doing, but the conditions and pressures were different. In the 1980s you could do whatever you wanted in your studio, but you were not able to show your work to a larger public. You had to make a choice: to keep on working as you thought it right, without expecting anything to happen.

Currently there is a hope that something will happen with what you do. At that time, things were much more difficult, I think. The access to the public has been restricted. One could not access public space. Even presently there are some limitations: either you adapt, or you act alone. I have the impression sometimes that many situations are accessible, but when I try doing something I realize that it is not so easy. But, in the past, consequences could be much harsher than now.

π How would you characterize the art scene in Romania before the revolution?

∫ I have recently read Alexandra Titu’s book about this period, Experiment – in Romanian Art Since 1960. In the 1970s, artists could afford to experiment a lot. At a certain point, there was a certain effervescence. Artists took on risks. In the 1980s, there was a break. The situation in Romania deteriorated, and some artists have become isolated. Many have chosen to make more conventional paintings or sculptures, as this sort of works has been accepted and bought up by the state via UAP (the Association of Visual Artists). As if these artists would have told themselves: “Our childhood is over, we must do more serious things now“.

π How would you characterize the Romanian art scene of the present moment?

∫ An important period for me was when I worked for three years in the old CNDB (Bucharest National Center for Dance), together with a group of artists with whom I was in a constant dialogue. A critical honesty was created in that group. As an artist, one made a performance, presented it and people would tell him or her what are its weak points. One had to have an articulate and honest discourse about what others were doing, without trappings. In the spring of 2011, we were threatened to be evacuated any day, and artists felt they could experiment because they lived without knowing what will happen next day. I do have projects within the new CNDB, too, but the situation is not the same, dynamics have changed. Before, the institution had a budget for producing new performances, now this is gone. The former CNDB has been a moment that is now gone. Currently, I am closer to the visual scene, which is much more fragmented, kept together by a few poles: exhibition spaces, institutions.

π Who were some of the artists or intellectuals that you have been interested in?

∫ I am interested in a few artists about whom I believe that they were alive in the 1970s, such as Geta Brătescu, Ion Grigorescu, Miklos Onucsan.

π What topics are interesting and relevant for you today?

∫ For me, this is not so much about topics, but about how they manage to fit certain projects. I am interested in temporality, which I always see in relation to something specific. I am stimulated by this “something“ that in certain projects has to do with the private, intimate space, and in other projects with public space. I am interested in that tension that transforms the present into a space of expectation.

For instance, in my last video Broken Intervals (2012), exhibited at the Salonul de Proiecte in Bucharest, I start from the revolution in Romania in 1989. My work, however, is not about revolution, but about the way in which we give a meaning to such an event. The video contains only the time codes of certain sequences filmed during the revolution, the rest of the action is deleted from the image. When you reduce information, you obtain different information.

π How did revolution affect art in Romania in your opinion? How did it affect other artists from here?

∫ The temporal distance between what has happened 20 years ago and the current moment is important. However, certain events involve us emotionally, and then it is difficult to keep a distance. In the 1990s was a need to talk, but in spite of this everything has been seen in black and white, while now things are more clear, and artists relate more critically to what happened in that time. I believe that in art, too, there is less of that type of dogfight and things are seen in a more sober manner. As regards the old dichotomy East/West, I think that now this is no longer so important, because we move in a global space.

π What are for you the value and significance of collaborating with other artists?

∫ It always seemed to me that things I have done with other artists were more experimental in comparison to my own trajectory. In the sense that, when I set my mind to do something, I know what it will look like at large. In a collaboration, what you do is neither yours, nor of the other, but it is somewhere in-between, in a space of negotiation. Through collaborations one is off the track, and this thing seems important to me because I start discovering certain things that I never noticed until that point.

Translated by Alexandru Polgár