Tuesday, March 29, 2011

European Influenza: Raising Historical Consciousness in Neo-Political Times

Friday, March 25, 2011, I gave this talk at the Rutgers Graduate Student Symposium "Territory."


The art biennale is an artistic platform emerging from the politics of nation-states; the biennale also helps develop and market cities and regions through the staging of world cultures. But can aesthetic projects within the biennale have a meaningful political voice that reaches across various audiences and different borders in as a neo-political strategy?

The Venice Biennale is one of the most prestigious art events in the world, and certainly the most significant in Europe. It is based on the concept of national pavilions, that is national representation and (self)representation, with each country sending their best and brightest artists and curators to the fore. Venice is a type of Olympic Games of the art world, prizes included - while the format of the exhibition is the main vehicle for the presentation of art. At the same time, the biennale engenders multiple understandings of audience: the local, physically present audiences, imaginary constituencies and the professional field of the art world.

These debates and observations frame my presentation, which uses the Romanian entry for the 2005 Venice Biennale, “European Influenza 2002-2005,” as a case-study. European Influenza was conceived as a conceptual platform in 2002 by Daniel Knorr, an artist born in Romania who now lives and works in Germany. Knorr explains his work as an on-going series of materializations around the concept of Europe – and its dramatic transformations in contemporary times – related to the project of the European Union, as well as its impact over other cultures and geographical areas. Hence the word play in the work’s title, which alludes to both the influence of Europe and its darker side, a virus that threatens to contaminate. The 2005 materialization of this conceptual platform was curated by Marius Babias, a scholar who also works and lives between Romania and Germany.

The Romanian Pavilion in was left empty of visible artworks; its black walls bore traces of past interventions- scratches, inscriptions, nails, holes and dust. At the entrance, visitors encountered a label with just the title of the work. They also received a reader in English, free of charge – with texts commenting on the geo-cultural dimensions of European identity in the context of the EU’s expansion eastwards. Finally, the back door to the exhibit – leading to the streets of Venice was left permanently open, providing both an escape from the Biennale world and free entry into the guarded Giardini walls (normally the entrance to the Biennale is 15 Euros)

As a conceptual strategy, emptiness is a working method most notably used by the Moscow Conceptualists, in particular the group “Collective Actions” and Ilya Kabakov. In The Dictionary of Moscow Conceptualism, published in 1999, they described their artistic activities, related to theory and philosophy, which they developed in the Soviet Union from the mid 1970s. Emptiness goes beyond a banal absence; it denotes interventions that allow the possibility for non-authoritative, de-centralized positions for writing or producing art. The collective imagined emptiness as a way to describe a method or the lack of one, through which concepts and ideas can acquire multiple meanings in the works of artists and writers.

I imagine Daniel Knorr’s projects in dialogue with this mode of address, as they are focused on the relationship between the audience and the exhibition space; they extend beyond the walls of institutions foregrounding the participatory, dialogic aspect of conceptual art. In my interview with the artist, he described his practice as an exploration of a concept which can materialize even in empty spaces, for it is audiences that give it a form and context.

Indeed, in Venice, the piece was conceived as a space of reflection; after walking through a visual overload of images, sounds and sensations from all over the world, visitors were welcomed by the visual quiet of the Romanian Pavilion; they created the situation, continuing the aesthetic project envisioned by the artist. On one hand, they became aware of their own bodies moving through the space as they turned from art judgers and consumers to passers-by. On the other, the work’s materialization came afterwards, in people’s minds, and in the process of their interaction with society and media.

Indeed, European Influenza received a gamut of admiration and but also apprehension. It was lauded by some critics as a critical discourse that tries to raise consciousness on an individual as well as collective level; at the same time, it also was harshly criticized for presenting texts that literally cursed Europe and the US; it also presented a problematic understanding of art traditions in Romania, and seemed to represent the country through the metaphor of nothingness, reinforcing stereotypical assumptions of this region.

What all these reactions had in common was the recognition that this was as a politically loaded reflection platform. Understanding the Venice Biennale as a model for culture in Europe, “European Influenza” became a powerful counter-discourse in 2005 - just a year after Romania had been accepted into NATO and the time when its leaders aggressively sought be integrated into the EU– this would take place in 2007. This historical threshold mirrored the situation in many countries from the former East.

The reader for the Biennale, 1000 pages long, was edited by the curator Marius Babias and contained critical texts on Europe as well as sets of photographs taken by Daniel Knorr.

In one of these sets, Knorr used a self-made camera with 360 degree rotation to capture intimate moments of community life in Romania during the mid 1990s. For example in this panoramic photograph, the wedding of a 12 year old girl with a 13 year old boy is celebrated by a Roma community in the town of Sibiu. Three generations of Roma, all living in the same house, are shown drinking together, while the wedding couple (in the far left of the middle frame) sits quietly in the background, looking almost doll-like. In my interview with Knorr, he remarked that his 360s degree camera is not only a way to capture a community but also creates “spontaneous communities” in public space – as during different takes people start reacting to the camera and arrange themselves in the physical space that corresponds to the imagined one in the photograph. These sets of panoramas extend over 100 pages in the reader; they open a space for critical reflection into how communities are formed and represented through a series of selves and others that are mutually constitutive and in flux.

The texts from the reader were authored by scholars from both Eastern and Western Europe, as well as the US. While it is beyond my scope today to go into a deeper discussion of them, they by and large problematize how emerging mechanisms of assimilation, construction of identity and possibilities for action in the cultural domain affect definitions of Europe.

Curator Marius Babiaș’ statement was a critical indictment of the process of EU integration; Babiaș claimed that this process would establish Europe as a superpower through the centralization of political power, control over technologies and cultural hegemony; nonetheless Babiaș also affirmed his faith in political and social resistance movements connected to culture:

"While the political sphere formalizes EU integration process as a geopolitical vision of a greater Europe and forces norms on society (the new member states had to democratize their political systems on the Western model, accept international rules of competition and integrate thousands of EU laws to their national legislation), the field of culture has the potential to bring forth a perspective that treats the process of European unification as an opportunity for creating a critical Europe."

The text that was considered most contentious in the Biennale Reader – was Moldavian author Nicoleta Esinenscu’s play, “Fuck you, EU.RO.PA!,”; it foregrounds a strong female voice, epitomizing feelings of traumatic loss among Eastern Europeans. In this electrifying monodrama, a young woman tries to explain to her father why she does not want to participate in an essay-writing contest about her home country, the Republic of Moldova. It represents a provocative stance against the politics of European Integration- fraught with inter-ethnic conflicts, and addressing the former republics’ strained relationship to Russia:

“Daddy I have something to say….

What did I do for my country?

A country I’ve never seen.

A country that you’ve never seen, either.

A country?

Daddy, it seems you never had a country either.

My student years were only protests.






It was getting closer to you, Europe!




International! State/Statal!

Anti-State!/ Anti Statal!”

Betrayed and repelled by the free-market system which translates into greed for profit dominating the former Soviet republics of Europe, she also feels robbed of her past; her values and beliefs as a teenager when Moldova was still part of the Soviet Union, are revealed to be equally ideologically motivated. Chagrin, anger and disappointment are markers of her unstable identity, a symptom of Eastern Europe’s confusion- recast and remapped both culturally and politically. Performed in Romania, the Republic of Moldova, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Japan, France and Austria, the play led to fierce debates in the author’s home country; At the time of the Biennale, it was considered a national embarrassment by the political class in Romania, when its leaders were desperately seeking integration with the European Union.

The reaction in Romania was so dramatic, that it even became a heatedly debated topic inside the Romanian Parliament, as one can discern from this interpellation by a deputy of the Social Democratic Party, who questioned “who approved such a manifestation […] so that we should ask [them] to make a public apology to the Romanian people for the way in which Romania has presented itself to Europe.”

In Romania, “European Influenza” was criticized for representing the country through an empty pavilion as a metaphor of nothingness. For example, the Romanian Chronicle qualified it as “The marketing of nothingness,” The National Journal commented on “the way certain funds are squandered” “in a prestigious environment that injures the dignity of the Romanian Ministry” or even “ a symptom of the decadence in the entire cultural sphere, a decadence of life-style, language and politics that has reached alarming proportions,” as a reader commented on the latter article. Such heated debates over contemporary art projects in conjunction with the politics of the state are quite unprecedented in the country.

I would like to suggest therefore, that this project was very self-consciously meant to shock audience in the beginning, and then capture public attention and reaching the point where the contents of the Biennale reader in conjuction to the Pavilion left intentionally empty, were internalized and digested by audiences on different levels. Moreover, I argue that European Influenza 2002-2005, created a conceptual platform for contemporary art in Romania, as an aesthetic construction to raise historical consciousness, open to different interpretations.

This intervention I claim is therefore not atypical for understanding art traditions in Romania as has been suggested – as it can be connected to similar projects burgeoning in the country over the last 20 years. In art, this period of transition was manifested in the shift from socialist realism as the official doctrine and non-conformist art as the un-official discourse, to Western paradigms of modern art. After the changes of 1989, art institutions in Romania were slow to develop, and this influenced not only the national art scenes but the production of art in the country as well. The state did not recognize the importance of sustaining independent cultural enterprises but focused on establishing a handful of centrally managed museums that more or less function according to the schema of universal museums in the West – with a strong nationalist agenda of foregrounding Romanian artists commonly disregarded in the art historical cannon.

It is against this background that many artists, curators and scholars recognized the urgency of promoting alternative spaces for art and dialogue. For example, established in 1999, IDEA Arts+Society is a magazine that continues to exist even in the dire cultural milieu of Romania. Given this challenge, the editors created a column entitled “gallery” which sought to encourage local artistic practice. “Gallery” functions like a real gallery in two dimensional space. It is populated with posters designed by artists, DIY publications, sporadically published art and philosophy magazines, projects which run in tandem with IDEA for wider dissemination. Thus, the magazine functioned as a meeting and production space for artistic debates and socio-political topics of larger public interest. A similar strategy was devised by artists that have independently succeeded in reaching international art scenes: they quite simply have started creating reproductions and their own publications as new meeting spaces.

Lia Perjovschi’s archive is one such initiative. At the beginning of the 1990s the artist together with Dan Perjovschi established the Contemporary Art Archive, a collection of issues, publications and reproductions in their own studio. The archive became an important database for contemporary art initiatives, a self-supporting platform created independently of state funds or governmental support. On the bases of this material, the Perjovschis issued publications of modest design meant to inform upon and classify various tendencies in art and society, similarly creating a community like the magazine IDEA. In conjunction with the open archive and studio, the artists organized several exhibitions and open discussions and a series of lectures.

These initiatives keep art production in Romania energized and also, related debates at the nexus of art, politics, society and culture. It is in this spirit that I want to end my analysis and contextualization of “European Influenza 2002-2005”- a project which served to amplify these debates on a national and international level, criticizing and take advantage of the territory of the Venice Biennale as a model for culture. Running parallel to conceptual practices emerging in Romania in the transitional period of the last 20 years, this project suggests a new cultural model - one formulated on open and critical understandings of society, history and politics. This is a time when Western leaders and their Eastern European counterparts are pushing for normalization or consolidation of democracy - on cultural terms that have already been defined by the EU super-structure. Or, simply put, Western ideals for the progress of the non-Western world. A space for reflection becomes an appropriate response to these dramatic phenomena; it critically examines the intensity of social, political and economic transformations channeled through culture – an examination carried out through its multiple audiences, present and imagined, local and beyond its territory.


The author wishes to thank Daniel Knorr for providing valuable material and explanations in putting together this presentation. Thank you is also due to the Rutgers Art History Graduate Student Organization for inviting me to be a part of the symposium "Territory."

Image credit: Daniel Knorr, Reader for the Romanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2005

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some urgent texts on CNDB (National Center for Dance Bucharest)

"On March 21st 2011, a group of artists occupied CNDB. The works to destroy the centre have finally started. The whole area is now surrounded by a fence and the interior is being dismantled. The moment postponed for so long has finally arrived. An agreement was reached with the Cultural Ministry that other rehearsals and working spaces would be provided to the artists that until now have been working in the center. As of today we do not know of any concrete spaces available to us.

Information is vague and nobody seems to really know what will happen. Moreover it seems that the budget to construct a new space for CNDB has not yet officially approved. But again, nothing is known for sure. In order to shed some clarity over this situation, we decided to occupy the building of CNDB until other working spaces will be available for use and agreements for a new space will be finalized.
Until then we refuse to leave our working space. Independent or not, artists have until now been using the CNDB as a common working place which become a fundamental part of our working conditions. To loose our space will affect our capacity to work and to live from our work. We call for other artists, students, teachers, activists, sympathizers, friends and whoever is interested, to join us. We invite you to come and use the space. It’s big, there is studio space, wireless internet, basic sound systems... you can come to work, organize events, talks, workshops, music sessions and anything you can think of. You can also move your normal daily activity here. Come before they completely fence the area off!

PS: Also if you have any camping stoves, covers, pillows, coffee machines, cooking utensils or anything to organize the living situation here, please feel free to bring it."




"As part of this protest action – the sit in at CNDB as a response to the beginning of the demolition of the space, without offering any decent and concrete solutions to the artistic community associated with it – I suggest the following action: restaging the statuary grou “Caragealiana” (reference to the Romanian playwright Ion Luca Caragiale). Thursday, March 24th at noon, in front of TNB (National Theater Bucharest) a group of artists will restage the statuary complex, on a smaller scaler – but also a cheaper one – with zero budget.

It would seem that monumental art is always legitimate and financially supported. For example, the cost of making and displaying this statuary group, would have covered the budget for constructing a new space for contemporary dance, or buying one or several spaces. This would have been a dynamic space, within which information would circulate, a space for research and debate, a space for artists to meet and work; but this has failed to emerge as a necessity or a priority as does monumental art – reminding us of the times before 1989, of “bigger and better” things, no matter their substance.

I would also like to note that this action does not criticize the statuary group or the idea to commemorate Caragiale. We all love Caragiale. Paradoxically, he would have been the harshest critic of the anomalies of cultural politics in Romania."

Alexandra Pirici



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Biopolitics, censorship and getting our hands dirty - Part 2

It is not my intention to harp on scandal on my blog. The contemporary art scene in Romania is a precarious network as it is. But I believe having the privilege to run and organize an art center sponsored by a powerful bank in Europe, implies ethical and moral responsibilities, as well as a healthy dose of self-criticism. I also think institutional critique should foremost be open to the public and not relegated to the behind the scenes of the same institutions.

For these reasons and out of solidarity with the artists, curators and cultural managers truly trying to make a difference in art and society in Romania, I submit to my reader's scrutiny the following letters, which I translated. The first was published on the blog POSTSPECTACLE by the group Candidatul la Presedentie (the Presidential Candidate) as a response to the second letter, sent by PAVILION UNICREDIT to an undisclosed group. It is my sincere hope that these exchanges will encourage more people involved in the local art scene to become more vocal about calling into question the conditions of artists' labor in contempory art spaces funded by powerful corporate bodies.


Anarho-corporate schizophrenia -An open answer to a closed letter-


In the past few days a letter has been circulating underneath the surface, on an ad-hoc network forged by the always creative PAVILION UNICREDIT team. It is a sort of backbook of carefully chosen friends. Well, this letter has finally come into our hands! As Candidatul la Presedentie (the Presidential Candidate) was slandered in this letter, we have decided to make it public and answer it openly.

Necessary preliminary background:

After being invited to participate in the exhibition “Just do it. Biopolitical Branding” we were prompted by the curator Simina Neagu (who was the only person with whom we communicated up to that point) to propose a sum for our work; we suggested 1000 Euros (which would include production and honoraria for 4 people!!!); the curator replied that the budget for the entire exhibition and the publication is 1500 Euro and that she can only award us 200 Euro. We agreed to these conditions. That was our negotiation.

As regarding the deadlines mentioned in the letter below – one can clearly discern from the emails that we sent the texts, images and bios on time. Canditatul (The Candidate) is never sloppy with deadlines. Still, three days before the opening of the exhibition we received an email from the director, Razvan Ion, letting us know that we would not be in the show after all. Thus, he stepped over the curator, any interface was eliminated and it all boiled down to the director’s decision.

It seems that the problems arose when we sent our text (attached below -2) and when it was clear for them that we would no longer exhibit, as was suggested to us, a video with a happening at the Mall (also below on this blog). Another suggested which we resisted was to film the performance in advance and exhibit it as a video at the opening. We decided not to conform, not to be explicitly clear about what our performance would entail – we avoided surveillance and that apparently is unforgivable in an anarchist environment as PAVILION UNICREDIT calls itself.

Despite these strange mis-understandings, Candidatul (the Candidate) and his staff decided to attend the opening of the exhibition as an audience, and to celebrate this moment together with our friends from the Bureau of Melodramatic Research (BMR) whose works were in the show; BMR resisted dramatically in those conditions and we thought they deserved a little support, some Dorato champagne and a little institutional tension.

Therefore, we announced that our participation on all the social networks and yahoogroups we had access to, inviting everyone to toast a glass of Dorato champagne with us at PAVILION UNICREDIT.

We arrived around 7:10 PM at the center, and we barely made it through the front door when a loud voice started yelling at us violently, creating a hysterical scene which left everyone inside paralyzed. It was the director of the institution, Razvan Ion, followed by Eugen Radescu, the chairman of the board at PAVILION, who was much calmer and visibly embarrassed. Unfortunately the director, who kept emphasizing his position as director under various forms, was unstoppable: he grabbed the bottles (which were of course closed) from our hands and started insulting us and slandering us; he then proceeded to push us and the bottles outside of the space. During this altercation Candidatul (the Candidate) was physically assaulted by the director on the way out.

The bottles of Dorato were taken outside by his faithful subalterns: they were first placed on the street and then thrown into the tunnel - Pasajul Victoriei – following the authoritarian command of Razvan Ion. The bottles hit a car whose owner came to ask who the madman was that threw seven bottles into the tunnel. In short, these were the events of the evening.

Our collective answer

Firstly, we too would like to see the video tapes from the surveillance cameras from the night of the opening. On them one can clearly see that only 4 people and not 10 tried to go into the space and were immediately apprehended. That is two men and two women carrying Dorato champagne bottles. Those were the people who represented a terrorist threat – the ones who tried to go into the not-so-welcoming house of the director and who ignited his rage.

Secondly, we have decided to make public the exchange of emails so that one can clearly see that excluding us under the pretenses that we did not accept the terms of the budget was completely false.

We would also like to state that we have never discussed institutional critique with the director of this institution, nor did we discuss anything aside from the email in which we were told we had been taken out of the show. It is strange that even through the PAVILION team claims it does not know us directly, they still make harsh critiques of our intellectual training.

Thirdly, the semi-private letters sent by the PAVILION team is written in the first person but signed collectively, “the PAVILION team.” Things couldn’t be clearer. The institution-man has arrived!

Other things mentioned in this letter are ridiculous and shameful, such as the claim that we were denied entry into the space because we were under the influence of alcohol and other substances.

This is a universal tactic, constantly used by dictators and authorities, from Ion Iliescu and his “hooligans” and “thugs” to Gaddafi with his “crack-heads” who protest against him, to the little tyrants such as the director Razvan Ion. He yells outside “his house” – as he called Pavilion Unicredit that night – that we are crack-heads and other insults in the vein of Vadim Tudor – that we have “small brains.”

Together with us, those who were appalled by the director’s behavior were treated equally bad – people who we do not know and who responded on the spot were equally dismissed with the same violent speech.

It would be tedious to analyze the entire text put out by PAVILION UNICREDIT. Faced with slander (not unsurprisingly from an institution and a director with prior violent reactions) it is hard to react – herein lies the power of slander. A full answer is almost impossible because we would have to comb through each and every sentence, as each contains a lie or half-truth.

This semi-private text is an example of institutional dirt. But, like the actions of the PAVILION UNICREDIT team on the night of the opening, this letters serves the work of The Candidate perfectly; The Candidate wishes to expose hypocrisy, the gap between what is said and what is done/ performed at PAVILION UNICREDIT – that is the anarhi-corporate schizophrenia ubiquitously displayed in advanced capitalist societies.

Thus at PAVILION UNICREDIT one encounters:

Radical left political texts – in reality, right-wing, fascist attitudes;

Texts and works which condemn exploitation and neo-slavery – in reality, the exploitation of artists’ work (90% of those invited to exhibit are not paid, or miserly paid)

Exhibiting texts and works which critique authoritative power positions – in reality, using any means of authoritative power – may it be academia, prestige, lengthy self-eulogizing biographies

Texts which critique mass-media manipulation – in reality, using the same tactics of manipulation, disinformation, denigration, attack against anyone who critiques their institution

Statements for institutional critique and artists’ absolute freedom – in reality, censoring artists which through their works critique the context in which they were invited - in this case, PAVILION UNICREDIT.

As the Bureau of Melodramatic Research (BMR) have stated, the day of the exhibition opening was filled with surrealist events. Such as, the director of the institution, the self-proclaimed anarchist, crying in the face of imminent danger – the withdrawal of Unicredit’s financial support; firing Simina Neagu, the curator, over the phone, revoking this dismissal and then firing her in person; threatening the artists that the exhibition will not happen unless the conform to modify the content of their work. In the end Simina Neagu was fired through the classic tactic of changing her job title, getting rid of “assistant director” and replacing it with “assistant coordinator.”


The original text sent by PAVILION UNICREDIT


We would like to inform you about the actual turn of events in response to recent debates, unjustifiable and amusing, among a few unimportant participants of the local art scene.

Of course, this is a letter to friends and not an official statement, an explanation to you all who were or are still our friends, supporters, public, our collaborators. That is why we apologize if our language is not entirely academic. This letter will not be made public because we have no consideration towards those who think they can promote themselves through scandals – scandals aimed at an institution with the prestige and prominence that PAVILION enjoys. (the entity which operates three instruments: PAVILION – journal for politics and culture, BUCHAREST BIENNALE – The International Art Biennale in Bucharest and PAVILION UNICREDIT- center for contemporary art and culture)

We will try to be clear and to the point:

1. Simina Neagu had full freedom as a curator. The publication, the selection of the artists were entirely her choice.

2. Simina Neagu’s contract was terminated on October 27th 2010, and at the time she was paid in full. We decided to keep her in our organization to offer her the possibility of curating “Just do it. Biopolitical Branding.” We congratulate her for all the she has accomplished in our organization. We are sorry to see her exhibition, a good endeavor, to be shadowed by people she struggled to help.

3. After the discussions, meetings and email exchanges between Simina Neagu and the group Candidatul la Presedentie (the Presidential Candidate), the curator concluded that it was impossible to fit their demands in the budget for the exhibition. The group asked for 1000 Euro (and we quote: “because at CNDB (National Dance Center Bucharest) that is how much they were paid”). Later, there was a renegotiation, which did not amount to anything concrete. Moreover, the work in question was not presented to the curator, who had no clue as to what the groups’ performance would entail. Still, Simina Neagu decided to keep Candidatul la Presedentie in the show, and to resolve these problems until the opening. Because the deadline was not met, and there were only a few days until the publication needed to go to the printers, the decision was made to exclude the group from the exhibit. From the beginning, their intention was to be excluded from the project, so that they could create a media circus that would make them famous. End of story.

4. The Bureau of Melodramatic Research (BMR) requested a certain type of artistic production which was realized. Great efforts were involved, as they were also late, so that the last part of the piece was completed 2 hours before the opening. Again, we are used to working in advance and organizing everything perfectly. Still, the work is part of the show and the budget was clearly written on the wall, as part of their piece. So it is a big lie that we didn’t allow it to be put up. We know why BMR acted the way they did: we now cite from an email they sent to Simina Neagu on March 16th 2011: “we do not wish to capitalize on conflicts, although we admit that these conflicts work perfectly as branding and makes us more visible through our stance on the matter.” So they thrive on scandal. End of story.

5. The real events of March 10th 2011, the day of the opening of “Just Do It. Biopolitical Branding” are as follows: a group of aprox 10 people entered the space of PAVILION UNICREDIT with several bottles of champagne. This group was led by Ion Dumitrescu ( we think, because we don’t really know these people). Razvan Ion asked firmly and calmly that the bottles they brought into the exhibition space to be opened outside of the center. The reason for this is simple. Opening them (which was probably the group’s intention) would have affected the works of art in the show, and considering the great traffic in the space they could have spilled on other people. An important thing to note: bags, alcoholic beverages and food are prohibited in any art exhibition. The reasons are clear. Because the group refused to comply, Razvan Ion raised his voice trying to make them leave. Later, the entire Pavilion team evacuated the group and called the police. The bottles were taken outside, where someone threw them away. Unfortunately they threw them into the tunnel and they broke. Florin Flueras (is that is his name, I don’t know exactly) arrived after this incident smelling of alcohol. He was denied entry into the space for this reason- of course that was our decision. When the police arrived the group had dispersed. We didn’t file a complaint for assault and forcing an entry into a private space. End of story.

6. An answer to the accusation of sexism from the Bureau of Melodramatic Research : that is hilarious. You all know why and it’s not worth arguing. End of story.

7. The purpose of this letter is to raise awareness of the level of fragility and vulnerability of the cultural scene, provoked not only by the politics of the Boc government, but also by the integration and pervasiveness of these type of activities and destructive speeches in the cultural sphere. These keep the public away and generates an unstable situation which will limit international collaborations for all cultural managers in Romania. These types of manifestations which claim to be art are nothing but the promotion of false values in pubs and bars. They are based on the principle, I will attack someone famous and that will make me famous. Wouldn’t it be better if each one of us builds something and then see if it holds water?

8. It is sad that we tried to have an academic dialogue around institutional critique with these people, but we failed. Not only because they have not read anything, but they confuse Hegel with Heidegger. How can one have a discussion, let alone an academic debate? In the end, we invite you to see the show and decide for yourselves which work is more radical. In any case, the softest is the one made by the Bureau of Melodramatic Research. Even if we wanted to censor something, there was nothing to censor.

The main thing to emphasize is the PAVILION will continue to exist despite people like them. Even if UniCredit will not sponsor us anymore, there would be people willing to help up. Either way, BUCHAREST BIENNALE and PAVILION (which turns 12 this year) will continue to exist.

The quotes are from those who we have quoted, while the original documents, emails and contracts involved can be consulted at the center. Also, the video tapes from the surveillance cameras testify to what we just described. If someone has another opinion, we ask that it be supported in the same way: with documents, video tapes, contracts, emails etc.

P.S. Raluca Voinea, the great hero of some half-wits, is financed by Erste Bank, an institution which is thought to have supported arms trafficking from Russia to Libya. Chto Delat, the great socialist group received money for the Istanbul Biennale from Koc, a group that manufactures and sells armament. Jean-Baptiste Naudy, another so-called socialist and friend of the working classes, left his alcohol bill unpaid at the hotel; this bill amounted to 350 Euro and was paid by a worker (the receptionist). In addition, he is the son of a great French businessman, a very rich character. (so capitalism is good if only it gives us something in return.) What are we really talking about? Once we receive money we quickly forget about Marxism and institutional critique?

If every representation is an act of domination, and if every statement, every interpretation and every assumed position implies representation, then every work of art, every speech, every political gesture, even those motivated by the desire to give voice to the oppressed, implies a subsequent silencing. (Jesse S. Cohn)



All translations by the author of this blog, who welcomes institutional critique that is also self-critical.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Biopolitics, censorship and getting our hands dirty

With the permission of the Romanian artist collective “The Bureau of Melodramatic Research,” I will reproduce their untitled text, which exposes the underpinnings of the conditions of artist labor and many guises of censorship in contemporary art spaces. This text was written in relation to the exhibition ”Just Do It. Biopolitical Branding,” which opened March 10th, 2011 at PAVILION UNICREDIT in Bucharest, and the dismissal of the curator of the exhibition, Simina Neagu.

In the morning before the opening of the exhibition "Just do it. Biopolitical Branding", the Bureau of Melodramatic Research was personally announced by the director of PAVILION UNICREDIT that Simina Neagu, as curator of this particular exhibition and assistant director at the same institution, would be fired, if we don't exclude from our work all the facts and figures about the budget of the exhibition (that is the exact sum of our fee plus production costs). Moreover, we were informed that if we didn't agree upon this condition, the Director would additionally cancel the opening due at 7 PM the same day.

The aforementioned financial infos were part of our work and since we haven't signed any contract or confidentiality agreement, we didn't expect any opposition on the part of the institution. Following tense negotiations, we were told that we could publish the budget, only if we include all the current expenses of PAVILION for the period of the exhibition (electricity, salaries of Pavilion's employees etc). The director of PAVILION calculated an amount of 1400 Euro per artist/artist group. This amount is 7 times higher than our production costs+fee altogether. And it is 100 Euro less than the whole exhibition's initially announced budget (at least considering what we were told by the PAVILION employees when we were invited to take part in this project). Since we were interested only in the publishing of the artist fee+production costs and weren't allowed to disclose the detailed budget or any parts of it, the 1400 Euro were of no use for our work. Nevertheless, we had to publish this mystified amount of 1400 Euro, in order to avoid the firing of the curator and the canceling of the exhibition.

We acknowledge that, besides the amount for fee+production costs, whose publication was censored, we got the support of Pavilion for the transportation of all the pieces of furniture and installation (thank you, Andrei Craciun). Moreover, the Director himself has initially approved of our work's concept (at least, most of it).

Considering all these facts, we are inclined to believe that the ending of Simina Neagu's contract (officially announced today) is no melodramatic coincidence. And this should be a reason to worry for the all the artists and curators, be they employed or unemployed (or unemployable). To which extent do spaces "of the critical thinking" such as PAVILION UNICREDIT really encourage critical thinking? How come/how is a curator proposing an exhibition about "the use of soft power" consequently affected by Power itself? What is the politics of PAVILION UNICREDIT's organizational scheme? When answering this question, please consider that, at least from our experience, gender discrimination is undeniable in this institution. During our collaboration with Simina Neagu within the institutional frame PAVILION UNICREDIT, we noticed several concluding facts: only men could speak out, only men had the final word, only men solved or tried to solve any problem/misunderstanding with the artists (aka BMR), even if it directly concerned the concept and realization of the exhibition proposed by the woman-curator. In harmony with the sexism of much of the Romanian society today, a "good curator" in this institution, has to acquiesce every whim of her male director, and probably part of the unmentioned job description would be to become a complete YES-person in his presence. Also how come that a space that "promotes an artistic perspective implying the social and political involvement of the art" is censoring the publishing of the artists' fee as part of their work which was overtly dealing with the conditions of production (and the function of branding assigned to art through categories such as sustainability)? Why have all the works which include the questioning of the politics of art as a field of work been rejected (see Vilenski's case) or partly censored (our case)? Why cannot the precarious work conditions of the artists be openly addressed (see also Societe Realiste during BB4)?
We already witnessed many instances of PAVILION UNICREDIT discrediting itself, the last one being the expelling of the curator Simina Neagu. On this occasion we wish her good luck for her future career as an independent (or at least less dependent) curator.

- The Bureau of Melodramatic Research

Please also read this open letter of complaint addressed to Unicredit Tiriac Bank by Italian performer Valentina Desideri, who was present at the March 10th 2011 opening of "Just Do It. Biopolitical Branding" at PAVILION UNICREDIT.


To the above texts, I attach my own contributions on these matters, which became prescient during my experience working at PAVILION UNICREDIT for the 2010 Bucharest Biennale (May 2010) and the exhibition Comrades of Time(February 2010)