Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Lust for Light. Solo exhibition. Artist Andrei Chintilă (Romania 1958, died 2010). Text by Mihaela Varzari


Lust for Light. Solo exhibition. Andrei Chintilă
Text by Mihaela Varzari
SUPRAINFINIT Gallery
22 Mantuleasa St
Bucharest
Romania 

English version 

Lust for Light is a long overdue solo exhibition of Andrei Chintilă, an artist whose work unpardonably still remains in the shadows of history of art. The 16 paintings plus one photograph that feature the exhibition encapsulate two decades, starting with 1985 in Romania and moving over into the 1990’s when the artist relocated to Belgium for a few years.
 Vlad Iacob listening to music (1987) by Andrei Chintila, Courtesy to SUPRAINFINIT Gallery
 Adrian Guță, art historian and critic, himself immersed in the 80’s generation, places Chintilă on its front line alongside artists like Ghoerghe Rasovsky, Ioana Batrânu or Vlad Iacob, profoundly marked by post-modernism in full swing associated with poets and short story writers. Vlad Iacob Listening to Music (1987) belongs to the trajectory defined by anti-establishment impulses, conducive to reframing the Romanian figurative art under the influences of German and American neo-expressionism. Iacob, a close friend of the artist, is perhaps paradoxically depicted with dark skin. Under the ferocious, blazing, summer sun, bodies change shades and enjoy a particular type of freedom associated with the youth on prolonged holidays by the Black Sea and alternative lifestyle on the camping beaches of 2 Mai, Vama Veche or Sfântu Gheorghe. Fascinated by this oasis of freedom, Chintilă dedicates a series of paintings depicting bodies dancing effortlessly on the beach in a state of bliss filled with sexual energy. 
Blue Velvet by Andrei Chintila, Courtesy to SUPRAINFINIT Gallery
The women of this exhibition are mostly depicted alone in various poses ranging from Siren of the Sea, an oil painting almost impressionistic in its technique with a pop twist, an instantiation of timeless glam or they react to the male gaze at a party, as in Ecstasy, Separation  and Blue Velvet where some light pop art directions are visible. In Boys on 2 May Beach (1992) ad-hoc ‘communities’ are formed by young, athletic men hanging out on the beach in these mundane, snap-shots like representations, reminiscence of Paul Cézanne’s The Bathers (1905) only not with women as artist subjects. If Chintilă allows for some of his characters to turn almost black, Madness Study  depicts what seem to resemble to an Afro-American boxer during an era when Muhammad Ali was making headlines across the world. Chintilă’s attitude is innocent of cultural appropriation since ante ‘89 Romania was responding to other ideological stimuli.

Chintilă’s flirting with pop art is subtle and quite a provocation given the context he operated within still under the influence by the divide between high and low art. Lust for Light suggests that this divide collapses while the heat, violence, rhythm and velocity collude to impress upon the canvas a state of transgression.  
 
Boys sunbathing on 2 May Beacch by Andrei Chintila, Courtesy to SUPRAINFINIT Gallery
 ***

Andrei Chintilă, (born 6 August 1958, died 2010) was a Romanian painter, graphician and photographer. As an important contributor to the neo-figurative painting of the 1980’s, he is considered one of the most important representatives of his generation. 
 
***

Romanian version


Lust for Light este mult așteptata expoziție personală a artistului Andrei Chintilă, a cărui practică rămâne impardonabil în subsolul istoriei artei. Cele 16 picturi plus o fotografie, însumează două decade, începând cu 1985 în România și până spre finalul anilor 1990, când artistul a locuit temporar în Belgia. 

Criticul și istoricul de artă Adrian Guță, își plasează congenerul Chintilă, în prima linie a opzecistilor alături de artiștii Ghoerghe Rasovsky, Ioana Batrânu sau Vlad Iacob marcați de Postmodernismul poeților și a scriitorilor de proză scurtă. Vlad Iacob ascultând muzică (1985) se încadrează în liniile trasate de impulsiva agresiune fată de sistem, care a condus către remodelarea artei figurative românești la interferența cu repere semnificative ale neo-expresionsmului german sau american. Iacob, prieten apropriat al artistului este reprezentat în mod paradoxal în tonuri de maro închise. Sub impactul soarelui neândurător de vară, pielea corpului capătă nuanțe întunecate și se bucură de o degajare specială asociată cu tinerii în vacanțe prelungite la malul Mării Negre și cu stilul de viața alternativ încurajat de atmosfera plajelor de la 2 Mai, Vama Veche sau Sfântu Gheorghe. Fascinat de această oază de libertate, Chintilă surprinde într-o serie de lucrări euforia și energia sexuală emanată de corpuri umane dansând cu degajare pe plajă.

Femeile sunt reprezentate deseori singure, în ipostaze variate precum în Sirena mărilor, o pictură în ulei aproape impresionistă ca tehnică dar cu o usoară nota pop, instanțierea glam-ului la malul mării sau par să reacționeze la gaze-ul masculin în timpul unei petreceri ca în Ecstasy, Despărțire sau Blue Velvet. Băieți la plajă surprinde cotidianul în comunități ad-hoc formate de tineri bărbați cu corpuri atletice ce petrec timp impreună pe plajă sau la piscină, o posibilă trimitere la Les grandes baigneuses (1905) de Paul Cézanne. Femeile apar deseori singure, în ipostaze variate precum în Sirena mărilor, o instanțiere a glam-ului la malul mării sau reacționând la gaze-ul masculin în timpul unei petreceri  porecum în Ecstasy, Despărtire sau Blue Velvet, unde nuanțele pop art-ului se evidențiază. Dacă adesea Chintilă îşi reprezintă subiecții în tonuri de maro, Studiu pentru Madness ilustrează un boxer afro-american, posibil influiențat de nume din boxul american, printre care Muhammad Ali era una din marile celebrităti internaționale ale momentului. Coincidență sau nu, artistul este inocent de orice sugestie asociată cu aproprierea culturală din moment ce România pre ‘89 răspundea altor stimulti ideologici.

Chintilă flirtează cu arta pop in mod subtil, suficient însa pentru a provoca divizarea înca operativă la acel moment, între cultura înaltă și restul. Lust for Light sugerează o colapsare a acestei diviziuni, în timp ce căldura arzătoare, violența, ritmul și velociatatea ‘conspiră’ pentru a reda pe pânză o stare de transgresie.


Andrei Chintilă (născut pe 6 august, a murit in 2010) a fost pictor, grafician si fotograf roman. A adus o contributie importantă picturii neo-figurative din decada 80, pentru care este considerat unul din cei mai importanți reprezentanți ai generației.


IN IN THE THE FUTURE FUTURE, Solo by artist Kristin Wenzel, curator Mihaela Varzari, host CLUBELECTRO PUTERE GALLERY

IN IN THE THE FUTURE FUTURE

Kristin Wenzel
Curated by Mihaela Varzari
21 September - 21 October 2018

Club Electroputere Craiova
56 Calea Bucuresti
Craiova
Romania
***
Ruins are unstable by definition. They are forms altered physically by time, culturally always. As art they are only partly aesthetic since they stand as remains of something else, of which they become shadows or echoes informing a critique. The exhibition IN IN THE THE FUTURE FUTURE casts a shadow in reverse by engaging with ruins, as future in the past, not as in the English grammatical verbal tense, but in its literal sense. This landscape marked by abandonment, made up of remains of Modernist architecture claims to be timeless. If an apocalyptic scenario is usually placed in the future, the black and white photograph of a rainbow taken in 1986 sends us back to the past. This photo projected on the wall was adapted for a slide projector, an obsolete piece of technology whose mid XX century’s metallic, familiar sound sharply punctuates the passing of time. The carousel is placed on a stand, partly aesthetic, partly functional, a constant element of classical modernist architecture. We can imagine, this landscape as a time capsule, temporally located at the moment when this photograph was taken by Kristin Wenzel’s father in former East Germany where the family lived. This personal detail is read as an artifact not in its literal sense but as an artistic position founded on the need for self-mythologizing.
Exhibition view
The photo has a counterpart, an immaterial image of a ‘’rainbow’’, artificially created with light reflecting water, just like in the secondary-school lab. Largely speaking, the rainbow is a pure childlike image. Children make soap bubbles, make objects out of folding paper or cardboard. Within the architectural setting of the exhibition, Wenzel places the three parrots made out of cardboard in order to activate personal memories, an act which also triggers a re-evaluation of a whole set of socio-political structures. Everything is organized as to evoke the final image J. G. Ballard’s 1975 SF novel High-Rise, where the birds are the last inhabitants of a Modernist block of flats. Similarly, the parrots become the only witnesses to tell it further but to whom, since no cultural object can retain its power when there are no longer new eyes to see it. 
Exhibition vie

The exhibition includes an approximate 1:1 replica of a newsstand, a kind of one person booth which juxtaposes outside and inside. Wenzel scouts for her perfect locations. Kiosks, abandoned display windows or provisional architectural structures with stories to tell starting from the 70’s in Bucharest or Berlin, become exhibition spaces for her temporary interventions. Excavating within our recent past is also revealing certain ideologies in/forming how institutions choose to archive our cultural heritage. If architecture is by definition political, Wenzel is in constant search of new and more complex ways to highlight it. The view of one of the parrots sitting on top of a four meter something high tower is partly obstructed by the ceiling beam from different positions of ElectroPutere gallery’s exhibition space. A purposefully violent act on behalf of Wenzel, whose interest in Modernist architecture comes with its associations of top-down management, its inbuilt universalism or purity of design. Small tiles partly cover the sculptures or are spread out on the floor next to them. They are copies after ceramic tiles picked up on the streets of Craiova, where they were produced before ‘89 by a now defunct factory. Her latest projects treat the obsolete as fertile ground for dealing with so much debated transition from state economy to global capitalism. Chapter 8 installation initiated in 2018 by CNTRM WRNHS Project Space is a site-specific intervention in an abandoned guard house in former East Berlin to be demolished by the end of 2018. Wenzel’s response to their invitation was to build a 1:4 scale replica of the same booth which she placed inside it, as an act of personal homage.
Exhibition view
This cultural heritages which indeed are just ruins now are treated like that bachelor uncle at the Sunday family lunch, who you don’t quite know where to place him at the table. The dominant state of mind in Romania is still under the auspices of a self-imposed amnesia. Communism is generally understood in Eastern Europe, as an intermission or delay in the ‘normal’ development – a delay which, once it was over, left no traces other than a expected certain appetite to ‘make up for lost time’ and build a capitalism of the Western type. To recuperate and rescue some of disavowed ideals and artistic practices, as well as historicize objectively that period through the lens of its utopian ideals, is much needed now while keeping away from falling prey to nostalgia and become obsolete. 
Exhibition view
In popular culture around the globe, dystopian visions have not yet obliterated utopian hopes for more favourable futures. The abundance of films depicting the end of world has elicited a well rehashed phrase that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism, which in the good old fashion postmodernism springs up without having its source quoted. Yet, resistance to the maladies of the present can also be seen rising and falling as circumstance allow, sometimes enabling us to renew our attachments to life by embracing both its real sorrows as well as its possible joys. If dystopian landscapes are usually about some sordid future for the 99%, the exhibition IN IN THE THE FUTURE FUTURE reflects the future through the lens of an event belonging to the past. One hypothesis I have lately came across is that the end of the world already had happened, that we couldn’t get more self-destructive than we already have done so, which would allow us to focus on re-construction.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Lecture given during the opening of Komplett Fast exhibition, artists SIGRID KRENNER and ERNST MIESGANG, 22nd of March 2018

Lecture given during the opening of Komplett Fast exhibition (23 March-14 April 2018) artists SIGRID KRENNER and ERNST MIESGAN
Many thanks to the curator Andrea Kopranovic and PERISCOPE art space who invited me to present reflections/notes/impressions on the exhibition.
***

You would wonder, I imagine, why I’m here, in this space, where the exhibited artworks speak for themselves and don’t need much introduction. I was invited for this presentation, in order to unpack and unpick these works to the best of my ability and according to what resonates with my own references, the kind of art I am looking at or the books I m reading. 

Intro

‘Art would like to realise, with human means, the speech of the non-human.’ This sentence was published posthumously in Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (1970), which is full of phrases beguiling as this, always perched just between insight and jargon, ready to veer into either direction at any one moment. How far can I allow myself to speculate when imagining the speech of the non-human? One direction is that the speech of the non-human stands for ways of communication, which are precise, effective, embedded within a system and more important totally alienating if you are not part of the same species. So this is art, a system with its own internal logic, which has the capacity to render impossible, or improbable, qualities; one being to include and exclude at the same time. I think making art is difficult, writing about it is also difficult but I guess that’s why we are all here tonight because we like difficult things and we like to put ourselves in vulnerable positions. The other quality I extract from Adorno’s short definition of art aside from this paradoxical relationship to self-referentially alludes to the visceral quality, which I’d like to explore by occasionally making reference to the abject. 

Ernst Miesgang’s sculptures are replicas of human or animals’ organs found inside ceramic based mass produced collectibles. The membrane covering the heart for example exposes areas full of anatomical components sprouting out. They are disturbing and yet amusing. While they may seem gory and ghastly at times, they are inscribed with scientific truth downplayed by its ludic and amusing appeal. They are precious and their rather small size instigate a feeling in the region of affection. This response is immediately supplanted by a sense of being in the presence of something abject, when confronted with the overflowing guts and internal organs as if you’d open a door which once opened cannot be closed anymore. I see what I am not supposed to see. Immaculately executed, as science would require and exhibited in this way, on white plinths they become curiosity provoking specimens – items befitting a museological space; members of a class of like objects. This chosen method of display only enhances Miesgang’s direct interest in scientific truth and his work undertaken within the last years, is in his own words, ‘a homage to science’, inscribed in the sculptures and collages displayed here. 

Exhibition view
These decorative objects entered the common imaginair somewhere after WWII which those of us brought up in Central Europe and Eastern and, especially if you happen to come from a working or lower middle class family, like I do, remember the exotic animals, the ballerina, the bride and the groom or the Chinese lady (we in Romania got this a lot… sometimes you go to someone’s house and they would have two identical Chinese ladies or more. They were so many of them when I was growing up that to my mind it was the Romanians who invented them). 

As kitsch, these are quintessential objects of ideology. Gustave Flaubert decided as much on Kitsch as the organising principle for his book Madam Bovary, for which the cultural ‘geist’ was captured exclusively through the fleeting trends and shallow affective character of the popular and sentimentalist art of his day. (It is worth mentioning that while the main character Emma Bovary was too modern for her time, she also read romantic literature in her youth.) The Chinese lady of my upbringing traverses Flaubert’s romantic novels and mannerist hand made statues of his 19th century, winding up as the epitome of 20th Century kitsch for which the ‘mechanical reproducible’ has culminated in a veritable abyss of kitsch production. The unassuming brevity of the term ‘post-fordist’ appears designed to allay the mental (and ethical) exhaustion of trying to conceive of the terrifying scale and force of production and its counterparts, in our historical moment. 
These Kitsch objects of my youth were the next best thing to an original, indicators of taste, and hence, of social status. This “disembowelment” performed on these objects by Miesgang, the sometimes halving of the object to creating a cross section, as if operating with a skapell on a dissecting table, satisfies a perverse curiosity; the desire to comprehend the hidden mechanics of a gadget, or perhaps the meaning of graphics in the financial times or how a whole infrastructure works. This desire mixed with anxiety seems in tune with the urgency demanded by our times, marked by, amongst other things, the very real possibility of extinction. Extinction of the species, the final countdown if it’s to follow the biologist Lynn Margulis’s speculation: ‘a species only progresses successfully according to evolutionary rules when it develops towards its own self-destruction.’
I’d like to entertain this idea of the abject a bit more and suggest that it is present in a smaller dosage in the works of the other artist of the exhibition, Sigrid Krenner. I am making reference to a video installation from 2010, titled Just for you. The work features a film of approx. 6min showing Sigrid eating a chocolate bar containing almonds, which she spits out and place in a bowl shown in a photograph, which completes the installation. One reading of it is that by separating the almonds from the chocolate bar, she is creating found objects – she is generating rejects. Instead of picking up abandoned, unloved objects she’s literally making them, except that she’s using her body fluids, namely saliva - which brushes in my mind against the abject. A bowl of almonds – an express invitation to dip in, to partake, a social custom, a micro-social space at a cocktail party - has reached the exhibition via someone else’s mouth. It is not a definite case of abject if we think of an inveterate music fan, religious fanaticism or relic worshiping, and so on; any such prosthetics related to ecstatic states, serendipity or spirituality add value to these objects. If we are programmed to find bodily fluids disgusting, it’s because Christianity and how the maternal body is viewed, has something to do with it, according to the philosopher Julia Kristeva’s thesis. Kristeva describes the abject as the place where ‘meaning collapses,’; ‘Not me. Not that. But not nothing, either. A somethin’ that I do not recognize as a thing.’(Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection by Julia Kristeva)

Kristeva defines the abject in a non-definition, one that is there but she cannot display in words. Being a music fan is no lesser than a fervent God worshiper and a tissue impregnated with Madonna’s sweat (as in the pop start) can be as sought after as Jesus’ shroud or a lover’s bodily traces. Being a music fan was previously explored by Sigrid in This combination is not recommended (2017), realized in collaboration with artists Karina Kueffner and Julia Gutweniger. This work invites visitors to pick up onl y one copy from the two stalk of postcards representing the two Modern Taking German band members, Thomas Anders and Dieter Bohlen, signifier of a past its glorious moment mass cultural product.

The title of this exhibition was selected by Krenner and it follows from her practice of using phrases heard in the street from passers-by, which make an impression on her. One could call it the poetry of controlled randomness. From what I gather by using google translate and asking Sigrid for clarification since I don’t speak German, the title KOMPLETT FAST plays with the essential indeterminacy of words since it could also be FAST KOMPLETT. It sounds like a product of google translate, which can actually produce involuntary poetry. In his quest to find the sublime in the nonsense, the play writer Eugene Ionesco proposed translating texts literally just as google translate does now. The work Sigrid is presenting here borrows the title from a computer update A condition analysis is carried out (2017) and is formed of a replica of a found wood cabinet (perhaps suitable to display Sigrid’s reworked collectibles, just like I used to see in my childhood) into a non-functional, mysterious object complete with a multi-colorful wrapper found in the drawer. This cabinet, a rip off of late Modernist style is placed on a simple, red carpet, which in a surrealist twist covers the floor and the wall. A framed photograph of a peeled banana hangs unassumingly on the wall. The banana is a recurring artistic devise in her practice, an interest she has in bent, elongated objects turned motiff, which she previously explored in drawings and ceramic works. All three objects composing this work together with Miesgang’s sculptures, which previously inhabited someone’s living room before being discarded to the flee markets are 1:1 representations, which only add to the feeling of domesticity recreated in a theater setting like situation, where something is about to happen. Within this setting, the banana gives the impression of a crescent moon, evoking, in turn, perspective via this nighttime ‘horizon’. The wrapping paper becomes here a signifier of randomness and how contingency plays a fundamental role in meaning formation. for the current exhibition. 

Exhibition view

In 2016 Miesgang started the series of collages titled Critters. He explained to me his working method which implies dozens of litter newspapers with the same date, which he collects from European cities he finds himself in. Some images or shapes he finds attractive are ripped off by hand and then glued together to create these in between anatomical details and underwater formations created in the dark. Again, as in his sculptures, I’d like to suggest that we are presented with something we are not supposed to see but which is nevertheless part of our environment. The cardboards on which these collages are made force in their own history since they actually are the backsides of paintings or photographs he had found in the flee markets of Vienna, where he lives and works. Miegang’s collages can take different shapes but the one exhibited here stands out. It is a reminisce of a franc-masonic logo or some kind of esoteric sect. It is a signifier of the times are all experiencing at the moment, a depressing post 2008 era for Europe, where sadly we have been noticing an increased need to engage in essentialist and populist narratives. Because these cardboards are so precious they actually determine the working method to a certain extend since one cannot start all over again as you’d do with an easily replaceable canvas. Like in the sculptures, where there is no definite control over how the cracks will turn out, the cardboards with their stains and traces of time are incorporated in the process making and impact the final outcome allowing for the contingency to play a significant role.

Exhibition view
I will conclude with a few last ruminations on Sigrid and Ernst. Both artists operate with the element of contingency. Both artists recycle leftovers, which worked their way over time into obscurity, whose peak has passed and turned culturally obsolete. The title of the exhibition and of Sigrid’s works reveal the limits of language and they too function as found objects, still adrift, which as if almost by accident they have been illuminated as ‘work’. If artists’ intentions from the outset are different, where Ernst uses scientific truth while Sigrid favours the contingency, their interest in the mundane, in recycling found objects and perhaps exploring the theme of the abject create a productive tension. 
*** 



 

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Open Open Letter (published in April, 2015 on channel 4.com): The Romanians Are Here!! An Emotional Response to the Media Portrait of Romania in the UK By Mihaela Varzari

published on:
https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/factcheck-great-trickle-bulgaria-romania



Open Letter: The Romanians Are Here!! An Emotional Response to the Media Portrait of Romania in the UK

By Mihaela Varzari



Photo taken during the Anti-Racism demonstration, 21 March 2015, next to Nelson column in Trafalgar Square, London
I am not defined by nation, race, age, gender or sexuality. Better say I am defined by nation, race, age, gender or sexuality so much so that I have been trying to constantly challenge and address these founding categories. I am a woman, I was born in Romania and have been living in London for 14 years. By pure chance a few months ago I came across a documentary on Channel 4 NEWS on the subject of prostitution in Romania. I say by chance, as, since my ALBA TV broke down in 2002 and so decided never to pay for a TV license ever again or watch any TV in the UK. I understand that generally people pay for a TV license as an act of supporting independent media, which in return will provide apolitical, neutral programmes, as to say reflect a state of affairs as transparent is possible, at least this is the culture TV consumers would like to believe in. I did realize after two years of watching British television that my prediction was pure fantasy and moved on to reading articles from a variety of magazines, newspapers written in English, Romanian or Spanish. (It is worth mentioning here that TV license only covers the BBC TV stations). In order to keep myself informed I have also been watching a variety of alternative media sources like democracynow, youtube, and aljezeera. To get to the subject of this letter I must identity myself as a Romanian national, who has witnessed a lot of the media in its written form and radio on EU’s annexation of “former Soviet countries Bulgaria and Romania” during the last 5 years. For some unknown reason, the order has now changed and our ears have been accustomed to hearing Romania first and Bulgaria second. 
When we hear the former Soviet countries, it is a bit of a generalization, as in the case of Romania things are quite different. Romania was subordinated to URSS until ’68 when Nicolae Ceausescu refused access to Russian tanks on Romanian territory on their way to deal with the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. Ceausescu then became a hero for the West, a president of a socialist state who said NO to Russia was no longer a dictator, as he is known now but a hero, who stood up against the Mighty Soviet Empire. Consequently he was invited by Nixon to the Whitehouse, an invitation that was reciprocated by the American president in ’69. At the same time in the UK, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were received with great honors by the Queen at the Buckingham Palace, who paraded paraded alongside them in the royal, golden carriage all around London. It did not matter that people were killed in Romania for wanting to write poetry. In fact, this excess of pomp and celebration which appeared to follow the Romanian presidential couple whenever they went, now seems positively hysterical and simply just symptomatic of the climate of fear and anxiety during the Cold War. So, Romania, one might say, wasn’t so Sovietic after all. But even with so much friendship from the West, after ‘68 Romania became an insular country, without points of entry or exit. The trade routes followed different axis than they do today, and our close affiliations back then with countries like Iran, Syria, China, North Korea, many African countries like Zimbabwe etc, plus other South American states were supported according to other ideological demarcations.

Having lived in the UK has impacted on how I view my nationality. I started off by believing that nationality is irrelevant, that identifying too much with it would create absurd ideas of belonging, of fixing one’s identity and therefore limiting it. I also thought that in more general terms I was a European before I came to the UK but soon I realized that everyone saw me as an East European, someone completely alien to their values. I wanted to be from everywhre and nowhere at the same time. I did not need roots and being a foreigner seemed to have suited me just fine. It allowed me to be in two places at the same time. It was beneficial for my sense of mental freedom, which became more and more elastic. In the recent years since the attack of media on Romanians and Bulgarians, my acquired sense of mental freedom has started, to a certain degree, to crumble down. I have also started to work as an interpreter for legal courts across the U.K. and have been meeting sans papiers Romanians who work in London for £30 a day. Their humiliation has now became my humiliation. The opposite effect of everything I have believed in, started to take shape and now I was identifying myself more and more with being a Romanian emigrant. The fierce nationalism running across Eastern Europe at the moment, I believe, is only one step further from my own type of identification. When between a rock and a hard place, people need some fixed points of reference to regain strength. Nationalism can be found even in the UK, a country recognized for its political apathy among its citizens, not that being political equals nationalism. I know, it is improper to say British citizens since the Brits are Her Majesty subjects. Nevertheless, according to my own experience, nationalistic display of feelings emerges in the UK every time a foreigner attempts at criticizing its values and morals. English are quite happy to bitch with you about any other nation in the world until your criticism is directed towards them. This in my experience is not allowed and if there is anyone to have strong critical points about their own culture only the English can do it. How many times have I heard: “You don’t like it here? Then, why don’t you go back?” The complex of superiority is embedded within this country’s psyche and this is just one way to manifest itself.

Ever since early 2000's an array of documentaries made by British TV national companies covered the, at the time, unknown fear of the Romanians. There were documentaries presenting ‘aurolaci’ in English glue sniffers, homeless adolescents who run away from orphanages. They were only preceded in the 90’s by horrific imagines from inside Romanian orphanages and I guess these poor children were the first to feature out of the darkness of Romania. It seems to me that these tragic examples gave license to so many British journalists to focus with increasing assiduity on this country. Slowly, slowly the nature of the series of documentaries slightly varied and in 2009 BBC commissioned the Romanian contemporary artist Stefan Constantinescu, who has been living in Sweden since 1989, to shoot a documentary. It is still available on youtube and is titled, My Beautiful Dacia. It is in my opinion a successful attempt at portraying Romania’s transition from Communism to Capitalism, a transition sealed by the EU integration. Out of the abundance of documentaries about Romania released by British TV it is the only one which granted the subject in question its due complexity?

A few months ago, on the 27th of October, Channel 4NEWS presented another documentary on Romania, titled Iasi the Sex Capital of Romania. The reporter Paraic O’Brien flew to Iasi to demonstrate his thesis, namely that Iasi, this large, university city from Northern Romania is the country’s sex capital. He proceeded by filming the moment the plane landed and surprise, surprise, right at the airport’s carpark he witnessed young males tuning their cars and taking pictures of half naked girls. “Jackpot!”, Paraic must have thought to himself on seeing this and couldn’t believe his luck. “I see prostitutes and I haven’t even got to the city yet.” Other images from the city shown girls walking in the street, perhaps rushing home from university or high school, girls dancing in a night club or some real prostitutes shouting by the railway station, where prostitution has existed since the 90’s. The suggestion made by our reporter possessed by such investigative journalistic talents is that girls walking the streets of Iasi, at night equal prostitution. The documentary features conversations with local pimps who go about bragging about the number of girls working for them in Europe, including UK. Coincidence has it that the nature of my job puts me in contact with many legal cases on Romanians and if there is someone who has insight but unconfirmed knowledge, then that person is myself or my colleague interpreters. I can actually remember all six Romanian prostitutes I interpreted for in courts during my four year career. Again the coincidence has it that I grew up in Iasi and I know the city very well. First of all, no one can tune their cars in airport’s parking place, as it is secured and secondly is always full with taxis and cars because the airport tends to be quite busy. It seems to me a totally improbable version of events, to the point of believing that the Mr O’Brien, the maker of this documentary orchestrated the tuning of at the cars scene in order to support his flimsy, unsustainable, difficult to prove thesis. Did he take his info from a “source”, as investigative journalists do and then he tried to prove it by making things up? This is my supposition. He made it up as he went along, as barristers put it to the witnesses in court. On Tuesday, the 26th of February, Channel 4 presented the last of two episode documentary The Romanians Are Coming, which depicts the not so fulfilled, or prosperous, or even decent lives of working class Romanian immigrants. Time and again we see Borat-like images of the families back in Romania paired with their sad, sad lives in the UK. The question raised here mainly addresses why Romania does not provide decent work opportunities so people won’t need to humiliate themselves abroad.

That these types of fictional or highly exaggerated and stereotypical so called pieces of investigative journalism still on major network is alarming. To what kind of ideology are they subservient to? What kind of political agenda do they actually serve? This type of approach can only reinforce a traditional, patriarchic, therefore expired outlook on the new-comers within EU. They are allowed to be part of the Big Europe as second class citizens and are ready to embrace everything what real progressive Left parties like Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain view as obsolete in the West: multinationals, massive and brutal privatization, stock exchange system, lobbying for political parties, IMF etc. Romania has been experiencing a forever transition period ever since communism fell. This transition could be rapidly translated as this: there were some bad guys who called themselves communists even if they didn’t understand Marx, who got killed by the new guys, who called themselves social-democrats but who in reality were wild, Turbo capitalists, identifiable by the local motto “ I am rich, never pay tax, I have friends in high up places.” Now we have some new types of dictums coming from IMF, EU legislation and some Anglo-American lessons in lobbying, market research, more populist speeches and media manipulation through a constant assault on the its audience with political scandals to the point of creating numbness. EU integration was not negotiated in the case of Romania and all the laws and impositions were eagerly accepted. Romania became a virgin market for the West in terms of banking and pharmaceutical co, which exist in abundance in all cities across Romania, alongside numerous shopping malls, where no one seems to shop since Romania is still not a consumerist society and ordinary people cannot afford shopping therapy. This is a kind of summary of the recent Romanian history, marked by economical colonialisation through EU legislation. This is the place where the cheap workers who get jobs as cleaners, fruit pickers and laborers come from. The eastern part of Europe is still trying or they do not try enough – under the burden of the ‘unconditional love’ provided by its Western counterpart – to negotiate a position of equality within the European borders. As a result, European integration is not based on collaborative, exchange of values and interface based on dialogue but in fact is quite the opposite where a master-servant relationship is being reiterated. The integration is partly paid back on behalf of the new members by being used as cheap labor or in other words by commodification of human labor. What I have been experiencing through living here is that the issue of migration, which has been flagged up by UKip in the recent years and then taken on board by the Conservatives, masks or better say mystifies a more burning issue, that of debilitating poverty, created across Europe, where everything is connected. Who takes responsibility for such increasing disparity between the rich and the poor? The answer is; not the impotent European governments, whose sole purpose seems to be managerial and subservient to multinational corporations focused on private economical gains. The shared humiliation I have been experiencing since the attack of media on Romanians has started to shift from the emphasis on the national to the economical and I notice how the increasing poverty in the UK is being given a bad name by the current Tory “ridden” government. It seems that Romanian as well as the English poor have a lot in common: being made fun of by the media and hugely underpaid by the economical system.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Open letter addressed to Calin Dan, director of MNAC, Bucharest, October 2017, published on FB

22/10/17

Dear Calin Dan,

My name is Mihaela Varzari one of the 4 international curators and researchers in residence selected as a result of the open call launched in 2016 by MNAC (National Museum for Contemporary Art), Bucharest, Romania under your directorship. I was looking forward to carrying out my project in Bucharest when 2 weeks prior to the starting date I was informed (in a 2 line email) that my residency was cancelled because of the budget. My many attempts to discuss alternatives with you didn’t get anywhere as you never endeavored to respond to any of my emails, letters or phone calls. I even met you face to face, by sheer coincidence, at an art opening, but you told me you were too busy to discuss my situation. Only once someone from MNAC called to let me know that it was not a cancellation but a rescheduling. Nothing was followed up, despite a number of emails I sent in the hope of getting the ball rolling. I can’t help but think now that the promise of re-scheduling my residency was a tactical way of evading the problem altogether in the hope that I would eventually lose interest in pursuing this opportunity. My reaction to this cancellation and the treatment on behalf of yourself and your staff was one of immediate shock and disbelieve. A publicly funded institution decides on a whim to discriminate against 1 of 4 residents (the other 3 residents carried out their respective projects) without feeling it at all necessary to offer more than a 2 line explanation and what transpired to be a false promise. In preparation for my time in Bucharest I had organized to sublet my room. As a result of the cancellation I had nowhere to live for a month and was forced to stay at friends and pay for a room with airbnb. The initial explanation was in relation to the budget but recently I just noticed that a new open call was launched my MNAC which indicates the opposite.

For any art practitioners who have encountered similar things or understand the ethical dimension a national museum is bound by:
- What avenues are there at my disposal for interrogating such unprofessional attitudes verging on abuse of power? 
- Does MNAC have any responsibility to explain itself, especially since it’s a public institution when asked to?
- What kind of legal format does such a relationship between an invited resident and such institution can take?
- What about the social contract or just basic human decency?

P.S. If any of you are lawyers, please offer me some advise. Please feel free to share on FB, it would be great if this letter actually reaches them.

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23/10/17

MNAC's response (copy paste from MNAC's FB page, under REVIEWS):

Mihaela Varzari, the National Museum of Contemporary Art is consternated with the public stance you are undertaking regarding this issue, which only partially reflects the situation. As with all our residents, we were keen to have you as part of our team in 2017.
Our team - the Director of Development, the Residency Program Coordinator, the Residency Program Caretaker and the Management Assistants had numerous conversations with you in order to make your residency happen. Despite extended negotiations, we could not reach a consensus on practical matters regarding housing, transport and the residency period - all necessary conditions required to draw a contract. During this laborious and unfruitful process, unexpected budgetary constraints forced the Museum to reduce the scale of the residency project. Since such issues were not raised by the other three residents, their contracts were signed in due time so that their projects could be carried out accordingly.
In conclusion, having failed to reach a consensus over a long period of time, the museum was forced to suspend your residency, in the context of unexpected cuts in our operational budgets. This was not an issue of discrimination, but the sole consequence of an agreement not being met at the administrative, legal and financial levels.
Additionally, it is common knowledge that in Romania there are no multi-annual budgets, which means that state institutions cannot finance projects from a year to another. Thus, the 2018 residency project call relies on an estimated budget for the following year.



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23/10/17

My response, published on FB

For future MNAC open call 2017 applicants:

this is a false and exaggerated version of events and it shows the unnamed author’s lack of assuming any responsibility or engaging with reality. Please do your fact checking first and stop this charade right here and now. I have emails to prove the opposite. You are masking your patronizing attitude by trying to place the blame on me.

1. MNAC curtailed my residency from 6 to 4 months because of weather conditions. No other explanation was offered. Did the same happen to other residents? My emails with the staff member show that we were in agreement on the residency period (1 of May – 30 of Sep, four months in Bucharest, one in London).


2. I was in touch with the same staff member about the accommodation conditions etc and we were looking for such options in Bucharest. No one at any point told me anything about the negotiations going sour. There were not extended and at no point I was under the impression I was doing anything wrong, as you suggest. Such email exchanges were not laborious or fruitless but the type of conversation which is practical and absolutely mundane. 


3. Transport? Perhaps you mean the flight ticket? My conversations with the staff member reached the point where I gave my details for the flight ticket to be bought and then nothing happened.
 


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Documentation of the performance, CATCH THE ARTIST (4th floor, all floors): 23 nov 2017
Artists: Gabriela Mateescu, Virginia Lupu and Valentina Iancu
Courtesy of MNAC (National Museum of Contemporary Art) facebook page, Bucharest, Romania
Performers (foto): curator Valentina Iancu & artist Gabriela Mateescu
Disclaimer: Iancu wears an armband with the words ‘Mihaela Varzari etc’ sewed with lilac thread on white cloth in solidarity with Varzari’s public open letter addressed to Călin Dan (director of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest, Romania). Etc stands for the multiple cases of abuse of power and autocratic behavior of the director demonstrated in his relationship to ex-employees or collaborators of the museum.
 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Solo expo review, artist Liliana Basarab, Borderline Space, Iasi (17 June - 29 July, 2016) curated by Cătălin Gheorghe



TALENT IS NOT DEMOCRATIC, ART IS NOT A LUXURY (The Grasshopper and the Ant)
Solo exhibition: artist Liliana Basarab
Borderline Space, Iași (17 June - 29 July, 2016)
Curator: Cătălin Gheorghe; performers: Petronela Grigorescu and Bogdan Pălie; project designer: Costel Chirilă

Text by Mihaela Varzari
Published with Revista ARTA, issue 30/8, print version, 2018


This three fold project of the visual artist Liliana Basarab (b. 1979) traverses into the area of installation bordering self-curated art works. The video, featuring two performers sitting round a table, is the documentation of the performance during the opening. When browsing on-line data available on a computer in a corner, it becomes apparent that the script is based on short and concise excerpts from international artists, activists and politicians’ public discourses, forming a live archive organized by key words in both English and Romanian. This constitutes the research part of the project, which is still gathering information even now, one year after its initiation, a reflection on how meaning is formed in our live-streaming era (accessible on http://lilianabasarab.com/greierelesifurnica).

Liliana Basarb, TALENT IS NOT DEMOCRATIC, ART IS NOT A LUXURY
(The Grasshopper and the Ant) 2016, ceramic sculpture. Courtesy the artist
Basarab’s work doesn’t suffer from the incomprehensible or the irrational attributed to the classical Western artist responsible for the maintenance of such myths as the autonomy of art. Following from her interest in working with the medium of ceramic based sculpture, two representations of the grasshopper and the ant, plus a dialogue bubbles are mounted on a wall. Aesop’s famous characters appear here half human, half animal following from children’s books and animation. This ludic quality runs through her previous work, also prompted by her constant engagement with children through workshops, which sometimes become art projects in themselves, like in Imagine Beauty! Postcard project, (2003-2004)[1].  For this  project, Basarab worked with a group of 8 to 12 years old girls from a schools in Tătărași district in Iași and was hosted by the local Post Office.

The paradox proposed by the title together with the subtitle, TALENT IS NOT DEMOCRATIC, ART IS NOT A LUXURY (The Grasshopper and the Ant) is prepared to give a lot away and it could be rewritten as a dialogue between two interlocutors: the first is a conservative and essentialist European high culture nostalgic while the second follows the path laid out by Joseph Beuys interested in the social function of art. Who is the lazy, irresponsible hedonist and who is the goody-goody, hard working ant? No answer would be satisfying enough but I sympathize with the grasshopper not because he doesn’t receive any help from the ant but because I see him having to perform the role of the rebel, he who just plays his guitar in the summer and starves in the winter to the point of self-destruction. When did we become subject to the injunction to rebel? 

Liliana Basarab, TALENT IS NOT DEMOCRATIC, ART IS NOT A LUXURY
(The Grasshopper and the Ant) 2016
Exhibition view features performers Petronela Grigorescu and Bogdan Pălie. 

Courtesy the artist
Revisiting classical themes of Western art like beauty or truth has been taken up by Basarab in the past. I distinctively remember seeing the documentation of her performance titled, Truth/s (Adevăr/Adevăruri) (2004–2005)[2] where an artist friend is asked to perform truth in a 15 min video. Graduated in 2002 from the media specific training, at G. Enescu Arts University where such categories like truth and beauty were still believed to be solid, universal pillars, Basarab revisited them when she started developing her own career. The morale of the fable is rescued is seems from a political populist discourse of simple black and white choices and subdued to art’s vocabulary. Basarab’s work is grounded on the current reality and the fragments composing the script make reference to the relevance of art and its incestuous relationship to the market questioning the presumptuous autonomy of art. This is also reflected in the presentation of this project, where the documentation is incorporated into the art project itself. 


[1] This project took place in other places like Chisinau, Helsinki, Amsterdam amounting to a total on 500 post cards and it involved adults as well.
[2] Evening of performances curated by Alex Moldovan, hosted by ICR London, 2007.

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