What exactly is a ‘temporary artist’? According to Romanian artist/writer Dan Perjovschi, it’s someone who creates work that is eventually replaced, scrubbed off or painted over. Therefore, a temporary artist always has a fresh canvas—a fresh perspective, and a fresh start to remake and reconceptualize the work of his past. A temporary artist is always new.
Max Dax: Dan, you once said that three things impact your art: ‘the political events of 1989, the free press and the international art scene’. How are these three different entities connected?
Dan Perjovschi: I was academically trained as if I were in a zoo—very detached from society, because everything that I’ve been studying had nothing to do with what’s going on beyond the school. This situation changed in my country with the revolution. 1990 was a year that I spent more time on the streets than indoors, engaged in protest. That kind of reality modified the way I was looking at things, but my skills were not enough to correspond with this change so I tried to find a territory where I could get a hook in. I found it in the media.
You mean reality suddenly invaded your life?
These events shaped everything I knew about society and life. There were people dying, there were heroic moments, depressing moments, pathetic moments. The most interesting territory at that time in my country was the new press, because for the first time in recent history they could print what they actually thought. It was a boom of newspapers, people queuing for hours to buy something, so I moved into illustration—although I was trained as a painter.
The art galleries at the time were very boring compared to everything else that was going on in journalism, so I migrated to this journalistic territory. I started to illustrate texts that had something to do with my reality. Then I could travel, which is worth mentioning as I was unable to get out of my country until the communist system collapsed. In our travels, my wife and I soon realized that Romania had been cut out of contemporary culture for decades. It’s hard to believe, but we were missing fifty years! The art of the ’50s, all the way through to the ’90s hit us at once. We didn’t have any basic knowledge; our education had barely reached Picasso. Of course this all influenced what I was doing.
In addition to becoming an illustrator for the free press in Romania, you did your own newspaper Dan Perjovschi Newspaper in 1992.
Everybody was very poor at that time—as was the art system. There was no money for catalogs. But I was working for a newspaper at the time, so I knew the practices and could organize paper and a printing machine and whatever help I needed. The first issue we printed instead of a catalog and it was cheap. Since then, it’s become a practice. Even now I’m producing my what I call eight page galleries, a freely-distributed newspaper with my drawings. I like very much that I’m caught in the art market a bit but still have this medum that can be distributed to exhibitions, that can make physical contact for free. I love the medium of newspaper; I love printed matter in general. My art is temporary, my wall drawings have a temporary appearance and newspapers are also a temporary practice because people often don’t keep them—they might throw them away tomorrow. Like a performance, newspaper is of-the-moment.
Like the Internet, which is even more immediate?
Although I’m actually very low-tech, I’m fascinated by technology.
Here’s a funny coincidence: In 1992 I started my own magazine called Alert, which was a tribute to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. It was strange… even though we didn’t have a communist system in the Federal Republic of Germany, and despite knowing everything about Andy Warhol, nobody was doing a magazine with the format of an interview as a document of other people’s views, as opposed to present articles by critics who tell other people what to think. This was new in Germany.
For me, it was not a conceptual decision; more like necessity, somehow adapting myself to the situation and finding a strategy. Only afterwards came the conceptualization: what kind of space is it, published space or not, free or priced. First I saw the possibility of doing something in a context and with no money. It was something that had to be managed somehow… we didn’t even have a Xerox machine! I just profited by the coincidence that I had migrated to journalism. In some respects the journal and the printed media were my second school somehow.
The second coincidence is that we’re trying something with Electronic Beats that almost everybody has forgotten in the age of the Internet. Because the online world is so contemporary, everyone forgets what was yesterday and what was happening the day before yesterday. We’ve made a functionality which allows you to flip back the pages and see what we published a day ago, a month ago—like a pile of newspapers. It’s embarrassing to say but nobody else does it.
There’s a saying that ‘nothing is as old as yesterday’s newspaper’. But that’s only one side of the coin. We’ve all experienced the fascination of discovering a pile of newspapers. It’s like calibrating yourself, seeing what was happening a week, a month or a year ago. I worked with this weekly magazine called 22 in Bucharest in 1990, and every year they bound the yearly collection together. I have all the piles, and I’m showing it as a sculpture in an art exhibition right now.
You were talking about the revolution and how everything opened up, but what was it like before? To confront you with another statement of yours ‘doing something in a frozen society like communism was in itself a radical act.’ What did you do during communism?
Under Romanian communism, you were given an obligatory job for at least three years after you graduate. Sometimes, if you studied the arts, you could even get a job in the industry. I was lucky and got work at a museum in western Romania, in a city were lots of young artists lived. Until today, I think it was a mistake from the communist party. We would get together and organise exhibitions and every week we would do a show. Even the communist censors would say “oh, you’re doing a show” and they’d come and take a look. So in that sense the act of doing was radical because the rest of society was just waiting for the dictator to die, like they’re doing in Cuba today. I was born in 1961 and the dictator in the ’70s was more liberal, but where I was educated and grew up studying art our society was completely frozen. So doing these exhibitions was an answer.
Our homes were the only refuge from censorship, so we’d use our apartments for artistic projects. These exhibitions and performances were very private—only the closest of our friends would come. My wife would do performances with no audience, myself being the only witness to document them with a camera. We couldn’t place it in our art history, but it was instinct. Later, of course, it turned out that it was great to have documented everything. But all these actions were merely ways to somehow survive with our mind intact.
Now you draw pictures that only exist for a limited time; is this an extension of what you did back then?
In some ways yes, but it also comes from practice. I was very poor, Romania was very poor, nobody would pay me transport or insurance for my art, and there was no system to support me as a professional artist. I had to invent a strategy to be free. You can carry some drawings in your suitcase but you cannot fill a big space, so I ended up drawing my art directly on the walls, just to minimize infrastructural needs. I started to reduce everything in order to unleash my freedom of movement. Now, I don’t have a plan, I free my mind… I cannot stand having a plan. My work is like a performance, and because these pieces have to be painted over, I have to digest the idea that I’m a temporary presence, an idea which has become a philosophy. At the beginning it hurts to see your art overpainted, but now I see the potential: every time a piece is painted over, I can dream of doing it better
By painting for Deutsche Telekom, you are collaborating with a big corporation to decorate their huge booth at the IFA fair. Working with big corporations has always been a source of criticism in the art world —you really have to think about whether you want to be associated with them. How do you cope with being the face of Telekom?
One of the few pieces of mine that you can still see is in the National Technical Library in Prague. Almost all of the other pieces were temporary and therefore are not visible anymore. For Telekom’s IFA booth I’m doing drawings on a huge wall, commenting about cloud-commuting with chalk. Honestly, I think that’s funny! I see it as a collision of a highly technological forum and my low-tech handmade drawings. And let’s not be shy: Deutsche Telekom have believed in me and collected my works from a very early stage; old black and white photos documenting my performances and my drawings… basically establishing a collection following me in several of my mediums. So in a sense it’s a response to that, a partnership. You’re right to ask me how I can be critical if I work for a big corporation, but for me, all these cultural frames—and this includes my appearance at the MoMA in New York—are essential. I’m also curious about what’s going on in new technology, their questions and how they see societies, ideas which are all subjects for my drawings. It might turn out very well, it might not… let’s wait and see.