Art Collection Telekom Presents Agnieszka Polska on Art’s Power to Enact Change

In celebration of the Art Collection Telekom exhibition Fragile Sense of Hope, EB.net will roll out a series of seven short interviews with contemporary artists from Eastern Europe. They’ll all appear at the exhibit, which features a selection of works from Art Collection Telekom artists in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Fragile Sense of Hope opened at Berlin’s me Collectors Room/Stiftung Olbricht October 10 and ends November 23.

This week, we’ve got a sneak preview from the forthcoming issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, which will feature a conversation between Mark Smith and Polish artist Agnieszka Polska. Her work re-examines archival footage and art history narratives through painstakingly-crafted films and animations, and Smith spoke to Polska about the idea of “outsider” artists, and art’s potential to enact change. In this excerpt they discuss the issue of memory in Eastern Europe, whether creativity can exist in eternity and trying to return art to the real world.

How much do you interact with the history, context, and identity of being Polish? Does it play a role in your work?

The fact that I come from Eastern Europe is important because I think the artists from Eastern Europe have a certain attitude towards the issue of memory. It’s strongly connected to the change of the system after 1989. The archived information was distorted; it’s this unusual thing of living in a part of Europe where your past is not very certain. I think that this is visible in my practice for sure. It’s not really about being Polish, it’s more being from Eastern Europe. I was analyzing those topics of memory or of constructing the past in many of my works.

So what role does this archival information play in your art?

It depends on the work. In many earlier works, I was using older materials scanned from books and magazines, but it really depends on the intellectual content of the piece. Sometimes when I produce a work about how a piece of art changes through time, for example, then I’m using scans of photographs of the works from a certain period. But in my new works I use different sorts of materials. In my last two animations, I used the same technique as my earlier work, but the photographs come from contemporary sources. It’s connected to the outcome of the intellectual content of the work. The usage of the source must be strongly connected to the theory behind the piece. For example, in the recent film I made called Future Days, which is not an animation, I used figures from art history and elements of art history itself because it was connected to the problems present in the work. I created a phantasmagoric image of heaven for artists, where artists would go after death. It would give them a possibility to meet, especially the artists from Eastern Europe who never met the artists from the Western world because of the problems with getting a passport. So it was actually the first possibility for them to have an encounter. Of course it was a very ironic image.

Which artists did you include?

Some of them are very well known, like Bas Jan Ader and Lee Lozano. Also, there’s Charlotte Posenenske and the Polish artists Włodzimierz Borowski and Jerzy Ludwiński. I’ve chosen them because they’re all very important for me and they influenced me a lot. I think what binds them together is that they all left the art scene at some point and in many different ways. Charlotte Posenenske decided that artists have no effect on society so it would be better to study sociology, so she studied that instead of practicing art. Lozano stopped communicating with artists or any art people because she didn’t feel comfortable in art society. She also stopped talking—she called it a “drop-out piece.” She had another work that was running for the last 20 years of her life, which was the “boycott women” piece where she stopped talking to women. This piece was meant to last for two months but it ended up going for twenty years.

I’m interested in this very radical position-taking in culture and also the fact of living the art is very interesting to me. I think this as a very brave statement. This is why I was interested in these artists. Also, some of these artists couldn’t make the deliberate position of living art. For example, Paul Thek was excluded from the art world even though he was a great influential artist. People didn’t understand this at the time. Or Bas Jan Ader was lost at sea, cruising through the ocean. Still some people say it was planned. I’m interested in these individuals who understand the freedom they have, even if they weren’t included in mainstream art culture.

It sounds like something of an ideal world for them.

In fact, this state of being in heaven is a very sorry state because they are forced to meet eternity. Another question of the film is if art is possible at all in the state of eternity. My film presents this group of people who are just wandering through these meadows of heaven without any aim and are trapped in this situation. They are dreaming about coming back to earth. I think that it refers to art in general, to how art is isolated from society and how artists are trying to get back to society and have a real world influence. There are many artists who are trying to influence their social surroundings in many ways. Still, we cannot deny that this community of artists, curators and galleries is quite powerful in society and yet somehow very closed.

How can you overcome this distance and have an impact on society?

I think it would be a lie if I said that I try to overcome this distance. For example the film Future Days isn’t so easy to understand for people who aren’t into art history, but still the contact with such people is very important to me. On a certain level it’s not necessary to have this knowledge in order to get something from art. I believe there is still a possibility of an inner change in individuals. Even if it’s not a change on a big scale, it’s still a very important thing. We can still work in the micro scale of the individual and it’s equally important as a work affecting the whole of society.

Agnieszka Polksa’s work will be featured at the Art Collection Telekom exhibition Fragile Sense of Hope. Click here to read more interviews in the series.

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Art Collection Telekom Presents Radenko Milak on the Allure of Disaster

In celebration of the Art Collection Telekom exhibition Fragile Sense of Hope, EB.net will roll out a series of seven short interviews with contemporary artists from Eastern Europe. They’ll all appear at the exhibit, which features a selection of works from Art Collection Telekom artists in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Fragile Sense of Hope opens at Berlin’s me Collectors Room/Stiftung Olbricht October 10 and ends November 23.

For decades, Bosnian artist Radenko Milak has interrogated the notion of private and public memory through the medium of painting. Using mostly watercolor to “translate” photographs from politically-charged situations, Milak questions the visual presentation of, amongst other things, the wars which have dominated his country’s history. In 2013, the artist completed a series of  watercolors called 365 (Images Of Time), in which the painter re-created an image historically significant events that occurred on the same day he painted each image. Some of the pieces from the series will be exhibited at the Art Collection Telekom, and a major exhibition of his work opens at the Kunsthalle Darmstadt on the 16th of November, 2014. His works will also be on display at the Cologne gallery Priska Pasquer starting November 6.

From 2010 to 2012, you painted a series of watercolor pieces titled “What else did you see? I couldn’t see everything!” You copied photos by Ron Haviv, an American war photographer who documented combat in the city of Bijeljina in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992.

Yes, that was during the initial phase of the war in former Yugoslavia. I did 24 of those watercolor paintings, and each of them displayed a cruelty of war. I was completely fascinated by these photos in a dark, schizophrenic way. I mean, these photos showed soldiers kicking defenseless elderly women in the face and other horrific scenes. But at the same time, these pictures seem to show very parenthetic situations. Horrible things happen in war, and this one took place right in front of my door, in my home country. It was unbelievable. I was 12 years old when the war started. But to say this very clearly: I wasn’t copying when I painted watercolor versions of Haviv’s photos. My paintings are new originals that explicitly reference Haviv’s photos, but they’re not copies. Maybe they are translations. Painting them was like studying and translating them very intensely.

After the war paintings, you started your 365 (Images of Time) project, a very sophisticated and diary-like series of 365 pictures that displays one historic event for each day of the year. You did this project in 2013 and focused on events in the 20th and the 21st century.

And again, I used watercolor in the same manner as I did for the “What else did you see?” project. Two things for me were fundamental. First, for me as a painter, it was a daily exercise in using different shades of black pigments on white paper to create a series of pictures that’d expand an otherwise simple conceptual idea. Second, I had to learn that the research part of the project became much more time-consuming than actually painting a picture every day.

Photo credit: Florie Berger
13.January – 1930 The Mickey Mouse comic strip makes its first appearance.
13.January – 1930 The Mickey Mouse comic strip makes its first appearance.

Why black and white?

For me, it’s a minimalistic way of expressing explicit, unambiguous content. I always use the same white paper and the same black pigments. When done in the right way, watercolor paintings can look pretty similar to black and white photography. And, of course, by treating every painting the same way—both in terms of format and color —I synchronized the whole body of work. You immediately realize that this is a series of similar, but different paintings.

And there is yet another very important common thread in my 365 (Images of Time): I based every single picture on an existing source. The sources were documentary photographs, newspaper photographs and historic paintings. I basically eliminated my own imagination in favor of historical facts, and I spent a lot of time every day researching details about the subject I picked.

Was it always obvious which event to pick and to connect to any given day?

No, no! That was the most difficult part.

I thought the most difficult part was the act of painting.

No. I studied at the art academy in Banja Luca and Beograd—you learn valuable things there. You learn how to pay attention to detail, which is very important if you want to emulate a photo with watercolor and to translate it into a painting. Even though sometimes it’s really difficult to control the water and the pigment when you’re painting with watercolor, the difficult part was making the right decision regarding the event I would paint.

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Photo Credit: Florie Berger

How would you know you had made the right decision?

I always tried to find an event that triggers both the collective and the personal memory. So, for instance, I used Mickey Mouse as the motif for January 13, 1930, which was Mickey’s first appearance in a comic strip. Or, take November 16, 2000: Bill Clinton becomes the first American president to visit Vietnam since the end of the war in 1975. Sometimes, it was very clear which historical event I’d link to any given day. Of course, I painted the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, as well as the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981 in Rome. These two were obvious choices, but sometimes, I had a vast variety of choices. Intuition is very important in those cases. Only by following my own erratic instinct, my personality would rub off on the project.

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I noticed a certain fascination for catastrophes.

You’re absolutely right; I’m obsessed with catastrophes. We had a war in Bosnia, and I think that the 20th century has been a century of wars, assassinations, and catastrophes. Of course, other centuries have had their wars, assassinations, and catastrophes as well, but they hadn’t yet invented photography or cinema. Mass media has changed everything in terms of perception—the 20th century became the century of collective memory.

Apart from that, I’ve read a lot of Paul Virilio’s writings. Basically, he believes that technology and accidents cannot exist without each other. There wouldn’t be a concept of an aircraft without the idea of a potential plane crash. At the same time, he claims that we’re losing our relationship with real space and real time because we rely on television and the Internet. Both concepts are present in my work. The Hindenburg disaster on May 6, 1937 is the mother of all modern catastrophes: the German zeppelin caught fire while attempting to dock at Lakehurst, New Jersey, and was destroyed within a minute. 36 people died, but without photos or footage, it’d never become that iconic. I feel attracted by photos of iconic disasters.

I was also fascinated by the Chernobyl meltdown. I tried to balance my fascination with man-made catastrophes by including portraits of important philosophers or politicians or artists or cartoon characters, like Mickey Mouse and Tin Tin. I belong to a generation that grew up with photography. And not only that—for the first time in history, all this information and all these photographs are connected through the Internet. All this is available within a split second. My work is also about the availability of images and information as well as the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous. The Internet has become our common memory.

You also painted Martin Luther, who was never photographed.

Photography was invented some 150 years ago, and that’s why I focused on that period. But paintings of Martin Luther do exist—they’re documentary paintings. I translated a famous painting by Lucas Cranach into my work. The same counts for Columbus and the discovery of America. When I’d notice that a certain person had been born or had died at a certain day, I’d sometimes opt for the portrait.

For instance, I’m a big fan of Klaus Kinski. I think he’s one of the best German actors of all time, but I only used images that already existed. Technically speaking, I used the same method as with the photographs: I transferred an image from one medium into another. There even was a moment when I asked myself how the project would have looked like if I had painted only portraits.

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Are you as fascinated with dry historical facts as you are obsessed with catastrophes?

I come from a country that looks back at a lot of fake history—you’d find incorrect historical facts in schoolbooks. Socialist propaganda played a big role in my country. Relying only on historical facts and not commenting them seems to be an appropriate way of dealing with history.

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Did you literally want to paint a map of the world?

This is a difficult question for me to answer. It’s difficult to explain my personal vision. I’d say that I wanted to write a diary for one year, without writing a single word that comes from me. Of course, I knew of many others who did journalistic projects before me, most notably Jonas Mekas—but I didn’t study them.

The most important observer of my project probably was León Krempel, who used to be a curator at Haus der Kunst in Munich and is now the director of Kunsthalle Darmstadt, where he’ll exhibit my 365 (Images of Time) series in November. During 2013, when I was painting and researching on a daily basis, we were in a constant dialogue. I’d send him a photo of my watercolor painting of the day via email, and he’d write a text about that picture. I always decided what to paint, but he’d always comment on it.

So, after a while this project became a ritual for you.

Yes, of course. You must not forget that it’s not easy to paint every day! Not for me, and not for any other artist, I suppose. But since it was my daily ritual, I had to stick to it. I had to continue.

How would you describe your daily routine?

Usually, I’d have what you might call a “normal day.” But in the late afternoon I’d continue where I stopped the day before, so I’d start researching various events that’d match with the day, and then decide which one I’d like to paint. Once I found a photo that really touched me, the process of painting it was the smallest part of the equation. That would take half an hour or maybe two hours. After I finished painting, I would photograph it and send it to León. Thanks to my project, my days were pretty structured.

To me, your paintings evoke an atmosphere that often reminds me of the aesthetics of film noir.

You’re absolutely right. My paintings recall the atmosphere of the black and white movies from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. I’m an expert of Yugoslavian black and white movies from the 1960s. These are very minimalistic, often very political movies, and I’m really obsessed by movies from those decades.

Generally speaking, black and white is more abstract than color. When I went to the cinema in the eighties and nineties, I was more or less forced to always watch color movies. I started to envy the generations before me, because they were limited to watching black and white movies, and I thought they must have had a more abstract and surreal experience. Nowadays, only the Hungarian director Béla Tarr comes to mind. His movies summon the ghost of abstraction even nowadays. It’s a pity that Andrey Tarkovsky died so young! He did mostly film in color, but he had an incredible level of abstraction in his framing. As a result, all these films that I am talking about have a strong atmosphere, and I wanted to capture that atmosphere.

How important is the photorealistic style you are painting in?

I loved it from the beginning. It was my childhood obsession to paint things as realistic as possible. In our academy, I started to study the old masters, from the renaissance to the 20th century, because I was so fascinated by their realistic and precise style. I love Gerhard Richter, William Kentrdige and Sigmar Polke. But unlike them, I focused on watercolor, and this forced me to invent and to perfect my own technique.

It’s very difficult to be original nowadays, but I see myself in the great timeline of painters. Every painter has to face the fact that he or she is just the last link in a chain that is more than two thousand years old. I could spend hours gazing at a Vermeer painting! Standing in front of a real painting is a completely different experience than seeing a photographic reproduction.

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In the last issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, we featured an interview with Raymond Pettibon, who sees himself in the tradition of Goya and his cycle of etchings titled “Desastros della Guerra.” Wasn’t Goya also something like the prototypical war photographer, except that he substituted the camera with etchings?

I spent a lot of time researching his work. I really think that he was a documentary painter of his time. Without him, we wouldn’t have a clear idea of what was really happening then. He was forced to see nature and real people as his motifs. Nowadays, a painter is not limited to what he sees in front of his eyes. If I want to put reality on the paper, I can also use a photograph or the Internet as a starting point. And before that there were libraries and archives. But the Internet beats them all, because it reminds us that we cannot escape from disaster.

Radenko Milak’s work will be featured at the Art Collection Telekom exhibition Fragile Sense of Hope. Click here to read more interviews in the series.

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Fragile Sense of Hope Opens This Friday!

In anticipation of Art Collection Telekom’s exhibition, Fragile Sense of Hope, we’ve rolled out four interviews with contemporary artists from Eastern Europe who will appear at the show.

Our interview with Şükran Moral uncovered a provocative practice that involves incendiary public acts from public sex to self-mutilation, whereas our time with Croatian multimedia artist Igor Grubić showed that urgent political issues can be handled with a more playful touch. Our chat with Bosnian artist Šejla Kamerić served as a further reminder of the horrors of war which many of the exhibition’s artists have learnt to live with, and it showed how a varied approach to the arts can also tackle problems that have scarred Eastern Europe in the artists’ lifetime. We also uncovered an interview from 2012 in which Max Dax talked to Romanian artist, writer, and cartoonist Dan Perjovschi about the intersection between journalism, activism, and art.

Fragile Sense of Hope features a selection of works from Art Collection Telekom artists in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, and it opens at Berlin’s me Collectors Room/Stiftung Olbricht on this Friday, October 10. The exhibit will close on November 23.

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Art Collection Telekom Presents Şükran Moral on the Power of Provocation

In anticipation of the Art Collection Telekom exhibition Fragile Sense of Hope, EB.net will roll out a series of seven short interviews with contemporary artists from Eastern Europe. They’ll all appear at the exhibit, which features a selection of works from Art Collection Telekom artists in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Fragile Sense of Hope opens at Berlin’s me Collectors Room/Stiftung Olbricht October 10 and ends November 23.

Şükran Moral has made a career and a life out of provocation. She’s incited her deepest fears and other peoples’ hatred with controversial performances and video pieces, which have involved acts like public sex and self-mutilation. After being expelled from Italy and driven out of Turkey, she’s returned to both countries and now splits her time between Rome and Istanbul. Max Dax spoke with the challenging artist about the power of provocation and the role of women in Turkish society.

Şükran Moral, Bordello II, 2011. Pigment Print 80x120cm
Şükran Moral, Bordello II, 2011. Pigment Print 80x120cm

 

Hey Şükran, we’re currently chatting via Skype, so I’m wondering where you are right now.

I used to live in Rome, but in the last five years, I’ve spent more time in Istanbul—and currently, I’m right there.

Why did you leave Rome? 

I never actually left Rome, I’ve just spent most of my time in Istanbul over the past couple of years. In 2010, I received many death threats in Istanbul because of my performance “Amemus,” which is the ultimate negative reaction to my work. For my own security, I moved back to Rome for a year and couldn’t come back to Istanbul. Now, my life is back and forth between Rome and Istanbul.

That’s serious. “Amemus” was a performance that you did in Istanbul, at the Casa dell’Arte, right? What happened?

Back then, I had an exhibition at the Casa dell’Arte, which would later become the Galeri Zilberman in Istanbul. There, I did a performance where I would make love with another woman. Obviously, this was provocative to many Turkish men. Turkey is a very religious and patriarchal country.

That wasn’t the first time that you provoked people. Years ago, you filmed one of your performances and titled it “Bordello,” meaning brothel. The video will be part of the Fragile Sense of Hope exhibition in Berlin. Can you tell me why it is so important to confront people—or, more precisely: to confront men?

“Bordello” was a commissioned performance piece for the fifth International Istanbul Biennal in 1997. For me, it was very important to leave an impression there. The years prior to that date marked a very difficult period in my life. In 1994, I tragically lost both my parents, and in the same year, I got expelled from Italy. I changed; I became somebody slightly different. I was a woman, I was an artist, but I was from Turkey.

I always believed something like that wouldn’t happen to an artist—I really believed that the concept of “being an artist” would make me a persona grata. But I realized that, to the police, I was just an illegal foreigner with no visa, not a woman or an artist or a human being. I was regularly studying at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome, and I was doing a lot of performances all around Italy, so my expulsion was actually illegal. For the following two years, I lived in the underground with an illegal status. So, in hindsight, I can say that I stopped to be an idealist. And I remember very well how this expulsion changed my whole perception of the world.

You felt rejected?

Yes, and because of that rejection I finally became a true artist.

How did you realize this transformation?

I quite consciously and suddenly chose that my answers to everything that ever happens to me should always be artistic. I would call this a transformation. I strongly believe in the power of creativity. I think that you can change a lot as an artist, and I would call art a stronger currency than weapons and money.

Coming back to “Bordello”—how does this performance fit into the equation? You dressed up like a prostitute and walked right into an Istanbul brothel. You had two signs that you would hold up in the air: “For Sale” and “Art Museum.” Didn’t you even rename the brothel into “Museum of Art”?

Basically, the invitation to participate at the Istanbul Biennal gave me a second chance. Coming back to Istanbul was a very emotional moment, and I tried to make a special performance. In fact, I did five different performances, two of which became quite well-known: “Hamam” and “Bordello.”

All five performances dealt with things that have haunted me for years—for instance, my parents would always threaten me with the phrase that I would “end up like a whore in a brothel” if I didn’t do as they said. Doing the “Bordello” performance in Yüksek Kaldirim in Istanbul was like diving straight into the pain. Also, the other performances dealt with my fears, such as getting admitted into a mental hospital to shut me away from society. And yet, another performance was about being thrown into prison—which, by the way, can happen to anybody at any time in modern Turkey. The whole system has a very strong Kafka-esque side. Everything bad can happen to you during a day.

Şükran Moral, Bordello I, 2011. Pigment Print 80x120cm
Şükran Moral, Bordello I, 2011. Pigment Print 80x120cm

 

So, basically, you dared your primal fears.

Exactly. I wanted to discover what’s lying behind the surface of my deepest fears.

The German BILD tabloid has called you “Turkey’s most courageous artist.”

The tabloids always call me stuff like that—but I’ve never considered my performances as courageous. I don’t even think while I’m doing performances. For me, the only important thing is the conceptual aspect within. Being courageous or not doesn’t matter, as it’s the concept is always most important. For the “Bordello” performance I transformed into a prostitute, but I also transformed the brothel into a symbol for the art market. I think that all the big institutions in the art world are like giant-sized brothels.

You didn’t do the performance alone—there was also a photographer and a cameraman present.

There were three of us. At the brothel, some of the johns would jostle me around, and they’d also bump against the cameraman. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that it is quite shaky, not because we weren’t professional—it’s because we got pushed around. We used a huge Betacam back then. Nowadays, you could do the same with your smartphone, but in 1997, we embraced the heavy reactions of the men against the presence of the camera.

Don’t forget that the whole performance was targeted against Turkish macho behavior. We wanted to deal with it ironically. I mean, in Turkish society, women are considered virgins until they get married, while men visit brothels constantly. It’s quite a backward and medieval understanding of the role of women in society. Men are allowed to have fun; women have to deliver.

On your website, you welcome the visitor with the words “Resist Turkey!”

In the last year, we had the biggest demonstrations ever in Turkey. Some of the protesters invited me to do a performance as part of the demonstrations, so on June 14, I did a performance in Gezi park in which I cut myself. I cut the letter “A” on my belly with a razor blade—“A” as in “anarchy.” That was the performance.

Of course, I know about all the performances in history in which artists have already cut themselves on purpose—so why should I? Of course, I know that this is a topos in the history of art since the seventies. This is important. I didn’t want to repeat something others have successfully performed before me. But I think that prejudices come from the belly, and that’s why I cut the letter “A” there.

Şükran Moral’s work will be featured at the Art Collection Telekom exhibition Fragile Sense of Hope. Click here to read more interviews in the series.

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Art Collection Telekom Presents Dan Perjovschi on Ephemeral Forms

In anticipation of the Art Collection Telekom exhibition Fragile Sense of Hope, EB.net will roll out a series of seven short interviews with contemporary artists from Eastern Europe. They’ll all appear at the exhibit, which features a selection of works from Art Collection Telekom artists in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Fragile Sense of Hope opens at Berlin’s me Collectors Room/Stiftung Olbricht October 10 and ends November 23.

Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi has been intensely active in his country’s cultural life from his base in Bucharest since his work began to gain prominence in the late 1980s. In this 2012 interview, the cartoonist and publisher talks to Max Dax about the formation of his distinctive working method and what he continues to draw inspiration from as his practice widens.

 

Dan Perjowschi: Action Tree (1989)
Dan Perjowschi: Action Tree (1989)

 

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?

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. The revolution changed this situation changed in my country. In 1990, I spent more time engaged in the protest on the street than indoors. 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. At that time, the most interesting territory 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 50 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.

 

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Dan Perjovschi: Bexperience (2004)
Dan Perjovschi: Bexperience (2004)

 

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, 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 medium 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. 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.

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? You’ve said that “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.

Dan Perjovschi’s work will be featured at the ACT exhibition Fragile Sense of Hope. Click here to read more interviews in the ACT series.

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