Planteror 58 Residency. Interview with Cristina Stoenescu

Textos / Text
58 Plantelor Residency / Bucharest

1. What are the main focuses in your work as a curator?

I think, at the end, all comes back to the question of what perception is and how it affects our relationship with the Other and with the world (reality?). Perception affects our understanding of time, and so it affects how we think of our past and how we project ourselves, here and now, as individuals but also as a community, involving issues such as history, identity and social and economic relationships. More specifically, my practice has focused on questioning the construction of the idea of History / stories I am especially interested in the relationships formed in specific socio-economic systems and the knowledge we could reach through artistic researches to find ways to analyse and understand our contemporary behaviours and its potentialities, from the physical ones to the cultural ones, and questioning the peculiarities of the digital era. In this sense, my interest in the labour conditions of the artists allows me to go deeper in the conception of artistic practices as sources of speculative knowledge and the perception that different social systems had and have of them and how they value and incorporate them (or on the contrary, how they do not achieve this, or only partially).

2. How did the Bucharest Photo-Focus Residency relate to your themes of interest and what do you think are the most important outcomes?

I would extend the conception of photography to moving image. Photo, film, video and, nowadays, virtual simulations too, and how they can be part of other wider ways of formalization. These are some of the major fields in which one can think about perception and memory, projection and imagination. This is the main reason for me to look for how artists relate with these practices in different contexts. The characteristics of the Romanian scene, at least the part I got to explore and was able to perceive, reveals both the singularities of a global art scene as the values of a conception of experimentation linked to the specificity of its context. Among them, I would say that the importance of everyday life as a field of research and action; the line that goes from the 60s until now, putting together the historical and metaphysical relationships with nature; and the revision of the recent past – and the idea of “failure of progress” – as a way to understand the possibilities of the future, could be the three most outstanding issues I found. I don’t know if I would talk about “outcomes” yet, but extremely good encounters. They for sure have enriched my practice and they will be the basis for future projects and collaborations with the artists I met.

3. You documented your trip quite well, you already had a list of artists that you wanted to see. What were your expectations before travelling to Bucharest concerning the local art scene and how did they compare with what you explored on-site?

Expectations are always a tricky thing. The best thing that can happen to you is that a travel changes them. Then, you reinforce your ability to be surprised. There were of course some preconceived aspects – with different degrees of antagonistic perspectives that appeared.One of them was the status of the artist as a worker during the communist times and its legacy / influence nowadays. Another one was the production of art during a time where there was a lack of freedom and visibility, especially regarding the practices during the 60s and 70s. If the limitations of both facets were easily understandable, the projection was a confirmation of how narrow a foreign global vision on any context can be. I was honoured to have Ion Grigorescu spend three hours talking with me. I have seen some of his studio works before and I was connecting them with the hidden conditions of production and the body as the suffering and possibly unique field of work. It was a very materialistic point of view. After our conversation and knowing more about his work as restorer of paintings and above all about his interest in spirituality and transcendental theories of the body and the image, my vision of his practices is now wider than the idea I was projecting on the East Block. About the status of the artist, it has been a discovery to think about how the relationships among artists to produce in silence mixed with the idea of common and collective – I am thinking of Grigorescu shooting Geta Bratescu videos, or of the House pARTy experience initiated in 1987 by Nadina and Decebal Scriba, with Iosif Kiraly, Calin Dan or Dan Mihaltianu among others – . I can see traces of their practices in the duo artist works of Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor, or some projects that Olivia Mihaltianu and Stoyan Dechev, her partner from Bulgaria, have developed together as well as,collective projects as Sandwich, Template, Bucharest Air Residency, or the collective garden at, that reveals a feeling of the collective as a way of activation and sharing.

4. Your ongoing research focuses also on artist labour in contemporary times – during the short time you spent in Bucharest and partly in Iasi, are there any specificities of the art scene here that you can briefly describe?

The labour conditions for me are a way to approach how society values art, so it used to be a little complicated and usually problematic. In the end, trying to focus on the positive aspects, it is a way to understand how to deal, negotiate and go beyond the structures, limitations and opportunities we live with, in order to risk and to be able to develop the work. Between the circumstances of having a salary, but a rather supervisedd work environment and the uncertainty of a self- promoted activity there is a great amount of degrees of experiencee. The market for me includes artists, galleries, private collectors but also public institutions, critics, theorists and independent spaces as they are all related and connected, sharing information and fluxes of resources. There has to be a balance and the actors should be respectful with one another, but especially careful in regards to the freedom of the artist. This is a very complicated balance, and it is impossible to maintain properly if not all of the involved parts are strong enough –for example, the galleries are growing up, but there aren´t so many committed collectors. The ways the artists have negotiated in the last decades in Romania has several sides. A good source of information was reading the book The State Artist in Romania and Eastern Europe. The Role of the Creative Unions, edited by Caterina Preda, were I could learn about the youth Atelier 35 of artists as places of experimentation and decentralization during the 70´s. The before mentioned lonely studio practice as ways of resistance and also the work within a group or with the community expression of joy in the same sense. I learned about the exhibition opportunities created in the early 90s and 2000s, created and furthered nowadays still y by the artists (such examples include Matei Bejenaru in Iasi, Aurora Kiraly in Bucharest, the Salonul de Proiectei, and the already mentioned Sandwich or Template). A part of the scene is also surviving due to the personal tenacities of the people working in the field. Worth mentioning is the editorial work by PUNCH and the opportunities found for the performative artists, as artist Adriana Gheorghe told me.

I could also find the links and controversial feelings with the Union of Visual Artists in Romania, an institution that had to undergo the transition between its communist past and the nowadays post-communist art scene Some artists see them as a useless organization nowadays while some have studios in its rented spaces. I am thinking at Combinatul Fondului Plastic. With all its limitations, it is at the same time becoming one of the more active hubs, mixing commercial and non-profit projects together. The Union is not involved in their activities, but I think it is clever of them to be able to negotiate with them to have the spaces and experiments there.

Another point I would outline is how to deal with the international attention during the 90´s and 2000´s and the feeling of being absorbed by a global context as part of a commercial strategy, or maybe just as a romantic projection on Eastern Europe after the fall of the Communist regime and the links created with the fast arriving of Capitalism. It was very interesting to discuss these perspectives with artists Matei Bejenaru, founder of Periferic Biennial in Iasi, or Mircea Nicolae, finalist of the 1st Future Generation Art Prize in 2010. Both artists have a practice that reflects on the concept of work in a wider sense that is also part of my research. You could follow different approaches to understand what “work” means in this debatable political and economic moment in Matei Bejenaru’s long term documentation of labour examples in Romania, and in Mircea Nicolae´s actions, developed in a more ironic way, taking in other job experiences, such as baking bread or analysing water and applying them into art.

5. You had experience with curating exhibitions in Latin American cities and have also worked on `History in display (WT)’ which was a collaborative project with contemporary artists on critical insertion in Brazilian museums. More recently, we have talked about an increasing interest in your practice on Eastern Europe as well. What links do you see between these two large conceptual areas we can define as Latin America and Eastern Europe in terms of art scenes and artists, if there are any links at all?

There are two main subjects that I can recognize they are linked. First of all, some countries in Latin America such as Brazil, Venezuela or Mexico especiallyy, have a tradition in modernist architecture. The examples built during the 50´s and 60´s, especially if we think on the new plant capital Brasilia, the University City in Caracas or the Barragán´s proposal in Mexico, respond to the same principals of the brutalist complexes that you can find in Romania. There are amazing examples in Bucharest, and I saw the pictures of the holidays hotels for employees on the coast of the Black Sea that I hope to visit in the future. The idea of the human rationality as an unique measure and its application in social projects are the same, no matters if they are associated to Communism or to social democracy governments. It is the heritage of the Bauhaus, the Constructivism and the diaspora of thinkers during and afterI War World II. Behind all them there was a confidence in the progress as a way to build an equal society… the failure of this model is the reality that we are living today, which includes the new neoliberal colonialism. The works by Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor, Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, Vlad Nanca, the very young Roberta Curca or the German artist based in Bucharest, Kristin Wenzel, are really good examples of this reflection. Also they have a relation with fiction as the place to explore this past and thinking of the idea of future that I really appreciate – it was one of the central points of discussion we had in “History in display (WT)”.

The second point illustrated another aspect of the rejection to anthropocentrist thinking, and focus in the apparently irrationality that nature and an old understanding of its energies can show us. I found to be very impressive the works by Nona Inescu and the project Vlad Bateanu is starting. In that sense the ideas of perspectivism and pre-Columbian cultures understanding of time, space and the nature as a whole, are similar.

Some of them have worked or collaborated in projects in South America. I would like to mention a very good text by Alina Popa I read during my residency in Bucharest, part of Black Hyperbox (PUNCH, Bucharest, 2016). In “X Horizon: The Black Box and the Amazonian Forest” the experience of the Brazilian Amazon becomes a new land of understanding the performative practice and perception of time and space.

6. Your recent show in Belgrade, «WE from in betWEen» (Hestia Gallery, Belgrade) which happened just after your residency in Bucharest, dealt with matters of artistical archive, both as a process and a subject for diSTRUKTURA, formed by Milica Milićević (1979) and Milan Bosnić (1969). We have talked about a wave of archive-digging and artist-revivals in Romania and you yourself wanted to know more about the «historical» artists such as Ion Grigorescu, Geta Bratescu or Decebal Scriba who are part of this ongoing wave of 70s-80s re-discoveries. How do you relate as a curator to this growing interest towards `archives’ and how interesting did you find this phenomenon of artist-revivals to be in Romania, for your own practice?

The work with diSTRUKTURA was based on the work the artists are developing for the last five years employing the situationism drifts in order to analyse the contemporary migrations and the ways to adapt to the city. In their walks they created diverse forms of documentation: videos, photographs, frottages, drawings… all together are a huge archive of the experience. In this case, my work as curator was to join them to surf on it, trying to keep the conceptual reference of resistance of the IS and at the same time showing the multiple ways to read a story. It was not a revival, but a reinterpretation of the strategies, and there wasn’t a historical archive, but rather created an ex-professo as part of the artists’ process. I think I am interested in archives because they are a formalization of memory, be it an individual or collective one, and in this sense, it is important to think about how to conserve it. The problem is how to keep the archive alive and not fixed, manipulated or enclosed in a unique way of access / reading. In the artistic field, the documentation and the archive became fundamental keys of the work in the 60´s and as a consequence, paradoxically, of the dematerialization of the work of art. I was very lucky, and I worked with several artists that started their careers at that time. The strongest relationship was with the Mexican artist Felipe Ehrenberg. This experience is what guides me to in talking with this generation. The most important thing to me is to be able to have these conversations, in order to understand the approaches and changes that they have regarding their own works… it was not about the piece of paper with some quotations or instructions but about the concept that it transmitst, still very alive in them. My point is, I see no problems with archives or the conceptually conscientious re-enactments by these artists. The problem is how they are put in value for commercial reasons or how they are inserted in the culture of the event, totally against the principles on which they were created. It is complicated, because at the same time these artists used to have very hard lives and now they receive good payments that could solve their financial situations and give them a sort of relief. The question would be how to creat a perdurable recognition of their works beyond fashion waves of the commercial market? How make it also extensible to nowadays practices?

7. You moved recently to Rome, receiving a grant at Real Academia de España, Roma, Italia. What are the next projects for you?

I am very proud that the RAER has selected my project to be developed during this year at Rome. It is based on a curatorial research that joins on one hand the historical research on the relationships between the Operaismo (Workerism) movements in Italy in the 60s and 70s -and one of their main proposals, the abolition of work- and the artists. On the other hand, it is also about the actualization of those debates and the concept of labour and thinking about new economies through the artistic work. The last part will be formalized in a seminar, and then I am planning to make a publication as a summarisation e of the whole project.
I am also working on an exhibition about who creates the image, in a comparison of the analogue and the digital world, with two artists, one from Catalonia and the other one from Romania. I hope we will have news very soon!

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