Craiova is not a city renowned for its vibrant art scene. In fact its most notable art connection is with the renowned modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who lived and worked in the city in the 1890s.
A lot has changed since then. And two young entrepreneurs are part of a growing effort to revitalize Craiova's social fabric by injecting art and culture into urban life. Adrian Bojenoiu (curator) and Alexandru Niculescu (visual artist) founded Club Electro Putere (CEP) in 2009. The name of the space comes from a large plant in Craiova, but also refers to its trade union and the union's own club. CEP didn't just move into an industrial space, but functions alongside it, in collaboration with the trade union - taking over a building with a cinema, conference rooms and exhibition halls especially built for cultural purposes during the communist period.
Their first project is an ambitious one: Romanian Cultural Resolution(first presented in May 2010 at Werkschau Spinnerei Leipzig) is a four part exhibition, analyzing the last twenty years of cultural strategies in Romania, at the intersection of the immediate references to the communist past and corresponding projections of an unrealized democracy. "An Image instead of a Title" (October 2010) explores the concept of art archives, and their role in culture and society, suggesting a type of archive indexed by images rather than texts; "Here and then" (forthcoming 2010) is focused on artists from different generations, bringing forth the issue of relativity, national identity and agency through art; "Fetish Factory" (June 2010) is concerned with the objectification of the traumatic, communist condition in the post 1989 period, criticizing the process through which these experiences are transformed into cultural products; lastly, "Painting section" (October 2010) presents a selection of figurative painting in the last forty years in Romania, overarching the now removed pre 1989 experiences to the socio-cultural transitions in recent history. You can read more about Romanian Cultural Resolution and each of the four exhibitions here.
It is exciting to see an intelligent project that focuses not only on art but is also preoccupied with culture(s), initiated in a city that needs a cultural reinvention. For this reason I invited Alexandru Niculescu, the co-founder of CEP(Club Electro Putere) to share some insights into this enterprise.
Can you tell us how you came to be involved with the contemporary art scene in Craiova? Why contemporary art?
The idea of opening a contemporary art center in Craiova, our town, came up last year after having planned to make an exhibition together: artist – curator. We shared a common vision about contemporary art and it didn't take too long to realize that we have the tools and premises to build much more than an exhibition; Adrian Bojenoiu 's philosophical/theoretical background, my artistical experience and the possibility to activate a space where nothing has been happening for the last 15 years, were enough to open a place. Our space is independent from the local art scene , we are actually coming up with another type of discourse. Why contemporary art? Because this is what i have been doing all the time.
How do you negotiate between being an artist yourself and being involved in running an art space?
I think 'artist run spaces' have become very popular in the last few years. And I can understand why. Artists make less compromises with the quality when they work independently. For me, as an artist, the fact of being in the entourage of these great artists is a winning situation. It helps giving a serious input to the quality of my work.Furthermore, this center is part of my artistic ideas and I see the creative part of it rather than the administrative one.
I noticed how your exhibits are very conceptual and promote young artists as well. Most centers or galleries don’t take this approach. Can you tell us something about what guides your curatorial principles?
Our guidelines in making projects can be very diverse. I can't say we are promoting only young artists. We actually started with a project that mixes the generations and focuses not only on artists who have been active before the '89 Revolution as well, but also on young emerging and established ones. Of course, what matters is the quality of the concept and the exhibitions, not the age. Moreover, promoting is not the right word for our activity. Our priority is to make culture, to disseminate contemporary art within the community, to be educationally involved.
How does CEP fit into the Romanian and international art scene? Do you collaborate with other institutions and/or publications?
We are a new alternative young space with a good start, we had a successful event: Romanian Cultural Resolution in Werkschau Spinnerei Leipzig. Even if we did not do that many events so as to define our specific, I can tell you about what might be our interests from now on. Nowadays West is focusing on East, East is focusing on West. But we would like to be among the few from East that take interest in East; so this will probably be our goal, to reactivate a forgotten space which, due to the history, is being ignored these days. We are interested in showing great art from Ex Soviet countries or from the Balcans for example.
We are at the very beginning and didn't have time to make partnerships with other art centers or art institutions. We have a good collaboration with the Romanian Cultural Institute. Regarding publications, we are preparing the catalogue of the above-mentioned show.
How do you see the general evolution of contemporary art spaces in Craiova and Romania as a whole? Are there common issues that they are confronted with?
There are always the same problems, not to mention others particularly related to the place and the moment. An important one might be the sustainability of these kind of initiatives, art centers whose existence depends on funding. Romania doesn't have a tradition in investing in art spaces, but hopefully this will change at the moment we acquire different mentalities, when private and public institutions start to invest in culture.
It is difficult to anticipate how the situation will evolve, but nevertheless Romanian Culture is going upwards and seems to be more an more present around the world.
We are living in a period where entertainment trumps culture. Given this situation, what strategies does your space use to gain a following / a public?
Our projects address everybody interested in art. Due to the fact that we are pioneers, the public is not a problem. These days information is being spread with the speed of light, so young people are coming for the novelty of the projects. Craiova has a strong tradition in theater and the Shakeaspeare festival became well-known abroad in the 90s, people were crowding to get a place for Silviu Purcarete' s show. A precedent has been therefore already set.
Can you describe the present state of art critics at the beginning of their career? What resources can they access in terms of education, funds, collaborations?
I´m not the most suitable person to answer this question, an art critic would do better. Yet I can recommend the two grants I benefited of, dispensed by the Romanian government, each lasting for two years: „Vasile Parvan” in the Romanian Academy in Rome and „Theodor Aman” in Leipzig – for both artists and art critics. The last one can be anywhere in the world, for me Leipzig was a personal choice. They are great scholarships, I owe these grants all my achievements in the last 4 years.
How do you see the evolution of CEP in the future? What are your long-term goals?
A successful mission of disseminating contemporary culture will make us confident about the natural evolution of CEP, turning it into a cultural reference at the international level. And it's a good sign that you and other art critics take interest in our activity; it proves that we are on the right track.
Image credit: Club Electro Putere, Opening of Fetish Factory, June 2010