Sunday, October 31, 2010

Instead of nothing, a preview

Have you heard of the principle "the economy of effort"? It comes from design theory and states that design and production time should be in proportion to the value it produces in the quality of the final product serving the users' needs. Lately I've been hard pressed to apply my efforts to this blog, in that I have a lot of urgent topics I would like to address, but not enough time to render them to my readers in the quality that I would like. The work of an art history graduate student is mostly directed toward the assimilation of theory, rather than responding to art and culture as it unfolds in the world beyond the pages of the book. For a scholar in training of modernism and contemporary art, a balance between the life of the mind, the expectations of one's professors and being involved current art happenings is a sort of utopia: we all aspire to achieve it, but in the end we fall back to resolving the pressures of academia foremost. I would like this blog to offer a space of resistance towards the latter, and that is why I decided to devote this entry to introduce you to three recent art events which will constitute larger themes in the unfolding map that I am piecing together with my readers.

Last Saturday and Sunday, the wonderful artists of the Bureau of Melodramatic Research (Irina Gheorghe and Alina Popa), staged an intervention in the Carol Park in Bucharest. Entitled Cry-Baby (a throw back to John Water's 1990 film), the event proposed a training in good manners for the general public in the capital. What was the rationale behind this intervention? According to the artists, it started with the observation that the global crisis of capitalism is discoursively translated into an official rhetoric of optimism. Finally overshadowed by negative feelings, the transnational ode to joy gives way to panic and a sort of emotional collapse. The artists link economic and poltical depression with the nervous kind, catalyzed by doctrinal public lamentations. And even if the EU forbade the tradition of mourners in Eastern public space, generalized teary outbursts cannot be subjected to jurisprudence anymore. At the same time, there is a new category of official mourning, a new code of good manners, of the emo-political kind. This code is made popular by officials of all kinds, from presidents to corporations, generating compassion to justify economical interests. On the other hand, if we consider depression as a deactivation of desire, it can constitute a key breach in the social nervous system, an unsolvable equilibrium in the miracle of self-sufficient capitalism. Following this circuit of emotionality, The Bureau of Melodramatic Research conceptualizes crying as a form of resistance and a way to manipulate consensus at the same time. Thus, the Bureau proposes a new guide of good manners, the "cry-baby guide." Using onion as a catalyst of emotions in public space, it seeks to destroy the monopoly of sentimental outbursts in public space. Cry-baby suggests reflexive-crying as a form of anti-crying, a protest which begins with organic tear-gases.

Switching gears, the great team of Club ElectroPutere in Craiova, have just had a very successful double-opening, as part of a larger project, Romanian Cultural Resolution, an analysis of contemporary cultural discourse through art in light of the post-Communist condition in Romania, in which constant references to the unresolved past coexist with Utopian projections of a democratic future. The exhibit "An Image Instead of a Title," seeks to engender an archive where, images rather than texts anchor cultural and political narratives: The 'Gospel of St. John' is transcribed on copy-sheets in preparation of a difficult exam in the work of Ciprian Muresan; Cristi Rusu zooms in the Venetian street sign 'Calle della morte' (Street of Death) until his hands start shaking and the frame loses focus; Miklos Onucsan re-tells the history of rust methodically from its origins to the present, as a layer of decrepitude in the absence of the rusting object; finally, the colors of the Romanian flag materialize the interdiction to look and speak for Serge Spitzer, led into exile by the ideological brutality of the dictatorship.

Club ElectroPutere juxtaposes this opening with another provocative exhibition, "Figurative Painting in Romania between 1970 and 2010." Another national painting retrospective may seem banal to the uninformed viewer, until he or she is forced to construct a shared narrative connecting works produced before the Revolution, in its immediate aftermath, and during the dramatic opening of Romanian artists towards international trends in the last 10 years. Artists like Ioana Batranu, Sorin Campan, Constantin Flondor or Gheorghe Ilea contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the period before 1989. Their works are marked by a rejection of both the official painting style of the regime, and of new cultural trends imported from the West after the fall of the dictatorship. I should also mention that in most cases, these paintings have never been viewed by an audience bigger than the artists' close friends and a handful of scholars. Thus, they are inserted and produced in a yet uncharted history of Romanian modern art. Together with this group, the exhibition features Adrian Ghenie, Victor Man, Gili Mocanu and Serban Savu, which began their careers in the period of opening at the end of the 1990s. Thus, their works are oftentimes concerned with socio-cultural transition, keeping alive the ambiguities of recent history - as in the case of Victor Man whose' work "The place I'm coming from" can be seen as a polysemic question.

I hope I have whetted your appetite for these kind of investigations, which will be expanded in longer interviews with the protagonists over the course of the next weeks. Until then, academia beacons my return to the page.

Image credit: Bureau of Melodramatic Research, "Cry-Baby," intervention in Carol Park, Bucharest (above), opening of "An Image instead of a Title" + "Figurative Painting in Romania 1970-2010" at Club ElectroPutere, Craiova (below), October 2010

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