Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Biopolitics, censorship and getting our hands dirty - Part 2

It is not my intention to harp on scandal on my blog. The contemporary art scene in Romania is a precarious network as it is. But I believe having the privilege to run and organize an art center sponsored by a powerful bank in Europe, implies ethical and moral responsibilities, as well as a healthy dose of self-criticism. I also think institutional critique should foremost be open to the public and not relegated to the behind the scenes of the same institutions.

For these reasons and out of solidarity with the artists, curators and cultural managers truly trying to make a difference in art and society in Romania, I submit to my reader's scrutiny the following letters, which I translated. The first was published on the blog POSTSPECTACLE by the group Candidatul la Presedentie (the Presidential Candidate) as a response to the second letter, sent by PAVILION UNICREDIT to an undisclosed group. It is my sincere hope that these exchanges will encourage more people involved in the local art scene to become more vocal about calling into question the conditions of artists' labor in contempory art spaces funded by powerful corporate bodies.


Anarho-corporate schizophrenia -An open answer to a closed letter-


In the past few days a letter has been circulating underneath the surface, on an ad-hoc network forged by the always creative PAVILION UNICREDIT team. It is a sort of backbook of carefully chosen friends. Well, this letter has finally come into our hands! As Candidatul la Presedentie (the Presidential Candidate) was slandered in this letter, we have decided to make it public and answer it openly.

Necessary preliminary background:

After being invited to participate in the exhibition “Just do it. Biopolitical Branding” we were prompted by the curator Simina Neagu (who was the only person with whom we communicated up to that point) to propose a sum for our work; we suggested 1000 Euros (which would include production and honoraria for 4 people!!!); the curator replied that the budget for the entire exhibition and the publication is 1500 Euro and that she can only award us 200 Euro. We agreed to these conditions. That was our negotiation.

As regarding the deadlines mentioned in the letter below – one can clearly discern from the emails that we sent the texts, images and bios on time. Canditatul (The Candidate) is never sloppy with deadlines. Still, three days before the opening of the exhibition we received an email from the director, Razvan Ion, letting us know that we would not be in the show after all. Thus, he stepped over the curator, any interface was eliminated and it all boiled down to the director’s decision.

It seems that the problems arose when we sent our text (attached below -2) and when it was clear for them that we would no longer exhibit, as was suggested to us, a video with a happening at the Mall (also below on this blog). Another suggested which we resisted was to film the performance in advance and exhibit it as a video at the opening. We decided not to conform, not to be explicitly clear about what our performance would entail – we avoided surveillance and that apparently is unforgivable in an anarchist environment as PAVILION UNICREDIT calls itself.

Despite these strange mis-understandings, Candidatul (the Candidate) and his staff decided to attend the opening of the exhibition as an audience, and to celebrate this moment together with our friends from the Bureau of Melodramatic Research (BMR) whose works were in the show; BMR resisted dramatically in those conditions and we thought they deserved a little support, some Dorato champagne and a little institutional tension.

Therefore, we announced that our participation on all the social networks and yahoogroups we had access to, inviting everyone to toast a glass of Dorato champagne with us at PAVILION UNICREDIT.

We arrived around 7:10 PM at the center, and we barely made it through the front door when a loud voice started yelling at us violently, creating a hysterical scene which left everyone inside paralyzed. It was the director of the institution, Razvan Ion, followed by Eugen Radescu, the chairman of the board at PAVILION, who was much calmer and visibly embarrassed. Unfortunately the director, who kept emphasizing his position as director under various forms, was unstoppable: he grabbed the bottles (which were of course closed) from our hands and started insulting us and slandering us; he then proceeded to push us and the bottles outside of the space. During this altercation Candidatul (the Candidate) was physically assaulted by the director on the way out.

The bottles of Dorato were taken outside by his faithful subalterns: they were first placed on the street and then thrown into the tunnel - Pasajul Victoriei – following the authoritarian command of Razvan Ion. The bottles hit a car whose owner came to ask who the madman was that threw seven bottles into the tunnel. In short, these were the events of the evening.

Our collective answer

Firstly, we too would like to see the video tapes from the surveillance cameras from the night of the opening. On them one can clearly see that only 4 people and not 10 tried to go into the space and were immediately apprehended. That is two men and two women carrying Dorato champagne bottles. Those were the people who represented a terrorist threat – the ones who tried to go into the not-so-welcoming house of the director and who ignited his rage.

Secondly, we have decided to make public the exchange of emails so that one can clearly see that excluding us under the pretenses that we did not accept the terms of the budget was completely false.

We would also like to state that we have never discussed institutional critique with the director of this institution, nor did we discuss anything aside from the email in which we were told we had been taken out of the show. It is strange that even through the PAVILION team claims it does not know us directly, they still make harsh critiques of our intellectual training.

Thirdly, the semi-private letters sent by the PAVILION team is written in the first person but signed collectively, “the PAVILION team.” Things couldn’t be clearer. The institution-man has arrived!

Other things mentioned in this letter are ridiculous and shameful, such as the claim that we were denied entry into the space because we were under the influence of alcohol and other substances.

This is a universal tactic, constantly used by dictators and authorities, from Ion Iliescu and his “hooligans” and “thugs” to Gaddafi with his “crack-heads” who protest against him, to the little tyrants such as the director Razvan Ion. He yells outside “his house” – as he called Pavilion Unicredit that night – that we are crack-heads and other insults in the vein of Vadim Tudor – that we have “small brains.”

Together with us, those who were appalled by the director’s behavior were treated equally bad – people who we do not know and who responded on the spot were equally dismissed with the same violent speech.

It would be tedious to analyze the entire text put out by PAVILION UNICREDIT. Faced with slander (not unsurprisingly from an institution and a director with prior violent reactions) it is hard to react – herein lies the power of slander. A full answer is almost impossible because we would have to comb through each and every sentence, as each contains a lie or half-truth.

This semi-private text is an example of institutional dirt. But, like the actions of the PAVILION UNICREDIT team on the night of the opening, this letters serves the work of The Candidate perfectly; The Candidate wishes to expose hypocrisy, the gap between what is said and what is done/ performed at PAVILION UNICREDIT – that is the anarhi-corporate schizophrenia ubiquitously displayed in advanced capitalist societies.

Thus at PAVILION UNICREDIT one encounters:

Radical left political texts – in reality, right-wing, fascist attitudes;

Texts and works which condemn exploitation and neo-slavery – in reality, the exploitation of artists’ work (90% of those invited to exhibit are not paid, or miserly paid)

Exhibiting texts and works which critique authoritative power positions – in reality, using any means of authoritative power – may it be academia, prestige, lengthy self-eulogizing biographies

Texts which critique mass-media manipulation – in reality, using the same tactics of manipulation, disinformation, denigration, attack against anyone who critiques their institution

Statements for institutional critique and artists’ absolute freedom – in reality, censoring artists which through their works critique the context in which they were invited - in this case, PAVILION UNICREDIT.

As the Bureau of Melodramatic Research (BMR) have stated, the day of the exhibition opening was filled with surrealist events. Such as, the director of the institution, the self-proclaimed anarchist, crying in the face of imminent danger – the withdrawal of Unicredit’s financial support; firing Simina Neagu, the curator, over the phone, revoking this dismissal and then firing her in person; threatening the artists that the exhibition will not happen unless the conform to modify the content of their work. In the end Simina Neagu was fired through the classic tactic of changing her job title, getting rid of “assistant director” and replacing it with “assistant coordinator.”


The original text sent by PAVILION UNICREDIT


We would like to inform you about the actual turn of events in response to recent debates, unjustifiable and amusing, among a few unimportant participants of the local art scene.

Of course, this is a letter to friends and not an official statement, an explanation to you all who were or are still our friends, supporters, public, our collaborators. That is why we apologize if our language is not entirely academic. This letter will not be made public because we have no consideration towards those who think they can promote themselves through scandals – scandals aimed at an institution with the prestige and prominence that PAVILION enjoys. (the entity which operates three instruments: PAVILION – journal for politics and culture, BUCHAREST BIENNALE – The International Art Biennale in Bucharest and PAVILION UNICREDIT- center for contemporary art and culture)

We will try to be clear and to the point:

1. Simina Neagu had full freedom as a curator. The publication, the selection of the artists were entirely her choice.

2. Simina Neagu’s contract was terminated on October 27th 2010, and at the time she was paid in full. We decided to keep her in our organization to offer her the possibility of curating “Just do it. Biopolitical Branding.” We congratulate her for all the she has accomplished in our organization. We are sorry to see her exhibition, a good endeavor, to be shadowed by people she struggled to help.

3. After the discussions, meetings and email exchanges between Simina Neagu and the group Candidatul la Presedentie (the Presidential Candidate), the curator concluded that it was impossible to fit their demands in the budget for the exhibition. The group asked for 1000 Euro (and we quote: “because at CNDB (National Dance Center Bucharest) that is how much they were paid”). Later, there was a renegotiation, which did not amount to anything concrete. Moreover, the work in question was not presented to the curator, who had no clue as to what the groups’ performance would entail. Still, Simina Neagu decided to keep Candidatul la Presedentie in the show, and to resolve these problems until the opening. Because the deadline was not met, and there were only a few days until the publication needed to go to the printers, the decision was made to exclude the group from the exhibit. From the beginning, their intention was to be excluded from the project, so that they could create a media circus that would make them famous. End of story.

4. The Bureau of Melodramatic Research (BMR) requested a certain type of artistic production which was realized. Great efforts were involved, as they were also late, so that the last part of the piece was completed 2 hours before the opening. Again, we are used to working in advance and organizing everything perfectly. Still, the work is part of the show and the budget was clearly written on the wall, as part of their piece. So it is a big lie that we didn’t allow it to be put up. We know why BMR acted the way they did: we now cite from an email they sent to Simina Neagu on March 16th 2011: “we do not wish to capitalize on conflicts, although we admit that these conflicts work perfectly as branding and makes us more visible through our stance on the matter.” So they thrive on scandal. End of story.

5. The real events of March 10th 2011, the day of the opening of “Just Do It. Biopolitical Branding” are as follows: a group of aprox 10 people entered the space of PAVILION UNICREDIT with several bottles of champagne. This group was led by Ion Dumitrescu ( we think, because we don’t really know these people). Razvan Ion asked firmly and calmly that the bottles they brought into the exhibition space to be opened outside of the center. The reason for this is simple. Opening them (which was probably the group’s intention) would have affected the works of art in the show, and considering the great traffic in the space they could have spilled on other people. An important thing to note: bags, alcoholic beverages and food are prohibited in any art exhibition. The reasons are clear. Because the group refused to comply, Razvan Ion raised his voice trying to make them leave. Later, the entire Pavilion team evacuated the group and called the police. The bottles were taken outside, where someone threw them away. Unfortunately they threw them into the tunnel and they broke. Florin Flueras (is that is his name, I don’t know exactly) arrived after this incident smelling of alcohol. He was denied entry into the space for this reason- of course that was our decision. When the police arrived the group had dispersed. We didn’t file a complaint for assault and forcing an entry into a private space. End of story.

6. An answer to the accusation of sexism from the Bureau of Melodramatic Research : that is hilarious. You all know why and it’s not worth arguing. End of story.

7. The purpose of this letter is to raise awareness of the level of fragility and vulnerability of the cultural scene, provoked not only by the politics of the Boc government, but also by the integration and pervasiveness of these type of activities and destructive speeches in the cultural sphere. These keep the public away and generates an unstable situation which will limit international collaborations for all cultural managers in Romania. These types of manifestations which claim to be art are nothing but the promotion of false values in pubs and bars. They are based on the principle, I will attack someone famous and that will make me famous. Wouldn’t it be better if each one of us builds something and then see if it holds water?

8. It is sad that we tried to have an academic dialogue around institutional critique with these people, but we failed. Not only because they have not read anything, but they confuse Hegel with Heidegger. How can one have a discussion, let alone an academic debate? In the end, we invite you to see the show and decide for yourselves which work is more radical. In any case, the softest is the one made by the Bureau of Melodramatic Research. Even if we wanted to censor something, there was nothing to censor.

The main thing to emphasize is the PAVILION will continue to exist despite people like them. Even if UniCredit will not sponsor us anymore, there would be people willing to help up. Either way, BUCHAREST BIENNALE and PAVILION (which turns 12 this year) will continue to exist.

The quotes are from those who we have quoted, while the original documents, emails and contracts involved can be consulted at the center. Also, the video tapes from the surveillance cameras testify to what we just described. If someone has another opinion, we ask that it be supported in the same way: with documents, video tapes, contracts, emails etc.

P.S. Raluca Voinea, the great hero of some half-wits, is financed by Erste Bank, an institution which is thought to have supported arms trafficking from Russia to Libya. Chto Delat, the great socialist group received money for the Istanbul Biennale from Koc, a group that manufactures and sells armament. Jean-Baptiste Naudy, another so-called socialist and friend of the working classes, left his alcohol bill unpaid at the hotel; this bill amounted to 350 Euro and was paid by a worker (the receptionist). In addition, he is the son of a great French businessman, a very rich character. (so capitalism is good if only it gives us something in return.) What are we really talking about? Once we receive money we quickly forget about Marxism and institutional critique?

If every representation is an act of domination, and if every statement, every interpretation and every assumed position implies representation, then every work of art, every speech, every political gesture, even those motivated by the desire to give voice to the oppressed, implies a subsequent silencing. (Jesse S. Cohn)



All translations by the author of this blog, who welcomes institutional critique that is also self-critical.

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