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PAVILION [contemporary art & culture magazine] on Wed, 21 Jun 2006 12:44:27 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-ro] text in AFI

Un text ce va aparea in Art Fairs International.

Lifting up old structures like space-shuttle-churches
by Felix Vogel

Choosing the concept of “Chaos: The age of confusion” for the 2nd Bucharest Biennale (BB2), the Hungarian curator and director of the Mucsarnoc – Kunsthalle Budapest took a decision, which is not only connected to our daily life in the age of globalization, but it also correlates to Bucharest and Romania on an urban and social-political level.

Already the – very small – list of participating artists, which are mostly young and not yet very popular, shows a difference to other biennials. No global player could be found in the biennial and against all trends of recent biennials (the last issues of Venice, Berlin, Lyon and Whitney) to backtrack into more private, easy-going, nice and escapist discourse Bucharest Biennale 2. is a social-political engaged and almost militant show.

Instead of putting out a conventional catalogue, BB2 published a hybrid between a documentation catalogue, a reader and a magazine (English, 256 pages, ISSN 1841-7337, www.pavilionmagazine.org). In this great compendium, you will find texts by Zsolt Pétranyi, Marina Grzinic, Michel Tournier, Suzana Milevska, Douglas Kellner and many others concerning not only chaos. The reader – the 9th issue of PAVILION magazine – builds a bridge between the biennial’s artworks and art-theoretical, political, sociological and prose texts and it therefore continues the biennial in the medium of a reader, instead of only documenting the artworks.

Additionally, most of the artworks are videos and photography. Although, there are some other works – Dan Perjovschi’s huge wall drawing at the greenhouse of the Botanical Garden and his skateboard-plate-drawing in South Shop, Iona Nemes’ subtle installation “Monthly Evaluation Project” in the Faculty of Biology, Attila Stark’s graffiti project “The brown ship of two drunken cooks” around the city, which is documented with photos, and there is Sebastian Moldovan’s “end of Paris” sign in the Botanical Garden, but still this object is part of a video-performance – the show is dominated by video and photography. Actually, focusing on this mediums was not the worse idea, but the straight separation of video (in the Museum of Geology) and Photography (in the National Centre for Dance) prevents the dialog between the media and the artworks – there is a confrontation between the space and its surroundings (for example the stones and crystals in the Museum of Geology) but no dialog between the media. Although, such a dialog can be found in the Museum of Literature between Aya Tzukioka and Ilona Nemeth and it worked in a remarkable way.

Both artists presented a video-/photo-documentation of a performance. Tzukioka constructed for her work “Hide-And-Seek” (2001) different suits, which were mimicries of soft drink machines. The artists could hide in “dangerous” urban situations – in the subway, in front of tourist sights or just on the streets. The artwork questions not only – in a very funny and slapstick-like way – terms of personal security and paranoia but also the aesthetics of urban landscapes, influenced by the exaggerated presence of soft drink machines.

Looking at Tzukioka’s work as a hyperbolical and metaphorical documentation of the life of today’s people in the age of chaos and confusion, the work next to hers – Slovakian Iona Nemeth’s “Morning” (2004) could be seen as its less metaphorical and funny but more straight-to-the-point counterpart. In her video and photographs you observe a women eating breakfast, doing the kitchen, going shopping – just every day life scenes – guarded (or kidnapped?) by two black-dressed, masked, strong men. We do not know, why they are following her and she and the people around her look like, if they do not care, if they even do not realize the two hardly overlooked men. Is it necessary today to have personal guards or Tzukioka’s hiding suit in everyday situations?

Having five totally different main spaces – not one single to art related location – all around the city, the biennial intervenes in the chaotic structures of the city in a subtle way. Visitors were forced to confront the structures of the city. Although, all spaces were located in downtown of Bucharest, totally different places could be recognized. The seamless transit of old 19th century architecture to pretentious communist buildings seemed to be part of the topic chaos. Moreover, visitors had to question the condition of this markedly chaotic city not only in the context of art but also – looking at homeless orphans walking around shiny expensive cars – in terms of politics and Romania’s post-communist condition.

Admittedly, the intervention concept is not very new, but the way it works in Bucharest is different to other biennials. berlin biennale 4th, for example, tried to intervene in Auguststraße, but in the end it looked just like a PR campaign of the curators, while in Bucharest the whole concept functions in a more militant and political involved wise, because every space and the way between the different locations showed a detailed picture of the diversity of the city’s structure, condition and people. Therefore, the way the biennial works reminds us of the last Istanbul Biennial in 2005.

Zsolt Pétranyi’s intervention concept seems to be continued in much of the artworks. If we look for example at Sebastian Moldovan’s “The Paris” (intervention in public space, performance, video, photography, 2005/2006) we can see the artist strolling around the city in the manner of the situationist dérive, taking an end of Paris sign on his back to every places he goes. He places the sign on different locations all around Bucharest, places which were earlier called “Little Paris” and he asks therefore about the today’s condition of the city, if there is still – or again, looking at Romania’s move towards the EU – something like a “Paris” in Bucharest
Assuming, that Moldovan is discovering and questioning structures of the city his work has something in common with Rainer Ganahl’s “Bicycling Bucharest” (2006) performance/video. In his performance, Ganahl is bicycling against the traffic, without holding the steering wheel. The video shows the steering wheel, which can be seen – following Ganahl – as a cross hair. Due to this performance, which Ganahl did in cities all around the world like New York, Hong Kong or Damascus, the artist discovers the city in his full diversity, oscillating between sightseeing (The House Of The People) and busy, stressed and angry drivers and yelling policemen.

Another interesting intervention and one of the favorite artworks of the biennial could be found in Nemes’ installation “Monthly Evaluation Project” (2006) at the Faculty of Biology. Taking an old glass showcase, full of books, which were not touched since decades and wrapping the books in new and colorful bindings Nemes created an artwork, which confuses the visitor of the Faculty of Biology, because of its extraneous in the grey and less colorful surrounding. On every binding Nemes wrote some words about her mood of this certain day. The work established a very intimate and therefore almost voyeuristic relation between the visitor and the artist. Still, there is glass between the visitor and the – so to speak – artist’s life. You think you know everything, but you cannot (re)act and there is still a uncertainty that nothing on the book cover is true.

One out-sticking work could be found – and almost overlooked – in a small chamber in the basement of the Museum of Geology: Polish Janek Simon’s video “Departure” (2006, computer animation), which shows the city of Krakow, one of the most conservative and religious cities in Poland, and its churches. During the seven minutes of the video, all six churches are lifting up like space shuttles with an enormous sound intensity. The video questions the big influence of the Catholic Church, which dominates (or manipulates?) the political decision process still today, as well as the ridiculousness of only reducing Krakow to its tourist sights, namely its gothic churches.

It is not only Simon’s work, which shows the political engagement of BB2. The whole biennial tried to be involved in the social-political process of Bucharest and Romania. It could be claimed that BB2 tried to lift up old structures like the churches in Simon’s video.

Felix Vogel is theoretician and curator. Living and working in Germany.
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