calin dan on Wed, 17 May 2000 09:18:02 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] subREAL interview

German version in "Springerin", Vienna, April-Juni 2000, p. 53-55

Sorry for cross-posting.


The group subREAL (Cãlin Dan, Iosif Király) on art, economics, and nomadic
lives. The interview was conducted on Dec. 19, 1999 at their temporary
studio in the former Hellerfabrik, Davidgasse, Wien - Favoriten by Thomas

TR : Is melancholy inherent to your work in general? If so, what do you
mourn about?

CD: One of the things which maintains our enterprise is humor. Black (and
light) humor is paramount to our projects, but at least as important is
content delivery, and content has quality only as far as it carries poetic
values. Poetic values are always targeting issues like melacholy, death,
and disappearance/reappearance of things. So definitely, if there is
melancholy in our work, it was meant to be, and if it isn't, it was meant
to be there anyway (laughs), but then we didn't really succeed. All in all
I think there is a humanist aspect in the work we are doing besides the
postmodern technology currently in use.

TR: Referring to "Dataroom", the perception of the piece shifts very
quickly from the melancholic to the funny and ironic.

IK: Yes, in this specific work the details are ironic but the overall view
keeps a level of melancholy. We try to make conscious efforts to maintain
this balance. subREAL appeared in a period when Romania was experiencing a
shift from a kind of sadness into another kind of sadness and we wanted to
compensate this new sadness with irony.

TR: From my personal experience I got the impression that archives are
never "objective": what is collected or not is always a matter of
selection. What was the specificity of the "Arta" archive? Was it already a

CD: As far as we are concerned, no selection was involved in our work with
that archive. The material itself came out of random processes. The
magazine was just loaded with information from various sources plus it was
building up its own information. It's hard for me to say that the latter
was "selective." I think it wasn't. For publication reasons, the editorial
team was documenting almost everything as far as Romanian art was
concerned. There were even pictures from artists who were considered
"difficult" by the ideological supervisors...

IK: Out of this pool, "Arta" published only a narrow selection. What we
found exciting is the idea that this is the first Romanian archive which
was made public. This fact didn't trigger any open discussions in Romania
but at least some passions and frustrations became manifest. The archive
mirrors the compromises accepted by (some) artists with the communist
regime. Our goal is not to blackmail people, we don't have any prejudices
or preconceptions about working with the archive, but it seems that some
people perceived this project as a kind of power game, as if we had a
"bomb" that could be used against them.

TR: In "Interviewing the Cities" you somehow conceive of cities as a kind
of social and architectural archive. Your staged photographs arrange
monuments, buildings and people in a different institutional framing. I
understand that for this project (but also in general) you travel a lot.
What do you think are the strength and the weakness of this "nomadic gaze"?

CD: The strength of this method is that it keeps you on the surface. This
is important if you want to function efficiently in a specific cultural
context. So as far as you just come and leave, as far as you are just a
guest, things go smoothly: you are not perceived as a threat, everybody
becomes relaxed and confident. That's how you get the best out of the
people and the best out of the situations: do your job and then go away.
The weakness comes from the same source: keeping on the surface means also
that you don't leave tracks. So in the end of the day, which is the end of
your life, you don't belong anywhere. Being a nomad means that you might
lose yourself in the cracks of the system. And basically that's what you
aim at as a living artist : avoiding the system and living in its cracks.
I guess there will be a point where we should try to become national
artists somewhere but I am not sure whether we will get the chance to be
Romanian national artists. But this goes together with the biology of art:
All projects wear themselves out after a while, ours will as well. You only
have to find the right moment to put your work in conservation, somewhere.

IK: We often ask ourselves what is our significance for the Romanian art.
On the one hand, we represented Romania ar this year's Venice Biennale, but
on the other hand, we are very much contested in the official circles. It
is an ambiguous situation.

CD: ... it's a subREAL situation (laughs) ...  But generally speaking, we
would be more interested in representing the outside to Romania than
Romania to the outside. There is simply more need to get information and
cultural dynamics in the country than the other way around. In culture the
time of recovery is much longer than the time of crisis, so that ten years
of waste need fifty years of recovery. I think that as far as we establish
ourselves internationally and as far as we will be able to raise more
interest (also financially), we would like invest in Romania, on our own
terms and without official interventions, of course.

TR: You slipped from one strong ideological context into another, namely
the capitalist market. For precisely that reason, you seem to be very
sensitive to power structures and also to get along pretty well with
situations that are different from one country you work with to another.
Are you playing with the power structures of the art system in general?

IK: We came out as group in Romania, which has since 1990 a capitalist
system. While primitive, this system comes with extremely strong features
imbedded in institutions and also affecting the daily life. Therefore, the
idea of "subREALism" started in Romania as a post-surrealist reaction to an
unbelievable environment. When we started to travel and work
internationally, we realized that you can find the same unbelievable
aspects everywhere. subREALism is international. Part of this subREALity is
playing with/using institutions, bureaucracy, as well as people as

CD: I wouldn't risk myself saying that we are using institutions at this
moment, not from complacency but because the rules of the game are slightly
different here and now than they were in Romania at the beginning of the
90s. There is a constant awareness in our work about social and economic
issues but I don't think that institutions are so interesting right now.
They have lost both their glamour and their symbolic significance. The old
trend of so-called institutional criticism which is recycled now looks
sterile and anti-productive. It doesn't change much, and it doesn't bring
any intelectual satisfaction, emotional pleasure or fun to anyone, public
or artists.

TR: Are you also interested in the emotional responses to your pieces, or
is this just some kind of "surplus" which doesn't mean much to you? Do you
think that emotion is an integral part of art at large?

CD: The fact that we are increasingly involved now in "old media" is part
of a more general trend of re-evaluating the emotional aspect in all art
forms. We think that emotions are going to be back. We think that painting
and sculpture are "in" and we started to behave accordingly. The fact that
we are neither painters nor sculptors doesn't make any difference. It's
even more interesting for us because we came on a long way to this
conclusion. We started to work as conceptual artists, seperately, then we
started to work together and did, um, "post-socialist realism" probably
(laughs), then we worked with video, sound, multimedia installations, and
we ended up using photography which is basically an "old medium."
Nevertheless, we are not interested any longer in photography per se.
Although we invest a lot in making high quality photographs, photography
itself is not that important, not old enough. Important at this moment are
painting and sculpture and that is where our photographs are going to end
up: in paintings and sculptures, for which they will be just the initial

TR: Do you want to sell these pieces?

CD: It is more about bringing back know-how into the Western culture, where
we sense a drop in the interest for the technologies of manufacture. On the
other hand we want to inject some economic energy int Romania. We have a
foundation that looks for ressources in order to fund local projects.
An example: The first pieces of the "photopaintings" series (presented now
at the Galérie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, in the framework of the
exhibition "L'autre moitié del'Europe") is a wall paper painted in white
and black by one of Josif's former students, living in Bucuresti. With this
operation he earned in four months about two average yearly incomes earned
in a state job. He is a talented and ambitious young artist and we were
happy to be able helping him.

TR: Is he part of the group then?

CD: No, he is our employee. We hire him for a specific technical task and
he resigns all copyright claims before starting to work.

IK: The photos from the archive that are now put into painting triggered
last year an interesting debate about copyrights and authorship. One of the
numerous contributors to the stock of photos used by "Arta" made a
copyright claim on the pieces produced by us starting from the negatives in
the archive. Although the matter was settled quickly in our favor, the
event brought some interesting questions. What identity are those images
promoting, after all - the art object/the artist who authored the
object/the photographer who took the picture/the people gravitating in the
image around the art piece/subREAL? In the end we came to the idea that a
painting whose copyright is purchased by us (without any direct involvment
in the execution other than providing the content) is ours beyond any
doubt. Which could sound paradoxical but is legally correct.

TR: At this point in time, would you define yourselves as conceptual artists?

CD: We prefer to avoid self-definition, considering that our interest goes
towards a broader range of topics and media. We are basically content
providers. If the art system is thought of as an articulation of economic
mechanisms, then we don't belong there: we don't sell, have not marketing
rates, are not part of a gallery network, etc. If we look at the art system
as a field of debate on, and analysis of issues such as: social and
political representation/interference between politics and the techniques
of survival/shifting paradigms in the economic landscape, then yes we could
say that we belong there and we are artists as well. But I think that
"content providers" is a better word.

TR: Do you have some mental axis of cities you prefer to work with, or do
you rather select them like they come according to your professional

IK: We are talking quite often about our private visions on the center and
the periphery. Historically, artists were always attracted by cultural
centers. We are both originating from cities at the periphery of Romania,
so we first moved to Bucharest because we thought that are more things were
happening there. Yet we found out later that artists migrate to places
where the money is. So there is no more center such as Paris in the 20s,
New York in the 70s, the center is where you find funding and hosting
institutions for your projects. I don't think that we are exceptional in
this sense.

CD: The difference now is that migration is permanent and individual. We
have no particular preferences but for sure the spectrum of our interest
grew lately towards working in poorer countries. We are at a point now
where there is hardly any technical difference between Western and Eastern
art. With the remark that for the moment most Eastern artists are
existentially more interesting than their Western colleagues, although this
might change quite quickly. Also, the "neo-primitive" capitalism operating
in Romania, Russia, the Balkans etc. is not a regression but a progression.
A model which will be more and more active in Western Europe too,
especially with the collapse of the welfare state. For our work frame,
being interested in the countries of the poorer side of Europe is a matter
of being interested in the future. (laughs)

NOTE. When this conversation was recorded, the political options in Austria
were several. Meanwhile they developed in a direction that most of the
Viennese we met were rejecting. Probably we met the wrong Viennese. Jokes
aside, the new power game in Austria is putting some of the things we said
under a slightly different light.

After all, institutions are still interesting, and one of the local topics
in the next future should be to monitor the way cultural establishment is
making the pact with the devil (or rejects it?). Another topic would be how
to build parallel structures, without entering into sterile debates. And
finally, to be present and act with the proper tools of the oppositional
culture, annoying the official agenda of dismissal. Boycott by silence and
absenteism (as lately offered by some) would mean playing the game of the
new power.

As far as this will make any sense and will do any good, we are willing to
offer our topical experience in a debate which concerns not only Austria (a
place where we felt welcomed and at home), but wider areas of Europe (at
Looking like a mixture of Christopher Plummer (remember the anti-nazi
operetta-film "Sound of Music"?) and Tony Blair, Jorg Heider is, at a
closer look, the first explicit embodyment of the new economic order that
rules a unified Europe in a globalised economy. There might be
(paradoxically) a positive achievement for the democratic debate in the
success of the Austrian right: the realisation that the problem is older,
wider and elsewhere than in the revival of the past. Remember: "being
interested in the countries of the poorer side of Europe is a matter of
being interested in the future."

Bucuresti/Amsterdam, 14.02.00				subREAL

Calin Dan
Rozengracht 105/D4
NL-1016 LV Amsterdam
T: + 31 (0)20 770 1432
F: + 31 (0)20 623 7760

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