Artist, detached

in Șerban, A. & David, C., Perimetru Sigur / Safe Perimeter, ERSTE Foundation, Bucharest

Essay for the catalogue of the exhibition Perimetru Sigur / Safe Perimeter, held at Make a Point in Bucharest between April 23 – May 14 2016. Artists: Vlad Albu, Alle Dicu, Dan Iordache, Vlad-Radu Popescu, Ana-Maria Preduţ, Mihai Şovăială. A project coordinated by Cristina David and Alina Șerban. 

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I think that what can be learned from the 1990s is how not to make art.

The practices you could imagine or to which you had access when, for a brief moment, the models mixed together in your head and on the street, could be defined in countless ways; one possibility was to call them art. Obviously, lots of people aspired to make art, but the intention, once contextualised, at the time in question or in retrospect, itself becomes a type of practice. If you wanted to make contemporary art — a term which even in the 1990s was beginning to define a grid for reading other disciplines — but did not take on board the codes, whether out of ignorance or because you intuited the potential of marginality, then your practice was already hybrid. Hybridity is definitely a feature of contemporary art today, but my hypothesis is that this is due to the ad hoc strategies developed by artists at the limits of the classic — Western — geographical space of contemporary art. In fact, hybridity resulting from the attempt to make contemporary art, a socially, economically, politically, intellectually determined attempt, which characterised a decade or so of practices in Eastern Europe, has become a source of inspiration for those current artists who still perceive art as a practice of resistance.

You might say that the situation has made a 180° turn, but I think that we sooner find ourselves on the same hermeneutic circle established by the logic of the historical avant-garde, in which “art” and “life” are the two poles which continously reveal one another. Hybridity as a desideratum or even as a standard of twenty-first-century contemporary art can also be reflected at the level of art as a discipline, but it exists above all as an attitude. This presupposes the absence of any intent to draw lines between acts that do and those that do not pertain to art, but not in the sense that you refuse to allow art to enter life, as modernism, the intellectual basis of those active artistically in the 1990s, would have done, but rather the opposite: you refuse to allow life to become art because precisely by that gesture of refusal, which can be intuitive or highly elaborate, you hold in your palm for a few seconds a meaningful entity, you identify a remarkable moment.

I was surprised by the rapidity with which the younger generation of artists understood the intelligence of detachment from the label “art” — perhaps because it took me many years merely to be able to present myself as making art. But they do not detached themselves only from the label — their fundamental gesture is already something different from art. Their gesture consists in the very isolation of a gesture, which in the past might or might not have pertained to art, might or might not have been reproduced by art, a gesture which they claim once more as a gesture that has never needed art in order to be meaningful. It has always been meaningful because it has been practised. “I didn’t do a performance, I danced.” I think that I would have needed a lot of courage to say that in my twenties, when I was striving for everything I did to be art. The lack of art is now art. There are also other ways of not doing art; it is always a question of stance.

The works are exhibited in the safe perimeter delimited by the black band, and, of course, within a space of art. When they speak, they take a step back. They make no trenchant statements, although they play with minor historical or personal references. The detachment comes from the historical gap, from light humour, from sincere sympathy. Solitary memories would be caricatures, likewise statements about then / now — abstract, atemporal pieces intervene and everything is read as a surface. In the 1990s you had to have a lot of courage because there was a lot of misunderstanding of your gesture — young people today are able to respect the effort when its echoes set it apart among the mass of automatisms that they master much better than the artists of the last century would ever have hoped to be able to. The 1990s are the first decade to which it is possible to react — farther away in time, it is no longer possible to see anything from the present. The codes are too obscure, the strata packed together, one on top of the other; the intention is impossible to discuss. What you can do in the present is to wave a friendly smile to the gestures you like, which you understand, to admire them if they have not fallen into the trap of art. On the other hand, the 1990s now reached us surrounded by a halo of anarchy, in time it seems to us that we identify the act of History although at the time we received warnings from every direction that history had ended. It is the first time that the last decade of the twentieth century has been viewed and read as a whole in order to reveal in its folds clues as to the subsequent development of culture and attitude in this part of the world. The 1990s are inherently likeable to us; their fashions and music amuse us. The fervour with which East-Europeans were discovering capitalism, only to fall into its fatal trap all the more quickly, does not depress us; we read it as mere fact.

The detachment of young artists towards those years is not accidental, but honest: if the theorists of postmodernism are right and history ended in the 1980s, then the 1990s are the first post-historic years, the first years of the continuous present, which no longer demand pretentious reactions, monuments, commemorations. They can only roll across a screen, a surface on which anarchy blends with poverty, raves with politics, nostalgia with the first adverts. Scroll through the images, pick whichever you like, occasionally making connexions with your personal history, the only genuinely valid barometer. What result are other images, a surface. It was simple to make art. It is an impasse that we were not aware of in the East, but which the most intelligent Western artists have been lamenting for a long time. If it was so simple to make art, wasn’t it because art already has a prescribed place in the system and because the artistic gesture remains isolated in the world of art? I am convinced that the six young people within the safe perimeter of the Make a Point space have already intuited that it is not the desperate gestures of art activists or the extreme aestheticism of professional artists that are valid responses in the confrontation with art. Their detachment is probably a mere intuition right now; the refusal comes not from revolt, but from attentiveness to their own emotions. The works may continue in the same tone and then we shall perhaps witness the appearance of gestures that will once again be meaningful to all of us. 

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