The exhibition ensemble comprises concepts derived from the provincial, local aspect of the territories in which the contemporary artists were born, currently live or carry out their activity. Made up of four artistic projects and a curatorial project, Local Municipalities is developed autonomously – but in a complementary manner in what regards its aesthetic and conceptual approach.
The personal artistic projects are concretizations of proposals that the Visual Kontakt gallery selected from amongst its collaborating artists. These were outlined in the context of studying certain preferred themes of the artists in depth but also out of the desire to create – in a durable way – bridges between them, their contexts of artistic and curatorial production and their conceptual affinities, in the hope of concretizing future collective and personal projects.
The current project unveils the framework topic of interest proposed by the Visual Kontakt gallery: sketching out a Laboratory space in which the main activity is connected to the process of creation, as well as to the process of exhibiting and collecting artistic objects. The unfolding – in the virtual space, as well as in the exhibition space – of an active platform that is permanently updated brings together curators and artists from several visual-artistic contexts, without leaving out the nuances of a traditional character or the accents of aesthetic, political or social nature that transpire from the present approaches.
Local Municipalities is a continuous process and the present exhibition offers the context for sanctioning a bond that the visual medium offers to subjective interpretations. The projects undergo a rigour of assembling that is specific to the gallery space, having in common the confrontation with a general status quo on a local level, as well as the merger with locative peripheries, spaces in relation to which the artist feels connected to or estranged from.
The nostalgic atmosphere, the anguish or the recreational state, the boredom or the critical attitude regarding the original spaces of the subjects represent trials that are conveyed by means of photography, illustration, sculpture, installation or ready-made works. These approaches convey the pulse of certain communities objectively and, in the same time, succeed in mirroring states of mind expressed through the voices of creative individualities. The Green Tree is a project coagulating the entire ensemble because it contains pieces of provincial stories that have morphed into the production of a “tailored” harvest – fruit of a dead tree, a symbol of oblivion. Public Figure represents – from different perspectives – an appeal to the collective memory, as a factor of action upon space, as well as a force of capturing and processing symbols and objects represented in the space-time coordinate. Perifeeric is a personal interpretation of self-awareness and rediscovery of oneself in an intimate atmosphere that does not belong to itself anymore and is not recognized as such anymore. The public and private space interfere in this project, and – in what regards Consortium – the aesthetic nature of the object and its presentation symbolically place the human destiny in the area of institutional responsibilities.
The curatorial segment, part of the Local Municipalities ensemble, has the same title and represents a pilot-project for collecting the creative activities and relating these to the audience. It brings together artists and curators that share their propositions, ideas, particular and overall visions, as the result of their relation to their place of origin. These mini-projects are relevant as concepts and are valuable for the potential of taking form in diverse contexts. The similarities, as well as the differences that are connected to the link between man and society are notable: we speak of a book that will remain open as long as it is confronted with the action of reconsidering its own values and their relevance in a global cultural ensemble.
Olimpia Bera, PhD
TEXTILE ART: IULIA PALL
CARTOGRAPHY: ARNOLD PLATON
CONCEPT: GABRIEL MILOIA
The Green Tree Project (Romanian: Proiectul Arborele Verde) is a cultural analysis inspired by the homonymous establishment from Oradea, functioning in the 19th and 20th centuries, evoked even in the present for its cultural role in the life of the Romanian community during the K. u. k. monarchy.
The Arborele Verde Inn, which was subsequently transformed into a restaurant, was a place for parties attended by students in the second half of the 19th century. The generous space, equipped with a stage as well, facilitated the throwing of parties, balls, receptions and cabaret shows. This was the favourite meeting place for the youth of the Romanian community, and the stage was often used either for putting on cabaret shows in Romanian (especially plays written by Iosif Vulcan, editor-in-chief of the Familia magazine and supporter of Mihai Eminescu), for memorials and national celebrations or even for occasional nationalist instigating actions. The “Green Tree” Street – named after the restaurant – was renamed “Vasile Alecsandri” after 1920, and the establishment was completely closed after 1948. The building hosts commercial spaces and a puppet theatre at the moment. In spite of its decrepit state and the administration of the theatre – hosted as somewhat of a sign of continuity of the building’s cultural purpose – the Green Tree is sometimes mentioned by officials when there is talk of the Romanian-Hungarian relations in midst of the community or of the Romanian culture in general (in the context of the Eminescu cult, as Iosif Vulcan was the man who supported the literary debut of the famous poet), or when local culture is discussed. Presented in detail within the pages of the touristic guides to the city of Oradea, the Green Tree is a historical monument of the B category – regional importance, and taking a tour is not allowed outside the opening hours of the puppet theatre.
In official speeches, as well as in presentation leaflets, the Green Tree is described as being unique, a part of the specific local landscape and of the life of the community in Oradea. From the Romanian perspective, the discourse is always charged with a certain nostalgia, not for the imperial period which it overlapped in great part, but rather for the impression of cultural cohesion, of a common effort and of relevance associated with the nationalist proceedings of the time, emphasised and modelled by the romantic mystification, inevitable as time passes. In the Romanian perspective, the Green Tree – next to Iosif Vulcan and Mihai Eminescu – is representative for La Belle Époque, a period not so much of grace, as of solidarity, simplicity and national fervour, when the ideal or the ideology used to act as simplifying prisms and alleviated the internal conflicts of the community. From the perspective of the Hungarian discourse, the establishment is rarely mentioned, in favour of the Emke or Müllerei cafés, meeting places for the Hungarian journalists of the time. Conversely, many Hungarian speakers refer to the Alecsandri Street as “Zöldfa utca” – the Hungarian name for Green Tree, although it was changed in 1920, long before the birth of most of those members of the Hungarian community that are still alive today. We notice in this particular fact the same nostalgia for La Belle Époque, the object of which, however, is the imperial grandeur and not the mysticism of an ideal but retroactive solidarity.
The story that does not seem more than a provincial tale, possibly backed by a certain ethnic tension, receives a new perspective once we look upon the map of Green Trees from the same era, spread out throughout the territory of the K. u. K. monarchy and its national neighbours – Romania and Serbia.
Variations of the Green Tree are to be found in countless cities: Miercurea-Ciuc and Caransebeș both had establishments bearing this name and – from the spectrum of its semantics – Timișoara still refers to the forest area north of the city as the Green Forest. On the current territory of Hungary, the cities of Győr și Kecskemét still have restaurants named Zöldfa, and Budapest has a street called Zöldfa in its first district, as does Pécs. Also, the Carlton Hotel in Bratislava – called Pozsony during the monarchal period – was constructed on the site of the old Zöldfa Hotel, demolished in the ’20s. In the same period, on the Romanian territory, there were two places called the Green Tree Restaurant in Ploiești and the Green Tree Theatre in Iași, renamed as the Jewish Theatre at the beginning of socialism and demolished in 1978. Similar examples can also be found in Serbia (in the north, as well as in the south) and in Croatia. In what concerns Austria, it is superfluous to list all the “Zum Grünen Baum” establishments that can be found in nearly each town.
In the vast majority of cases, we speak of establishments founded in the second half of the 19th century, based on the reorganization of the Austrian Empire and on the national awakening within its territory and at its borders. Most of them have vanished, or were disrupted in their functioning, some of them being reopened in the period after socialism and the period of getting closer to or joining the European Union, when the Belle Époque nostalgia cultivated on the territory of the countries in the region could profit from the economic growth from the beginning of the ’00s. In most cases, the Green Tree is either an existing but refunctionalised landmark, evoking a certain period, or has completely disappeared, its presence being marked by a monument or by nostalgic descriptions in presentation guides. In any case, we speak of an attraction – present or past –, of a unique place, inscribed in the local culture and landscape. However, looking on not from inside the community, but viewing it as a whole, we may distinguish an idiosyncratic series of interchangeable places, differing only through their ethnic composition, through the financial capacity of the constructor and – most importantly – through their positioning: in the midst of the empire or at its edges. The characteristic elements become a replica of themselves – at an international scale – in order to afterwards be claimed jealously by each community. Passing from the abundance of the Green Trees to their disappearance and insistent claiming within evermore closed-up contexts takes us to a disordering historical event which would have stopped their development. For societies that have experimented a post-imperial period to a certain degree, as Hungary or Austria have – where almost all Green Trees are preserved to this day – we can clearly recognize the nostalgia for the Empire, evoked through the aesthetic prisms of La Belle Époque. Thus, the movements of the period are inscribed in the iconography of nostalgia: the cult of sécession is maintained up to the point of integrating other expressions – as is historicism – into the style. As for historicism, it is revived up to the point of being architecturally replicated in contemporary buildings.
On the other hand, Serbia and Romania, sharing the nostalgia for the period, split it up into two phases: the first phase, from the second half of the 20th century until the end of World War I, represents a time of grace for nationalism as an element of social cohesion; the second phase is the interwar period, the territorial growth of Romania and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia being regarded as a triumph of the nationalism cultivated prior to it. The mystification of the interbellum period still determines the omission or the intent oblivion of the degeneration process which was felt administratively, politically and economically by these societies up to the point of the beginning of World War II. Many contemporary Serbians and Romanians see the interwar period as a pseudo-imperial period, reorganized not so much by Communism but rather by the territorial dissolution from the times of war. This can be best observed seeing that countless reminiscing admirers of the interwar period do not manifest anti-Communism or do it in a much less passionate percentage than they do their nostalgia (a clear and extreme form of this phenomenon is the articulation of National-Bolshevism, meant to reconcile the tsarist period with Stalinism, as Aleksandr Dughin sees it). Thus, local nostalgia unites two distinct historical periods and its iconography – missing Art Nouveau elements – combines historicism with elements of modernism and internationalism.
Representative for all Green Trees is the way in which communities are in retreat in the areas in which these “arose”, the limitation of their horizons and the belief born in local uniqueness, specificity and picturesque. The present appropriates – by painting in a local colour – a series of almost standard entities, compensating historical lacks of the discourse through mystification and affectation. Alongside the Green Trees, there is a series of local legends concerning underground passages “wide as they could allow a carriage to pass through them”. Each community cultivates the story of such tunnels which would tie a local touristic landmark to a distant destination, improbable or often irrelevant. Thus, in Cluj, the Bánffy Palace is supposed to be connected through underground passages to the Citadel of Girls (in Romanian: Cetatea Fetelor), in Oradea – the Citadel to the Vama Borș (a village at the international border with Hungary), and least likely there is a tunnel that is supposed to be dug between Timișoara and Arad (i.e. aprox. 56 km). Again, we notice a standard model coloured in the language and the landmarks of the place, much like the “Cow Parade” installations.
If this description reflects the contemporary vacillations of local patriotism, the Green Tree Project debates the revival of nostalgias in times of economic crisis and political tensions in the region. If nostalgia has benefited from economic growth, the latter was neither sufficiently strong, nor sufficiently extended in time to sustain the advancement of education and of ideas. The nationalist awakening at the beginning of the 2010s and the ascension of the Far Right make use – regionally – of the language and iconography that are typical to nostalgia, transmitting not only aesthetic notions but also ideas that are specific for the period. Thus, the Green Tree questions the mutation of local patriotism as an expression of stagnation and the lack of openness in a more brutal form of local nationalism.
The Green Tree is a dead tree, painted in a striking green shade and loaded with stuffed toy fruit which – by means of their decorative features – contemporarily simulate notions of Art Nouveau and of the historicist ornamentation evoked by the people that are still reminiscing. The death of the tree and its painting are the symbolic transposition of the artificial support of ideas and values which either may have never existed, or may have been deformed through the mystificating lense of the cumulated intermediary periods and the present which we view them from.
Walked out this morning
Don’t believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home
The Police – Message in a Bottle
What do we know about our world? We don’t have to look far to find out who stars in American reality shows, about the latest scandal in French politics or about the hairstyle trends in London. Why should we care about all that? For those living in Romania, for example, global media coverage is unidirectional; there is rarely anything in it focusing on our realities. This poor representation is shared by other peripheral localities, which comprise more than 80% of the world’s population.
What do we know about the gallery scene in South Africa? How do Malaysian artists support themselves after art school? How do Mexican immigrants struggle to use their language in the predominantly English-speaking United States? If we are seeking perspectives that emerge from a shared world view or similar life experiences, perhaps those are the voices that we need to hear. When peripheral artists grapple with issues of identity, social location, representation or belonging, or when they simply reflect on the places that formed them, the resonance this has in our own lives can be a great inspiration.
The exhibition Local Municipalities seeks to facilitate the dialogue among artists located in peripheries, globally. This remarkable exchange enables cross-cultural conversations for artists who are often situated at the margins of their economic and cultural centres.
After open calls and personal invitations through Visual Kontakt’s network of artists and curators, we carefully selected entries from a rich diversity of geographies and topics. We compiled nearly 100 notebooks by artists from remote enclaves or migrants in alien territories who speak from their condition of difference. These works will surprise visitors with material that sits outside our usual frameworks. And the project continues after the exhibition, when participating artists will exchange notebooks to extend the cross-cultural dialogue.
Local Municipalities recovers the old tradition of travel notebooks, one of the few means by which the curious could discover distant geographies in an era prior to low-cost air travel, mass media or the internet. This time, however, the artists who create the travel books narrate about their homes. Instead of a protagonist from the centre translating a foreign world, these notebooks produce accounts for and by the periphery; it is an opportunity for the periphery to speak for itself. Local Municipalities reflects the provincialism that exists in the artist’s context. Let’s not be afraid to recognize ourselves in the works of others!
Artist: Ada Muntean
My Bed (1998), the work of the artist Tracey Emin makes out the landmark which Ada Muntean focuses on in her installation, Perifeeric. Made up partly of graphic work and partly of ready-made work, the motif of the ravished bed reconsiders its meanings, paraphrasing the original idea of self-contemplation upon the state of consumed, self-destructive chaos. By means of a subtle self-irony, Ada Munteam shifts the accent from the state of confession about her own intimacy towards rediscovering herself in a future moment, marked by penitence and loneliness. In this sense, her vision is rather idealistic, and the state of anguish is replaced by the idea of rebirth of the self and the continuous cycle of wake-sleep, each time marked by nostalgia, regrets and hopes.
The graphic installation, constructed in the form of a cross, sequentially expresses the status quo of a dematerialized body, the traces of which as they are left in the empty bed suggest the irredeemable passing of time and the sinking into an eternal loneliness. The artist lives out this experience as a form of torture and – at the same time – as a form of rediscovery within an intimate state, looking for the sense of her existence on the limited horizon of her own refuge. The object-oriented order is reflected onto the bed that has become a symbol of loneliness and of musings. Beyond those “demons of the night” that Tracey Emin had left exposed to the sight in the amalgam of personal objects and in the traces left by her body, Perifeeric is a form of purification, an intense experience within the ritual of the night and a feast of reveries. From an object-focused point of view, what Ada Muntean succeeds in by getting her inspiration from My Bed is a reversed reconstruction of the path from the pure chemistry of matter to a spiritual alchemy.
The entire concept invites the beholder to contemplate and to resonate with a certain state of mind which the artist admits to, setting her somewhat free from the fragile depths of the feminine entity. The project includes an interactive part, i.e. the obstacle that is constituted of an empty bed which holds within its black sheets the shifting waves of a presence reborn.
Olimpia Bera, PhD
Visual Kontakt curator
translator’s note: a pun composed out of the Romanian word periferic – meaning “peripheral” – and feeric – “dream-like”, “as in a fairy tale – resulting in an artistically created term that can be translated as “peri-fairy-al”
Artist: Astrid Țîrlea
The challenge to the call of which Astrid Țîrlea answered was that of creating a piece of apparel dedicated to the idea of fashion crime that she coagulated into a conceptual installation – with certain particularities, depending on the local characteristics. The provincial town – in this case, Oradea – becomes a means for astonishing with the help of fashion artifices destined for moments of celebration.
The wedding is the ultimate occasion for showing off the most personal choices in what concerns wardrobe. The offer of the market grows ever more abundant, and the details connected to the enrooted styles appear in the most varied approaches of the local brands. There is in the majority of provincial regions a predilection for certain luxurious details and a common taste for some materials, forms and “preciousnesses” of the wedding dress. Refinement has become a customized criterion that is sketched out based on education, budget, social and professional status.
The wedding dress is the white symbol of consortium – a term that refers to the generous offer on the market and to the afferent competition-based market specialized in that sense, as well as to the common denominator in what regards fashion language and its fitting into a certain pattern. The current project once again brings forth the discussion about marriage as a social phenomenon, as well as an intimate one: on one hand, we have the grandeur of the event, impacting the localized development of the festive content and having a programmed character, on the other hand, we have the polyvalent contract between two spouses intertwining their destinies. The familial involvement allows for a tour de force in the creation of a pleasant ambiance, of a memorable wedding and the fulfillment of a social duty. New relations are created, family relations, friendships, between generations and communities, thus consolidating complex family structures. The white – by means of its quantity and sheen – creates a mythical aura for the entire process, and the wrappings connected to the ceremonial are under the sign of this typical feature, eclipsing other appearances around it.
The heavy aspect of an oversized dress offers, in a restricted context, the reality of a status quo in which the wedding – a grand ensemble of resources – becomes a sign of opulence and of the physical discomfort that the woman endures for the sake of the most memorable appearance of her life. The stereotype-dress conveys the ostentatiousness with which she makes her appearance in the ceremonial space and beyond. The lacing takes on the synthesized pattern of the provincial map, suggesting the belonging of the pattern and the pseudo-modern character of the phenomenon.
The object transcends the utilitarian function of the dress, presenting itself as an abstracted version in the form of an edifice. The white dress is an institution and a form of authority that can be tested, not belonging to anyone in particular. Once tried out, used, it can be transformed into a transmittable product that anyone may possess and give a value to, in a disproportioned relation to their own presence.
Olimpia Bera, PhD
Erika Tőmlő, Ivănescu Lucian, Barabás István, Raul Lupu
Artist: Maria Sicoie
The role of mentors in society is recognized and evoked by means of sculptural representations in the capital and in the Romanian cities of the province. National culture and history are both marked by the presence of these individuals, for whom the community guarantees – as a given for posterity – the inert form of statues and a series of portraits conveyed in a style completely disconnected from the new generations.
Maria Sicoie discusses the idea of the symbolic form of statuary presences, a form that society to this day deposits in its collective memory. This memory undergoes transformations of a structural manner, in parallel with the cultural evolution of Romanian society, an entity which starts experiencing the effects of globalization in certain key domains and is – at the same time – openly oriented on a democratization of values that are of a material, as well as of a spiritual character. The figures of the idols are contemporary with the age of speed and the inflation of information, a moment in which the attention of the masses that are in full blown time crisis is captured – by means of the media channels – by heroes of day-to-day entertainment. Romanians live in a present that is not theirs: they feed off the tragedies of others, with the impulse of creating overnight stars. Moreover, they have the capacity to digest – in a very short period of time – shocking, sensational news, living out more or less marking moments of day-to-day life with the same intensity.
In this particular context, the “strata” of information processed by the rational thinking of the generations that have succeeded each other since the last decade of the past century up to the present become a hybrid, amorphous mass of images which compete against each other and annihilate each other, marking by means of memorable representations entire areas of urban spaces. The mark of the place becomes a sort of brand for each location, completing or dislocating the symbolism of the classicized monumental ensembles, as they have strived to be – in an exceptional manner – the expression of a solemn feeling dedicated to a particular historic moment. Belonging to a lyrical style, the statuary forms become shadows of the indefinite past, sterile of the significance it was given at an original moment. Thus, the form is emptied of its symbolic content, being camouflaged in the ambiguous scenery of contemporary colours.
The sculptural ensemble of Maria Sicoie is contrived of mixed techniques which combine fragile physiognomies made of tiles with versatile metal structures and polyurethane foam. The five busts that are enrooted in their white pedestals become part of a bizarre environment, an iconic context that is made out of the juxtaposition of three different graphic interventions, the plasticity of which is not assumed from an aesthetic perspective. The random character of the mural representations is in contrast with the five busts, suggesting the annihilation of the traditional fundaments and the memory of the remarkable individuals of the past; the archetypal figures get to losing themselves in the uniformity of the void, leaving room for historicizing a sum of random passages and images, that are part of the contemporary urban landscape.