Interview with Club Electro Putere

Sala De Spectacol Foto Electro Putere, 2011. Image courtesy of the author.

Club Electro Putere (CEP) is a Romanian center for contemporary culture founded in 2009 by Adrian Bojenoiu and Alexandru Niculescu. CEP is located in Craiova in the building where the cultural club of the independent trade union of the Electroputere factory is (the locomotive and high-tension engines founded in 1949). The building was built in the 1970s in order to perform cultural activities for the plant’s working class, functioning at the same time as a control and propaganda platform of the communist party by 1989, the year of revolution.

Olga Stefan: You opened your exhibition venue in 2009 in Craiova in the former cultural center of the Electroputere factory, which until 1989 was used to entertain the workers of the factory with various government-approved events that also functioned as tools of propaganda. Does this legacy play a role in your curatorial position?

Club Electro Putere: This legacy should implicitly play a part in all of this. Some of our projects are related to the past and even to the history of the space that houses the center CEP; this space suggestively illustrates what has happened to Romanian culture over the last years. In fact, a significant part of the Romanian art of the last twenty years has been influenced by the communist past and maybe in certain regards it is still connected to it. The Romanian culture has fed on what it inherited from the past, building its discourse against a traumatic, oppressivebackground and succeeding in developing an authentic cultural product that has been very well received in the Western art markets. We analyzed all these issues concerning the legacies of the past and the artistic discourse, discussing them in detail not only in relation to the Romanian Cultural Resolution, on the occasions of all the exhibitions organized in Leipzig and Craiova, but also as expressed in the documentary project presented at the 2011 Venice Biennial.

OS: Who or what do you feel played the most important role in kick starting the development of an independent art scene? What does independent mean to you? And can organizations remain completely independent? If so, how?

CEP: A vital part was played by the initiatives of those who realized that there were no legitimate institutions that might produce and support contemporary art, and who saw themselves obligated to invent them. It could be easily noticed that many institutions, especially those belonging to the state, have remained, for the most part, at the fringes of mainstream culture, simulating cultural events or serving some specific interests.
You could probably call yourself independent when you are not logistically or financially conditioned. Anyway, there are a lot of things that can condition the artist and this status of independence can be properly negotiated according to these conditions.

In Romania, private institutions that do not receive governmental funding enjoy this status. The biggest pressure is the financial one; since there is so little money allotted to contemporary art through governmental programs, most independent institutions look for sponsorship abroad. When you get money from abroad, independence is negotiated on different terms, the various conditions change their nuances.

OS: You introduced a new model of promoting Romanian artists by bringing your exhibitions to other art centers in Europe, such as Leipzig and Venice. How are your exhibitions received in Romania and do you have an existing public that supports you?

CEP: At the end of 2009 when we drafted the first idea of CEP and the Romanian Cultural Resolution project, the people involved in the Romanian artistic process were very active on the international stage and less active on the national stage. That is probably what happens today and it is something normal. The national and international public of our center is consistent, but the national public is at the beginning of its formation. Any cultural institution grows together with its public, in relation to it, because this relation engenders an exchange that produces energy and sometimes imposes some regulations on quality and content.

OS: From the outside, the Romanian art scene seems very active, interesting, and entrepreneurial. What do you think about the art scene in Romania? How do you see it?

CEP: Over the last years, initiatives have multiplied; many exhibition spaces or associations functioning in the artistic field have appeared then disappeared, but there are not too many definite and insightful positions. After all, there are as many positions as needed or as there should be. The artistic stage here has evolved in a very organic way. The state did not offer any kind of strategy to facilitate the artistic development; there were only independent initiatives that contributed to what could be considered a possible artistic stage. The help coming from the state and directed towards the sphere of plastic arts is very little.

OS: What would a functional and stable art system look like in Romania? Who is ultimately responsible for supporting its existence?

CEP: We don’t think that the dimensions of a national system could be that clearly defined. The relationship with other institutions and foreign artists, or the achievement of making yourself known abroad, has been and still is the most important thing for us. “System” is a big word. Generally speaking, the Romanians are not too fond of systems, no matter what the nature of these systems might be, but they can easily adjust to them. The Romanian art centers or the private galleries that managed to acquire national and international success have been established and got integrated into something that already existed outside the borders of the country. They have progressively learned what has to be done in order to survive and evolve, and to support something that already existed. The responsibility belongs to all persons involved in this story, to Romanian contemporary art, to those who have contributed and still contribute to the unfolding of events in the sphere of visual arts.

OS: Many art initiatives talk about developing an alternative to the mainstream system. What do you think they are referring to? What is the mainstream system in Romania and what would the alternative to that be? Where does CEP fit in?

CEP: Club Electro Putere is an independent space. In fact, the existing “mainstream system” is so shy that we can’t talk about such a difference related to contemporary art. The museums or the state institutions that produce artistic events do not compete with independent spaces. I do not think there has ever been such a competition. There is enough room for initiatives or institutions and this fact is probably not that common in Western Europe.

If we were to talk about CEP, its evolution happened in a very short period of time, and even if we did not follow a particular model we did everything our own way. We became the only Romanian institution that has attempted an analysis of Romanian contemporary art, an analysis that has already been legitimized by a large number of artists and curators through their participation in the project. Whether mainstream or alternative, we have managed to create our own context, we have succeeded in consolidating a basis upon which we could build in the future and which might be a point of reference for other artists if they want to create a specific vision in Romanian contemporary art.