Interview with Paradis Garaj

Paradis Garaj is a collaborative project by Stefan Tiron and Claudiu Cobilanschi that took place in a garage in the center of Bucharest. Various events and happenings occurred that subverted the traditional way of viewing art and opened itself to anyone with the slightest curiosity in its program.

Olga Stefan: You created a very interesting, new model for experiencing contemporary art: in a garage. The projects that you have held there, and your practice overall, are critical of existing power structures in the art community. What particularly do you oppose in the existing art system? What aspects do you feel need to change, and who needs to make the changes?

Paradis Garaj: We could say that on a good day we try to establish direct links between Une Histoire du Paradis by Jean Delumeau (Fayard, 1992) and Mike Davis’s and Daniel Bertrand Monk’s Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism (The New Press, 2008). On a bad day, we are just being contacted because rich gallery owners think they found a parking lot to park their fancy cars during rush hour in the busy Bucharest city center.

OS: What do you feel is the responsibility of the artist in today’s society? Do you feel that this responsibility can be carried out successfully in the context in which you operate?

Paradis Garaj. Image courtesy of the author.PG: We tend to discover one cannot use the word responsibility and success anymore in the same sentence or context. The more irresponsible you are, the more success you have. If you mean success as measured in fame, money, glory, celebrity, and visibility, all that is very much about risk-free (just think of fiscal paradises) risk-taking, inside the current casino economy. Systematic betting and systematic mismanagement of financial markets become means for private profit and success. During the state capitalism of the Ceausescu era, there was at least the recognition that what we are dealing with is plain propaganda. Now we all talk about veiled and elated notions of public relations. Power brokers, ten easy ways to influence rich people, these are all obligatory success stories of the present. We wouldn’t be here talking to you if the Bucharest Biennale hadn’t transformed our dingy Paradis Garaj (PG) for a few weeks in a sort of caged paradise – the white cube with walled doors used as a screening wall.

OS: You are an artist-run, artist-funded collaborative. What role does each of you play in the team? How do you sustain your activities? What are your future plans?

PG: If you mean sustaining as funding, we would like to address the fact that we got strong support from such people as Dan and Lia Perjovschi. It is already a truism, but for PG their constant support was much more important than the Ministry of Culture, private funding, and the Romanian Cultural Institute put together. In a sense, we think there is only a no-future plan available, and that is why we tried, rehearsed, and reenacted a lot of possible cataclysmic scenarios after 9/11. We wanted to see how we were prepared for the worst, for austerity measures, for constant evacuation. We have also played upon media takeover urges, by inviting Bucharest TV stations to film each other and stage in an empty PG because there was nothing else exciting to record. We also played the takeover of PG by rich collectors, invented a highly successful art school, illusory CVs and hyper-inflated market value. We were busy in archiving the doomed alternative and collecting evacuated spaces.

OS: Your work, being political and critical, should be able to reach a wider audience than just artists and the usual suspects of art lovers. How have your projects been received by the general public and how have they translated?

PG: We could say that we are more interested in perverting creativity, the wellness provided by art and culture and the depoliticizing actions of art. We are interested in cultural money washing under corporate responsibility rules. As part of the general public, we consider the following important (and forgotten) audience sections: mountain climbers, nature lovers and Romanian folk singers, which are an untapped general public resource (at least for many art spaces). We were able to involve them in our actions, for example, by inviting the unplugged folk band Kill My Enthusiasm and their friends. Another incredible collaboration was with young Romanian art history and art theory students, who usually are completely invisible from any contemporary art events. We ended washing dirty socks from foreign tourists doing art safaris in Bucharest.

OS: What do you think is keeping Romania from having as thriving an art scene as other Eastern European countries, despite the fact that there are quite a few abundantly rich individuals who spend lavishly on luxury goods, which art seemsto be considered these days?

PG: Well, art has been a luxury good from early on, and there is a boom in galleries offering just that. In Romania you can see the bare bones of the situation, while in other places they can just cover up the situation better and with not so many holes. The art bubble is constantly bursting, and some of the most commercial, the most hyped-up spaces started folding down. For example, investing in young artists or street art at its apex was just that: a profitable hype, graffiti decorations for posh bars, filling up urban art festivals sponsored by energy drinks, and making murals for the villas of rich local entrepreneurs.

OS: What does a functioning art system mean to you? And how do “alternative” spaces fit within that?

PG: We cannot ignore that the alternative is following a political remodeling. For the last couple of years, the word “alternate” has been hijacked by the far-right groups in Romania, and used as a website clone, an “alternative” media against media activists such as The Romanian Indiemedia. The alternate is now the overtly particularistic, the national patrimony, the culturally specific, our own against the nondifferentiated mainstream invaders. Alternative stands for the marketable local, supported by a nativist anthropology, a new cover for the old racist and ethnicist identity politics. That is why our heuristics are based more on those without alternatives, the hyped precariousness, the highly dependent spaces, even addictive spaces and hypnotic CVs. We follow the enthusiastic self-exploitation and the battles for hosting the Olympics, the next big festival and mammoth event.