“Peripheric 4”

Peripheric 4, Iassy, Romania (May 18-24, 2000)

Peripheric was brought to life only four years ago, on the initiative of artist Matei Bejenaru. Iassy had until then been an isolated and conservative town with regard to the visual arts, in spite of its long and important literary tradition. Since Peripheric, this situation is completely changed: a whole new group of young artists has sprung up, hoping to focus attention on this yearly event. This year, the festival included three great exhibitions of international art, a symposium dedicated to “Strategies for Promoting Contemporary Art” that gathered artists from both Romania and abroad, and a performance festival hosted by the French Culture Institute. The exhibitions were organized in eclectic locales that included a 19th-century Turkish bath. Another exhibition hall was provided by the public bath house, a building that has stood vacant for years but that now doubled as an unconventional space full of unexpected details. The Art Museum at the Palace of Culture, the traditional setting for exhibitions in Iassy, once again boasted the kind of traditionalism that is so typical for the local art scene. The inclusion of this bastion of local traditional art into the festival nevertheless had symbolic value, suggesting an openness that extended even to this bastion of conservatism.

The exhibition Wet / Dry was installed in the magnificent setting of the Turkish bath. It featured installations and actions by artists who deal with issues that are related to the language of visual communication. The participants were as multi-faceted as the emotional, variable intensities of the art-works themselves, which, despite their proximity in space, often stood in strong contrast to each other. Thus there were representations of movements in video art, side by side with the sublimation of the spinning movement after Karen Kipphoff. There were also discarded “museum” pieces, busts in glass boxes (“Mihai Voicu Gallery”), as well as a luminescent installation created by the artists Agatha Zobrist and Theres Waeckerlin that cleverly adapted itself to its physical surroundings. By contrast, the projection of showing Turkish Bath-scenes slides by Adina Tofan and Dana Darvaru seemed somewhat redundant. The installations by Frantisek Kowalowski, Simona Tanasescu and Yuri Leiderman whose excelled in their irresistible sense of humor. The “language” adopted by some artists was fairly simple (e.g., Mircea Cantor’s conceptualism), while others added further complexity through the narration of a “story” (Mihai Burlacu or Lisa Jane Galloway), or through the suggestion that the art space may indeed impose multiple feelings and sensations on the spectator (Lynn Hassan). The performances by Hellen McBride and Roddy Hunter in the Turkish Baths were also quite impressive, the latter engaging in a meditation based on the notion of “passage” during a long performance (12 hours). The exhibition Girls’ Show, curated by Radek Vana from Prague, traveled all over Romania and offered a somewhat extreme view of Czech feminism. The main merit of this presentation was the fact that it was placed in an unconventional venue so that although it did not excel in originality (relying for the most part on well-known pieces), the setting of the public bath added an unexpected freshness to its vision, sometimes peppering it with involuntary humor.

If the two venues discussed so far were unconventional in that they participated in the construction of the artwork and its perception, this was not the case for the exhibition Personal Mapping that took place in the Palace of Culture. The utter neutrality of this “classic” space allowed for some of the installations to stand out. In the first hall there was a “retrospective” by Teodor Graur, an artist of the 1980s avant-garde, who perhaps involuntarily emphasized the connection between the 1980s (when art in Romania was subject to massive ideological pressure) and the 1990s (characterized by extraordinary openness. Dan Mihalteanu’s installation developed new possibilities for expression in video art, using sequencing to demonstrate the slow rhythms of natural “domestic” movements. Calin Man explored “web site stories” that offered viewers the possibility of a satirical and self-ironic multimedia-exploration. Cristian Alexa’s contribution consisted of photos that were taken in New York, showing the marking of a provisional, false pedestrian crossing.

The performance festival opened with an action by Denis Tricot who “invaded” the space of his installation with his own sculptures on his back. In Gusztáv Ütö and Eva Vajda’s performance, a seemingly “careless” attitude translated into a spectacular action that was all the more impressive since the artists seemed to do nothing special. Still, the majority of artists who showed their work at this exhibition tried hard to make their ideas “materialize”. Some of them adopted the instruments of conceptualism, such as Cezar Lazarescu who commented on other artists who had followed his invitation to see themselves reflected in a mirror. The festival ended with the presentation of what was perhaps the most politically engaged action, created by Margarethe Makovec and Anton Lederer (Austria), the founders of the Rotor Group. Being regional witnesses (Austria accepted the greatest number of refugees after the war in former Yugoslavia), they satirized the power that EU and USA exert upon the alpine region by using the metaphorical relationship between a “power-figure” and a caged bird who is fed against his own “will”. Summing it up, Peripheric breathed some fresh air into artistic life in Romania not least in that it promoted tolerance, something that is much needed in a region that is still politically and culturally isolated.