Question 1. Ralph Rugoff writes that this year’s exhibition, entitled May You Live in Interesting Times,‘will no doubt include artworks that reflect upon precarious aspects of existence today, including different threats to key traditions, institutions and relationships of the “post-war order.”’ How do you feel that the work that you are presenting as part of your curated project responds to this set of concerns? (Or, for curators, how do the curatorial choices you have made respond to this set of concerns?)
Dr Cristian Nae: Migration, nomadism, the anxiety of non-belonging, cultural displacement: all these are precarious aspects of contemporary existence that are of global importance. They are also at the core of Belu Simion Făinaru’s installation.
Equally, there is a perceived fascist threat amplified by symbols of national power and authoritarianism, sometimes combined with religious imagery and mistrust in fundamental achievements of modernity that may be felt all around us in Central and Eastern Europe. Romania is by no means immune to that.
Miklos Onucsan’s installation, The Restoration of the White Camouflage, seeks to counter this powerful imagery with a different aesthetic of the sublime, cancelling any historical presence—of the artwork itself, but also of the pavilion as a site of art historical significance—and questioning the very notion of national representation. It signifies a different form of precariousness: one which regards the image itself, its appearance, its circulation.
In Dan Mihălțianu’s engagement with an alternative economy, there is a subtle irony, one that transcends national borders and attempts to revive the avant-garde’s intentions to provide imaginative resources for an alternative lifestyle. Can we exchange imagined communitarian bonds that are based on shared histories and symbols and define nations with spontaneous relations, through the activation of an artwork? This question reveals at the same time the agency of art and its limitations, its precarious condition as an agent of political or economic transformation.
I have tried to present artworks that, despite having a poignant material presence, are conceptual in their engagement of the viewer’s imagination and refer to a certain elsewhere, to a constitutive lack, to a meaningful absence.
Question 2. What does it mean for you as an artist, a curator, or a curatorial team to represent your country? How does the structure of the Venice Biennial, with its individual national pavilions, influence your choices as a participant? What does it mean, in terms of the current state of European and world politics, for us to emphasise national representation in the arts sector?
Dr Cristian Nae: Some of these questions were central to the discursive programme of our exhibition, especially with regard to the structure of Venice Biennale itself. Each national pavilion is supposed to speak about being contemporary from its own particular position in the art world today and to locate itself within an area of expectations and problems defined by geographic and historical specificity.
In our case, the selected artists were chosen, among other reasons, for their rich and entangled biographies. Belu Simion Făinaru emigrated in 1973: his dual Jewish and Romanian identity makes his already destabilising artworks further question the idea of national representation.
The same goes for Dan Mihălțianu, who lives between Bucharest, Bergen and Berlin, or for Miklos Onucsan, who is of both Hungarian and Armenian origin, but was born in Romania and lived and worked here throughout his life. We brought together artworks that question the notion of locality in different ways. We offer a space to ponder whether an exhibition should always affirm something, if it is meant to construct and project a certain set of images towards the visitor, or whether it should offer the public some brief moment of contemplation, a time for self-reflection and an opportunity for regarding poetics as just another form of politics.
I truly think that in response to the Biennale’s insistence on the format of national pavilions, which are complementary to the main exhibition, they should function in a decolonial manner today.
Question 3. How do the choices you’ve made in your national pavilion relate to recent developments in your artistic or curatorial practice? What do you hope that your creative decisions in this project will contribute to your work going forward?
Dr Cristian Nae: Being primarily an art historian and theorist, I have been working on, and with, conceptual and post-conceptual art for almost a decade. I have researched performative or conceptual exhibition practices, institutional critique and artist networks in Eastern Europe during socialism and in the 1990s. As a curator, I was interested in focusing, not on art produced in the late 1960s and the 1970s, but rather that which was produced in the 1980s and the 1990s, two contrasting and unstable but interdependent decades, marked in Romania by increased isolation and a desire for internationalisation, characteristics we are yet to define on a local level.
The question I started from in this project relates to the way we write and re-write art history through curatorial practice, re-adapting and expanding existing artworks, or at least artistic concerns, in order to make them respond to the present. On this particular occasion, I am working with art history as a curator, showing how the past continuously changes its meaning in relation to the present, as well as how the present is persistently shaped by the past, especially by what we tend to forget or misrepresent. As for the future, I never think about it. I am perhaps, in many ways, still interested in questioning the political importance of image-making and its circulation in contemporary society and in further exploring the notion of representation, the latter being at the core of the selected art installations for the Romanian Pavilion too.
Manca Bajec is an artist and researcher living and working in London, UK and Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Isobel Wohl is a visual artist and writer. She lives and works in London, UK and Brooklyn, NY.
For more information on the Venice Biennale go to www.labiennale.org/en/…