Just Another Brick in the Wall – Interview with Lia and Dan Perjovschi

Zurich, Switzerland
December 8-January 7, 2012


Lia and Dan Perjovschi live and work in Sibiu and Bucharest.

OS: You have been a fundamental part of Romania’s burgeoning post-’89 art scene as artists, but also as activists.  What were the challenges you faced before ’89 and what were the challenges after?

LP: Before ’89, the stillness of a closed society, the lack of freedom and lack of perspective…After ’89, the noise, the chaotic movement (from communism to capitalism).

DP: Before ’89, it was basic survival. After ’89, it is about managing and maintaining freedom of expression. First the scene went neo-orthodox and now it is a full art market. We had priests at the openings, now we have DJs.

OS: Your practice has always been political.  Who is your public?  What would you have liked your work to achieve?  Do you feel it has?

LP: I address people like myself.  I am interested in new possibilities, in what is different, honest. (I think I made a bit of a difference in the context in which I was moving.)

DP: I have a political agenda and a political placement (at a political, independent think-tank magazine as a job, no function or position in any state or private art institution, and make un-collectible works). But I am a commentator, I am not in the avant-garde, Lia is.  She is revolutionary, she is changing the scene. I adapt to the scene. I function in a pre-established system finding its blind spots or cracks and then reinventing expression where it was just conformism.  My work is about keeping you aware. I work with news, the quotidian, and humor. I think I did what I wanted. Big time.

OS: Rampant capitalism and consumerism has taken root in Romania.  How has the political and economic system-change impacted Romania’s artists and art scene?

LP: In the same way that it impacts the entire society: by altering high ambitions, fragmenting, inverting values, transforming the citizen into amateur actors. Commercial art is dominant, resistance is a result of this situation, not an attitude (with a few exceptions).

DP: We live the paradox of an overblown, ultra-hip art market in a context with no funds, grants, or basic artist institutions. Everybody outside (of the country) is excited, everybody inside is depressed.  Research, experiment and critical attitudes are postponed or accidental. The Romanian art scene lives in the moment, the past is foggy and the future, unclear.

OS: What do you feel are the most pressing societal problems in contemporary Romania and how are these problems affecting the cultural/artistic realm?

LP: The lack of contemporary culture and a perspective that leads to the ability of having the right institutions, plan, strategies and effect.

DP: Poverty, inequality, vulgarity, the tabloid social life and the education mess-up. We are a second hand society with dreams replaced by plastic copies.  We cannot aggregate. But we are the masters of self-deprecation and constant complaining. We do nothing but talk.

OS: Do you feel that artists growing up post ’89 also have a responsibility to comment on political, social, and economic issues? What can we hope would be the result of their activism?

LP:We all have our effect on society (whether we intend it or not).  It’s not a special moment when you get involved.  Society looks how it looks also because of the new generations.

DP: Every artist must have it. If one sets out to just produce nice objects (sculptures, tea-pots, oil paintings or videos) he can simply call himself a designer. The artist must be somebody who combines thinking, craft, criticality and an intellectual attitude. We are the whistle blowers that are badly needed in a conformist and consumerist society.

OS: What has been one of your most consistent critiques in the last 21 years in Romania, and one that you feel is still relevant today?

LP: In general I am for engagement (with responsibility) for a better society for all.  In art in particular, I am for state institutions to have at the very least a minimum budget for contemporary art and professional criteria in a global context.  Education (with empathy and modesty) is the key word.

DP: The egoism, the lack of a grand vision and long term planning. The self-indulgence and the lack of pride. Good enough is not good enough. One should seek excellence in art, administration and economy.

OS: I have admired your tenacity and your dedication since I met the both of you for the first time in 2001.  From the outside your impact on the art and intellectual community in Romania is very evident.  Do you feel your work and effort have made a difference, or are you discouraged?

LP: Yes, as others have made an impact on me, I am sure I helped others in turn. (Also we have to be flexible and open to not make mistakes…things are in constant change, relative).

DP: I am discouraged but I am not stepping down.

OS: What should Romania’s art scene look like for it to be considered functional and stable?

LP: Autonomous, intelligent, courageous.  The thing is not what work will fit the living room or the toilet of the collectors…but how we can help/contribute to our local/global context to become better.

DP: Institutions and local funding. Regional museums of art must be reformed, curatorial positions updated, artistic research acknowledged and funded. We are good in exporting (ICR) but we ignore the production. This system cannot survive.

OS: It has been discussed that the general public is largely absent from contemporary art events.  Who is to blame for the lack of interest in art and culture?  What is to be done (in Lenin’s words…)

LP: What do we give them? How? There is too much bad art.  The producers and the mediators have to read a bit more, look around, relax (we are not exceptions, we have the chance to be visible), and be honest.  They need to pay attention to what they really feel and not think about the general trend all the time.

DP: In this order: institutions, directors and staff  who were supposed to fight this problem, curators who ignore reality, artists with no clue about society, and last but not least the public itself. The white night of museums, galleries and now cultural institutions are zombifying events, showing very clearly how art is communicated, used and understood in a consumerist society. Nobody goes one year to visit museums and then suddenly everybody goes in one single night.  What is to be done? Like what you do and understand your public. Never give up and constantly be open. Do not lie.  Do not copy. Be sincere and focus. Use all the means at your disposal. Create coalitions (individuals, institutions, media and civic platforms).  In other countries they made revolutions on Facebook.  Why should we just exchange kitten pictures?

OS: You have been instrumental in creating a coherent position of critique vis-à-vis the political and power structures in Romania from your studio in Bucharest and through the Contemporary Art Archive/Center for Art Analysis.  Over the last two decades you hosted most of the foreign curators and art professionals coming to Romania at this studio.  I feel this studio has an important historical position in the development of Romania’s art scene.  Tell me about CAA now and its future.

LP: Being located in the center of the town, in the yard of the Art Academy Bucharest, and due to the general corruption and lack of vision for the future, we lost the space – the Art Academy took it (they want to establish an archive that they now know how to do…) For the past 10 years I have been looking for a public space for the archive to function without me.  Instead of a public space, we understood that we have to go for a private one (we are building a small storage space in Sibiu).  Parts from the archive are recycled into my Knowledge Museum project – I go where I am invited with a kit tailored to the different issues based on the interest of the host.  The rest is in boxes.  The CAA/CAA is becoming a nomad archive.  It will take time to reorganise, reshape the whole data to be open again all the time to anyone….  (now we have to pay for the construction of the space). But who really needs to, finds the way to the information.

DP: CAA is Lia’s business. She moved it to Sibiu. We are still elaborating what policy and practice should be implemented there.


One thought on “Just Another Brick in the Wall – Interview with Lia and Dan Perjovschi

  1. Admirable people, Lia and Dan, both, and the interviewer’s questions managed to draw from them super interesting and intelligent answers! Beautiful!

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