Just Another Brick in the Wall: Interview with Paradis Garaj

Zurich, Switzerland
December 8-January 7, 2012


Paradis Garaj is a collective composed of Claudiu Cobilanschi and Stefan Tiron. They live in Bucharest.

OS: You created a very interesting, and new, model for experiencing contemporary art: in a garage.  The projects that you held there, and your practice overall, are critical of existing power structures in the art community.  Tell us what particularly you oppose in the existing art system, what aspects you feel need to change, and who needs to make the changes.
PG: We could say 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?  Tell us about the context…
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, 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 becomes a means for private profit and success. Also, 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 & elated notions of PR – public relations. Power brokers, 10 easy ways to influence rich people – these are all obligatory success stories of the present. We wouldn’t be here talking to you if Bucharest Biennale wouldn’t have transformed our dingy 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 do each of you play in the team?  How do you sustain your activities, and 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, ICR put together. In a sense we think there is only a no-future plan available, and that is why we tried, rehearsed and re-enacted a lot of possible cataclysmic scenarios after September 11. We wanted to see how we were prepared for the worst, for austerity measures, for constant evacuation. We have also played upon media take-over 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 take-over 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 depoliticising 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 former Eastern European countries, despite the fact that there are quite a few abundantly rich individuals who spend lavishly on luxury goods, which art seems to 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 it 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 non-differentiated 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.

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