Just Another Brick in the Wall: Interview with H.Arta

Zurich, Switzerland
December 8-January 7, 2012

PUBLICATION IS AVAILABLE AS A PDF HERE.
ONLINE ESSAY CLICK HERE
PANEL DISCUSSION VIDEO CLICK HERE
PHOTOS OF THE EXHIBITION CLICK HERE

H.Arta is a collective composed of Maria Crista, Anca Gyemant, and Rodica Tache. They live and work in Timisoara.

OS: You are a collective composed of three female artists: Maria Crista, Anca Gyemant and Rodica Tache. How do collaborations evolve among you, and how do you manage to set aside egos in favour of the common goal?
H: Our collaboration is based on our friendship. Friendship, as an inherent part of our lives, fulfilling needs of intimacy, trust and communication, providing an everyday support in the practical contingencies of life, constituting a continual practice of negotiation in what concerns our ideas, our difficulties, our disagreements, our inherent hierarchies, ties private life with work and agency, emotion with politics. In this sense, we consider friendship as a useful model of working and living that goes beyond private relations and becomes a political way of interacting with others.

OS: Your practice is a hybrid of cultural or social activism and art. You seem more concerned about the role art has in society and how it can be utilized to change the status quo than about the old “art for art’s sake” routine. Have you found any concrete answers to the question, “What is the use of art in a country so full of social inequalities?”

H: What is most important for us in our practice is to constantly question our position as artists, as citizens, as women, as cultural workers who are part of a system with all its contradictions and still with all its potential to produce meaningful analysis and critique. This work of continually examining one’s own role and position cannot be done outside collective practices, outside collaborative work and inter-disciplinary practice, while we try to create models for work that bring theory as close as possible to practice. We consider art to be a good method of making this sort of work possible, of creating the situations for meaningful encounters and discussions. We think art can be used as a practical way of learning, of finding self-reflexive strategies of critique and change that are the result of cooperation and sharing by people from different fields and contexts. And we think that exactly in these times in which social inequities are even more deepened by the financial crises, in times when the last traces of some sort of social solidarity are dismantled, it is important to develop the possibilities that lie in a feminist art, as model of care and responsibility.

OS: Also your practice is very concerned about actually engaging the public that you discuss in your projects. What has been their response to your work and how have they reacted to these projects? Do they recognize your projects as art or are they more interested in the social dimension? Do you feel that you have been successful in engaging them?

H: Our projects, that many times took the form of spaces for analysis and debate of social issues, which were tackled in a direct form, without too many “artistic filters”, had diverse audiences. By these projects, we wanted to bring together different voices from various fields, approaching the issues from their different perspectives and according to their experiences. In these projects we regarded art as a methodology of creating space and of hopefully finding strategies for change. We wanted to get to the raw material that could be the topic for art. We find it very important to be aware of this “raw material” (that are the social issues that were the basis for our projects) as an artist and as well as a citizen. It is not really important to us if our audience considers that what we do is art or not. What is truly important is that the audience considers that the topics we tackle are necessary and urgent, and from this point of view we think that our work was well understood most of the times.

OS: How do you sustain your practice? Are there sources of support for the work that you do?
H: Although many parts of our projects were based on our own and our colleagues’ unpaid work, we also managed to get funding for projects over the years. The process of getting funding, of writing applications, the double talk that it involves, the rhetoric of success that the relationship to the funders suppose, rhetoric that makes it difficult to have a realistic analysis of your work, the self-censorship, are aspects that are an intrinsic part of critical art production, something that we always keep in mind and try to analyze and reflect in our practice. Is there a possibility to be critical and alternative when visibility for your work is necessary in order to provoke a change and while visibility can be attained only if you have the resources? How can we prevent the fact that cultural critical projects are sometimes only vents that are sustaining the status quo, the fact that they can be sometimes only “proofs” that the system is democratic enough to sustain “plural” views, views that are condemned to remain sterile in their beautiful, intellectual clarity? We don’t have a definite answer to these questions, but we think that one of the most relevant things that can be done in a field that is many times governed by appearances and hypocrisy is to make yourself aware of the gap between your words and your actual everyday life and decisions. One of our important interests and struggles is to try to go beyond the mere theoretical field of our ideas, concepts and words and to try to enact them in our daily lives, even if this struggle many times involves failure.

OS: For me the most strident social issues in Romania are: the gravely uneven distribution of wealth which leads people to consider capitalism as a great equalizer, and the high level of religiosity ever-present in the public and private spheres, which has led to nationalism and racism. What do you feel are the most pressing problems and how are you tackling them?

H: In Romania, one of the post ’89 myths about what freedom and a good life means consisted in the idea that the capitalist system creates and guarantees democracy, that capitalism is a “natural” system whose efficiency is proved by the experience of the powerful countries of the “West.” This idealisation of the capitalist system and all the propaganda in this sense has as a palpable effect the loss of everything that was gained in the communist times as rights that a large category of people had access to (rights such as access to free education, decent housing, the right to free medical care, guaranteed pensions, etc). Of course that the uncertainty and unfairness that have become the norm in the conditions opened by the financial crisis are not new for certain categories of people, for the ones that were always precarious and marginal. Even in communist times, when officially we were all equal, people did suffer for the colour of their skin, for example, even if this suffering was not always visible. But what is new is the fact that the suffering of those who are not wealthy enough, not educated enough, not “white” enough, not healthy enough, not competitive enough, not ruthless enough is now made official. Inequality is not seen anymore as an effect of a corrupt and unfair system, but it is declared a natural state, “survival of the fittest” being the rule that we should accept as a basis of the organisation of our society. And of course that religion, as an efficient instrument of manipulation, of social division, of creation and sustaining of hierarchies, serves very well the oppressive system, as it always did in the course of history.
For us, the way of addressing these problems is the constant attempt to make them visible in our projects and to make the awareness about these problems part of a process of everyday learning and living.

OS: One of your past projects, Project Space of 2007, created within the context of Public Art Bucharest, was a physical space where discussions, meetings, and workshops were held, addressing the main issues of the social and political climate at that time. Who was your public then, and do you feel that these types of initiatives can really make a visible impact on the perceptions of members of the public?
H: If at the beginning of our activity, in the first h.arta space that we conceived in Timisoara, our public consisted mostly of students and young artists, Project Space that functioned in the frame of Spatiul Public Bucuresti/Public Art Bucharest, and also Feminisms, a project space that we had in 2008-2009 in Timisoara, had a diverse public, consisting of persons with different backgrounds, while the number of artists and art students was smaller than in the case of the first h.arta space. Part of the public of the Project Space was constituted by the ones who gave it its contents, by the ones who contributed with presentations and workshops to its programme. Because Project Space was a meeting platforms for various fields, a debate space no longer relating exclusively to the art sphere, but with art used as a set of methods to work with a more complex content, our public not only became more diverse, but also the border between who is public and who is producer of content was blurred.
It is difficult to know what was the impact of such a project, to measure its success. But we are glad that new projects and new collaborations emerged and that some of those who initiate these new projects mention Project Space as an important moment for them.

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