Issue #41, 2012

Alternative Time Travelers – Post-Communism, Figurativeness and Decolonization
Sándor Hornyik

European Travelers – Art from Cluj Today,
Mûcsarnok, Budapest, 19 April – 1 July 2012


Spatial coordinates as well as the place where we travel seem to be important when traveling is examined according to the current state of science. Of course, it is not insignificant who travels or where that person is coming from, since traveling conditions are determined mainly by the starting point. The exhibition of the curator Judith Angel (and the director Gábor Gulyás), entitled European Travelers– a name too reminiscent of the European Traveler1 – specifies as precisely as possible this starting point, the city of Kolozsvár, which for a long time could be found on the European maps as Cluj. The destination is quite foggy, more precisely it remains obscure, because we only know we are dealing with „European“ travelers. This probably refers to the fact that the authors of the Cluj story, helped by a strong marketing, have a European identity and cross the old continent; it’s also about genuine global cosmopolitans, as the examples of Nicodim Gallery2 in Los Angeles and of Mircea Cantor (who, according to his biography, „lives and works on Earth“) show. Next, I will try to put as little emphasis as possible on the marketing and, respectively, PR, on the one hand, because the „success story“ is represented quite well in the Hungarian cultural life and, on the other hand, because the analysis of the phenomenon seems more important than its recycled presentation.

This text will not be about who has ​​an accomplished career, or when and how, although self-management is an important aspect which also leads one to consider items in terms of theory. This will also not be about which museums, galleries, collectors and curators used their influence to help the careers of the artists, but especially about whether, beyond the attractiveness of foreign countries and the Other written in capital letters, beyond the market laws, the works themselves have contributed, in turn, to the European and American recognition of the Cluj graphic art. This inquiry has two theoretical starting points, which are, in turn, areas quite pleasing to the eye, even if muddy. On the one hand, there is the beginning of the millennium discourse about the collapse of communism, and, on the other hand, about the one about the strengthening of the figurative. There is an obvious link between the two, namely the need (both internal and external) to interpret the explicitly figurative socialist culture (both in the rhetorical and the imagistic sense of the term). If, in accordance with the Eastern European narrative of contemporary art history, the nineties brought works inspired by a diversely conceptual field, under the sign of the means of expression and mediality, then the next decade was commonly characterized by the emergence of critical (or political) art and figurative painting. These are certainly slightly ambiguous categories, but, in order to get more factual and to evoke a parallel story, I would say that the Polish example, by emphasizing Artur Z˙mijewski and Wilhelm Sasnal, show a similar mechanism, at least from a distance, namely from the height of illustrated magazines.

It is a most vulgar commonplace – at least since postmodernism or rather the Renaissance, respectively the Renaissances – that images reflect not so much on reality as on themselves. Also, it is a commonplace slogan that, from the point of view of the visual culture studies, the image production within a period is determined by its political thinking and its technical apparatus. And if we add up to it the theoretical points of view which are most popular in the contemporary historiography (trauma, memory, micro-narratives), it becomes really interesting to see from where the exhibition European Travelers decides exactly to start unfolding the work of the artists in „the Cluj school“ (or „the Cluj phenomenon“, an expression which reminds very much the Leipzig story and its discovery). What comes to the fore and how? At the exhibition in Mûcsarnokthe viewer is met by a „mausoleum“ built of brick and by a boy repeating in a lovely voice: „I decided not to save the world“. The boy is a 2011 product of Mircea Cantor and the mausoleum is the extremely lugubrious shelter in Ciprian Mureșan’s film, Dog Luv (2009). The aesthetics of gray – resembling both the neighborhood of blocks of flats and the factory – marks the entire exhibition by the fact that the bricks are used over and over again in the internal architecture of the rooms. Moreover, this simple, „industrial“ scene fits perfectly with Luv Dog,Saviana Stănescu’s theatrical performance imbued with cruel irony and its staging by Mureșan. In the half hour video, through the lead character, a puppet-dog (Mad Dog),we glimpse at the divine comedy of human wickedness and misery, listening, for example, for minutes, from the mouth of some giggling dogs, to the cultural history of torture, from cooking one in oil to impalement and decapitation (of course with a blunt ax), until the more „humane“ methods in the modern era.

While the environment-adapted installation of this puppet movie here in Budapest – in the immediate vicinity of Romania, namely on the ruins of „soft“ and „strong“ dictatorships, and, moreover, within a writhe caught in the net of the dialectics of forgetting and remembering, etc. – seems pretty unequivocal. However, Cantor’s „boy“, a little too „sweet“, guides us towards a more complicated issue. Mureșan’s work, with its grotesque, even tragic-comical accents, bears an actual political message, which may be best described by the sublime expression „post-totalitarian critique“. While the meanings of Mureșan’s work (despite the ironic, „infantile“ staging) thrive on the field of political philosophy, the place of Cantor’s work is somewhat more complex. On the one hand, it is certainly the product of its region (in the market sense of the term) and its representative, since it even borrowed its title to a Tate Modern exhibition.3 On the other hand, it reflects strongly not only on the region, but also on the situation of contemporary art and theory in general. The little boy may be not only the average person suspicious about the artistic and political avant-garde, but also the artist who, thus, on the one hand, says he is tired of the warlike, communist ideas which characterized his homeland until recently and, on the other hand, says he is also tired of the not less engaged (on the contrary!) activities of the leftist critical art. In addition, while the first aspect stood out especially at Tate Modern, the second one prevails at Mûcsarnok. All these rightly reveal not only the issues of post-socialist art, but of the entire „post-Soviet condition“, where the behavior of generations growing up during this period is marked by the double helix of forgetting and remembering, on the one hand, while, on the other hand, the whole issue of „politics“ may be easily pushed aside on the ground and under the shelter of the genuine tabula rasaoperated by capitalism or the global entertainment industry (be it Ice Age 4 or Alien 5).

This ambivalent „political“ situation is further aggravated by the fact that for the general public everyday politics may still be more interesting than the internal matters of art, and this seems to have also marked the „main characters“ in the „Romanian“ exhibition in Budapest. Cantor’s work Cucuruzul de diamant (Diamond corn)(2005) seems to be a most visible reference to the ambivalent critical position of Damien Hirst’s famous Diamond Skull (even if it was made ​​two years before the latter!), while the „boy“ who would appear later also works perfectly outside the framework of contemporary art. But we may also consider the relationship between the beautiful, white (very allegorical) female figures sweeping the sand (Tracking Happiness,2009) and the earlier homage to Beuys (Departure, 2005 – the ghostly „dance“ of a stag and a coyote) and the fact that the video The Landscape Is Changing (2003) allows, too, for an artistic-historical reading. Beyond the obvious political parable – the crowd carries mirrors instead of banners – the work evokes Robert Smithson’s 1969 legendary Mexican work (Yucatán Mirror Displacements),also based on mirrors, while building a grand monument of dedicated to the transformation of the world into image and even to the possibility of this transformation. Similar observations can be made ​​regarding Mureșan, too, since the challenging drawing Sînge românesc (Romanian blood) (2004) or the video Alege (Choose) (2005) are understandable to everyone (maybe too understandable) and the paraphrases of Maurizio Cattelan and Yves Klein only work well when they are not scrambled by art history references. It is true, however, that both paraphrases are effective conceptually and ideologically, because in the first one Mureșan exchanges Pope John Paul II with the legendary head of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Teoctist, who served well during the Ceaușescu regime and after; and in the second one he shows – like a true Eastern European realist artist – how the extraordinary flight of Yves Klein above Paris (could have) ended. However, that tells the viewer that in reality the most powerful stories are the parallel ones, that is, those in which politics and aesthetics are parallel, enabling the collective re-writing of a given segment of European history. So I will discuss below such „re-writings“ which play, on the one hand, with different views of global space and, on the other hand, with the dimensions of time and divergent conceptions about it. Previously, however, under the hypnosis of a decolonization which is more often spoken of, it would be good to state where we start, that is, from where and how „we“ watch, here, in the former Eastern Europe, and the current conditions of this visibility.


First Excursion: the Post-Soviet Condition

While postmodernism or post-structuralism have had (at least in pop culture) their emblematic, theoretical landmarks, the post-socialist, post-communist or post-Soviet condition does not have such authors. This is due to the fact that, on one hand, the time and the rhetoric formula of the „post“ has passed, and, on the other hand, to the fact that Jean-François Lyotard’s suspicion about the grand narratives has also spread with lightning speed through the major critical theories (including Lyotard’s). However, there still are one or two great writers of theory who like to focus on present questions. One of them is the American philosopher Susan Buck-Morss, who, walking in the footsteps of the Frankfurt School, throws new light on the war of the worlds and the Cold War logic.4 According to her thesis, which is greatly indebted, of course, to Fredric Jameson and others, there was a radically new situation in 1992, because the bipolar world order, which served both the interests of capitalism and communism, dissolved.5 Therefore, not only today’s Eastern Europe is in a post-Soviet condition, but the whole world is, and the failure of the Eastern European version of modernization strongly influences the whole modernist project. Buck-Morss argues that not only state socialism is a utopian system, but so is its former opponent, liberal democracy. Before 1992, however, the delay for making the utopias true could have still been set down to the Cold War, while after the collapse of the Eastern bloc, it quickly became clear that not only communist welfare, but also the capitalist one are globally valid only as ideologies.

The other leading theorist of post-communism is, perhaps not accidentally, a Russian philosopher, Boris Groys, who attempts to discuss in a more nuanced manner than ever another dichotomy, the one between art and politics, namely that of independent culture and power.6 Groys tries to free, in a revolutionary way, socialist realism and its post-Soviet appropriation from the cage of propaganda and kitsch; he interprets socialist realism as a kind of postmodern technique of quote and collage, which can be paralleled with the American pop art. He also notes that after 1992, the „original“ context has a pronounced tendency to disappear and the post-Soviet mark merges more and more with the Western cultural production, while the aforetime ideological „pluralism“ is simply exchanged for the market doctrine, which is much more idolatrous than the totalitarian systems. Thus, Groys thinks that iconoclasm is the only critical tool of the visual arts, which entails art to be, paradoxically, propagandistic. In addition, art is faced with another paradox, the task of iconoclastically creating images, having to achieve the critique of the image by a means of expression which is the image itself.

Our region (which, in relation to such great narratives – Buck-Morss starts with 1492, and Groys at least with the Enlightenment – is much narrower) begins to write its own little narratives, among which Piotr Piotrowski’s work stands out. In his most recent book, he suggests a topological perspective instead of a geographical one, namely one that focuses its research on cities and centers of culture and increasingly leaves aside the great national or ideological frameworks.7 Moreover, in the Polish title of his new book – Agoraphilia– Piotrowski also found an excellent metaphor to describe the Eastern European (cultural) situation after 1989 (respectively, 1992). On the one hand, it is because, in terms of liquidating the dictatorships, the term contains the intense openness of the region’s art towards social and political issues, respectively towards those of the public space – while beyond these issues there also occurs the possibility of making associations of ideas about the conquest of the world capitalist market (or at least about the exigency of such a conquest). On the other hand, it is because agoraphilia, that is, the love of space, provides an explanation for the success of Eastern European artistic initiatives – which research the specificities of the place and the past – which rhymes well with the transformation of the global focus to a mere „glocalization“, an expression that introduces the latest critique of globalization to the culture industry.

One of the interesting cases of this critical topographical, or anti-globalist perspective, is Ovidiu fiichindeleanu’s post-Marxist cultural critique, which seeks an explanation for the failure of the new left theories to root in the former socialist countries. The reason is all too obvious: anti-communism, which looks for simplistic explanations not only for past sins, but focuses, in an all too unilateral manner, on the West and on market values, while distorting the evaluation of the socialist modernity and, essentially, allows only one way for the future: the global capitalism.8 (Maybe that’s why it would be neither good nor fortunate to evaluate the Cluj success story from the perspective of the Market.) One should not forget, however, that the assessment of the new Eastern European artistic trends is influenced by „the force of surprise“ since, as Boris Buden writes, during the evaluation of post-communist politics and culture, the West pretty much infantilizes the East, which – not by chance – is a well-known colonial strategy.9 However, the exotic „very-near-East“ (that is, the „Balkans“) tries to show lately that it not only speaks its own language very well, but it also speaks the language of the Other (that is, the West), at least in terms of culture and art history.

The appropriation of the Western point of view and obtaining a „European“ identity do not necessarily provide a way out of the Second, or Third World. According to some authors, just like colonialism, postcolonial criticism, too, remains stuck in the old trap of the power hierarchy, of which, more recently, a movement that comes from South America seems to find a way out. fiichindeleanu and the other well-known Eastern European theoretician of decolonization, Marina Gržnic’, already joined the initiative related to the Argentinean cultural historian Walter Mignolo, who launched a research group at Duke University called eloquently the Transnational Decolonial Institute.10 Mignolo and its South Americans or Eastern Europeans allies engaged on a „third way“ which is neither Eastern nor Western, but is based mainly on the Latin American results of the culture theory (hybridization, liminality, interbreeding).11 The goal of the decolonialist aesthetics springing from here into step outside of both the capitalist and communist ideology of modernity and modernization, while keeping an eye on local factors, in order to break away from the colonial relations of subordination and superiority and, within the culture theory, instead of the multicultural market, to emphasize non-hierarchical and intercultural views.12 From here, from our perspective, it is really interesting to see which are the premises that determine in Europe, the visual culture of fine arts on the ruins of the aforetime Second and Third World – that is, during the time of the globalized modernity. Will we be able to define ourselves not in relation to 1492 or 1992, but, say, to 1955, that is, in relation to the Conference in Bandung, where 29 African and Asian countries have tried to create the system of points of view for a peaceful coexistence?


The Second Excursion: the Post-Medium Condition

If we believed that the Anglo-Saxon theory only works in the big „Western“ cities, we would probably be wrong. This is well proven by the example of the Idea magazine in Cluj13, which not only translates but also interprets and inculcates the latest trends (which are often leftist). Similar things have been discussed in the footsteps of Rosalind Krauss and Peter Weibel (who comes after the former, yet precedes her with the expression pittura immedia)14 at a recent conference in Bratislava, which was named „Painting in the Postmedial Age“. Krauss’ concept of „post-medium condition“ – which is also the heir of Lyotard’s „postmodern condition“ – is not so much rooted in epistemology, as in the material (noch da zu artistic) field, namely in Clement Greenberg’s modernist formalism, which imposed the medial self-reflection as a task of the avant-garde or critical art, with an effect still influential today. According to Krauss – after the triumphant march, the institutionalization and the vulgarization of conceptualism – the truly progressive and full of content art deals with reality in such a way that in the meantime, it reflects on its own medium and conditions.15 In other words, new art, focusing on the means of representation, especially researches what tools and assumptions it uses to create an image of the world and what lessons may arise from here in regard to the logic of the totality of science, media and communication. If we read Krauss from an Eastern European point of view – as Weibel also did – then we find two interesting moments. The first is in reference to the fact that, as regards Krauss, she never got to us (spatially), which also means she cannot consider, for example, local chronology or, therefore, the requirements of decolonization. The second aspect is that Krauss (and Weibel, too), think within a frame of a universal, „scientific“ epistemology16 with reference to the concept of „post-medium condition“ which even in politically motivated works mostly highlights the medial views and those of the theory of knowledge.17

Jacques Rancière has recently initiated an attempt, well received in the art world, to solve this problem, namely the reconciliation of the two opposing views, that of the particular policy and the universal aesthetics. Just like Krauss and unlike Groys, he does not believe that the spectacular image and the formalist aesthetic tradition are intolerable and should be criticized. Although it is also true that, to him, formalism often comes from a radical avant-garde strategy, from the situationists’ practice that (it is said) have appropriated the well-known products and methods of capitalist image production especially for their political goals. Rancière brought Debord down to earth, for he claims that the image and the spectacle are not necessarily the ultimate evil, because, if we recognize and emphasize their functioning mechanisms, they can be used for our own good. Hence, it simply results that Rancière sees the possibility of progress in art by the creative self-reflexive use of the means of expression, and it is not incidental that he thinks within temporal boundaries similar to those of Krauss, as one of his paradigmatic authors is no other than Broodthaers’ contemporary, Jean-Luc Godard.18 In a way, this genealogy shows also that in Krauss and Rancière – in their „postmodern“ and „post-Marxist“ coordinates – we are shown both the deconstruction of the image, of the means of expression, and of art, with the difference in emphasis that Krauss rather allies with the literal readings of the early and poststructuralist Derrida, while Rancière, like the mature, political thinker in the Cosmopolitans of the World, One More Effort!, does not study the system producing significance in its autonomy.19 That sends us back to the way Groys raises a similar question, namely to the perspective – on the basis of conceptual art’s criticism – that contrasts the political „propaganda“ and autonomous art, the critique and the spectacle, in a way that leads one to think it does not want to accept the possibility of an inclusive logic. However, this precise possibility could be the key to the Cluj phenomenon, whose artists do so well both in the Academy and in the Marketplace.


Double Look

Thus, after having equipped ourselves with the recent optics of politics and aesthetics, it is worth returning to the starting point, where, already in the first room, one can see the large and pleasant paintings of Adrian Ghenie, who, along with Victor Man and Șerban Savu, is usually considered one of the most successful „Cluj painters“. Ghenie and Savu bring to the exhibition the quality and individual perspective that one expects from them, which testify, for both of them, for the thorough knowledge of art history and contemporary art in general. From a certain point of view, they represent two sides (among others) of the Romanian surrealism, with Ghenie „decomposing“, in the footsteps of Max Ernst and Francis Bacon, and with Savu „blurring“ as if combining Giorgio de Chirico and Luc Tuymans with the tradition following the Baia Mare School. In fact, Ghenie was inspired rather by David Lynch (and Twin Peaks) and Savu’s perspective seems to translate Edward Hopper and the American realists into the language of the social relations in post-communist Romania. But before getting down to the facts, let us switch to the decolonial mode: the list of names is, as far as I am concerned, the application of a known ironic, Western, colonial strategy, linking Eastern European cultural products to the names of known and successful artists. The New York Times art critic assessed Ghenie’s and Savu’s painting using a similar rhetoric (respectively, on the Hungarian side, Zsolt Bodoni and Attila Szûcs), when he likened them to Gerhard Richter and Luc Tuymans in relation to the exhibition After the Fall.20 This strategy, from the market perspective, seems to be quite good, since it places unknown Eastern European names in a context, although unfortunately it does not emphasize in the right way the Otherness and the cultural translation technologies, which would be the immovable prerequisite of the autonomous legitimacy.

From here, Ghenie’s homage to Duchamp is an excellent example of how decolonial pictorial deconstruction works, by placing a significant emphasis on the combination of different visual technologies (film, photography, collage, frottage). One can find there not only the father-master of conceptual (as well as critical) art, the Westerner Marcel Duchamp, who, not incidentally, wanted to get rid of the retinal painting, but also the communist cult of wakes and burials and, not last at all, the necessity and lack of post-communist mourning work. Ghenie covers all these with a filter half real, half „decomposed“ – Tibor Csernus had done the same thing with the socialist realism fifty years ago; what a pity that the West would not taste something like this then – and caught in defiantly vivid oil colors the memory of the aforetime „killer“ of painting. In his other works, he does the same with important politicians of the past, for example, the collector Hermann Göring, while using a ghostly color, reminiscent of the film noir, with strong medial accents. In other words – just like his colleagues in Cluj – he simultaneously tries to develop a post-Soviet and a post-medium painting. The other „local hero“,Savu, uses to a perhaps higher degree the local specifics and the local traditions of realism, which are also to be found in the new Romanian cinema, for example, in Cristian Mungiu, who has been awarded at Cannes Festival for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007). From a regional perspective, this shy, pale, ghostly, deserted surrealism, together with the empty squares of modern social reality, evokes for the Budapest spectator the (earlier) painting of Attila Szûcs, who presents a similar atmosphere and visual culture. The post-communists everyday people, without features and wandering without purpose in the buildings’ backyards, the parking lots and in almost abstract spaces occur in Savu’s paintings in a fine and decorative color, which somehow aestheticizes the images of ruin, while the artist holds a sophisticated, oblique mirror in front of the stereotypical image of the West about the East.

Victor Man, one of the „Cluj“ „painters“ with the best reputation (he strengthens the Gladstone Gallery team along with Shirin Neshat, Anish Kapoor and Matthew Barney21), politicizes in another way, perhaps more directly. In collaboration with Anna-Bella Papp, Man created an installation that fills an entire room. The Mûcsarnok venue is filled entirely with wallpapers imitating some huge frescoes (which is maybe an ironic reference to one of the best export products of the Romanian art: Dan Perjovschi), but there is also a stuffed fox head and other enigmatic objects and images, which together are entitled Those with Teeth and Those Without; this is also the title of a distinct work present at Man’s London exhibition.22 The huge painting supported by a wall shows, most likely, those who „do not have“ teeth; in this work one may „see“ some nude women smoking sensually (it would already be an interpretation to call them porn actresses!), but in fact they just cannot be seen, since they are colored in black. (Man, in fact, has become significant just because of his dark, enigmatic, figurative, post-communist paintings.) On the multiplied frescoes, however, caricatured men, respectively males, struggle with each other, but the teeth issue is complicated, however, by the presence of the fox head and abstract art. There’s a pregnant surreal and oriental atmosphere, while the duo of artists places even the eroticized and rather macho surrealist culture within the scope of a post-feminist criticism.

Victor Man’s example brings us to the great merit of this exhibition, because Angel – somehow just like Man – does not enclose the new figurative trends of the Cluj painting in a profit oriented capitalist ghetto, but displays them in a critical (political) artistic context, which is also good from a medial point of view for the works exhibited, because their pictorial features ​​stand out better next to a video or a post-conceptual (or post-post-conceptual or whatever) object. But the easily digestible, colorful, fragrant and sufficiently figurative paintings somewhat distract attention from the photos and moving images, which, in terms of their gender and visual language, are very muchbound rather to the esoteric than to the challenging tradition of conceptual art. Perhaps Cantor’s HD video, projected on a large screen, is the only one effectively avoiding this (market) lawfulness, while other films that are not as seductive or bombastic in terms of image, deserve more attention. István László’s star (Star,2011), floating in a toilet and which, of course, cannot be flushed, has become internationally famous for a reason; it’s not only political and adapted to the environment, but it contains enough historical and artistic references and, in addition, it is fun. Cristi Pogăcean’s video (Untitled,2005) uses a slightly more refined tools and, as such, perhaps more profound; the film shows everyday people who, despite the communist or capitalist order, still make the sign of the cross when passing an Orthodox church, which suggests that religion, the religious culture, does not necessarily operate under the clockwork mechanisms of the nationalist or post-nationalist narrative.

Pogăcean’s other work, perhaps the most successful, leads us to this very area, namely the boundary or the buffer zone between East and West (or between several Easts and Wests). In other words, more specifically – and somehow very funny – the buffer zone between one East and the other, since one of the famous photos of the Romanian journalists kidnapped by Arab terrorists is the image on a woven rug. The terrorist act itself shows greatly how, seen from Islam, Eastern Europe is, in fact, part of the Western culture. The title – legitimating my ludic reading – is already almost a blasphemy to the more dubious than ever media: Răpirea din serai (Abduction from the Seraglio),2006, while the humor can hurt equally several political sensibilities. However, it is hard to come to the fore next to such works. Marius Bercea’s „deconstructive“, post-socialist paintings are well highlighted, but Peter Szabó’s very personal slides and his „post it“ comments hardly attract any attention (Grupul stă în cerc [The group stands in circle],2011). It’s another question whether Szabó, according to some of today’s critical standards, is more progressive than Bercea or Mircea Suciu, who is generally marketed as an important successor of surrealism (namely, Borremans’). But the latter manages the traditions of the spectacle, so it’s almost impossible to decide whether we are dealing with some painting VJs or with post-medial critical art.

Besides painting, even the otherwise inventive objects are a little obscured. The effect created by Răzvan Botiș (although his 2010 bat, filled with whiskey and entitled Hit the Road Jack,is a very successful pun) is not as strong as those produced by Ghenie, Bercea or even by Oana Farcaș, to mention only a single „feminine“ version, who specifically evokes the figure of Francis Bacon and his studio (but not in the exhibition of which I speak). It is possible, however, that this exhibiting effect is augmented by the profoundly Western nature of object art, while figurative painting maintains well traced relationships with the socialist past, namely with its representative image production (public sculpture and painting). The large films signed by Gabriela Vanga and Alex Mirutziu, which, at a first glance, do not add much to the „grand media art“ Western culture, seem a little pale perhaps due to similar reasons. But this only emphasizes the fact that Bercea and Suciu attempt to deconstruct the local cultural traditions and the great narratives of art history, from the Flemish landscapes to Asian horror films, in parallel. Equally interesting are those clichés in which the identity elements reverse the pyramid of local values, respectively split the great post-communist „War and Peace“ into its composing elements. In Mirutziu’s portraits, homosexuality and sadomasochist culture are being inscribed over the apologetics of the communist and post-communist suffering, while Cristian Opriș combines the perspective of applied art and that of the official (socialist) one with the historical and artistic tradition, namely with the representation of identity, by showing or assimilating his own image to the „legal“ system through various means of expression and different styles. The Romanian version of this legal system also occurs in the Duo van der Mixt’s „sociography“ (The Very Best of Red, Yellow and Blue,2002–2005), which shows how the cult of the Greater Romania covered the everyday life in the shape of objects painted in red, yellow and blue. One of the Duo van der Mixt members is, in fact, a well-known name, Mihai Pop, the founder (along with Adrian Ghenie) of the Gallery Plan B, an almost legendary gallery23; the group analyzes with photographic tools the Romanians’ strategies of identity construction, an action which is not necessarily separate from its topic, the political propaganda, but illustrates perfectly the Groysian paradox of iconoclasm and manufacturing images.

The Bázisartists24 Zsolt Berszán, István Betuker and Zsolt Veress chose a different strategy, trying to massively connect to the expressionist and neo-expressionist art traditions, and the most surprising thing is that have nothing surprising in terms of local color or decolonialism, despite the fact that they are the genuine representatives of Kolozsvárin Cluj, namely, in its already legendary artistic center, The Paintbrush Factory. Berszán’s art opposes the universal and the particular in a very interesting manner, deploying a strategy different from that of „the Cluj painters“, as if they would simply not pay attention to the spirit of the place, at least not openly, thematically, but rather „unconscious“, through the matter itself. In his works he combines the cult for black of the abstract expressionism and the animality (in the Latin meaning of the word) of abject art. Veress, too, tries to connect to the mechanisms of abject art, namely, he takes the colorful „decomposition“ of the face and meat to an abject level. These works, causing strong impulses, lack the most important ingredient, namely time, because these artists have engaged somehow on the side of the atemporality of identity.

Since the exoticism of deconstruction and critical (political) art stems not so much from the place, but from the time, maybe this is the most valuable lesson of the current post-communist condition; at least this is the direction seemingly pointed to by the collecting and the ever more intense canonization of the critical art in the region. More specifically, the alternative image of time and history becomes more interesting for the West, an image that, to us, „somewhere in Europe, but just not really there“, can become truly illuminating if, in the spirit of decolonization, it ceases to tell the same stories endlessly, and creates its own alternative stories in which neither Hollywood nor MoMA, the Kremlin or the Security are casting the roles.25 It’s another thing – somehow in the spirit of reality – to inquire about the compromises a „European“ post-national artist has to make, an artist who cannot hope for a market the size of the Brazilian, or Indonesian ones, in order to find adequate producers for his little Romanian, Transylvanian or Saxon stories.

Translated by Alex Moldovan




 3. ‑At the exhibition I Decided Not to Save the World, produced jointly by Tate Modern and SALT in Istanbul and open between 14 November 2011 and 8 January 2012, one could see works by Mounira Al Solh, Yio Barrada, Mircea Cantor and the group „Slavs and Tatars“. Barrada received the title Guggenheim Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year in 2011 ( _the_year_2011.html; programme/current/event/594/riffs /), while Cantor won the Marcel Duchamp Prize in France, which also included an exhibition at Centre Pompidou (

 4. ‑Susan Buck-Morss, Dreamworlds and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2000.

 5.‑ Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1995.

 6. Boris Groys, Art Power, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2008.

 7. ‑Piotr Piotrowski, Art and Democracy in Post-Communist Europe, New York, Reaction Books, 2012.

 8. ‑Ovidiu fiichindeleanu, „The Modernity of Postcommunism“, Idea #24, 2006. Anti-communism has another two distinguishing features that are related to each other. One is the strengthening of clericalism and the other the strengthening of nationalism in the region. Along fiichindeleanu and Piotrowski, this issue is also dealt with extensively by Edit András, „The Unavoidable Question of Nationalism“, Springerin, 10, 3, 2010.

 9. ‑Boris Buden, Zones des Übergangs. Vom Ende das Postkommunismus, Berlin, Suhrkamp, 2009.

10. ‑Marina Gržnic’, „Biopolitics, Necropolitics, De-Coloniality“, Pavilion, 14, 2010.

11. ‑Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options (Latin America Otherwise), Durham, Duke University Press, 2011.

12. ‑The 2011 Manifesto, called Decolonial Aesthetics, is signed by fifteen authors: Alanna Lockward, Rolando Vásquez, Teresa María Díaz Nerio, Marina Gržnic’, Michelle Eistrup, Tanja Ostojic’, Dalída María Benfield, Raúl Moarquech Ferrera-Balanquet, Pedro Lasch, Nelson Maldonado Torres, Ovidiu fiichindeleanu, Hong-An Truong, Guo-Juin Hong, Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, Walter Mignolo. The decolonial aesthetics even throws a new light on the recent Eastern European deployments of the postcolonial critique, namely, the topics of self-colonization advanced by Kiossev and its counterpart: the cultural practice of the Soviet colonialism. According to Kiossev, Eastern Europe, which was sacrificed on the altar of national development, voluntarily and cheerfully puts its head in the modernizing yoke of the West; however, according to David Chione Moore, Eastern Europe roots the post-colonialism locally merely by exchanging America (or England and its allies) for the Soviet Union. The decolonial aesthetics and politics aim to deconstruct the very hierarchy of power as such, in order, finally, for Eastern Europe and South America to be determined not according to the ideological center, respectively to an economic and political power [but starting from themselves]. Cf. Alexander Kiossev, „Notes on Self-Colonizing Cultures“, biblioteka/bgvntgrd/e_ak.htm and David Chioni Moore, „Is the Post- in Post-Colonial the Post- in Post-Soviet? Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique“, PLMA, vol. 116.


14. ‑In 2005, Weibel organized in Graz an exhibition entitled Postmediale Kondition, which was partly inspired by Krauss’ book, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition (1999), which familiarized the public with the term of „post-medium condition“ related to Marcel Broodthaers. Weibel, however, departed from the horizon related to the specific means of expression as theorized by Krauss or, more precisely, he retranslated the horizon by applying it to media art (not the U.S., but its Austrian version) which also inspired Krauss when she developed her concept.

15. ‑The concept appeared in Krauss in the second half of the nineties, in a reflection, among other things, on the art of Christian Marclay, James Coleman, William Kentridge and Sophie Calle. Cf. Rosalind Krauss, Perpetual Inventory, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2010.

16. ‑While it is true that if Krauss and the October magazine relate more to the Duchampian paradigm, Weibel and Ars Electronica belong to the Turing paradigm. In media art, Lev Manovich was the first to mention two paradigms or areas which he characterized through the name of Duchamp, respectively of Turing. The first is more oriented towards philosophy and social critique issues, while the second towards issues raised by science and technology. Cf. Lev Manovich, „The Death of Computer Art“ (1996). view/28877/

17. ‑On the different interpretations of what postmedia and postmedium condition mean, see, for more details, the 2011 book by Domenico Quaranta, whose introduction is in English: „The Postmedia Perspective“. 2011/jan/12/the-postemdia-perspective/

18. ‑Jacques Rancière, Le Spectateur émancipé, Paris, La Fabrique, 2008.

19. ‑Cf. Jacques Derrida, La Verité en peinture, Paris, Flammarion, 1978 and Jacques Derrida, Cosmopolites de tous les pays, encore un effort!, Paris, Galilée, 1997.

20. ‑Martha Schwendener, „18 Journeys Forged in Communism“, New York Times, 14 January, 2011. nyregion/16artwe.html?_r=1 However, the exhibition After the Fall organized by the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art (Peekskill, NY), held from 19 September 2010 to 24 July 2011 (http://, also showed that „colonial deconstruction“ reviewed by me is not at all a topographic phenomenon, related to Cluj, for artists such as the Czech Daniel Pitin, the Croatian Elvis Krstulovic’, the Bessarabian Alexander Tinei and the Hungarian Zsolt Bodoni work in a similar spirit and with the same visual culture.


22. ‑Victor Man, ATTEBASILE, London, Ikon, 26 November 2007 – 25 January 2008 (



25. ‑The quote I got quoted Homi Bhabha refers to his reasoning; he said that these transients are enabling the translation of important elements of hybridity, while keeping both the differences, and the relations of power. English-language Indian culture is already almost „white“, but not completely. See Homi Bhabha, Location of Culture, New York, Routledge, 1994, p. 122.