Issue #46, 2014

25 Years ×25 Minutes ×25 Contributions: On The Future Past
Daria Ghiu

25 ×25 ×25, București, 13–14 December 2014


Walter Benjamin’s memorable book, Berlin Childhood Around 1900, contains one of the most beautiful images of the first years in life that has ever been written. Evoking fragments of childhood, fragments of reality, as they arrived in the present time of the author, in the past of the contemporary reader, Benjamin does not adopt the perfect tense, as Peter Szondi notes in the preface of the book, but uses the “future of the past – the future in the past – in its whole paradoxical nature: the fact of being in the future, but still in the past“. Benjamin writes on a small scale about memories placed in corners of his mind, revealing fine details and probably leaving many memories to not take the shape of a writing.

During the two days spent in the tranzit.rospace in Bucharest, in an exercise that was sometimes playful, sometimes nostalgic, affectionate, conscious and caustic (but never excelling in any of these directions), an exercise meant to re-appropriate the 25 years since we left the starting point – the Romanian Revolution and the fall of communism –, one of my strongest impressions has been that each of the 25 guests, with their own memories, ages and life experiences, with their own adventures and subjective interpretations of history, builds before our eyes an atlas of memory, guided by keywords, stronger or weaker memories, personal founding moments intersecting official moments of political and social history; an atlas sometimes blurred, sometimes vividly colored, clouded in some corners of history or burned by the strong light of the sun in some others. The event imagined by curator and art critic Raluca Voinea ( București) and organized by her in collaboration with artist Eduard Constantin and curator Livia Pancu ( Iași) set out with the idea of building a potential image for the last 25 years in Romania, with the help of artists, writers, philosophers, sociologists, musicians, journalists and historians. Therefore, the curators of the event invited 25 people, who had 25 minutes to tell their own version of history, personal paths, and personal explanations for the recent past.

As a spectator, I have asked myself many times during these two days: why am I not bored at all? Why am I captivated by each new incursion in a historically shared past, to which I could refer sometimes, but from which I was separated precisely by this appeal to personal, intimate memory? Why each replay of history, for 25 times exactly, as in a ritual, always from the starting point and going to the present, keeps me focused? How does the memory of each guest function? How detached one can be from the past and how marked by it? What names are recurrent? Do my memories meet those of the person who sits in front of me? What does it mean to live revolution as a 3-year old, and what does it mean to live it when you are a teenager or have reached your full intellectual maturity? How come that one’s memories meet those uttered by someone else a bit earlier, even though there are 10 years between them and they are from different generations? For two days, I have been in some sort of holiday camp, or in some sort of ideal therapy session. Or, perhaps more aptly put, I have been in a performance project and an art exhibition unfolded on the eve of the moment that started the revolution (the 25 years since the eruption of the Romanian Revolution, an event that we must always re-live once a year, as we re-live Christmas each year). A process of self-identification, reflection or, on the contrary, a process in which one becomes opaque to certain realities that are uttered.

It is hard to summarize these two days; from the billiards-cimbalom to the story of the “whitening gel“ – told by Roma feminist activist and actress Mihaela Drăgan –, to the observations of philosopher Ovidiu Țichindeleanu about the 1990s, when we lived in a “magical reality“ (in the background there were excerpts and stories with UFOs from Cluj in the Paranormal magazine – perhaps remembered by those who lived in that time), and to the advice of the same philosopher about learning how to transform cultural memory into a long-run resource, now, 25 years later, when historical awareness rises. Maria Balabaș, a musician and a journalist at Radio România Cultural, has spoken about how her perception of music has changed in time and how a tape, the first one in one’s life, listened to forever on a first walkman, at the beginning of the same 1990s, indelibly imprints itself onto one’s ear and onto everything one will listen to from that moment on: fragments from the music of KLF – The White Room album – were played again and commented by Maria Balabaș. Cezar Lăzărescu’s ironic and caustic art projects; Matei Bejenaru’s art projects recuperating the socialist past and showing all of its fragile moments; the analysis of each of the 25 years from the perspective of a series of inter-relational dynamics, as it was done by analyst and Professor Ovidiu Gherasim-Proca. Talking about more or less recent protests, the latter confesses at some point that “when he sees the tricolor flags he does not feel good“ and ends his presentation by saying that – with the appearance of “Down with Communism!“ banners immediately after the most recent elections – “we arrived to where we left from, but we are much more disoriented“.

The film of how an old man made his first trip to the West and to Berlin – created by Elena Vlădăreanu and Robert Bălan –, the extremely aware discourse of Petru Dandea, vice-president of the National Confederation of Workers’ Unions Cartel ALFA, the jukebox of memory designed by the Apparatus 22 art collective or the sonic mixes based on both music (Timpuri Noi, Paraziții, Norzeatic, taraf, hits, Michael Jackson) and memorable speeches (Ceaușescu, Iliescu, Băsescu) – proposed by Miron Ghiu (in a visual dialogue with Bogdan Ghiu and his first writings in Contrapunct or 22 magazines) or rekabu; the anecdotes of Jean-Lorin Sterian about the Constanța of “proto-manelists“, about the era (and great business) of [Humanitarian] “Aids“, which Sterian calls “pipelines between the basements of the Westerners and our closets“, or about the Playboy magazine and the PRO Generation. The confession of curator and art critic Simona Dumitriu, handwritten in a notebook and read without pauses, has the strength of a knife that penetrates deeper and deeper in an attentive dissection, her personal radiography neighboring expressionist literature. Feminist activist Oana Băluță tells her personal history of feminist activism in Romania after December 1989, up to the most recent gestures; Petre-Florin Manole – one of the founders of the Center for Roma Studies at the University of Bucharest – speaks about his adventures in his memorable “The World had 10 km and Two Localities“; art critic and curator Igor Mocanu, who came to Romania from the Republic of Moldova, explains full of self-irony about the “historical injustice“ that he felt when as a youngster he had to stay in line with “Chinese and Arabs“ at the Immigration Office in Bucharest. Adrian Schiop talks about the phenomenon of manele, and Cristi Nae sketches a subjective history of Romanian art since 1990 to our days.

Artist Dan Perjovschi wrote and drew for Revista 22 – and keeps on doing this today as well, not only in this magazine, but in every institution inviting him – the harshest and the most poignant chronicle of contemporary Romania, in which personal experiences intertwine with history at large: at the end of each year, and in every month of June, Perjovschi recollects the Revolution and the Mineriad, helping us not to forget them, to emotionally re-enact them and, thus, to be aware of them all the time. The irony with which the young actress Luminița Apostu describes her personal history since the Revolution, when she was 3 years old, speaks, in fact, of the destiny of artists, the difficulty of choosing this path in life, leaving everything else aside.

The second day started and ended with two moments of generosity: memory donated, memory that becomes a souvenir for the others in the case of artist Farid Fairuz, who placed on the ground personal objects that he collected and had around him in these 25 years, objects from which he could now separate, inviting us to “pick“ some of them and to “bite“ in this way from his history. As soon as you have appropriated an object that once belonged to Farid, you automatically become part of his own history, beginning a new history with that object, starting from zero, getting rid of its past. At the end of the day, Iulia Popovici and Vasile Ernu cooked for the guests and the public, the 25 years being compressed thusly in a present gesture. Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, both absent from the event, have created a clandestine intervention during the entire program, on our cell phones. While we were listening to the presentation, we would receive messages, suggestions, questions that have written our recent history. “Do you live well?“ You don’t really know how to answer such message.

Starting from the histories told in these two days, it would be worth creating a book, as well as a film, which is, in fact, a plan of the organizers, who have documented everything. Also, Raluca Voinea had at the end, not accidentally, the idea of a future project: predictions about the next 25 years that would come. And, to return to Benjamin and Berlin Childhood, this potential future meeting could perhaps have the title Profetic Corners, those marginal spaces where “it seems that everything coming to us already belongs, in fact, to the past“, as Benjamin writes. Objects, histories from the past already break the future. As it does, for instance, the 100 lei coin (with the head of Michael the Brave!) that Ovidiu Țichindeleanu has given to each of us as a gift. To have money to cross the border. We are insured.

Translated by Alexandru Polgár