Alex Mirutziu is not your personal art tailor
A Romanian artist in his early thirties thinks more of moments of silence than maybe each of us usually think in his entire life. He’s a performer and media critical installationist, the only artist who made a group with a hyperobject to exhibit as a collective.
His name is Alex Mirutziu and thinks himself as transgressive and nuanced, at least when working alongside his partner Răzvan Sădean. His works have been flagrantly shown in Stockholm in 2012 at Lucie Fontaine's studio and residence with Iaspis.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Sibiu, also called Hermanstadt, a former German colony in the middle of Romania. For those who are not familiar with it, it’s the city that for centuries was at the forefront of innovation – the first world experiment with rockets, the 2007 European Capital of Culture. And recently, Sibiu hosted the first Romanian project focused on gay identity in Sibiu’s Brukenthal Museum with my works and Rob Philip’s portraits curated by Liviana Dan.
In many ways I feel close to Sibiu because a significant part of my character was shaped by this environment and, strangely enough, after living in the UK for two years to further my studies at the European Laboratory Theatre, in dance/movement improvisation at Huddersfield University, I came back to the same places where it all started.
You seem to have had a great international exposure with one video called Tears are precious that was also exhibited in 2007 at the Brukenthal Museum. Tell us more.
This video was filmed at the end of my stay in England and it’s charged with all sorts of emotional pressures and distress. I filmed myself crying, which for me worked on so many levels. I recall watching the film after its making and feeling torn apart. Crying was so emotional that it exceeded what I was prepared for in the first place.
In 2008 I received the “Oscars” of video art, when Optica Video Art Festival awarded me with Best Independent Artist Award. Then, Transfera, an independent non-commercial TV channel broadcasted it on TV, alongside critically acclaimed artists such as Bill Viola and Pietro Melle.
Since its release it was shown in cinemas at Madrid's Espacio 3, selected by London’s Lumen Festival in 2009, Naples’s Casoria Contemporary Art Museum. In 2010 Ars Homo Erotica, a pioneering exhibition featuring gay, lesbian and transgender themes opened in Warsaw's National Museum and stirred tremendous controversy presenting over 250 artworks from antiquity to the 21st century. The exhibition explored the work of Catherine Opie. It also presented a survey of queer motifs in East European artists: David Cerny, Anna Daucikova, Svajone an Paulius Stanikas, Karol Radziszewski and many others. The curator of the show, Pawel Leszkowicz, chose Tears are precious to be exhibited due to my courage to be outspoken in a country where homosexuality is still frowned upon. Because my work inspired fellow artists in creating works focused on “otherness”,“alterity”,“marginal groups”,“the subaltern” in contemporary Romanian society,it has been considered by many as a groundbreaking step in abolishing the traditional mesh of what is considered acceptable and worthy of attention in the field of art. I think I was able to accomplish this also because, in many ways, my work gets its strength from its raw, overwhelming honesty.
What's it like to spend most of your time in a small eastern european city? did you ever have to take a day job to support yourself?
When curator Arandjel Bojanovic was appointed to write about the manifest of flaw, my first solo exhibition at Sabot, he noted that commodity culture came to Romania first via underground broadcasting from Yugoslavia. And that was generally of pornographic nature, an unfulfilled desire finding its way to a consumer previously depraved by it.
He believed to some extent what I did with some of my works through the Sabot channel was to fill a void in the recent amnesic Romanian post-communist history. I was trying to manifest something in my local context with the firm belief that it still has logic, as Arandjel noted.
In this sense, curator Christopher Eamon considered my work closest to one of the lone heroes of the Romanian art scene, the conceptual artist of the 1970s Ion Grigorescu. Indeed Grigorescu was in tune with international performance and body art, and I respect that, but I think there is a clear, distinct cut between our two artistic visions - from the moment I came out as gay, the artwork became more and more urgent and direct. Suddenly, There was nothing lurking in the background, because there was no background left. I am honest with my work. Nowadays we think that behind every politician there must be a hidden agenda. This comes from our communist heritage, a sort of resignation in the face of something we cannot contain.
The idea that when creating something there should always be an ulterior motive humiliates us over and over again. From here on, one can notice that a way of changing the general perception about culture and politics, especially in Romania, is to show things on TV, from legal papers to incriminating proofs. If we think about this a bit more, the idea of displaying things as arguments is quite barbaric. Besides these issues, there is a deep sense of distrust even when what’s established as common sense is thrown in our faces. We don't believe in anything any more but our familiar vertigo. When Arandjel Bojanovic wrote about me, I was working mainly with photography and video. Since then, my extensive engagement with performance and media critical installations opened up an ontological terrain inside my pending work and scotopolitic objects. In these works one of the critical aspects is that it resists closure by asking, “what is the reality of never?”
Regarding the jobs that I had, with these inconvenient ideas underlying my work, one can expect a rough reaction from the audience and potential buyers. Right now, jobs were and are a good way to pay taxes, but to be honest, all the jobs I’ve had brought some kind of input into my practice as an artist.
Were you ever tempted to move elsewhere? Why didn't you do it?
Because I'm quite a loner, I tend not to be affected by the normativity of the social realm. For a while I truly considered this an option, mainly due to a failure to foresee the welfare we are promised all the time. I'm not one who panics easily even if I disagree with many political decisions our government takes. I look for what's honest and consistent and less arbitrary. When I came back home in 2009 I wrote a manifest, disgusted and outraged by Romanian society’s close-mindedness and bias, and published it on my blog. It was a visceral, cynical text. I can manage diverse environments as long as there is time to do so, and I learned to look at the things arround me with more honesty. Together with Răzvan Sădean, I organised the first workshop on performance art in Romania at Sabot supported by the Paintbrush Factory. We both believe that there are things that need to change and when we can, we try to change them, as in the case of performance art. Next year we will release an open call for a new workshop session for Bucharest.
You claim Romania has only given you your place of birth. Is that really all it's done for you? Is there something or someone quintessentially Romanian that you care about?
Hell yes! I believe that Romania’s hard line views alienated me a while back. Perhaps it is a pathological anger over Romania that can only be born out of being the villain in a vast smelly ocean, where we can only smell our meta-odors? I wanted to breathe another oxygen. My social criticism looks way back before the revolution, where everything started.
I think the generation of my parents for example is on theverge of missing the whole point of why they made a revolution in the first place. They keep silent about the past in regards to its relationship to the next generations. I think we have a deep problem of formulating our desires. We think there is an outside world that needs adjusting to. I think we left the scar of communism undealt with for too long, and then we locked it in us, and ran away. Maybe an alternative is to co-exist with honesty and forward thinking.
I am outspoken when it comes to someone I truly care about - my partner and sometimes co-conspirator, Răzvan Sădean, who agrees with me on the above. We want more than a deplorable ideology, frigid tradition and damn right cultural primitivism. We want more than a dry discourse lacking room for tolerance and respect for minorities or engaged and argumentative individuals.
We've been been collaborating for different projects and performances at Barbara Seiler Gallery in Zurich, Ze Dos Bois Art Center in Lisbon — a legendary art space where in the 90’s body artists like Orlan, or Philip Meste devoted their works to Atlantico Festival.
As a Philosophy graduate and theatre maker, Răzvan is very supportive and in our collaborations we work as one, as pretentious as this may sound. Moreover, he’s brilliant at uncluttering our sometimes too demanding efforts, on stage or in galeries, something that I truly admire in people. We are now looking forward to a new project in Vienna next year. We are now looking forward to a new project in Vienna next year.
You live in Sibiu, a small town with a quite strong Mitteleuropean feel about it. Does the western myth/dream appeal to you in some way?
A metaphor would explain it better. It is a shadow we are talking about, another object, just like me. Shadows are breathless, they adapt with ease only to the immediacy of the now, lurking in the corners and creases of architecture, borrowing its publicness, becoming something of the public domain. Its almost as if I traded my shadow much the same as the wonderful story of Peter Schlemihl by Aldebert von Chamisso, in which a young man exchanges his shadow for a magical bag of money. I exchange mine for fullness of body in work. That's the trade, I would do this all the same, in any place I might find myself on the map.
For the past years I've been exhibiting a lot from Zurich, at Barbara Seiler Gallery, to Rudiger Schottle gallery and Nicodim in LA; from ZDB, Lisbon, to Power Plant, Toronto, and The Glass Factory, Boda, or Mücsarnok Kusthalle, Budapest. I guess the Western myth is not so much a myth any more.
When and how did you realise you absolutely had to be an artist?
I was aware of this when things ceased to just jump around without an argument, when trivial details left the stage in favour of coherent meaning, that is when I gained the ability to pinpoint the unswerving curves of what I wanted to do.
What are your major themes? Which medium would you like to explore further?
I make art tailored to deal with a problem. My interest is to bring something into the world that doesn't demand from the spectator his attention; it demands rather his absence, that he not add anything to it. I deal with positions on design, fabrication and occupation of neverhood—the immaterial parameters of design that want to interact, to come into the texture of now — to design an approach that never was - to design never.
In 2009 I had the idea of founding a collective instead of continuing an individual practice, a collective created by associating myself with a hyperobject, with myself at 29 years old, and since its making we worked with the idea of the present, the reality of never, downcycling this fundamental object, of what's what in the Artist and Himself at 29.
The fundamental workings of this collective question the way mass makes reality, the secret life of mass. Whatever it is now, it cannot be complete if we don't take in consideration its neverness. Just as the object of the world is always on the project board, never makes this object visible. I want to make a better never, as it is not homeless but deeply in us. Looking at pending work established as work about scale, far beyond any humanist perception — a hyperobject, too large for the city, news, and the geography of where we are. It is simply too big, making it imposible to take it in all at once. Pending work is the artist at 29. Pending work changes the conversation. Dealing with a pending work implies many public appearences considered as zero days.
One zero day was the audience in Stockholm performing Pending work #7 at IASPIS, observing a moment of silence for an event that never happened. This questions the nature of proof, of evidence, and puts the observer in a paradoxical situation, by making him observe something that cannot be contemplated, not adding any more silence to that which is already in the object, as the public is not outside the work, but part of it. There is no outside, no audience for Pending work #7, because time has no audience and no events to look at, not to mention giving credit to any. Pending Work is laboured as being a work that is elsewhere, no pending work is here. It belongs to the history of thought rather than being preserved as mere aesthetic residue.
Do you have any creative patterns or rituals? Do you prefer to work on a daily basis or just when you feel like it?
I am a task driven artist. These tasks help me create meaning. I believe in a skilled repository of things from ideas that speak, to citations that make the mass of a discourse at a point in time. Working towards that mass takes interobjectivity and synthesis.
Is there any Romanian artist you'd like to work with? Why? how did you get to be involved with the people at the Paintbrush Factory in Cluj?
The most recent work of many Romanian artists is still anchored in a decisive object fit for galleries, whereas my practice moves beyond such reach. Therefore I would say, at the moment I'm lacking the urge to join forces with others. Some time ago I was approached by Sabot gallerist Daria Dumitrescu and since then some of my projects were fleshed out on their premises, from solo shows to performance based projects at ColectivA being supported by Miki Braniște who also produced a very important work of mine called when love melted cavalries in our hearts, with which I did a small tour in Lisbon, LA and Cluj.
Daria Dumitrescu is the initiator of the now established Paintbrush Factory in Cluj. She practically came up with thewhole idea and acted as a catalyst within the Cluj entourage. In this scheme of things Sabot is a gallery that from start delineated from the rest with its fervor and eagerness to make a difference in Cluj and internationally. Quite young but with a full international presence at artfairs and museums, Sabot gallery gave a voice to my work in a complex manner for my 2009 solo show, Manifest of Flow.
There's a recurrent theme in your work: the body as an object subjected to all kind of arbitrary forces. Why is that?
In the 2009 manifest of flow exhibition this body of work was strongly bound up with a sense of sexual identity within an international socio-political context, thus the name of the show. That was a scream of “here I am and proud to be here, the way I am”.
My body is an object; an instrument I cannot run away from, nor avoid. the artist and himself at 29 is just that. The politics of the body and of embodiment are so interconnected with the world that one cannot talk about the body once accepting that it is not superior to the reservoir of Ebola in the wild.
Is really history "nothing but muscles in action"? And if so, what is the use of art?
Art is not only something to look at because it is in itself a face looking at us. It can also become an instrument, if you hold it right. The most recent situations in art and architecture depend on the exploitation of history. The art and the artist are after all a line in grand manner painting. It all depends whether the curve or joint of that line is evocative or not. History has been muscled up and hijacked for generations until it became a monster, especially in post-revolutionary Romania. Making art is a practice just like protesting.
The fact that Philosophy and Sociology draw influences from the art field makes me think of a more complex phenomenon that has been developing for some time now, that art is more of a partner in communication than something over there, beyond us. Think what has the “occupy” movement done for us over the past years. Looking back now, it makes perfect sense that their members hold their protests near or inside art premises mostly geographically centered.
How would you describe the local art market? Adrian Ghenie stated that Romanian art is closer to a sociological experiment than to actual contemporary art. Do you agree?
I think that Romanian contemporary art tries sometimes to open doors where there are none to be opened. We are talking too much about post-communism, reiterating its blockages when we are in need of a theory of reality. If we continue like that, we miss the point completely. Why? Because, “the only way out is in” is not valid any more, because there is no outside of us that needs to be fixed in order to move forward. To believe in the existence of something exterior to us means believing in human supremacy over the world.
Is there any way to oppose political interference in art? What would you have done differently to counterbalance what happened to the Romanian cultural institute? Does the general public care about these matters? should the general public bother with them? Why?
Is visibility only achievable through state patronage? I think we need some other basis for making an impact outside Romania. As the situation with ICR is quite a recent one and the reactions against the hammered decision of practically dissolving it into a more nationalistic body, artistic protests were overrated and I can only say one thing - that nobody listens.
The general public should protest and demand more from our politicians, but as I said before, this is hard to obtain when the general opinion is that we cannot interfere in what's been planned somewhere out of reach.
Of course I've been offering my full support for this cause. Maybe I could have protested in a vicious way but I don't think that artistic expression should be the form as in the case of CNDB. I don't believe in revolutions masqueraded as art. There's no need for such a thing.
Why not take it to cour t? It's more of a decent start.
You're a gay man in a profoundly homophobic society. How does that influence your work?
It is true that we are facing times of distress and intolerance, but I'm not surprised at all, because other countries like Poland and even Spain face the same situation. My projects are not affected by this state of things because I have very few shows in Romania. I would like to have more shows but the air is thick and hard to accommodate. Some of my works are complex and difficult. Pending Work #4 relies on distance and reiterates an environmental thinking pointing out to Walter Benjamin's concept of nature, as a function of distance.
Both in terms of engagement with its flow of time and within the imperative of being public undisclosed, as in the case of PW#4, which I buried in the most beautiful mountains of Switzerland in the Swiss plateau, part of the Alps chain raising to 873m, covering 30% of the country. Not to mention that the work is hidden from view and by means of a contract between me and Barbara Seiler Gallery, the work comes with a 10,000€ reward for the one that brings it to the gallery.
This type of approach messes up the normative artist - gallery - collector structure and reverses it or even burns it down completely. Now, some galleries are willing to take this approach and go for almost no work on displaY, as this is the case with another gallery that represents my portfolio in Munich (Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle). Because of this gallery I was able to make an exhibition with only contracts of future works. That meant questioning the very existence of a gallery and its infrastructure, of market and validity in the art work.
Would you ever take part in a gay pride march as those that take place every year in Bucharest?
When the circus leaves town, I will.
Discover Alex Mirutziu