Art Encounters | Contemporary Art Biennale*

Curators: Ami Barak, Diana Marincu

Timișoara
30 September – 5 November 2017

In the late days of September 2017, while the streets of Timișoara were bustling with exhibition goers, I had the opportunity to meet with Diana Marincu to discuss her work on the 2017 edition of Timișoara Art Encounters. She shared her thoughts on the processes of curating such a major art event, the roles of and challenges faced by artists today, and the biennial as a tradition and a forum for innovation.



Zsuzsanna Szegedy-Maszák: Was this the first time you worked together with Ami Barak?

Diana Marincu: Yes, it was. But we knew each other from previous projects.

ZsSz-M: And who came up with this team?

DM: The Art Encounters Foundation proposed that the two of us collaborate, and then we had a first meeting, which went very well.

ZsSz-M: Did you have any contact with the previous edition of the biennale?

DM: I did not play a very important role in the first edition. With Mihai Pop, I co-curated the exhibition of Plan B, which was in the section of galleries invited from Romania, and I wrote a text for the catalogue, but I know both of the curators from their research trips to Cluj and Bucharest.

Diana Marincu | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

Ami Barak | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

ZsSz-M: What biennales served as models for you when you started working on this project?

DM: I didn’t have any specific biennale in mind as a model. Of course, I have seen a lot of biennials, but we were also trying to figure out what structure would work best for Timișoara. Of course, every curator has his or her own model for an exhibition, but the biennale is not only the exhibition that people see. There are other things, like the section that we curated with the invited independent art spaces, the mediation programs put together by the team of Art Encounters Foundation, the editing of the catalog, etc. The independent initiatives were very important for us. It was like a statement on our part and on the part of the Foundation to look at the independent art scene as the main platform for young artists, but not exclusively young artists. Given the lack of institutions, we need to admit somehow and to acknowledge that this is the platform that everybody is counting on.

ZsSz-M: Between the first edition and this edition, were the same local art venues involved?

DM: Mostly. In the first edition, a large abandoned military building in the center of the city, which hosted the section of invited galleries, was a highlight for the local public, who had often passed by it but had never known what was inside. For this edition, we used the tram depot, which is a building that everybody was similarly curious about, but people were never able to go inside. After the biennale, it will be turned into a museum of transportation.

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: The Tram Museum Timisoara). From left to right: Julien Prévieux: Anthologie des regards, 2015 (wood, screens and silk screen coat emulsion dimensions variable); Zbigniew Libera: Lego. Concentration Camp, 1999 (inkjet print on paper). Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

ZsSz-M: Is the building of the Urseni Water Plant similar?

DM: Yes, the Urseni Water Plant building is also something that everybody knows of. In fact, it was called the UFO because of its shape. It was built by the architect László Székely, who designed many of the buildings in Timișoara. Another building that everybody knows about, but which is not well known on the inside is the Cigarette Factory, in which the exhibition of the B5 Studio from Târgu Mureș is on view. They were lucky to connect with an organization Misc, that refurbished a small part of this large building and gave this space to B5 for this exhibition.

ZsSz-M: You wrote your doctorate on biennials. Are you a staunch supporter of the genre, or do you want to change it?

DM: I think I understand the role of biennials very well from the perspective of a peripheral art scene, and in this sense, the biennials can be a good instrument to raise awareness of what is going on in a certain place and who we are. Otherwise, biennials come in many shapes and sizes. What I think is important is to reconsider the model every time you do it, not to take it as it is. Massimiliano Gioni wrote a text entitled In Defense of Biennials on the question of whether or not the biennial is still a good model, and he said that somehow it is up to every curator to make it work and rethink it in terms of continuity and also somehow originality and discontinuity with the past. You have to be aware of its history, but you also have to reconsider it for the future. Because the moment the biennial becomes a model or a recipe, it can no longer be a powerful instrument in terms of reconsidering both the past and the urgencies of the present.

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: The Tram Museum Timisoara). From left to right: Crisitna David: The Real Reason of the Migration of People in Europe to West, 2006 (video, mini DV, 1 min. 58 sec.); Szilárd Miklós: Freelancers Space Station, 2017, objects (acetofan, adhesive, pigments), installation, paintings by Hans Mattis-Teutsch. Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

ZsSz-M: What were the challenges for this biennial?

DM: Because it is such an ambitious project, it is always challenging to implement it and to find a way to do it delicately in a city in which, in recent years, there were not many private initiatives of this kind. Timișoara is mostly known for its experimental vibe in the 1980s and 1990s, but afterwards, there came a period in which people didn’t get terribly involved. In the 1990s, for example, you had the Zona Festival, curated by Ileana Pintilie. But somehow this context of experimentation has been less visible in recent years. Many people have left, though there were a few initiatives which were important in my view, like TamTam and Balamuc and others. For the city, I think it’s important that innovation come from independent or private initiatives, and that we not rely only on and not expect things to happen entirely from the promptings of institutions, because that will never happen. It was also a challenge to bring together all the parties and to find a way to connect with the younger generation, because there is also a focus on the generation which is now about thirty years-old, with international artists, with older artists; I think it was a nice combination. We took research trips to familiarize ourselves better not just with the Romanian scene, but also the Serbian scene. This connection was another point we wanted to emphasize, in part because of the geographic proximity. It’s bizarre how we are so close and yet we have such few connections.

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: The Tram Museum Timisoara). Miklósi Dénes: Noi am văzut [We’ve seen], 2016 (inkjet double side print, 236 × 430 cm). Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

ZsSz-M: Were the private initiatives that you mentioned all non-profit?

DM: In the section of the invited independent initiatives, yes, all of them are non-profit organizations. There are several examples of such endeavors in our selection from all over the country (B5 Studio, Citi Zenit, Lateral ArtSpace, MAGMA, pplus4, Raft, Sandwich, Tranzit.ro, Vector) and the aforementioned Balamuc or Simultan, which has been organizing a video festival for the past eleven years. The biennale itself is a different type of private initiative belonging to Ovidiu Şandor, who is an art collector and a businessman. You don’t find many people who have the ambition to do this on such a large scale.

ZsSz-M: And the non-profit organizations you mentioned apply for state funding?

DM: Yes, every year. But not only for state funding, they apply for different types of funding as well, which gives them a permanent feeling of uncertainty.

ZsSz-M: There are art historical displays and there are contemporary artworks, some by foreign artists, some that I have seen in other places. And then there are works made specifically for this exhibition, some of which are site-specific. In your selection process, was your approach dominated by working with artists or artworks?

DM: Both, I would say, we had in mind artists whom we knew we wanted to include from the outset, because we knew that they would be able to respond well to the theme or could relate well to what we had in mind, but we also saw some artworks that we thought were good for this exhibition. This process of producing new works was also very important, and we were lucky with the foundation who helped to make this possible.

ZsSz-M: About how many artists made something specific for this exhibition?

DM: I think about forty of them.

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: The Tram Museum Timisoara). From left to right: Zbigniew Libera: Lego. Concentration Camp, 1999 (inkjet print on paper); Lea Rasovszky: SOFT WAR (Bubble Gun of Sweet Surrender), object / installation, inflatable structure (600 × 350 × 250 cm). Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

ZsSz-M: With regards to the historical sections, did you approach the selection and the display as an art historian or a curator? How important was it to you that history and context be communicated to the viewer? Are you reconstructing a puzzle, like in Perec’s novel, for the viewer?

DM: I think we wanted somehow to reconstruct a puzzle, but it’s a very subjective puzzle. I think that perhaps it wasn’t enough time to invest in a historical documentary exhibition with dates and contexts. I saw recently at the Pompidou that they have this ‘exposition dossier’ in which they have inserted historical, social, and political data into the permanent display, and it’s really interesting because this information is somehow parallel to what you see, the insertions are not intrusive, but they are there, so you make your puzzle. This is something that I really liked, but we didn’t do that here, we wanted to focus on artworks and have the manner of display be more about the concept. I think that from the atmosphere and the red line we have going through all the exhibitions you can also sense what was happening at the same time, and you can connect things and put together your own puzzle. One invited curator, Magda Radu, part of Salonul de proiecte in Bucharest, had a more historical approach because she came with an exhibition for which she has been pursuing research for years – Beyond the Concept Frontier. Our exhibitions at the Art Museum focused on the 1970s as a period of experimental art: Re-enactments. 5 artists from Timișoara, Decebal Scriba & Serge Spitzer – 40 years after, and The Historical Avant-garde and the art of ping-pong.

ZsSz-M: Perec’s novel Life’s a User’s Manual is based on complex plan of writing constraints which basically determine the structure of the novel. How is this idea of restraints reflected in your approach to the structure of the exhibition?

DM: It wasn’t so much about constraints. We mostly wanted to have some point that can be perceived in parallel in a narrative sense. These sub-chapters are not really related as a story, it is more about layers. Layers that you can see in everyday life, layers that are not too present in the public discourse, they are inherent, but not talked about much.

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: The Tram Museum Timisoara). Foreground: Sándor Bartha: March for a New Identity, 2017 (installation, different objects); Julien Prévieux: Le lotissement, 2008, MDF, acrylic paint approximately 250 × 200 × 150 cm each. Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

ZsSz-M: One more question about the relationship to the novel. In the novel, the main character, Bartlebooth, paints watercolors of ports, which he sends to someone who makes them into puzzles which become increasingly complex with time. Are these exhibitions puzzles through which the visitors can revisit a space and time?

DM: They could also be looked at like that. They are puzzles to which I think visitors can relate very easily, and in this sense, it is not a very complicated puzzle. In this sense, it is different from George Perec’s novel, in which everything is very mathematical and complicated. Here, I think it is very easy for people to create a connection with what they see. From the outset, we wanted this exhibition not to be very cryptic. Even in the case of works that are more complex and require texts if you want to comprehend them better, you still have the feeling that they address something that concerns us all. Because sometimes when you go to exhibitions of contemporary art you tend to isolate yourself in a bubble with your own thoughts and ideas and artists and not consider the impact that your work might have.

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: The Tram Museum Timisoara). Foreground: Mircea Suciu: Color Palette (2), 2017 (oil, acrylic, monoprint); Ioana Bătrânu: Melancholic Interior, 2012 (acrylic on canvas). Background: Michel Blazy: Fontaine de mousse, 2007–2017. Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

ZsSz-M: What would you like to remain once the biennale is over? You mentioned that certain buildings will be more central to the cultural scene of this town. What do you hope the impact of the biennial will be?

DM: I think that it is very hard to measure the impact. I was talking to someone who asked me about the public educational program, which is something that the biennale had in mind from the very beginning. The art mediation program and children going to see the exhibition are all very important, but you can’t measure the impact, because the public about which we are speaking is very unpredictable. It’s not easy to see how your work impacts somebody. I think the main thing we want to remain is the possibility of people being involved in the future of the biennale, people who are now probably very young, but who went to see the biennale and who can participate in future incarnations. And as a structure, the biennale hopefully in the future will create more network points, more connections to other institutions in Romania and abroad. And with Serbia, for example, it would be nice to have a permanent exchange. With Arad as well. Different cities and different institutions, because now it was about us inviting artists and doing research, it was a more personal view.

ZsSz-M: What are your plans for the future?

DM: I am not sure yet. I will eventually go back to Cluj and then to Bucharest. I am working on a project in Cluj preparing an exhibition for Cristian Rusu and Michael Takeo Magruder, an American-born English artist. They come from different areas: Cristi is interested in researching space and architecture and transforming spaces, while Michael in into virtual reality and digital art. Together they will try to recreate a gallery space while thinking about monumentality within the gallery space as an experience for somebody who enters it.

ZsSz-M: Thank you very much for your time and for sharing your ideas and perspectives.

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: Isho House). Smaranda Ursuleanu: Vulvatic Wallpaper, 2017 (body printing, acrylic on paper). Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: Isho House). From left to right: Pavel Brăila: Pickled Story, 2017, installation (shelf with homemade preserves, pickled vegetables, dimensions variable); Bartha Sándor: March for a New Identity, 2017 (installation); Olivia Mihălțianu: Trousse Beauté, 2009, light-boxes (cardboard, compact light tube, digital print); Mary Reid Kelley: Pasiphae’s Liquor Cabinet, 2014 (liquor and pill bottles, paint, sculpey compound, glass, wood. Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: Isho House). Olivia Mihălțianu: Trousse Beauté, 2009, light-boxes (cardboard, compact light tube, digital print). Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: Isho House). Cătălina Nistor: Supervised rooms, 2017, wall drawing. Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: Isho House). Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: Isho House). Pusha Petrov: Marsupium à main, 2010, series of photographs (digital print mounted on 3 mm aluminium dibond). Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: Isho House). From left to right: Nona Inescu: A fuzzy feeling (room divider), 2016 (wooden frame, archival print on Hahnemuhle paper); Pusha Petrov: Marsupium à main, 2010, series of photographs (digital print mounted on 3 mm aluminium dibond). Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: Timco Hall). Lena Henke: First Ladies, (Michelle Obama, Patrizia D’Addario, Carla Bruni, Metriban Aliyeva, Miyuki Hatoyama, Anne Mette Rasmussen, Sizakele Khumalo, Nompumelelo Ntuli, Tobeka Madiba), 2009 (wood, tables, mixed media). Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

Exhibition view Life a User’s Manual (venue: Timco Hall). Flaka Haliti: Thendive, Grace, Rishika, Lefa, Kaden, Victoria, Nadia, Leo, Cyril, Mrs. Faye, Malrar, Josias, Ojas, Philip, Ernest, Ziyanda, Ledri, Amadou, Bayanda, Julien Sochima, Edgar, Daniel, Tshego, Nihal, Oyane, Ms. Dagrou, Anna, Abigail, Quentin, 2015–2016, installation (metal, sand, plastic, dimensions variable. Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa

Exhibition view Beyond the Concept Frontier. Artists: Horia Bernea, Roman Cotoșman, Ion Grigorescu, Pavel Ilie, Julian Mereuță, Paul Neagu, Eugenia Pop, Decebal Scriba. Curator: Magda Radu. Exhibition design: skaarchitects. Photo credits: Art Encounters | Photo by Ovidiu Micşa