Four snapshots
A text by h.arta with comments by Monica Melin

text written as material for a reading performance in relation to Monica Melin's work Beyond the mission. Postwoman meets h.arta in the frame of the project Consider these policies, WIP: Konsthall, Stockholm, 2008

The Art Academy

To enter:

An essay on the sculptural ensemble of Constantin Brancusi from Targu Jiu, a charcoal study and an oil painting study of a still life.

To exit:

An essay comparing different painting stiles in the XIX-th century (…or was it only a comparison between Realism and Impressionism?), a nude study using a colour contrast at choice and, of course the diploma work that had to be much bigger in size than any of the works done before.

…I remember that I didn´t care about the rules for the applications to enter.. never thought I would enter anyway.., but then, I entered, and it worried me.. the “general” artist identity was not really my bag. Probably things were changing…but 5 years later I was told that some of my student collegues hated my exam work and it didn´t surprise me. /Monica

Between entrance and exit there were five years around which revolved the same ideas. There were six years for the ones that graduated before me, four years for the ones that graduated after me, and starting with the generation that graduates this year, only 3 years, according to the Bologna system. I don’t know if this is good or bad, this shrinking of the years of study, when it comes to Art Academy.

12-13 years ago, when I joined Art Academy, there used to be a limited number of students and the education was free for everyone. Now things are different: there are much more students, but only for a very few of them the education is tax-free. Talking with Monica about this, about the huge number of students, about the education tax and about the difficulties that these students experience after graduation, when they try to find an art-related job, she asked me if art students are generally coming from wealthy families. The truth is that students are part of different social categories and that many of them are not from rich families. How come then that they choose such an insecure profession?

… wonder if the gap between art and the general public there in Timosioara is smaller there than here, I mean since it seams like it’s not only middle- and upper class that are studying art. I doubt, but anyway I have a feeling thatsome of the feministic art here in Sweden, in the latest years, at least has attracted a new group of general public to the Swedish art scene, but maybe it’s only in my mind.../ Monica

Me, I wanted to study something different, something interesting, something that would open up for me more possibilities. But I didn’t know that these possibilities are not so many, that this promised large number of possibilities could equal many times a large number of compromises. You become the specialist in the “beautiful”, and this means that you can give advises in things like what people should wear, how should they decorate their homes or how can a room be adorned for a corporate party. If you want to have a critical discourse and if you are interested in issues that have not much to do with the “beautiful”, this could mean that you failed in your carrier. You should have chosen to study something else. Political sciences, maybe? Philosophy?

During my five years at Art Academy, I have never heard the word “feminism”. I heard many times the word “feminine” instead. It was important to avoid that your work would be labelled as “feminine” even if the majority of the students were girls. We were constantly trying to go beyond our condition of women and to tackle as general and abstract things as possible in our works. Our experiences as women were completely irrelevant. The more “feminine” things could find their place only in the fashion design department and maybe in the art pedagogy department. In my five years of study I don’t remember doing any artwork that would have had a direct connection to my life experience.

Well in Sweden ... to be very personal, for women I mean, is at least more accepted now than 10 years ago, but who knows, have a feeling that it´s more or less “over and done” now… new trends are coming, or what to say.../ Monica

Painting, Graphics, Sculpture, Design, Art Pedagogy, Fashion design- this would be the order of the importance that the different departments have inside the Art Academy. When I was a student, the only women who had the title of professor were the ones that teach at Fashion design department. Of course there were other women working in the Art Academy, but they were only assistants. Meanwhile, things did change. While visiting the Art Academy with Monica and Dan, we had the big surprise to find out that the new dean is a woman from the graphics department, a woman that didn’t had an important position in the school formal and informal hierarchies while we were still students. Maybe things start to change? Can things change only because the dean is a woman? From the discussion that Monica had with the new dean, you could think that there is no problem whatsoever when it comes to the access of women to leading positions in the academy. Apparently the number of women and men professors is equal in the faculty, although of course women are dominating the more “feminine” departments. But still, why isn’t there any gender awareness in the Art Academy? Maybe, the women professors are afraid them too, same as their students, of being labelled as too “feminine”?

…seems similar… being connected with women’s issues sometimes means that someone else defines you as the “weak” or being a” man-hater” or the” less important”… almost somehow to be excluded even before you started. Very tricky… I prefer not saying anything about feminism in advancand not even after if no one asks. Then people get it in their own way, and things are not so clear, but of course both strategies are needed.../Monica

The Union of Visual Artists

“How old were you in 1989?” is a question that I am often asked, same as others from my generation. The end of the communist regime is something that we all feel as a landmark in our private lives, as something splitting our memories into “before” and “after”. In 1989 we were old enough to remember how life was “before” and we were also young enough to be not involved, not marked, not traumatised or not profiting out of the former regime. At least this is how I feel, now, when I am 30 and when my country is completely embracing capitalism, when more and more of the public property is sold out to private investors and when more and more aspects of life are controlled by the rules of the market economy: I feel old enough to remember and young enough to have the energy of taking a critical stance. I /we feel that it is really important to try to explain as clear as possible the complicated relation between our communist past and our (many times) unquestioned capitalist present, and we think that art and culture are an important field for this analysis to happen.

… makes me think about fear and maybe recollections of punishment, like being excluded. If there is something to loose, something that is valuable a radical change could seem like freedom even if you have to grasp it all, and for some it probably is... I keep thinking about the fact and the consequenses of depending on “someone’s” money to “survive”, as an artist …/ Monica

Also, I feel that a special kind of sadness, of diffuse nostalgia for some past that never really happened, some longing to find new meanings to words that were misused, all these are an important part of who I am as a person now, of my interior landscape at this point. I would like to hear people opposing words like “solidarity” and “equality” to words like “competition” and “profit”, even if solidarity and equality have a “communist” ring to them when used in Romania. I would like so much to be able to use sentences like “all people should be equal” without having in my mind the sound of this sentence in official propaganda of the communist times. To see old words and concepts getting new meanings, meanings that would build alternatives to the present mainstream.

It was in the eighties, the beginning of the eighties, when things were changing, though I kept the idea of men and women being equal, for many years. As if my mind was vaccinated. Maybe because of some bad memory or because of very important social services like day-care for children. Or, Why not combined with the mantra: “Sweden, the most equal country in the world”. This “idea” of the Swedish women as equal made those with other experience even bigger losers. Later, in ‘98, my self-picture definitely had changed and also the idea about Sweden. I felt like no one (really) cared about what I did as an art student. Sad but also like a freedom to do what ever...but I sure DID miss the feeling of being equal and I probably had the longing to get it back...But today it is not so bad... or? /Monica

The Union of Visual Artists was created in Romania in 1950. Of course this was long before my birth and also the existence of this Union was completely unknown and irrelevant to me as a kid, before 1989. But the Union of Visual Artists played some important role in my life as a teenager, after 1989, as long as most of my teachers in art high school and most of my professors at Art Academy were its members. The Union of Visual Artists was officially created as an institution to protect the rights of the artists and also to insure the fact that art is available to everybody, that it is not the avatar of an elite but it is created by and for the common people. This was the official image of the Union. In reality the Union of Artists was an instrument by which the totalitarian regime could control art and artists, by which art was emptied by any authenticity and transformed into mere propaganda. Everybody who wanted to be recognized as an artist had to be part of the Union, this was the only way.

… would be great to have something that protects the artists rights, but what are the rights and who shall become or be considered an artist? We don’t have any “real” Union, but some organisations that fight for better circumstances. Sometimes I meet people who think that artists, in general, are paid by the state ...or that I can make a living my artwork...:-) / Monica

In the 1990’s the members of the Union of Visual Artists were still the ones who were constituting the mainstream in visual arts, still being the ones who received most of the state support. But this slowly changed and now the Union of Visual Artists is just some old, dusty institution, not taken seriously anymore, still having in its property some galleries and some artist studios but without any power on the market of ideas. Of course some artists still want to be members (especially because it is easier to get a studio this way), and some influence of this institution still resides in the fact that many of the art teachers and professors are Union members. In the boring, dusty galleries still belonging to the Union (placed in most of the cities in very central locations) they sell paintings of flowers and orthodox icons. The artists that used to paint at the command of the communist party images of workers and peasants joining hands to build a new world are now doing abstract paintings that are adorning the rooms of office buildings and the houses of the new rich.

How come I get the feeling that both rich and “poor” people in Sweden are more interested in decorative art? But I don’t have anything against beauty.../ Monica

It feels a bit strange to talk so much about the Union of Visual Artists when we try to explain some things about the present Romanian art scene. The Union has no role in it anymore, it is associated completely with a traditionalist, old-fashioned art and now the mainstream is contemporary art in Romania. But the Union of Visual Artists is just an example for words and ideas being misused. It happened that when talking to friends from countries outside the former socialist block, to realise that the Union of Artists means for them something valuable, some ideal that was never completely achieved in their countries. And also, if I read some official indications from the 1950’s about how the role of art should be to express the realities of the common people, about art that should be a mirror of everyday life, I realise that exactly these are the things that I myself think that art should be. And when I think about how precarious my life as an artist is, I think that it would be good to be part of an institution that protects my rights and gives me some sort of economical safety. I think about all these knowing that behind the words was never a reality.

Being part of a Union of Women Artists for example, this has a nice ring to it, isn’t it? Unfortunately, only in English…

In Sweden it would probably be considered as a way to confine (marginalize) women and to confirm the man as norm...and I am still waiting for the exhibition where it’s clearly outspoken that there is only men participating... maybe we could be separated, like in sports…, men’s Nobel prize etc. What if my art does not fit in what the women’s art organisations consider quality? / Monica

But, on the other hand, there are always other words to use. “Friendship”, “informal networks”, “non-hierarchical associations” are less ideologized words and more valuable and useful concepts.

Notes on Timisoara’s cultural institutions

Before 1989, when I was still a child, I knew that to oppose power and the social conventions is dangerous, that it can make you loose the chance to a prosperous life. Even if during communist times the wealth was something that you should hide in order to keep up the appearances of an equal society, still back then, same as now, the wealth, power and prestige were the equivalents of a successful life.

Well... it makes me think about my childhood and my fathe. On our house we had another facade towards the street, a more fancy and expensive one… the successful facade to compensate other failures I suppose…/Monica

The totalitarian regime from before 1989 was really efficient in blocking any attempt for alternative discourses. This is still effective when it comes to the ways in which people perceive the public space, the culture, their civic rights and this makes even more easier the installing of the capitalist domination.

Many people don’t have the courage to talk about things that really matter, to act in order to provoke a change. The change is supposed to be something that comes always from above.

...thinking about the revolution this seems a paradox...probably behavior patterns or something?/ Monica

A few months ago, we started to have meetings together with a few other people representing local alternative cultural initiatives. We knew that a building from Timisoara was supposed to be redirectioned to a cultural purpose and we were thinking to write together a plan for a cultural center that would promote contemporary arts and to apply with this plan to the municipality.

In Timisoara there is no cultural center, and, in general, there are only a few cultural institution for a city that has 350.000 inhabitants and it is an important university center. There is a National Theatre, an Art Museum with an improvised collection and an obscure curatorial program, a public gallery that belongs to the Union of Visual Artists and that mostly sells icons and paintings with flowers, a Philharmonic that functions in the concert hall of the Music High School after it was removed from the space of a cinema. Talking of cinemas, from the nine of them that used to exist before 1989, now only three of them are still functioning, and soon two more will be closed. But a big new cinema just opened inside a huge shopping mall. There is also a Youth Center that has no support from the city and has to rent its spaces for weddings and commercial fairs in order to survive and a Student Center whose building will soon be given back to its former owners that lost it during the communist nationalizations.

Certainly all these institutions have their histories of compromises during the changing regimes, so it is not surprising that it is hard to observe a critical discourse coming from inside them.

Culture and art are seen in an apolitical aura and it is considered to be inappropriate and of bad taste to talk about real life problems, about what is personal and political. To be critical is not “beautiful”.

When we started meeting with the people from alternative cultural initiatives and we started gathering ideas for a possible cultural center we had a good feeling at the beginning. Although we were coming from different backgrounds (visual arts, music, theatre) we were all interested in contemporary strategies. We are all representing some sort of “alternative” cultural scene. Everything went more or less well when we discussed formal and practical things. We all agreed that the center should deal with contemporary art and we had more or less the same taste when it comes to form. The problem occurred when we discussed contents. When we brought into the discussion words like “feminism” or “anti-capitalist discourses”, the problems started. Not for all of them, of course, but still it was strange to see how scared some people can be when it comes to things that can seem too “radical”. “You cannot criticize state policies on the municipality’s money,” one of them told us. Even if municipality’s money is actually our tax money? Then, of course, we got stocked in endless discussions about the importance of feminism and of critical discourses and about the necessity of taking risks. The question about what is relevant to be discussed in a public discourse remained open.

Anyway, the municipality decided to give the building in discussion to the National Theatre. This decision had no connection to our plans of a possibly (hopefully) critical space (as long as this plan was never made official) but instead it was determined by an official letter from the Ministry of Culture, letter recommending the Mayor who should get the space.

Notes on time, money, jobs

Since more than a year I don’t have a constant job that I do only for money. I feel very privileged for that. Before, I used to have for almost seven years a boring and tiresome job. Now, although I work a lot, I am living every day as a vacation. Working most of the time on art projects and doing things that are sometimes routine but that are most of the time interesting and challenging, I don’t consider that I am really “working”, even if sometimes I stay in front of my laptop the entire day, even if sometimes I’m too stressed to eat or sleep, even if sometimes I postpone meeting my friends outside the art world for months and months. Still, I feel so lucky because I can do something creative, something for myself.

This is so great to hear! Like dream come through. I remember reading an article about H.arta before going to Timisoara and it was actually written out that they were working only for money at the same time as they did there art. Nothing strange about that, but why is nobody writing about the Swedish artists situation? I mean, more so the general public could read. Maybe beside the presentation of the artists in the exhibitions!!! (Sorry! Only joking). For me, maybe working only for money has become a habit and I don’t know if I can change it! Though working a little bit less would be nice... But how would I finance that?/ Monica

Most of the time I am waiting for something. Waiting for answers from the financers, waiting for the curator’s reaction, waiting to see what will happen the next month. I am getting used to the constant insecurity and I can take it as being an unavoidable aspect of life. I can even take some pleasure out of this feeling of uncertainty, out of this not belonging to any place, not having a clear status. Like a constant travelling to unknown places.

Sometimes I get so frightened about the future, so panicked that so many things in my life are out of my control. But I think most of the people feel like that many times…

Probably I started with art too late so I don’t have the guts to take big economical risks… have always had some fear, or mad fantasy of ending up without a roof over my head, sleeping on a bench… not the best madness for an artist or is it not a madness any longer… in Sweden?/ Monica

One of the questions Monica asked us was about what did we expect during our art academy years that artist life would be like. We discussed for a while about it, about the myths and the silences, about the inadequacy between the image of the artist created in school and the realities of the life as an artist. Our stories were in many aspects similar. Later, I realised that I forgot to tell her about one aspect, or maybe I mentioned it but without explaining more about it. When art and real life as an adult came into discussion, starting with art high school and then continuing during art academy years, motherhood was always brought up as an issue. Although during the period of more than 10 years of being an art student (in high school and in academy) most of my colleagues were girls, still some sort of embarrassment was associated to my being a girl who studies art and wants to become an artist, some feeling that I am in a place that it is not rightfully mine. Sometimes also some sort of shy and uncertain pride that I am overreaching my condition as a woman and I am entering a male territory. I remember long discussions with my best friend from that time, about the fact that all the “geniuses” from art history were male and about the fact that the few women artists that we knew about did not such a great job. I remember my professor from art academy (a men in his sixties) constantly telling us (a class with a majority of girls) that it is a shame for our work and talent that would be wasted in the moment when we will become mothers. I think I was about16 when I “heroically” decided that I would never be a mother because I want to be an artist (I didn’t like small children too much, anyway).

... well when entering as an art student at the age of 36 I didn’t think about that it could be a conflict being an artists and having children... I felt proud being a woman, knowing about the historical male predominance... though our class was a mix, more or less 50/50…half malse, half females. But after I wasn´t the only one that noticed that we were treaded differently…/ Monica

Of course, now, these are stories that I can tell as jokes about the art education I had received. But on the other hand, if I am thinking about the possibility of becoming a mother and remaining an artist, maybe these stories are not that funny anymore, from a reason that has nothing to do with the “geniuses” from the art history. I can assume for myself the economical insecurity, the constant changes, the impossibility to plan ahead, but would I have the possibility and the right to assume all these for another person depending on me?

At this moment I am taking the precarity of my life as an artist as a more or less fair price that I am paying for the pleasure of doing a diverse, creative work, a work that helps me develop as a person. I rarely think about the possibility of having a child, but when I do, I don’t like the feeling that I have to make a choice.

Timisoara and Stockholm
mai 2008

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