The boundaries of freedom

In this text, we will present two projects we immersed into the logic of the street with a view to explore the memory of communism, our recent past, mechanisms of surveillance and control, the concept of revolution and the boundaries of freedom.
We have always had an interest in the different ways in which the boundaries between art and life can become fluid and permeable, and in the ways to make art as a day-to-day practice. A practice of assumed invisibility, where art is a modest, banal and useful part of day-to-day life. We are interested in being artists in a way which intersperses our gestures with the iridescent nuances of each context, a back-and-forth between art (both as a profession and a state of mind) and day-to-day life. Melting to near invisibility in the tidal flow of the city, or using performative strategies to question the regular and official perceptions of reality.
In the two performances we wish to discuss here, we looked at art as a tactical space, in which critical ideas and attitudes regarding the status quo can be developed and put in practice relatively safely. Safety that is rather illusory, temporary or even abolished in a state of emergency, which is the typical state of capitalism.

December 2014, Timi?oara: We have won!
April 2008, Bucharest: NATO Meeting. D’apres Ion Grigorescu.

In April 2008, while the NATO summit was taking place, a self-organized group rented a large industrial hall in a former factory of Bucharest and used it as a venue for dialogue, film screenings, workshop and, in the opinion of some of the participants, as a possible starting point for a peaceful silent march – in circumstances where any public manifestation, no matter how peaceful, was utterly forbidden in the city during the summit. The context in which these events were planned was a state of emergency, which started a few weeks before the summit. This state was born out of the media campaign which advised against the “dangerous anarchists” who were coming to destroy the city and the image of our country, as well as out of the harassment directed not only at the persons involved in the events, but also their families and friends: phones were tapped and internet activity was monitored by means of a law issued especially for this occasion etc. On the first day of the summit and of the anti-summit activities, special troops invaded the rented space, aggressed some of the participants and picked up everybody present in the rented hall. Later, the police had to release the detainees, due to pressures from human rights organizations and people picketing the police stations – but surveillance and threats from the police continued the duration of the summit, and after. Our contribution to anti-NATO manifestations was canvas bags and t-shirts with short messages reflecting the intrinsic connection between militarization and war, on one hand, and profit and capital, on the other. We prepared these to wear in the street during the summit days. The repression of a very peaceful protest, held so closely within the „cultural” boundaries of the group who organized the anti-NATO space motivated us even more to go for a walk around Bucharest, suddenly transformed into a dangerous and closely-supervised city, where control sheds it’s latent, hidden coat and reveals itself at its highest amplitude. While we walked around sunny Bucharest wearing our clothes inscribed with anti-NATO messages we did window-shopping, we took touristy shots, we tested the limits of democracy.
In 1975, Ion Grigorescu took secret shots of Securitate employees, infiltrated at an electoral rally for Nicolae Ceau?escu [1]. Their disquieting presence is symbolic for the constant surveillance that was such an essential characteristic of the Ceau?escu regime. While we where strolling around Bucharest, we were constantly and explicitly tagged by employees in the information services. They are featured in the photos we took, as anonymously as the agents in Grigorescu’s photos, mixed among the regular passers-by.

Surveillance and control as the main characteristics of the regime before 1989 are also an important argument to legitimise capitalism as the only viable alternative. The ubiquitousness of control, the mix of ridiculous and sinister pervading those days was something that continued to be very poignant to us long after the NATO summit closed; we realised that this image of control that was revealed to us during this experience is something that peaks of the paradigm of freedom of expression in our days: we are tolerated to express ourselves when we are harmless, but this freedom is abolished as soon as it’s necessary. The days of control and hypocrisy portrayed in Ion Grigorescu’s secret snapshots at the Ceau?escu rally did not end with the Revolution of 1989.

In December 2014, we participated in a project [2] which proposed a discussion of the concept of revolution, and the ways in which the Revolution of 1989 is presented in official discourses as a final moment in history. We took the slogan chanted by everyone in December 1989, “We have won!” and by dislocating it into its components, we posed two questions: “who has today?” and “who is feeling defeated today?” (n.b. We used the multiple senses of the two words of the slogan, „Am invins” in Romanian. “Am” means “I have/I own” and ”invins” means both “to win” and “to be defeated.”)
The rupture in the slogan reflects the missing of a brief moment of promise, when the power and solidarity of the ordinary people who took to the streets in 1989 hoping for a better life were sacrificed to the capitalist logic of profit. We expressed this rupture in our itinerary around Timi?oara, carrying banners with the two words, sometimes separated, sometimes re-joined in the rhythm of our walk. We stopped at venues symbolic for those defeated (places representing rights that seemed permanently won before 1989, such as free education and health for all, currently in the process of being lost for all) as well as venues symbolic for the winners of the revolution, those who have (the capital, the Church, the state as an instrument of repression and control). We discussed the whole time with the passers-by about the revolution, which is never over, which must always be re-won.

Notes:
1. Ion Grigorescu, Electoral Meeting, 6th of March 1975, photo series, 1975.
2. The project Hot & cold. Revolution in the present tense, curated by Roxana Roxana Bedrule & Anna Harsanyi, http://caldlarece.net/

Translation from Romanian: Roxana Marin

published in Revista Arta #14-15/2015

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