ZUZANA ŠTEFKOVÁ: Could you describe the genesis of your work for the Romanian Pavilion? What was it like collaborating with Ion Grigorescu?
ANETTA MONA CHIŞA & LUCIA TKÁČOVÁ: The invitation to the Romanian Pavilion was a surprise for us. Before that, we did not even know Mr. Barak, Mrs. Rus Bojan or Ion Grigorescu, and we were certainly not expecting the offer. I think the curators approached us because they wanted to contrast Grigorescu’s work with a different generation and different artistic approach, to create a compelling counterpart to his work. We found the combination exciting, because even though we come from different generations and have to deal with different traumas and life experiences, we feel that we have common ground with Grigorescu. For us, Grigorescu represents something like a living chronicle and the perfect embodiment of a contemporary saint. We admire his ability to remain detached from the trivial aspects of worldly passions and expectations while at the same time being able to reflect the world in its essence. He’s a sophisticated artist, a free thinker, one of a kind.
Our work overlaps in the way that we use our bodies, in the performance aspect, and the fact that in both cases the core of our work is driven by the idea of freedom and the desire to change the world through changing ourselves. Aside from these similarities, there are of course also enormous differences between us. We are more extroverted and attracted by the conceptual school, our works can be read individually, each piece by itself; they have a low threshold and are easily accessible. On the other hand, to truly comprehend Grigorescu’s things you need a comprehensive understanding of his personality and his work, deep reading, and an eye capable of “high resolution”.
Since the entire presentation in the pavilion was conceived, produced and architecturally managed by the curatorial team, we paradoxically did not have any direct collaboration with Grigorescu until the exhibit was installed. To this day, we are in complete awe of how accommodating, active and flexiblehewas,andwhatenormous support he gave our joint project.
ZŠ: What’s your opinion on the curatorial concept expressed through the title Performing History? What exactly do these words evoke in relation to your own work?
AMC & LT: The curatorial concept was exciting for us precisely because of the parallels between our work and Grigorescu’s. We think that at first glance our works are so incompatible that such a wild combination gives rise to an erotic and even dialectical synthesis. Grigorescu presents history written into his own life and body, while we deal with history in distilled form, through remnants, sediment, atavisms.
For us, Performing History is an attempt to fail again and better, to diagnose the roots of the past in the future; it is memory without history, divination from Capital, it is beginning from the beginning, taking off the habit, it is hot air about politics, a pyramid of capitalism built upon people, it is converting to Islam, listening to gossip, deciding to burn your favorite book, never using proper English grammar, counting all the clauses of the Constitution, having the courage to purposely look like a cheap East European whore, it is football with skulls, prostitutes wearing folk costumes on the toilet, advice for young girls to get ahead in the world, and anti-wrinkle cream.
ZŠ: What was the point of your intervention in the exhibit? Did you achieve what you wanted?
AMC & LT: We feel that in the whirlwind of organizational, production, coordination and administrative activities, people gradually lost sight of the exhibit itself, its ultimate presentation and appearance. The final arrangement was both a surprise and a disappointment for us – we were shocked by the anemic assemblage driven by mercantile thinking. Neither we nor Grigorescu could identify with the outcome, a timid and conventional presentation, incapable of transcending the limits of a commercial exhibition and fulfilling its inner potential. It angered us, as if some insensitive alteration and random installation had maimed Grigorescu’s work, as if some overdubbed curatorial language had stripped it of its layers of meaning and subtlety. We were sad that we were going to miss this opportunity to combine our work with his, that it would just be an empty dream.
We’re used to thinking about exhibits comprehensively, approaching them holistically as living organisms. We expected such a strong and precisely formulated concept as Performing History to spill over into the final presentation.
Our “rampage” and that of Grigorescu was driven by the need to express our disapproval of how the exhibit in the Romanian Pavilion was installed. Spray painting the pavilion was our attempt at confirmingthe sovereignty of the artist’s freedom, which remains an unpredictable being, an unconquerable force, which tramples upon convenient social arrangements at the expense of cheaply bought advantages and fleeting praise. We did it because we believe that an exhibit shouldn’t be a booth at a trade fair or an exercise book where all the tried and tested formulas are repeated; it’s not a storefront, a betting office,or a mausoleum; it’s not for sale or some game to gain control over others; it’s not a warehouse or a victim of fashion; it’s not employment, politically correct, obedient, a den of the golden lion or an obligation. And that is why we also believe that an exhibit should be manifest, a white spot on the map, an alchemist’s formula, a battleground, a collective orgasm (instead of masturbation), an unexpected seedling, fearless, a work of art, a time bomb unafraid of its own failure, a book of dreams, and arena of conflict, a Trojan horse in the order of the world, a prophetic moldering, a phantom of Utopia.
ZŠ: When you look back at your installation at the Biennale and compare the results with the pros and cons listed in your work 80:20, were some of the reasons for “participating” fulfilled?In your opinion, what was the final score, and was there any point?
AMC & LT: To criticize the institution from outside reeks of bitterness and envy. To criticize it from within has no effect, for it is cunning and calculating. Precisely this inability to be subversive is what we addressed on the façade of the pavilion, in 80:20. Here, the 80% of reasons to be at the Venice Biennale are confronted with the 20% of reasons not to be there. The tricky bit here is that the reasons “against” being there could also easily be reasons in favor of attending or vice versa. With this public declaration of our dilemma, we wanted to create a sense of solidarity (with those who got into the Biennale as well as those who have never been there), to uncover the bare bones of the power structure, to make a confession without expecting absolution, and lastly, we wanted to provoke this mercantile fossil, endlessly grubbing for more money to keep itself alive.
We weren’t interested in getting even or playing out a scene we had written. Our Venice adventure was very instructive and enlightening for us, while at the same time it confirmed our darkest fears about how the world of art and the people in it really function. The good thing is that we experienced first-hand the allure of great expectations, the sting of competition, and the bitterness of failure. We saw the showy ostentation of the rich and famous, and the cringing desire and envy of the poor and unknown.
The entire Biennale exhibition functions as a magnifying glass, every minor detail takes on monstrous proportions and things that would otherwise be trivial become paramount here. And that is why we decided to intervene in the exhibit, which we really cared about. We are aware of the fact that every protest merely strengthens the institution that is being criticized, and the protest quickly becomes product and spectacle. Protest only has meaning at the moment it takes place. In spite of being aware of the sad and pre-ordained fate of all resistance, at the given time, under the pressure of expectations and responsibility, we felt our gesture was necessary. We wanted to distance ourselves from the finalform of the exhibition, while at the same time regaining our position.
Zuzana Štefková is an art theorist and curator.
Performance of ANETTA MONA CHIŞA & LUCIA TKÁČOVÁ WITH ION GRIGORESCU in the Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2011, video stills, video taken by: Ion Grigorescu.
ANETTA MONA CHIŞA & LUCIA TKÁČOVÁ, Try again. Fail again. Fail better, 2011, HD video installation, Courtesy of the artist and Christine König Galerie, Vienna, photo: Nico Krebs.