Friday, November 20, 2015
Ordeful, mezanplasul și harneala
Ordeful, mezanplasul și harneala
curator Ioana Marinescu
H'art Gallery, Bucharest, Romania
Nov 20, 2015
photo @ Alexandru Paul
The starter, the spot and the pun
For a long time, revolution was a non-subject in Nicolae Comanescu's art. As an art student, there was no pig, no god damned butterfly and definitely no porn in sight, all things that both he and other Romanian artists strived to check off their list as soon as they graduated. And revolution remained a non-subject for a long time afterwards. He saw it as weird to speak of it in his art, after having yelled in the University Square the evening before, or show how the police had chased him across the streets, on his way to school.
There were plenty of chances for Comanescu Nicolae to protest as an individual. The first of them was in Brasov, in '87. It was the workers' riot from the Tractorul factory. Nicolae had gone to take out the trash, but left with the rioters and only returned late that night. He'd just turned 17 and he'd never seen such a thing, not even in the movies. A sea of people, waving flags and chanting, as if in a football match. At first, that's what he thought, these are people going to a game. But the atmosphere was strange. It didn't seem like an official manifestation, either. The workers were waving communist flags, but didn't have the courage to chant against the Party. They were shouting angrily: 'Down with the thieves!'.
In '89, Comanescu was enrolled in the Army. When the Revolution hit, in December, he was only 2 months away from finishing. In those few days following the state of emergency declaration, a bunch of scenarios went through his head: action, thriller, horror, and I think it all ended with a great mystery. First, the alarms sounded and everyone around him started preparing for a prelude to war. His unit was on the move. Then, they learned that it was an internal riot, and that they could be sent to Timisoara. This was where the horror started: Comanescu pictures himself being sent to shoot civilians. Behind him, there's someone holding a gun to his head, ready to fire if he doesn't obey orders. He says to himself that he will disobey, he'll shoot the bastard behind him and, together with his mates, they will flee to Serbia. The plan doesn't come to fruition, because the orders change, and the civil war is cancelled: they will be digging ditches and fight the terrorists in the airport. For an entire night, he and his troop fire at the fence of the unit. All they can see ahead is a concrete wall. They don't even realise that the ninja-terrorists are also firing. It's only at dawn that they see the bullets lodged in the fir trees behind them. And those rounds look nothing like their standard issue equipment...
During the '90s, Comanescu was on a trip to Moscow. Right when the coup d'etat took place, after wich Boris Yeltsin was sworn in as President of Russia. When the Democrats were preparing to barricade themselves in the Parliament building, he and some other Romanians offered to aid the Resistance. They were politely declined, and were advised to return home without laying their lives down in foreign countries. He didn't even get to see the glorious picture of Yeltsin on a tank.
And all of this because Revolution, no matter which one of them, was never right in front of him, but rather, he was observing it somehow laterally, from a safe spot. Revolution became a subject for Comanescu in front of the TV, away from the square, from contact with the revolutionaries and with the police forces. It happened in 2011, as a reaction to the violent repression of Greek protests. When, among others, a child was killed. Like a seismograph, Comanescu unloaded all of his hatred and frustration in an engraving he only showed his friends. It was the year he was preparing his MNAC exhibition, along with Ruxandra Balaci.
And, still. How do you turn Revolution into a subject? It's one thing to yell at protests, under your hood. To go home and flip out, with your friends on Facebook. And it's an entirely different thing to say it subtly, with pursed lips, on the walls of a gallery show. It won't work. You have to churn and sieve it. And Comanescu concocts a plan: he removes all the police, and protesters and bullies from his mind. And he pours, and pours into his works. He pours colour, more and more colour, less and less drawing. The Revolution is barely visible anymore, and nothing makes sense anymore, to anyone. He tries to take his out of the gallery, and the revolution out of his mind: he takes his pieces off the chassis, and turns the painted canvas into a tablecloth. He rolls up the tablecloth, and takes it to bars and pubs. He wants to know whether the noise and fury that he feels have turned to background music for others. He asks people to put their drinks or food, whichever they please, on the painted canvas. To feel and wrinkle it up, to leave their greases and their oozings on it. So that he's finally free to put it up on a wall without remorse. People quickly catch on to this artistic experiment. Comanescu wants to see it all drip, see the canvas twisted and transformed. Everyone eats properly and carefully. Someone at the bar affectionately wipes the tablecloth, getting rid of the only careless stain. I'm not going to explain where the spot is, what the starter's like, but you get the pun.
The first time I heard the world 'revolution', it was on TV. Back then, in 1989, I was fifteen years old, I was quite well-read for my age, and I'd only encountered dangerous words like 'revolution' or 'genocide' in a few history books. My bad... I only heard about genocide when my dad, who was in Piatra Neamt for the yearly pig sacrificing, called me on the eve of December 20th. 'Don't go out, it's genocide.' What the fuck is that, I thought to myself, and, obviously, went out. Five days I witnessed all sorts of shocking scenes that opened my eyes and awoke my senses. Something changed at that point, I felt it all like I was awakening to a marching band. Everything seemed unreal, because... it WAS unreal. That moment was unique, whoever went through it at that point in their lives is scarred for life. I think back on it marking a generation historically as well, an unique event, irrepeatable, to become unintelligible over time. Allow me to explain. It was a televised revolution. If we were to analyse the event as a media phenomenon, we can tell right away that it is unrivaled. First it had the 'full audience', we were all watching TV, and not the way we watch it nowadays. The sensibility was fresh, we hadn't been exposed to much TV, the 80s on TV had been littered with Communist propaganda. We had two hours each evening with Ceausescu, and Mihaela for the kids. The theatrical feeling was still absent. Now, every time we turn on the TV, along with the lit image, the curtain pulls back. Each of us knows that this is staged, that it's manipulated, that they're selling something, or punishing someone. In 1989 none of this was present, what you saw on TV was what you got, and, moreover, everything was radically changing in real-time. Such a social situation is no longer possible today, when moving pictures pour out of handheld devices, ads are relentless, and direct outdoor socialising has been replaced with online games or impersonal conversations on Facebook. That moment in December 1989 was seemingly conceived by an great ancient playwright. Along with the absence of theatrics and full audience, there was the fight for freedom. I remember, in embarrassment, that I, too, yelled 'Freedom!' as my fists rose up, that such a scream was an orgasmic unloading, guilty and exciting all at once. All of that concluded with a snuff movie. In the end, we killed Ceausescu, almost live, and we all danced like devils, letting out joyous yelps. I remember thinking that, if I'd had a gun, and he was in front of me, I would have executed him without batting an eye. I'm very embarrassed about it now. To sum it all up: we revolted, we all watched reality change live on air, we screamed and sang in city squares, we saw people die, we caught and flash-tried Ceausescu, after which we promptly executed him, we rejoiced, we got drunk, and then, after Christmas, it started snowing. That's how we earned our freedom. And most of those who killed the dictator were the decree kids. It was a liberating paricide. I don't think such a collective performance is possible anywhere in the world anymore. We're demystified, we're all vaccinated, we've seen too much and believe in too little. Today, revolution has become lovolution, collective energy discharge takes place after 18:00, in the Square of the... risk-free, blood-free, I'm cool Revolution.
Nicolae Comanescu was enrolled in the Army during the Revolution. He went through tense moments and was fully immersed in the effects of that great collective performance. All derives from there, the untamed artistic temperament, the artistic rebellion of late '90s Rostopasca group, and all that followed in the 2000s. The need for artistic shock is a red wire, a measure of artistic success. In this current exhibition, Nicolae goes on to chart the possibility of social struggle. On a bunch of tablecloths, he's painted different versions of street fights where the police force imposes order, and the chaotic force of the street induces chaos. The fight isn't, however, between order and chaos, the lines are blurred, everything is shapeless and shown through paint drips that would rather make one think of coupling and fluid exchanges than of two separate blocks facing off. The two forces are, however, in opposition, but influence each other more than they actually collide. It's like a diffuse energy dance, a great cosmic struggle, creating the world of shapes. Nothing is sharp because the fight is no longer as clear-cut as it was in '89. Now we can watch the show, it's become confused but oh so familiar. So familiar, actually, that, when the pieces are used as tablecloths, people keep on consuming, they're happy, eat away without a moment's pause, gracefully integrating them in the daily habits of consumption. The revolution can no longer be televised, because it's already won. It's become a social dance, popular consumption and commercially viable historical fact. Hasta la siempre!