Postage and Packing Free - David Crowley explore's Dan and Lia Perjovschi's art in its different contexts.
Publication date: 25 April 2012
Hardback 276 x 1219mm full colour
From communist Romania in the 1980s to the white cubes of the international art world today, these artists have maintained a sharply critical and sometimes ironic view of the world in which they live and work. Placing their work in the critical and sardonic tradition of marginalia, Crowley examines the ways in which Dan and Lia Perjovschi draw and write on bodies, on printed matter and institutions.
- Prof. David Crowley is Head of Critical Writing in Art and Design at the Royal College of Art.
- Crowley interprets the extraordinary work of these ground-breaking artists.
- Performances, installations and objects are featured alongside enigmatic timelines and drawings.
Extract from Dan Perjovschi
What is the relation of Dan Perjovschi’s graphic marginalia to the institutions on which they are quite literally inscribed? In many of his cartoons and slogans, Dan Perjovschi reflects on the condition of the museum and gallery in the 21st century, deprecating the commercialism and sponsorship on which these institutions increasingly rely. Like many Eastern European intellectuals, Dan Perjovschi possesses a sharp sense of freedom and so ‘free’ is a word which invariably raises suspicion. The excess and profligacy of the international biennale, a seemingly unending cycle of bonanzas, is ridiculed too (‘DUE TO GLOBAL WARMING THE VENICE BIENNALE WILL BE RELOCATED TO STOCKHOLM’). Curators are identified as minor dictators, in one drawing framing the eyes of a faceless artist. Dan Perjovschi does not exempt himself from his critical pen: the figure of the ‘international artist’ who lives his or her life from a suitcase appears regularly in his cartoon cast. In one image that featured in his 2010 Royal Ontario Museum show, two figures, hands in pockets, exchange small talk. ‘WHAT YOU DID AFTER THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL?’, asks one. ‘BASEL ART FAIR’ replies the other. Positioned next to the text panel describing Dan Perjovschi’s art, this cartoon points to the art world’s keen embrace of the Eastern European artist (as well politics as a commodity in the form of artworks with expensive price tags). In fact, the curatorial statement on the wall nearby begins by describing Dan Perjovschi as “One of Eastern Europe’s most sought-after artists.”
Dan Perjovschi’s wall drawings look unplanned, unfinished and even instinctive (and, as such, a suppression of all that he had learned at the conservative George Enescu University of Art in the 1980s). Occasionally, scratching out ‘errors’ in thick black marks, his lines are quick and bold. He writes in English in hasty capital letters, seemingly with little concern for penmanship. Figures, buildings and actions are reduced to a simple graphic lexicon of silhouettes and loose geometric shapes. National and political symbols are drafted in as graphic ready-mades. His wall drawings are not, however, always as spontaneous as they might seem. While some figures are conjured up on the spot, others are distilled from the sketchbook he always carries with him. Over the years Dan Perjovschi’s sketchbooks function as a kind of archive of ideas, always ready when needed. The same figures and motifs appear in his wall drawings, still resonant 10 years or more after their first appearance. They pass from one context to another. The phrase ‘I AM NOT EXOTIC I AM EXHAUSTED’ often resurfaces, most recently at his show at the Centre for Visual Introspection (CIV) in Bucharest in 2010. Each time it materialises on a wall, it gathers new poignancy.
When commissioned to draw in situ, Dan Perjovschi absorbs himself in the press. This is not just a matter of expediency. When he was commissioned by the Ludwig Museum in Köln in 2005 to fill the white cube of its DC-Room over several weeks, copies of Le Monde, the Guardian, the International Herald Tribune and Newsweek were arranged on tables in the centre of the gallery. In effect, viewers were invited to reflect on the relation between the detailed reports in print and his telegraphic images. (The exhibition extended beyond the walls of the Ludwig when, each week during the exhibition, die tageszeitung printed a visual digest by Dan Perjovschi on current events). One conclusion to be drawn from the comparison is that he is a brilliant visual and textual editor. In English, his word-plays are often as sharp as any newspaper headline and his drawings deliver their message in a few telegraphic lines. These are skills honed over many years. When he joined the team of 22, he was involved in all aspects of the press from layout to proofreading. Established by a group of dissidents and intellectuals called the Group of Social Dialogue, 22 continues to defend freedom of speech and democratic rights in Romania. Loyal to the cause, Dan Perjovschi still sends cartoons to the weekly from around the world today.
Resolutely anti-communist, Dan Perjovschi has, by an accident of history, fulfilled a communist vision of the radical newspaper. After the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, the young Bolshevik state encouraged the production of wall-newspapers or what in Russian are called stengazety. Workers and school children were encouraged to paste up news, and cartoons, to ‘publish’ documentary photographs and commentaries on the transformation of their world. Soviet citizens were, as the Communist Party loudly trumpeted, living through the greatest social transformation in the history of mankind. Their reports, sketches and cartoons were displayed on the streets, in factories and hospitals as well as in schools and apartment blocks in Soviet Russia.
The wall-newspaper was not just a medium for the transmission of ideas: it was, according to its champions, a mechanism for the transformation of consciousness. In recording and reporting their world, not least on the walls of the stengazeta, the new Soviet man and woman would become conscious of their own progressive influence in the world. In other words, they would become real revolutionaries. The efflorescence of proletarian creativity was an illusion: in fact, considerable effort went into providing ‘advice’ about how and what to write for the stengazeta; all material required permission of the communist authorities. Although the wall-newspaper was exported into the newly formed Eastern bloc in the late 1940s, including to Romania, regulation and control eventually did for the format. The wall-newspaper became a moribund relic of revolutionary socialism. By the 1960s, state printers in East Germany were turning out wall-newspaper ‘cut and paste’ kits. Printed reports, logos and stencils turned the act of authorship into one of assemblage (like writing for the official communist press). The events of 1989 in Eastern Europe put an end to the wall-newspaper: in the years since, Dan Perjovschi has restored this low-tech medium, reviving its critical, comic and unruly energy. Preparing ‘The Room Drawing’ at Tate Modern in London in 2006, he took the views of the museum staff, Members and representatives from Tate Modern’s Council. The drawings which filled the Members’ Room – a clubbish space for fee-paying affiliates, open to the public for Dan Perjovschi’s exhibition – incorporated their comments and views of local and international events and ‘personal issues’.
Extract from Lia Perjovschi
Lia Perjovschi’s art has been described as a herculean intellectual effort, the product of hours spent in the library. The spirit behind these projects is not Hercules but Sisyphus. The idea of complete, or universal, knowledge is wrapped in hubris and, in an age wracked with conflicting fundamentalisms and accelerated communication, is destined to fail. This Lia Perjovschi knows well. In fact, she has often exhibited her research as a ‘Knowledge Museum’, an imaginary institution with impressively titled departments (‘The Body’, ‘Art’, ‘Culture’, ‘The Earth’, ‘Knowledge and Education’, ‘The Universe’, and ‘Science’). Lia Perjovschi’s project seems – at least on first impression – to belong to the Enlightenment dream of perfect knowledge. From Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1751-1772) and Paul Otlet’s Mundaneum, an 1895 project to organise all the world’s knowledge into a single indexing system, to Google Book’s Library Project and the Wayback Machine archiving the internet today, Western intellectuals have sought out tools to perfect information. But Lia Perjovschi’s ‘Knowledge Museum’, when exhibited, is strikingly low-key and modest. Her research materials are pinned to the gallery wall or cast on the floor in an unspectacular and seemingly casual fashion. Less a grand project for universal humanity, this is evidently one person’s vision (though she is keen to stress that one day it could be built). As Lia Perjovschi says, “…everyone has a kind of museum in his or her head, a collection of what we like, what we saw, what we read and, in time, can begin to make a selection. This knowledge is the museum.”
One conclusion that could be drawn from Lia Perjovschi’s art is that it forms a kind of closed world in which public knowledge is rendered personal, only meaningful to its diligent archivist. In fact, the reverse is true: in early actions reflecting on the limits of expression in ‘Ceausescu’s Romania’ and in revealing her process of self-education in ‘research files’ like ‘Timeline: Romanian Culture from 500 bc until Today’ (2006), Lia Perjovschi seems to be committed to what Roland Barthes called the “publicity of the private”, i.e. the practice of sharing subjective experiences and views with others. Even when working with systematic ways of organising information like timelines, her own handwriting and other devices emphasise subjectivity and presence and, as such, belong to the conception of performance as testimonial (a crucial tradition in Eastern European art in the 1970s). Moreover, she is committed to a notion of the public as an active and informed social body (a view which, of course, can be contrasted with her anger at the passivity and ignorance imposed on Romanians before 1989). In the early 1990s – little more than months after the Revolution – Dan and Lia Perjovschi opened the Contemporary Art Archive (renamed the Centre for Art Analysis in 2000), an independent institution offering readers access to articles, books, images and other hard-to-come-by materials. It also issued its own publications. Combining both international materials and material dating back to the nonconformist 1980s in Romania, the archive contains rich seams of material for others to create their own subjective histories.