The Icon and the Spaces in Between
I like to believe that the artist belongs to the category of those who research. Meaning he is one of the seekers, the explorers. (2META)
Each disruption brings its own malady. Significant political change, but also technological revolution could bring disruption in different fields of life, not only in the economy, but also in a social or cultural way. A sense of displacement inevitably accompanies disruption but that is why disruption is often innovative.
Even if it’s hard to believe, not many individuals are wired for change. It means, those being able to embrace the change, understand how to make it their own, and do not represent the majority. Romelo Pervolovici and Maria Manolescu were visionary enough to grasp and negotiate changes without letting them interfere excessively with their personal artistic rhythms and approach. Their energy and ideas, sublimed in the birth of 2META reflect how the figure of the artist is changing from a form giver to the interpreter of a dynamic reality.
Implementing the new media in their artistic projects, collaborating with technicians (engineers, programmers) rather than opposing the forces of technology is the approach that makes the art of 2META kind of timeless. One of their basic research topics could be summarized in the question, is it possible to find out which visual presentation and dominant representative practices in our fast changing reality could become the pattern for a whole social system? Indeed, what are the sociological and political consequences of today’s culture based progressively on completely non-phenomenal logic of data capturing and accumulation? In the investigation of applying the new technologies and practices, in their relationship to the changing logic of representation, the work of 2META offers a kind of summary on “state of the art”, a panopticon of video works, photography and installations.
In many of their art works, by casting the viewer as co-producer, they abolish the idea of the artist as a creative genius and replace it with the notion of visual researcher. Like in the interactive video installation “I’ve Seen Someone that Wasn’t There”: the theory of visual perception, as well as the relation between an artwork and a viewer were the starting point for serial production of the motive of the “artificial eye”. So the “disembodied eye” or the “pure view” became categories of technical equipment. (photo 1)
The infrared movement cameras were eye-tracking the lab-space visitors who were navigating the penetrating look of technically multiplied pairs of eyes appearing all over the lab walls, turning back to the visitor. The observer was observed, mirrored and controlled by the twinkling eyes of the programmed virtual observer. The presence and absence of the artificial eyes were determined by the irregularity of the movements of the viewers’ eyes and the fluctuation of visitors coming into the lab space. The viewer and observer both became player and playing object. (photo 2)
If we agree that it is desirable to create works rooted in their contexts, then we will be required to start by understanding the local capacities and materials. If we do so, the result may not only be an object that matches the place but a means through which to develop new knowledge in an endless cycle as a renewable resource. In this sense, the work of 2META is a good example, whose starting point was a profound understanding of themes like digital art, new media art, and deep understanding of the specific space. But paying attention to each worlds, even trying to integrate them into one single operation, does not necessarily guarantee a good piece of art. Considering technique only as shaping means brings us closer to engineering practices rather than to the piece of art.
But in case of 2META an additional and most crucial point is brought into technology: the importance of the human soul. Their work could be seen as an attempt to design places for the spirit, and a dimension that is so hard to grasp might explain this. Even though they start from what is already there in place, the way they deal with preexistences is always innovative and new.
During decades, working artists and cultural workers, Pervolovici and Manolescu moved from one difficult time – the dictatorship of Ceausescu – where strict regulations and procedures limited chances for any creative collaborations – to another, the era of transition, difficult in its own way, with rules so unclear, implemented so haphazardly, even avoided. But this unlikely situation unleashed unexpected possibilities. The lack of a predefined set of rules made them flexible and open for learning together, challenging knowledge and local capabilities in real-time, in a relationship of trust that built a shared dream.
Along the way, through mutually stimulating exchanges, they have engaged in a series of personal artistic projects, but also organized in a form of an Art Biennial, which has become quite an impressive story on development and challenges of shaping a society in transition.
Since the European capitals symbolically summarize the civilization that they politically represent, the public space in Bucharest was and is still dotted with monuments of communist nobility, and as a result the 20th century neo-classicist boulevards and symmetry-axis buildings are omnipresent. In parallel, joint ventures and big global concerns also occupied the public space of the Romanian capital by covering the buildings with their advertisements and huge billboards. An environment defining a common space of shared values that is not dependent on the hegemony of any specific ideology or community but is still able to shape a contribution addressing the struggle with the means of art and culture has been one of the most important targets of the 2META work for the Biennials. (photo 3)
It took sophisticated and courageous willpower to understand how the city could be used as part of the solution and not the problem. Once the framework and procedure where set in place, there was conceptual clarity: at the end of the chain, young artist and young art should be the main focus of the Biennial.
The projects in and around the Biennial, in the form of symposiums, workshops and talks have become a shared endeavor – in building the dialogue – and the ongoing reflection on how to make the most out of the circumstances and deal with the huge potential that lies therein. (photo 4)
So what do the decades of continuous work of 2META show us, beyond the visible appearances and forms? I prefer to see their engagement as an invitation to reshape reality; showcasing the power of relying on processes rather than procedures, on journeys rather than destinations, being sensitive to situations and identities; an invitation to play for real, and move, all together, towards a future we want to believe in.
The 2META show us that, even if the permanence is not an affordable condition and even if it affects the daily existence of people and society, this permanence does not really matter, for those who have a vision and their own mission. The temporal landscapes they build interrogate the illusion of permanence and legitimize the simultaneity of both permanent and impermanent configuration of the art and cultural system.
2META demonstrated that there are other resources available that can shape a change and create movement: motivation, organization, even the will to mess things up! It is the kind of rebellion that ultimately reveals the importance of working within a given framework: either you accept it – a condition for any real battle – or you choose to remain in the comfort zone of complaining intellectually and theoretically about the framework and never actually do anything about it. A sculptor in collaboration with a theoretician, changed the framework, removing layer by layer of stone, till the hard rock was cleared away.
The search for a spiritual dimension in the modern tradition tends to be close to an ethereal, abstract minimalism. In the case of 2META it is rather expressive and present, perhaps because the spiritual seems to be something collective rather than individual. The Biennial of Young Artists that they established in 2004 gave form, pride, and presence to artists and cultural workers that have so far operated in an informal, even semi hidden atmosphere. In other words, they defined a new format, that is independent but not for themselves alone. That has been their mission.
The intelligence of 2META projects consists in having balanced the iconic power of the forms with a rather neutral canopy for the spaces in between. Such strategy is not only traceable in their own art but may also serve as important lessons for other cases: escaping from the cliché debate of representative art versus aid-art, their work reminds us that it is possible to be iconic when needed and humble when required.
* It is about the exibition organized at MKL, Kunsthaus, Graz, 2008.