Anca Benera & Arnold Estfan

Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan are partners in both art and life. Although both were born in Romania, she is Romanian, and he is Hungarian, and for the first three years that they knew each other they communicated only by mail art, and only through objects and images. For example, they sent bits of clothing, and pieces of artworks to one another.

One of their first performances deals directly with this issue of cultural difference. In Pacta sunt servanda [Agreements must be Kept] (2011-2012), the two read aloud from textbooks from their respective schools, one in Romanian, one in Hungarian. The two texts tell different stories of historical events, and in the performance, the artists focus on three chapters in particular: The 1848 Revolution, the Treaty of Trianon (1920), and the Vienna Dictate (1940). For example, in the Treaty of Trianon, which divided the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hungary lost Transylvania to Romania. Each side, in these respective histories, will paint itself as the victor or victim, when favorable. Because the artists are both reading simultaneously, it is not possible to listen to both stories at the same time, so you have to choose one – a neat metaphor for geo-political conflict in anywhere at any time.

Another performance, jus soli (2013), is an attempt to unravel the complexity of national identity, by literally unraveling the flags of their native Romania, as well as their respective ethnicities. The long and painstaking process, which took several days, resulted in a ball of thread with no identifiable features according to national or ethnic lines. Instead of placing national identity on a pedestal, as is often practiced in inter-ethnic or international conflicts, the two demystify the concept, unspinning the tightly wound belief systems.

The artists are not only interested in national cultural identity and difference, but also historical bilateral agreements. They take entire nations to task, jarring collective memory. For example, their Due Diligence Report (2013) they expose the debt owed by Germany to Romania (18.8 million Euros) from World War II, and present it as an opportunity for investment. 4.9 Grams (2013) is a gold coin that the artists received from a private Russian citizen, representative of the 93.4 tons of gold that Russia hid for Romania in 1916-1917, when the Central Powers occupied the country. The coin represents the amount of gold that each Romanian citizen would receive if the 93.4 tons of gold were returned to the nation.

As artists, as well, they are aware of both the time and money spent with regard to their work. I Work, Therefore I am Not (2012-present) is an ongoing processual work and multi-media installation. The artists record the movements of their hands on the computer mouse. Working day jobs to support their artistic pursuits, each swipe and click of the mouse represents time that they cannot spend working on their art. Compensation for the Lack of Resources (2013) presents similar graphic data, this time of money earned by the artists from Austrian cultural institutes – represented by the documentation of their payment, crumpled into a ball. Below the ball, which hangs on the wall, is a decimal figure that shows the percentage of their income in comparison to the annual profits of the oil and gas company OMV from their pursuits in Romania during that same year.

Anca and Arnold’s work presents sensitive and intelligent analyses of current cultural and political situations and events. In addition to their performance pieces, they also organize tours and public discussions and debates. Their work is didactic and participatory, and I imagine that as a result, all those who come into contact with it are not only pushed to think about situations that they take for granted, but also might come to shift their perceptions as well.