If you walk around the center of Chisinau, you will come across some of Max Kuzmenko’s public art projects sooner or later. He has redesigned air ducts to appear as subway entrances, and established Monuments to Occidental Aesthetics, which might be mistaken for ordinary trees. The avant-garde is in his blood, as his father, Viktor Kuzmenko, was part of the alternative art group “Phantom,” which was active in Chisnau in the late 1980s. It is one of the earliest examples of experimental art in the country. Max later became part of the group klIZM, a group which was formed in 2005 and whose name is a play on “ism” and clism, another word for an enema.
Much of klIZM’s early activity involved group actions and interventions into the public space, often in response to the local political situation. For example, in 2005, a total of three mayoral elections were held in Chisinau. Each time, citizens refused to vote, so the elections were declared invalid. As a counter-campaign, klIZM attempted to “inject new hope” into the system with their enemas. They ran on the slogan “Happiness with klIZM,” and acted as if they were an independent party. Primarily, they invaded the public space and spoke with people about their political views, asked whether they were happy, and satisfied with their lives under the current government. The following year, they created the action Canned klIZM, where they pretended to suck the information out of peoples’ brains and can it, to preserve it. The artists created an assembly line, where they filled and preserved these jars. They also created a flash mob during which they pretended to be blind, a reference to the manner in which everyday people turn a blind eye to what is going on in society. Mostly, with these actions, the artists were trying to influence debate and create dialogue in the public space.
In 2007 klIZM had an exhibition at the main exhibition hall of the Artist’s Union, the Brancusi Gallery. Entitled “06.02.2007 16:00,” the artists closed off the space of the gallery by covering the exhibition hall with sheets of plastic, leaving only a few feet between the interior wall and the plastic wall. While the visitors expected to see paintings, they presented “nothing,” in an attempt to introduce conceptual art and alternative media into that otherwise traditional space.
Max eventually started on his own independent career as an artist. Continuing with the interventions into public space that he started with klIZM, he created a project based on an urban legend that he remembered from his childhood. A number of bomb shelters exist across the city, the details of which were not well known. The shelters are visible from above ground, where the ventilation shafts surface. Consequently, a number of rumors about the shelters exist, for example, that they are connected by a series of tunnels, tunnels which could possibly also be plan for an unfinished subway system. Max made that legend real by creating signs that would suggest an entrance to the metro, for example, at the doorway of a building that sits nearby the vents. He also created a logo for the metro and placed it atop some of the vents in the city. The intervention is both a play on a popular myth that dates back to the Soviet era, and an attempt to make Chisinau a modern metropolis, complete with its own subway system.
Monument for Occidental Aesthetics is a subtle nod to Duchamp, as well as to the local cultural landscape in Chisinau. Walking through the city’s many public parks, one will inevitably stumble upon a sign that provides information about a particular tree’s genus, species and origin. Max replicated these signs and placed them in front of trees that had their branches removed due to disease. Taking an ordinary tree that no one would really notice, he makes a readymade out of it, by adding the sign.
The artist’s local interventions into public space respond to local circumstances in the language of contemporary art, ultimately placing Moldovan art on the global scene.