Paradise Garaj was a project that came from a similar impetus as the hijacking activities of Post-Spectacle and Presidential Candidate. On one level, the artists created an artist-run gallery space in Bucharest, where exhibition space is at a premium, but they also used this initiative to implicate the art world, art market, mass media and local entrepreneurs interested in using art as a spectacle and for capital gain. At first, the artists rented a garage in downtown Bucharest, but after they lost it, they started “borrowing” garages from wealthy patrons, eager to augment their wealth by buying into the contemporary art scene. They would invent curators, create false CVs, and inflate the market value of art works, all to mess with the system, in order to call it into question. Their aim, they say, is not to trick people, but ask them to question things that they would normally take for granted.
A similar approach can be seen in Stefan’s intervention at the Presidential Candidate’s Post-Spectacle at the Mall, which took place on the one-year anniversary of the opening of the largest shopping mall in Southeastern Europe, AFI Palace – which happened to coincide with the Romanian National Day, on December 1st. As Stefan said, by hijacking this event, they could “get two for one.” The action was led by Ion Demetrescu, who contacted the organizers of the celebration, presenting them with false credentials and talents, in the form of Youtube videos, demonstrating the type of display that the artists would present (the videos weren’t even of the artists in question). The organizers took them at their word, and allowed them to do what they wanted, because they couldn’t actually pay them. For his part, Stefan played the role of a history teacher, and gave a speech about the history of totalitarian architecture. One would hope that those present would draw parallels between the architecture not only of the building they were presently occupying, but also of their city. But most people, not surprisingly, went on with their business of enjoying the spectacle of the shopping mall experience.
Stefan told me about the development of contemporary art and performance art in Romania, after the fall of communism. He talked about the connection between experimental art and the club scene, where people started doing performances in the 1990s. The Soros Center for Contemporary Art, which was one of the few institutions available for the promotion of contemporary art in the immediate post-communist period, was located next to the Amsterdam Café, a club that had a space for video art in the basement. At the time, people were trying to find alternatives to the Soros Center, which many came to view as yet another institution – constraining, restrictive, and prescriptive [this is not dissimilar to the situation in many post-communist countries, where the Soros Center came to have a monopoly on contemporary art practice.] The Amsterdam café quickly became a venue for experimental art events and actions.
In those early days, it was very easy to fake one’s credentials and push one’s way into situations that they otherwise might not have gained access to by going through the proper channels. At the same time, a lot of artists discovered that they could earn more money and be more successful through graphic design and advertising, so many “sold out” for commercial reasons. These artists use the techniques of the former to criticize the commercialism of the latter, which is merely a symptom of today’s art market in general. Finally, the artists told me about the “original” hijackers on the Bucharest art scene, the biscotar, or “biscuit eaters,” who would show up at exhibition openings just for the food – to eat cookies and consume the refreshments on offer.
The artists see these alternative methods as having greater potential to shake things up, from the average citizens dulled by the monotony of their everyday lives, to the art market, which is fueled by greed and consumer capital. And to accomplish this, they are not afraid to use any means possible.