I wasn’t able to meet with Vlad Basalici when I was in Romania, since we had swapped countries for that trip – he was in London, while I was in Bucharest. Following my return I caught up with him on Skype.
Looking over his website before we met, I got the sense that one of the artist’s overriding interests is time. His work explores problems of the notion or perception of time, the relation between the immanent and the imminent, he tells me, or that which exists and that which is about to happen. In Tracing Time, the artist attempts to measure time through various means. During a four and a half hour period, the artist sits at a table. Every minute, he takes a blank piece of paper from one stack, makes a drawing that resembles the hands on the clock face in front of him, and then places the piece of paper atop a second stack. Time is measured by the lines of the clock – both on its face and on the paper – and has a physical presence in the form of the stacks of paper. The viewer can literally see the amount of time that has passed and is yet to come.
In addition to measuring time, the artist has managed to control it, or make it stop. His website firmly declares that he has made the decision that all of his works henceforth would be dated 2012. This poses an interesting conundrum for the art historian, who likes to note and discuss how an artist has evolved over time, but the artist has effectively ‘flattened’ time. He compared this sense of evolution in an artist’s career to “layers…like a piece of ice on water – sometimes they meet, sometimes they don’t.” In this sense, the artist has successfully thwarted the modernist notion of progress, and created his own framework for time.
It is What it Is is an interactive video/performance, where in the first part, the artist gives control over to the audience. Although what the audience sees before them is a video of the artist, they unwittingly control the speed at which it is shown through their subtle reactions to what is going on in the theater. If the audience is bored and shifting in their seats or talking, the video speeds up. The sounds are picked up by a sensitive microphone, which measures both motion and noise. During the second half of the performance, the artist appears live before the audience, and repeats the same actions as in the video. This time, however, the duration is fixed at 45 minutes – “because you can’t change real life,” he told me. The artist discussed the piece as a negotiation, not only between the performer and the viewer, but also among all of the viewers, because the decision or action that one viewer makes – whether conscious or unconscious – affects the experience of the other viewers.
The focus on the viewer and his interaction with other viewers, and with the artwork, can also be seen in the interactive piece The Time (That Will Come). The artist gave a ticking clock, with an alarm that rings, to the viewers in the gallery. He didn’t specifically tell them that they needed to interact, but created a situation where they needed to interact – to know what to do with the box, especially once it started ringing. They had to communicate with one another. The artist has worked with audiences of different sizes, and describes the various dynamics associated with them. For example, in It Is What it Is, the audience was about 16 people, which was a good size, because people are more courageous in a smaller group. However in The Time (That Will Come), the crowd was much larger, which the artist mention leads to both self-censorship and self-surveillance.
Vlad’s background is in philosophy with a focus on aesthetics, but he came to Bucharest in 2006, and eventually started working with the National Dance Center, which is one of the main institutions responsible for the development of contemporary performance art nowadays; in fact, a number of artists discussed on this site emerged from that context. The workshops at the Dance Center were often open to all, and promoted artistic experiment and work that transgressed boundaries between dance and the visual. Vlad’s work is very minimalistic, and the artist has said that he tries to resist over-theorizing, because of his background in philosophy. Rather, his simple minimal gestures convey ideas about complex philosophical problems with an economy of expression.