My visit to Chisinau directly coincided with Tatiana Fiodorova’s trip to Minsk, so I caught up with her on Skype after my return.
Tatiana works as a photographer, multi-media and performance artist. Much of her work has to do with her own identity as a citizen of the Republic of Moldova, as well as the place and status of herself and her country in the world. In 2009, she applied for a visa to the UK, and was rejected, with no reason given. In response to this, the following year, she did a performance where she painted her body black – representing herself as a slave, or person without rights, in the context of Europe and the European Union. Entitled I Go, the piece involved the artist walking around Chisinau with her face and arms painted black, carrying a plastic plaid shopping bag, often associated with migrants or people from less “affluent geographies”; but this shopping bag was blue plaid with a circle of gold stars on it, representing the EU flag. She visited with Brancusi Exhibition Hall, a café, and even an event entitled Flow (Festival for Conversation for Culture and Science), where she met the mayor of Chisinau and had her photo taken with him. She recreated the performance in several other cities, without the black paint. These performances featured the “EU shopping bag,” photographed in various locations across Europe: Bucharest, Prague, Krakow, Brussels, Paris, and Amsterdam.
These iconic bags reappear throughout her work. She has covered public city benches with them, and redesigned them, to give them a more aesthetic appeal, by placing images on the face of them. She has even recreated Marina Abramovic’s 1975 performance, Art Must be Beautiful, Artist Must be Beautiful; entitling hers The World is Dirty, the Artist Must be Dirty (2012). Dressed in black, and seated in a small space covered with her plaid bags, the artist sits down, takes a jar out of her shopping bag, and proceeds to cover her exposed skin with black paint, chanting the words “the world is dirty, the artist must be dirty,” just as Abramovic did as she brushed her hair. The artist associates her position as a citizen of a post-Soviet Republic of the former Soviet Union as having inferior status in the rest of Europe, an attitude that is reflected in the mass media and official rhetoric, which often spreads fear and hate regarding a suspected mass influx of “Eastern Europeans” coming to the West to work, take advantage of the benefits systems, and overstay their visas. But the performance is not just about the position of a “dirty” outsider, it is also about art, because the artist feels that art should not simply be about creating beautiful images. Rather, it should deal with conceptual issues and problems in contemporary society.
In addition to the plastic bags, another material that the artist has employed frequently in her work is toilet paper. While on a residency in Prague, she made a survey of museums, and compared the cost of the entry ticket of each to the respective quality of the toilet paper in each institution. She then performed Something About Toilet Paper (2012) on the banks of the Vltava River, where she became the roll of toilet paper herself, with the paper wrapped around her body. Toilet paper (and its varying qualities) is not only something associated with the deficit and quality of material goods in Eastern Europe. She also uses it as an analogy for her position in the art world in Moldova. For example, after graduating from university with a Master’s degree, she can only earn a very small salary as an art teacher, because the state gives little support to the arts. Consequently, she feels like a roll of toilet paper, in the eyes of her society.
In Moldavian Land, a series of photographs and videos from 2009-2011, the artist attempts to show the spaces of transition across the country. She focuses on transportation and “places of leaving,” which she says are representative of this transition. Moving from trolley bus stations and bus stations, and eventually to the airport, she demonstrates the manner in which the inhabitants of the nation, eager to find their place in the world – whether in Russia, Romania, or elsewhere in Western Europe – are looking beyond the borders of Moldova to find a space for themselves.
It is not just citizens that are attempting to find a place in the world. Moldova’s art scene is also often marginalized, even within discussions about Eastern Europe [see Pavel Braila and Manuel Raeder’s poster Probably Moldova Doesn’t Exist]. A presence at the Venice Biennale is desirable, and many countries from Eastern Europe struggle to exhibit there. Bulgaria didn’t send any artists for several years, nor did Albania – and artists from both countries created works of art in response to this (Nedko Solakov and Sislej Xhafa, respectively). Tatiana created her own intervention as well, in reaction to the situation when in 2011, a group of wealthy amateur artists financed their own Moldovan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The artists claimed to represent Moldovan contemporary art, but what they presented was rather traditional. So Tatiana created her own intervention, by designing and printing a series of t-shirts with the words “Artist Without Pavilion.”
In addition to bags and toilet paper, the artist has also examined the world of clothing and fashion as an identifier. In the video performance European Clothing, the artist travels through Chisinau to the market, where she tries to buy “European” clothing so that she can fit in in “Western” society. Underneath her clothing, however, she wears old Soviet unisex underwear. While she may be able to change her outward appearance to become “Western,” she will always have her Eastern origins beneath the surface. A similar sentiment can be seen in the performance Star (2012), where the artist models clothing from the “Red Star” clothing factory, where her mother used to work, during the Soviet era. She then attempts to make an EU flag using material from the factory, fabricating a European Union flag with materials made in the Soviet Union.
The artist told me that she sees Moldova as somehow caught in the middle between East and West. She said that Moldovans want to be European, but they can’t be 100% European. In her work, she uses this liminal position to explore and exploit the nuances of Moldova’s unique position of being in between.