Iași, Romania

Periferic 7/Focusing Iași: Biennial for Contemporary Art

Various Venues

Periphery and center are related terms subject to constant change. As common as this observation may be in the face of shifting political and cultural cartographies around the world, it is still relevant to the hierarchy of what captures our attention and what does not. The title “Periferic 7” plays on the geographical location of the exhibition area in northeast Romania, an area peripheral to Europe; the subtitle, “Focusing Iași,” reverses the line of vision. According to Matei Bejenaru, the director of “Periferic 7,” “the city of Iași will shortly become an outpost of the Eastern frontier of the larger European Union,” thus gaining geopolitical importance. Bejenaru is hoping that, for this very reason, Iași might become a regional cultural center.

Initially created in 1997 as a regional performance festival, Periferic was relaunched in 2001 as an international exhibition of contemporary art, a concept that this year’s version expands. Three exhibitions at different locations in the city, each with publications of its own, focused on the economic, social, political, and cultural contexts of both Iași and post-socialist Romania in terms of proximity and distance. With her exhibition title “Strategies of Learning,” French curator Florence Derieux approached a periphery unknown to her, asking herself and the invited artists what kinds of connections with other realities can be created in a thematic exhibition. This consideration was not always manifest in the artists’ works, though that has not proven detrimental to their quality. In addition to the work of younger artists—for example, Sandy Amero’s searching cinematic approach to everyday life in Romania (Waiting Time/Romania, 2001) or Latifa Echakhch’s spacious linocut on the underrepresented Romanian avant-garde of the period from 1920 to 1940 (Untitled [Les Etrangers], 2006)—Derieux also showed Videograms of a Revolution, 1992, Andrei Ujică and Harun Farocki’s brilliant media analysis of the events of 1989 in Timișoara and Bucharest that led to the fall of the Ceaușescu regime.

In their section in Iași’s historic Turkish Bath, Marius Babias and Angelika Nollert focused on “Social Processes.” While some of the artists developed new works on site, others added a site-specific aspect to existing artistic concepts. Along these lines, John Miller continued his series “Middle of the Day,” 1994–, a photographic documentation of the hours between 12:00 noon and 2:00 P.M. as a system-immanent contradiction to the capitalist idea of using time efficiently; Luchezar Boyadjiev made Iași a part of his subjective photographic mapping of “neocapitalist” cities like Sofia and Budapest, installations containing handwritten comments that open up like a book on the walls of the exhibition space (Defragmenting Iași, 2006).

In the section he curated, Attila Tordai-S., who lives in Cluj, chose to approach the present situation in Romania by considering it from the perspective of children. “Why Children?” delved into the question of the future of Romanian society, which, by trying to become a “‘grownup’ member of modern Europe,” has lost sight of the “social cost and consequences of this aggressive marketing” and is surrendering to social and cultural neglect. The exhibition, accompanied by a discussion program, successfully managed several changes of perspective, as Katya Sander reflects in her poster series on the relation between media-conveyed self-perception, attention, and the public; Elke Marhöfer circles around the relationship between individual values and the desire for economic prosperity in her video nimic / mai curind (nowt / sooner), 2006, taking as an example a group of children and teenagers; and Ciprian Mureşan, in his video installation Rhinoceros, 2006, has students read an adaptation of Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist play of 1959, which presents a very beautiful, comical dismantlement of the assumed rationality of everyday speech, invalidating the center from the margins of language.

Astrid Wege

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.