This spring, the mailbox at Sandwich – the atypical art space located in the former Combinatul Fondului Plastic*, Bucharest – kept overflowing with envelopes from all over the world. In each envelope, at least one fridge magnet. The postman had a busy time delivering. The name of the space sparked a little joke in him. He’d say: “Here, yet another sandwich for Mr. Dan!” “Sandwiches” sent by prestigious art institutions, museums, galleries, kunstvereins around the globe following his request to be part of World Attractions – the unique, interactive, exhibition that Dan Perjovschi conceived also as a means to bring the art world to Sandwich and, vice versa, to put Sandwich on the map of the international contemporary art. Opened in May 11th, 2017, the exhibition expanded continuously with magnets. Even after the finissage of the exhibition – June 24th, 2017 – the magnets continued arriving. The artist plans to install the project in Sibiu, too.
World Attractions included a special series of magnets dedicated to each of the six projects that has taken place at Sandwich (April 2016 – June 2017). A notable presence was the selection of works-magnets from the “Museum Souvenirs from the Non-existing Museum for Contemporary Art” put together by curator Iara Boubnova from ICA – Sofia Gallery. Amongst the contributors there were major international institutions, such as KIASMA Helsinki, NBK Berlin, Kunsthalle Hamburg, TATE Modern Londra, MoMA New York, Arrow Factory Beijing, Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven, Maxxi Roma, as well as from Romania – Balamuc, Art Encounters, Museum of Art, Satu Mare, to name but a few, and numerous individuals.
Why Sandwich? Why magnets?
I’ve known Alexandru (Alexandru Niculescu, n.b.) for a long time, back to when he was part of the team of Club Electroputere Craiova. Another non-profit! Lia (Lia Perjovschi, n.b.) and I had a project happening there: I drew on the outside wall, she installed the Knowledge Museum inside. And it all turned out excellent. I liked it there and I like it here, at Sandwich, too. The difference is that in Craiova the situation was the opposite: the space was gigantic – an entire house of culture. I admired Alex and his spirit of initiative. You see, for instance, what he did with Romanian Culture Resolution in Leipzig – I almost said resurrection! (he laughs). Oh well, it might as well be resurrection! I think it remains the most di granda exhibition organized abroad in the past 27 years. There have been several others, but not like that – 4 curators, 4 sections and a catalogue of international circulation issued by a German publishing house. So, the Romanian state institutions – whether state-run, or not – have not been capable of something like that. And two dudes from Craiova did it! Pretty cool!
Alex invited me to see Daniela’s swimming-pool (Daniela Pălimariu – Pool Party, June 8th – August 31st, 2016, Sandwich, n.b.), and he also introduced me to Cristian (Cristian Răduță, n.b.). Separate pieces of information merged and I saw something very cool in Sandwich! I want to tie my name to remarkable places and projects, so …
How did the exhibition at Sandwich happen?
Alexandru asked me “How about doing something here, at Sandwich?”. I said “Let’s do!”. In Romania, I have the worst exhibitions – money’s always a problem, that doesn’t work, that can’t be done. The thing is that I know the red-tape horrors museum workers and independent curators experience, I also understand that museums lack funds, etc., and because I also understand why some need my name and why they cannot accommodate my practice, the result is some sort of compromise. What I do naturally and normally, here it becomes impossible: it’s either you can’t draw on the wall, or, if possible, the request is something like “Could you draw the House of People?”
NO! #IwillNotDrawTheHouseofPeople never-ever!
Generally, the proposals are silly, which reveals the superficiality of the Romanian intellectual scene. They do not look at what I do, they just want to “collect” me. Whereas at Sandwich – different story! When they approached me, Sandwich had already had several really good projects. And I look at it as team-work. Now I can assist, help and even finance – I am not sure how next year will be, but now I can.
Yet I am not a builder, I do not construct. So, I said yes, at first, but then, I realized I had zero ideas. It took me about half a year, and the idea popped because of what the site is made of: metal sheet, bro’!
In my case, the beginning is not conceptual – it relates to the context, atmosphere, discussions, an impression, a solution, stuff like that. The metal is what counted! Surely, it crossed my mind to draw with a nail on the metal – to scratch – and I could have easily done that – to please the art critics. But I’d have “occupied” Sandwich, I’d have been too present, and I’d have been included in their future projects. The artists coming next would have had to put up with me. And my artistic practice doesn’t aim at causing discomfort. I do not ask for workers, I install everything myself, I don’t want assistants, insurance, budgets, etc. I assist, help, find solutions. I create different economies.
What will become of the magnets in the exhibition?
Everything evolves – you start something, then times comes to display it for the audience – in a certain formula, then it’ll be uninstalled. I plan on taking this project some place else, too. Next year, it will be in Sibiu – to celebrate Romania’s centennial together with the whole world. I will ask all my friends to participate, not only to the art institutions, as I did for Sandwich. Half of the wall I’ve been drawing in Sibiu since 2010 is made of metal, so it can accommodate magnets. The only problem is to find a formula to protect them. I have no idea how it will be, but “World Attractions” will surely happen in Sibiu, and part of an extended story, most probably.
Sandwich? Lately, there seems to be a rule: if you want to exist on the art scene, you have to do more than art. This requires a big effort. I do not apply for projects. They come to me in such number that I simply cannot deal with all of them. But, generally, artists have to strive extra, up, down, sidewise, all around art to survive and exist as artists. Maybe all this struggle is art, too! Sandwich is a zero-budget space running great-quality projects. On the other hand, certain state institutions handle huge budgets – see how much the elevator maintenance at MNAC (National Museum of Contemporary Art, n.b.) costs – but their activity, oh well … When you see and know too much, you simply cannot work with these people.
Things are not easy abroad, either. The big difference is that their institutions are well-structured and financed. Another huge difference is the so-called individual grant. In Romania, there are neither individual grants for creation, nor creation workshops by city-halls, councils, ministries, and – in the past 20 years – no studio spaces available for the Artists’ Union. We are already so used to learning how spaces are lost and budgets are cut, etc. There are no minimal conditions.
How much does it count that Sandwich is located in the former Combinatul Fondului Plastic?
A lot! I advised all visitors to look around, as well. The contrast can be nauseating – the L.A. gallery the size of a football stadium, the studio full of angels, the drawings by sculptors that I’ve seen annually for 30 years now, the gallery the size of a handball field from Cluj, etc. What can I say? Huge, interesting contrasts! Until the venue becomes an establishment, it is very dope – that is, until the posh coffee place and the shop appear; because it is cool to walk around derelict hall wearing totes worth thousands of Euros. So long as the dilapidated, abandoned aspect is still there, Combinatul Fondului Plastic remains captivating.
Sandwich is cool because of it’s on a mission to do something different. It allows you to break out of the ordinary. It gives you freedom. This place lets you make mistakes which allows you to do more interesting stuff – even if the art commentators expect the same old exhibitions and complain if they don’t get them. I also think that Sandwich should not last forever – 1, 2, 3, 4 years – because it takes too much of the time of some artists and that time cannot be regained, ever! Cristian or Alex work in their studios and, when visitors come, they have to pause their work and show people around – or save them, in case they got lost amongst weeds and sculptures! I have one theory: you have to resist the routine in Romania. If you resist the routine, you win. In my opinion, they (Sandwich, n.b.) have too much to deal with.
What reactions did the concept behind “World Attractions” generate?
I sent the participants the following suggestions along with the call for magnets: to be about the institution they represent, as the case may be, about a cultural institution in their city, or about the city itself. To be conceptual, cultural, or kitsch. Therefore it is very mixed. There is a lot of kitsch on that wall side-by-side with many conceptual things or simply smart stuff. Very interesting connections were created. There are several midpoints in the display (touristic, artistic, wired, thermometers, etc.), but I also mixed a lot so that it does not all appear too stakhanovite. I love it, as I also prefer stuff that is aesthetically questionable sometimes, so to speak. It is all very natural, human. You look at the magnets and travel. That’s what I envisioned – the 7 meter long space will be a journey. You see a city that you visited and you remember it – or you recall who you visited it with. Or you see another one you’d like to visit – and with whom. It’s amazing what connections can be made amongst magnets. But, more profoundly, it is about the network I’ve been building in the past 27 years. You can travel where I’ve already exhibited – I’ve simply never been a tourist anywhere.
I didn’t mean it to be as complicated as it sounds.
Is the project at Sandwich a good project?
It is and I am very happy about that. I am 56 years old and I can make an exhibition with magnets! How cool is that! I may have my own side of opacity, but an open-minded person finds the stuff really cool. If they don’t, they don’t. Everybody expected to see drawings at Sandwich. That’s why I insisted that the press release revealed nothing. And everybody was suprised. Some thought it was some sort of joke, even though I use humour in a very serious way.
One more thing, the process of exchanging emails with tens of institutions with everything it involved – find the address of the new curator, since the one I collaborated with left 10 years ago, etc., explain, insist, com’on, dude, if MoMA can, you can send, too, etc. Dan, what a cool project! Can we send some more? – yeah, all these aspects of the process have been fascinating.
* Combinatul Fondului Plastic is the state-owned manufacturer of paints and painting-related materials for artists.
Interview: Natalia Todeasa
Translation: Adina Shollenbarger
Photo: Gabriela Dumitran