One of the most unconventional venues on the art map of Bucharest, Sandwich Art Space has recently celebrated its one year anniversary – in April 2017. Boasting the least typical, hence the most challenging exhibition space, Sandwich has succeeded in such short time to bring on the local art scene some of the most creative in-situ projects. Its very peculiar topography have dared the ingenuity of the participating artists to the maximum. Founded and run by a team formed by Daniela Pălimariu (visual artist), Alexandru Niculescu (visual artist), Cristian Răduță (visual artist) and Silviu Lixandru (art promoter), Sandwich is located in the Combinatul Fondului Plastic*, a former industrial site on its way of becoming a top cultural hub of the Romanian capital.
When and how was Sandwich Art Space born? Why the name Sandwich?
It all started when Cristi and Alex were looking for a studio space, a production workshop. This mix of dilapidation, indolence and ineptitude – typical of endlessly abandoned industrial spaces – coupled with a type of curiosity ascribed to treasure hunters generated the perfect conditions for a new project. Our initiative was looked at very skeptically, seen more like a phantasy. Indeed, except for a few other existing projects and studios, the site was nothing but a ruin. Slowly but surely, we became aware that we had created a space that other artists could use and value, as well.
The very features of the space – sandwiched between two barracks – gave us the first obvious reason for its name; another reason is that, while it is a rather unpretentious, banal, and quotidian thing, a good sandwich can make you the happiest person in the world, if had at the right time.
What reactions has this concept caused so far? Do you believe there is a need to re-evaluate exhibition spaces, in general? Are you anti-white cube?
Broadly speaking, spaces are reinvented, programmes adapt, because context and mentality evolve in their turn. They are like a language. Sandwich is clearly a challenge for any type of artist or visitor. All projects so far have indicated this; it’s been transformed into a rocket launcher, a swimming-pool, a hen coop, etc. There have also been complex projects that criticised the art world or, on the contrary, connected the sandwich to it.
We are not anti-white cube, but we see no sense in having white walls in such space. For us it is more than a space sandwiched between two barracks; it is about what goes on around it, in the whole area, as soon as you set foot in the Combinatul Fondului Plastic – maybe even before that, once you cross the train tracks to get here. Sandwich means the state of mind you plunge into once you reach these city outskirts, this industrial space surrounded by quasi-wild nature.
What advantages does this area (i.e. Combinatul Fondului Plastic) have? What about disadvantages?
Come to think of it, given its proximity to the airport, there is no arts space closer to the rest of the world than Combinatul Fondului Plastic. For instance, on your way back from the Venice Biennale or Art Basel, you can come straight to us, in case you are in a hurry and only have a little time to see Bucharest. We see no disadvantages for now.
When do you meet to talk about and plan a new exhibition? How do such meetings usually go?
We meet when all of us are in optimal spirits, as our meetings are easy going, fun, we brainstorm ideas; then each of us knows what they need to do. It often happens that going out for a beer turns into an ad-hoc meeting.
How do you settle conflicts or disagreements?
All of us are 100% involved in the project and, sometimes, the best projects are borne because of our differences of opinions. Most of the time, though, we do as Daniela says …😊
How do you select the artists and how do they relate to the space? The space can be perceived as a challenge. Have you been rejected by artists? Have artists come to you with project proposals? Or do you choose the artists exclusively?
Things happen naturally. Sometimes we are aware that the experience we offer would be beneficial for an artist or would challenge their artistic practice. There were times when we chose the artists very spontaneously; all went very organically, so to speak. On other occasions, we needed a period of probation before anything would become palpable, or time to exchange ideas; there were good-quality and productive negotiations.
The choice is not necessarily exclusively ours; we try to stay as updated as possible with what goes on in the art world, we visit exhibitions, artists’ studios, during which future collaborations can take shape.
How do you deal with being both art space managers and artists – given that two of you also have your studios here? Isn’t your creative flux disturbed by the potential exhibition visitors?
Well, each of us had previous experiences in management or teaching positions. In any cases, we learned to organise our energy, actions, programs, etc. so as to have time for our own artistic practices. On the other hand, the visiting hours are flexible – by appointment – which allows us to manage each visit very well.
What’s the nature of the most frequent difficulties you deal with? What gives you the biggest satisfaction at Sandwich?
The way we put the space together is improvised by design in the widest possible sense, even unfinished in many places. Our audience is diverse – curators, artists, gallery owners from all over the world – and we think it is difficult at the beginning in the short space of a visit for many of the visitors to grasp. At this point, it has become part of the charm of the place. Nevertheless, we don’t fetishise these improvisations. We don’t want to create myths around them. We simply have not come around to deal with them. Honestly, they annoy and amuse us at the same time.
Sandwich is a very welcoming and inviting space, especially in nice weather. Isn’t it tempting to just sit around for a nice chat, some coffee, a glass of something, etc. – basically, to waste time, in a way?
Good point! Visitors could see it like this. Outsiders may have this perception of things. Nevertheless, for artists, it is not the time spent before the artwork in progress that they quantify, but rather the time they stay connected to it – to the project in the studio. That should occupy your mind permanently, wherever you are and do.
Visitors and conversations over a glass a lemonade, for instance, can be very rewarding and energy-recharging. Knowing how to “waste time” is important!
How do you see the future of Sandwich? It is a novel concept now. Do you think it will become obsolete in time?
Sandwich is a ready-made. Both conceptually and physically, it will develop in harmony with the existing context. One thing is sure, though: Sandwich is not static – it is free to grow, to evolve, to experiment.
* Combinatul Fondului Plastic is the state-owned manufacturer of paints and painting-related materials for artists.
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Interview ✒ ADINA SHOLLENBARGER
Photo © Dan Vezentan