Associations Interview with Vector Association Part 1

Periferic 5

Vector Collective

The Vector Association is the name given to a cultural NGO registered in 2001 by a collective of visual artists and philosophers from Iaşi, a university city in North Eastern Romania, initially founded to support the Periferic Biennial for Contemporary Art. Inaugurated in 1997 under the direction of artist Matei Bejenaru, the Perferic Biennial began as a performance festival and ultimately grew into an international biennial of contemporary art, which has presented eight biennials in a little over a decade. Guest curators of the biennial include Anders Kreuger, Marius Babias, Angelika Nollert, and Florence Derieux, among others. While organizing the Perferic Biennial served as Vector’s primary activity, the group has, since 2003, developed and supported a number of additional projects to provide a platform for a range of artistic and institutional initiatives, including the following:

Vector Gallery (2003-2007)

In 2003, Vector opened a gallery space for the presentation of exhibitions and discussions open to the local and wider public. The space offered local artists an opportunity to enter into contemporary critical discourse in visual art while simultaneously engaging the work and ideas of contemporary artists active internationally. In this sense, the gallery was a meeting point for a variety of engagements and perspectives within contemporary art production, presentation, and discussion, whether sited in local contexts or further afield.

Vector>Magazine: Art and Culture in Context (2005-2007) Vector-critical research in context, a publication (2010-)

Over the last five years, Vector has developed a magazine and various publications to provide critical frameworks for its projects as well as for artistic practices and initiatives in South East Europe and in the Middle East. Vector’s publishing program actively seeks, among other objectives, the actualization of a regional cultural research. The publication-as-platform has been explored in these projects, taking many forms including book, pdf, and paper print-outs as well as multiple voices with perspective from artists, curators, critics, and theorists.

Vector Art Data Bank (2004-2008)

Vector Art Data Bank is an artistic and research project that acquires, processes, and exhibits documents (books, catalogues, brochures, postcards, posters, CDs, DVDs, and video cassettes) related to artistic and institutional initiatives sited in cities in South Eastern Europe including Iaşi, Cluj, Bucharest, Kiev, Sofia, Belgrade, Novi Sad, and so forth. The Vector Art Data Bank moves toward the development of a critical and historical framework that contextualizes and documents art of the region.

Vector Backyard Residencies (2006-2007)

Between 2006 and 2007, Vector hosted artists in a rented apartment in Iaşi that provided access to Vector Art Data Bank and research consultants over the course of 6-8 week residencies. The program was dedicated only to artists and curators from Central and Eastern Europe, recognizing an urgent need to develop a better understanding of the regional scene. Each artist made public presentations in the Vector Gallery at the conclusion of their research. Artists included in this residency were Aslı Çavuşoğlu (Istanbul, Turkey), Nebojša Milikić (Belgrade, Serbia), DEZ ORG (Jelena Radić and Ivana Smiljanić) (Belgrade, Serbia), and Andrea Faciu (Munich, Germany).

cARTier Project (2004 – 2007)

cARTier was a 3 year socio-cultural project that engaged local artists with issues arising in the neighbourhood of Tătăraşi in Iaşi. The project specifically developed local practices from a completely new perspective, imposing a certain degree of engagement with the community through an office space and a gallery operated by Vector.

Vector Studio for Art Practices and Debates (2007-)

When Vector Gallery closed in 2007, due to lack of funding, the Vector Studio program was born in partnership with the “George Enescu” University of Arts and the French Cultural Centre in Iaşi. In this program, envisaged as an intersection between the academy and public space, three exhibitions are produced in conjunction with local art students to engage with themes proposed by Vector, conceptualized to support the realization of critical artistic work produced locally.

Vector Accented Residency (2009-2010)

The Vector Accented Residency program aimed to a enhance collaboration among institutions sited in specific regions such as South East Europe, the East Mediterranean, North Africa, the Gulf Countries, and the United Kingdom. In 2009, Vector hosted the Lebanese writer, Lina Mounzer and in 2010 the Egyptian artist, Ayman Ramadan.

European Network for Public Art Producers –
ENPAP (2010 – 2012)

Vector is currently a co-partner in ENPAP, an initiative to create six European art organizations in a network that focuses on artistic production and research in the public realm. ENPAP was founded in May 2010 as a two-year research phase, during which different institutional frameworks are investigated in relation to the specific conditions in which these organizations operate. Through exchanging knowledge and collaborating on a programme for 2012 the network investigates possibilities for future collaboration. Vector’s co-partners include BAC, Baltic Art Center (Visby/Sweden), consonni (Bilbao/Spain), Mossutställningar (Stockholm/Sweden), Situations, University of the West of England (Bristol/UK), and SKOR Foundation for Art and the Public Domain (Amsterdam/Netherlands).

The following is a conversation that took place between Kristina Lee Podesva and Matei Bejenaru and Livia Pancu from Vector Association at Western Front (Vancouver) in March 2011. Special thanks to Jesse McKee, Exhibitions Curator at Western Front, for arranging the interview on the occasion of Vector Association’s exhibition there from February 18 – April 16, 2011.

Kristina Lee Podesva:
It is well known that Vector was started by artists and academics, particularly philosophers, in Iaşi, Romania. What compelled artists and philosophers to start the collective? What were the circumstances and needs and goals of these two groups that brought you to work together?

Matei Bejenaru:
I think that this was not a program. It just happened because of some people, some individuals. This was the reality. I started as an artist organizing the first so called experimental contemporary art events in the city in the mid 1990s as a young student graduating in art. And it was performance art that was interesting at this time for me because it was about the body and trauma. Body discourse at this time was like an exercise for us. Of course, body discourse was nothing new in art at the time. It happened in the Sixties in the West and it happened in the Seventies in the Eastern bloc, or at least in some of those countries. So, what was the interest on the part of the philosophers? They came to us, the artists. I’m telling you these are stories based on people rather than any pragmatic strategy. That person (Cătălin Gheorghe) came to one of our performance sessions and said “Hey, I’m interested in what you are doing.” And I thought we should develop some kind of relationship with this guy and his friends. I remember in 2000, although keep in mind that we were an organization for five years before we were official on paper in 2001, I remember we were doing something that was very interesting—some sessions at the Faculty of Philosophy, some performances in the amphitheatre. People were really shocked because we were doing body stuff there and video stuff. And you can imagine these professors in the philosophy department are all coming from the world of Kant and Heidegger, books and sobriety, and some kids were coming and doing some really crazy things, some really provocative things in these performances. Of course, some of them did not. This was a banalization. But, some professors were really attracted by the performances…and they started with some questions because they were trying to find some meaning in what we were doing. They understood that we were not so stupid, but maybe we were using intuition more than knowledge based on reading or writing. So this is how we came to work with philosophers… There was not a plan to do this. It was the result of a necessary intellectual solidarity among a group of young intellectuals and artists in the city a few years after the fall of Communism.

Do you think that the shared interest here was in developing and thinking through problems of this Post Communist situation and trying to find a meaning both in your art and in a shared identity?

I’d like to try to be honest with you and to try and translate into words what was the state of mind and feeling at the time. It was very frustrating because we were educated kids. We were speaking English. We were speaking French. We were living in a country that was completely destroyed. We didn’t have exhibitions in 1993, 1994. It was George Soros who came and put his own philosophy and structure into place in the region. Now I am critical of Soros, but at the time his projects were maybe a necessary step. There was no infrastructure. Civic society was undeveloped. Independent initiatives were very weak. In general in Romania and in particular in my city it was just dolce far niente (sweetness for doing nothing). Do you know dolce far niente? It’s like wine and sex. It’s necessary in life, but not enough probably. It was really very frustrating.

A lot of people talk about multi-disciplinarity, but I am suspicious of it because it does not seem to extend beyond the simple mixing of disciplines. My question would be for what purpose is this mixture? I prefer to think instead of a concept of “coalitional knowledges” or “intellectual solidarity” as you phrase it. It sounds like what Vector was doing by bringing together the different perspectives, approaches, and observations of artists, academics, and philosophers was to build a coalition for a purpose, that is to deal with an extreme lack of resources and actual knowledge.

We’ve been exposed to art and ideas for more than a decade now, so somehow we learned by being in the middle of things. But we didn’t have knowledge. I was trained in school, in the Faculty of Fine Arts, about how to do a nice painting as maybe a Cezanne or Mark Rothko. This was the limit in Iaşi, but also in Eastern Europe except for with some individual artists who taught in big cities like Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest, who came to art with some conceptual ideas. There was a big delay because all the forms of art, which we called, from a Western point of view, contemporary didn’t exist in the East in a structured way. There were no institutions. No one supported them. Of course, from country to country there were different situations, but in general official art was traditional art used for ideological purposes, to support the political system of power. And in countries like Poland, there the intellectual tradition for independent expression was so strong that the state couldn’t put as much pressure on individuals as in Romania or Bulgaria. They couldn’t keep them in a cage…

Coming back to a lack of resources…people in Romania were completely disconnected from the debates about art. They were living in a dolce far niente world. Some people had heard about Pop art, but it was too far from them and they didn’t care and this was in fact the place where Vector arrived. We were really paralyzed and this is what I discovered in the early 1990s….We didn’t know where to start…

At some point, after working together for five years, Vector decided to become an NGO. What caused that shift? Why did you decide to do it?

I think it was natural. We had to become an institution. If you want to go ahead, if you want to be a partner in dialogue with others, and if you want to have a space for exhibitions, and things like this.

Who was your audience?

Students of art, young intellectuals, and some artists.

Livia Pancu:
I would also have another answer to this question of why Vector became an institution in 2001. Vector organized Perferic 1 through 5, but the organizers were the French Cultural Center or the Center for Contemporary Art in Bucharest, so there was this group of people that represented institutional entities, which officially, but not practically, became organizers of Perferic in order to get funding.

When we organized the exhibition we didn’t sleep nights. I carried the money for the project in a plastic bag on the train. I was organizing the hotels, finding exhibition spaces, buying train tickets, and installing the shows…

When did you have enough people so that you did not have to do this all by yourself?

I think it was 1999. 1997 and 1998 I did things by myself…It was a hard time, an extremely hard time. Perferic was the driving force behind becoming a NGO in 2001, when there was pressure to professionalize. It was then that I invited a foreign curator since we did not really have curators in Romania and we still do not today because we only have a few institutions. The focus on local artists was not what we hoped, therefore a lot of frustrations started to come to the surface.

At the same time that the local artists were excluded from exhibiting in Periferic, they were also included in some sense because they became the producers for other artists’ projects.

But it was never paid. Only volunteer work.

So there was a tension there between local and global interests.

I’ve noticed in the last two or three years and that in reality the biennial offered a platform to some artists for the production of new work in a context that is a bit strange, exotic even. It was a kind of cultural relocation. We didn’t have a lot of money. All we had was the city and its people to offer as raw material for the production of work…With this in mind, in recent years we have tried to negotiate more with our guest curators, so now we have a local team work with them. We now have an opinion. In the end we realized that what we have to do is to produce a discourse in relation to Periferic.

LP: I want to say that local people did want to be involved with Periferic even in the beginning there were 4 or 5 people working with Matei. Also the founding members of Vector, trusted Matei’s vision, and elected him to represent the collective for over 10 years, even if at various times maybe there were different kinds of tensions among all of them. We should also say that between 2004 and 2008, Matei permanently worked with a team of five people. They were working particularly on the cARTier project, but nevertheless they were there to support all Vector’s activities.

What do you think will be the motivations for guest curators to come to work with Periferic in the future?

I think the reason for curators to come now and work with Periferic is to be a real partner, and the partnership will be based on intellectual exchange. We are sharing the same interest in art. And that is why we will produce something with guest curators. Not because of the context…I made a metaphor in one of my texts. In the first years, we spent a lot of energy putting a satellite into orbit. We needed a lot of fuel to pass through the atmosphere. And this is the fuel that we consumed. Now we need just small jets. We just need to position ourselves in a subtle way in a sophisticated discourse.

Founding Members

Dan Acostioaei, Matei Bejenaru, Dragos Alexandrescu, Bogdan Teodorescu, Felix Dragan, Florin Grigoras, Mihai Voicu, Cezar Lazarescu.

Current Members

Founding members plus Livia Pancu, Cătălin Gheorghe, Vlad Morariu, Iulia Tencariu, Gentiana Baciu, Alexandru Bounegru

Active members

Matei Bejenaru, Dan Acostioaei, Livia Pancu, Cătălin Gheorghe, Alexandru Bounegru, Cezar Lazarescu

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