Idea # 20, 2005

I met Ioana in a restaurant in Amsterdam. It was just after her opening in Ellen’s gallery. We all ordered pizza; it was one of these Turkish or Arabic restaurants. Some of us started to ask Ioana some questions. I was amazed by the seriousness and keenness of her answers to our questions and decided I have to talk about her works. We exchanged email addresses. I wanted to take advantage of my going through Bucharest on my way to Istanbul to meet Ioana again. More exactly, I wanted to interview her.
We decided together, in fact Ioana did, that there would be three locations for the interview, not only one: a sports hall, a dam and a movie hall; three different spaces but which meant for her something more than simple public spaces to go on weekends. We established together the topics we wanted to explore in the interview and attached to each location a specific issue: colours & cubes for the sports hall, Romanian context for the dam, and fiction & reality for the movie hall


Floreasca sports hall is located in a nice Bucharest neighbourhood. In order to get there, you have to cross a quiet stretch of alleys and green spots winding among old villas with no more than three storeys. The atmosphere is so serene, you wouldn’t say you are so close to the 15 story colossus of the Romanian Television – the hottest spot that Romanians tried to conquer during the revolution of ’89.
The sports hall is also rather old; the field is not even according the regulations because the space between the stands and the field is much too narrow and there are frequent accidents. The dome is fabulous; built in old fashioned style, of wooden arcades combined with glass that impregnate this space with a certain bourgeois spirit. Ioana arrived at 12 o’clock sharp, she asked me if she was late and confessed she hated to be late. She looks quite sleepy, maybe because of her slovenly clothes: a blouse made of shiny bluish brown velvet, slippery on her body, beautifully tailored, plush velvet brown trousers, very puffed from the waist and tight on the leg under the knee, and some deep purple flip-flops.

Stuart Aarsman – How come you didn’t enter the main door?

Ioana Nemes – I used to pass through this corridor when I came to trainings. This was only for players, referees and coaches. It’s a very narrow corridor and it reminds me of the passage ways that lead out to the sand circle of a Spanish bullfighting arena. The same tension that accumulates along the corridor to break out in the hall.

SA: It’s very beautiful.

IN: I like it when it’s quiet, like now, when there is nobody. You know what I’m thinking of? Of that sound made by the ball when it is hit to the freshly clean floor, of the sound we hear in the “In the musicals” tune sang by Björk or Selma in Dancer in the dark. It’s interesting to see how a sports hall has its own pulsations when it is full, the public is in rapture and the atmosphere is on fire, or when it is deserted, in a way emptied of its functionality.

SA: Or when it is half full, when there are only trainings going on, with no public.

IN: Then it is something very intimate, because it’s only yours, you don’t share it with anybody, you can hear all the noises you make, how your sneakers squeak on the floor, the noise made by the ball if you put too much clister on it.

SA: What’s clister?

IN: It’s a sort of natural glue, made of pine resin, transparent, with a very penetrating odour. You put it on the ball for a better adherence. It is used, as far as I know, only in handball.

SA: Let’s talk about colours.

IN: And about cubes.

SA: Yes, and about your project, Monthly Evaluations that you presented in Amsterdam. But I would like to place the topic in a wider context. You were once saying something about the changes in perspective brought by your conversion from photography to sculpture and literature. Even though you didn’t want to show me any of your photos, I searched on the internet and I found some. Why this aversion to photography?

IN: My aversion is not indiscriminate, all-inclusive. I don’t have anything against photography as artistic language, it’s just that I’ve become more sceptical towards this language, its diplomatic nature gets on my nerves, the fact that it doesn’t allow you to be very direct, with the exception of the documentary genre but that can be staged too.

SA: Where does this scepticism come from?

IN: Part of it comes from the theory and philosophy books I’ve read about photography after I finished school, well I didn’t quite finished it yet, because I still have to defend my thesis, but after I didn’t go to school so frequently. My naïve optimism from my first years in school, that I could hold a rather good duplicate of things, situations and spaces around me, that I can “steal” it and keep it only for me vanished when I was introduced to the realistic part of photography, with its history, its genres and techniques. I couldn’t ignore its consistency, nor could I pretend to only visit it. I found myself in its house and had to behave accordingly. Therefore I became more conscious, I started to stage the situations that appeared in my photos. Then I tried to push the limits of seriality when I photographed during one whole year the window of a fashion boutique in Bucharest’s historical centre. For one year I turned myself with pleasure into a psychopath stalker, who registered night after night the changes in the shop window.

SA: Is this Behind the Window Shopper project?

IN: Yes, and it is the book I have to make as my thesis. Then came the residence at KulturKontakt in Vienna, where I did nothing else but read as much as I could. The people there expected me to take some photos, which kind of irritated me, so I’ve decided to exhibit some A4 sheets in which I meticulously exposed how I had spent the money from the scholarship, a sort of financial statement on every day in which I enumerated all the items bought during my residence. It was in Vienna that I’ve exhibited for the first time something other than photography, and I must admit I felt relieved.

SA: What kind of photography did you used to make?

IN: All kinds of stuff. From my “naïve” period, details of common everyday objects which, through distorted perspective and context, changed their identity in a way. I was paying much attention to the composition, materiality and colours. My pictures from back then are very colourful, small, and with a minimum dose of slightly sarcastic humour. Soon after I’ve received various encouragements and congratulations, I realised something was wrong. That everything was too facile. That this funny approach was not leading anywhere. Then I started making pictures that looked in some way like fashion photographs, but I soon abandoned this genre too. I thought they were too superficial, with a too big risk of being perceived as more than they really were. And finally, I came to doing what I said I would never do: landscapes. Nature, trees, sun, water, mist, a lot of mist, rain. All the meteorological register.

SA: Why did you say you’ll never do landscapes?

IN: Because I don’t like recipes, in general. Because I realize I react quite strongly to what is happening around me, I have a quick feedback and it would have been too easy only to push the button. All too much gratuitous. Nature by excellence offers itself gratuitously to us. It’s present everywhere, you only have to notice it. It’s incredibly positive.

[In a rather small room, on the left wall there are some images glued with paper scotch. Most of them are clippings from magazines, postcards or cheap photocopies made after colour photos. Cold, artificial, neon light. Even if glued spontaneously, in time, the images are carefully arranged in three rows. Each row is made of 7 or 8 images, and there are a total of roughly 25 images.
In the first row, the following images are stringed: a cream sculpture by Gabriel Orozco on a pale grey background, a sheet with colour index prints on the back of which is written, “I’ll never take any picture unless I fully under¬stand what I’m doing and why”, an iPod with one pink side and another one golden, a black and white portrait of Virginia Woolf from 1935, taken by Man Ray, a drawing with three rocks, pink, black and grey, clipped from Metro¬polis M magazine, a British pattern with roses for Marimekko bed linen, and a piece of brownish paper on which is scrib¬bled in pencil, “all this solid rapture”.]

SA: Will you show me your landscape photos?

IN: They are in a very beautiful series – that frightens me a little – called “Twin Pictures”, which I only exposed in a shortened version in Hungary. They are double landscapes, made in parallel by two persons. “Landscape” is a too generous word, for even some blocks can create the feeling of a natural landscape. Architecture is an artificial nature. I have a lot of photos, tens of negatives I haven’t exposed for many reasons. Maybe some day I will dig them out and restore them morally.

SA: How did your interest move, from photography to sculpture and literature?

IN: During the four years in faculty I only studied photography and I’m not sure whether this monopoly was useful or not. I would have liked to experiment with scenography, fashion, theatre, sculpture, journalism, make-up, cinematography, music, marketing, design, and so on.

SA: You are talking about more than a multidisciplinary school. I don’t know if there are such schools.

IN: I would have liked such a school, even if it had to last for eight years.
A school with such a mobility, where one could study exactly the fields one wanted. Educational systems lack such flexibility.

SA: Now you can really study anything you want on the internet, there are a lot of online courses. It’s true you can’t compare them to a regular school, but nevertheless there is a tendency towards flexibility. Why did you choose sculpture and literature?

IN: For their direct language. Object vs. image, or word vs. image. I’m in search of something that wouldn’t leave too much space for interpretations. Information must get from one end to the other without too many per¬tur¬bations. The transmitter and the receiver, even if they can switch their places, must count on the clarity and precision of the message. I try to avoid viruses as much as possible.

SA: Such as?

IN: Such as the means of manipulating the image. Such as the technical luggage with which every field is equipped, that set of rules that you should follow if you want to create a good product. Such as composition rules, material use regulations, assembling rules, the aesthetic rules of a movie screen play, rules related to exposing a good product, promotion and communication rules, and those related strictly to language, to the terms we use. There are a lot of poles established by the majority for the sake of the majority, for whom a good product equals a less delicious apple, but which fits perfectly within standards, size, colour and weight. The word “must” fascinates me. Many times it is used out of inertia: one must respect one’s parents, one must belong to a well known religion, one must forgive, one must begin one’s sexual life no later than 18, one must not skip breakfast, one must use a hydrating cream, preferably L’Oréal with SPF and Q10, because it seems that nothing is hazardous. You must read certain books, see certain movies, you must have children. You must get married, have your own house and a job. By the way, why must one have a job?

SA: You mustn’t do all the things you counted.

IN: Why mustn’t you?

SA: Because you can choose, you have this option, to choose what you want to do.

IN: I’ve read somewhere that it is good to have a job mainly because you have to give something back to the society in which you were born, and secondly, in order to have money to live, to buy a house, clothes, food. From this point of view, society seems to me very cruel, like a possessive and jealous mother, and this endless exchange, quantitatively speaking, between consumerism and production seems very tiresome. Why should I be indebted to the society in which I was born?

SA: Because you are using its infrastructure, its laws, its subway and its buildings, aren’t you?

IN: Yes, but you pay for it, don’t you? You pay the rent and the monthly subway pass. You pay taxes. It’s a very passionate relationship, in which both partners use each other as much as they can. That’s why over crossing the rules of society seems to me the most exciting thing possible. You betray its trust in you and you destroy its expectations. What can be more romantic than that?

SA: Now that’s a very interesting relationship, between you and this society!

IN: Yes, I’m still searching, trying to understand my role as an artist, as a producer of cultural objects, producer of new perspectives and points of view. And I really don’t understand, why must I produce something? Why can’t I just consume? Anyway this is the thing I like to do best. Why, after having consumed books, movies, magazines, art works, interior design, opinions and commentaries, do I have to say my opinion on what I’ve just consumed? And, since I’m an artist, should it be expressed in another work of art?

SA: Well, because there is a balance also found in nature and in Buddhism, the middle way or the golden path, teaching you that whatever is consumed must be replaced. Anyway this balance is rather precarious and if there is too much swinging a lot of natural calamities will appear. It’s a basic principle, isn’t it? And since everything functions according to this principle for so many years, that means that it is worth something. Let’s talk about literature, I’ve seen on the blue wall the “accidental meeting” between you and Virginia Woolf. Why V. Woolf?

IN: In the Amsterdam exhibition I’ve only exhibited the month of October. Out of pure coincidence I’ve fallen upon the books of Virginia Woolf in a local shattered library, and I decided that I must – you see, this word again, read all her novels, essays, journals . You have to know that the books from our district libraries date back to the Ceausescu era, rarely something new is brought, so that day I left for the library with no enthusiasm at all. I was looking for some modern writers. Virginia Woolf appears on the blue wall because I’ve read a lot about and by her that month. And she is one of my favourites writers.

SA: Why?

IN: Because she is incredibly strong, intellectually sharp, even cutting for those post Victorian times. Even though her writings are velvety, translucent and civilised, which is specific to the materiality of that era, you can find, in the underground, a black, critical and mischievous river, that stream of consciousness, that awakening and cold look on psychological life, on time and the changes it causes. I’ve also read her journals, unfortunately the older version censored by her husband, Leonard, and I was fascinated by the almost masochistic seriousness with which she used to analyse her writing and her technical development of language, by the importance she gave to the word, not to its meaning, but to its music. She writes very musically, you know, following a rhythm, not a plot. She is interested in the word itself, in what it contains more than its baptising effect, that of naming things, people or emotions. I think she loves this very solid substance of a word, emptied of any link to anything recognisable. I love her sexual and material independence, and the essay “A Room of One’s Own” is simply fabulous for those conservative times. Then I think her endeavours to register, dissect, understand and depict impalpable things such as life or time are very appealing. They say she generally failed in this attempts, for me these very experiments doomed to failure seem interesting. And The Waves is a jewel, really. I’m also interested in the psychological aspect, in the communication beyond language between her characters. V. Woolf is pretty interiorised, which makes her writing more concentrated, shorter and more abrupt.

SA: I see you are speaking about her in present time.

IN: Why, do you think of her as dead?

SA: What other writers, biologically dead, but whom you consider still alive do you like?

IN: Ha, ha! Your subtle irony is flattering me. Did you know Stuart is the name of a little white mouse with red sneakers and blue short pants on a skateboard?

SA: Well then, what other writers, biologically dead or not, whom you still think alive do you like?

IN: Well, after I discovered V. Woolf’s books, I logically followed up with T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, Lawrence, Jane Austen and so on. I still avoid Shakespeare for he was much too recommended by all modern writers in their books, he’s much too promoted, I also like Fitzgerald and some contemporary Japanese writers whose names are impossible to memorize.

SA: What is the link between everything you’ve told me so far about V. Woolf and your favourite writers and the texts on the coloured cubes in Monthly Evaluations? It seems to me there is a resemblance between the auto critical, analytical spirit of V. Woolf and what you do when you select every day certain colours, numbers and words in order to describe the quantity of time in a day.

IN: Yes, I’m interested in how much you can pin down, in how much you can capture from what is happening every day. In English you have “to cast”, a verb with many nuances that explain better what I want to do. Time seems to me quite slippery in every day life. I wanted to create objects, in fact some cubes to represent time and things that can happen during one day. If I establish some simple rules, a scale and a chromatic table and I decide that everything that happens in a day can be described through these elements – colours, numbers and words, that means I’m able to better observe the phenomenon I want to study. It was difficult at the beginning to draw the chromatic map, to set up the scale from –10 to 0 and +10, but in time I started to readjust them to the everyday reality.

SA: You mean to your subjective reality, or this evaluation grid can be applied to anyone?

IN: There is a general pattern, but of course every person has his or her own psychic and intellectual system, his or her own evaluation grid. If we made the cube experiment on another person, transforming his or her months in cubes, we would first have to define his/her evaluation grid.

SA: How much of the Monthly Evaluations cubes is autobiography and how much is science?

IN: How much is art?

SA: Art seems to me a quite generous term, under its umbrella a lot of oddities can seek shelter. A lot of genetic hybrids, “weird” things that cannot function outside the artistic system. I suppose your experiment too is harboured under this umbrella.

IN: What I dislike most in this project is the autobiographical part. I confess I hate this kind of art work. But in any experiment you have to refrain yourself from falsifying the numbers, if you want the output to be true. So I decided that the texts on the cubes must be true. Since they are so short, I’m forced to pay more attention to the words I choose, that’s why they look like fiction. Eventually, the same things happen to almost all of us, the most important thing is how you express them.

SA: And what is the final output? The finished product?

IN: The cubes. The attempt to create sculpture out of your day, your own time. To measure time and other slippery things such as life itself, emotions or feelings, turning them into other measures: seconds in grams, hours in kilograms, pulse and ticking in words, depressions and exuberance in colours.

SA: Have you ever tried to colour your dreams?

IN: No.

SA: Why?

IN: Because dreams are part of another reality, less conscious. I try not to mix things up. Moreover, if I analyse dreams I would have too many unknown elements in this equation and the whole process would appear more like a psychological experiment.

SA: Have you ever looked back to a day and perceived it differently from the way you perceived it initially? Have you marked it as negative in the beginning and then realized it was a positive one?

IN: In theory it is possible that our perception changes in time, but practically days remain in my memory the way I perceived them initially.

SA: Do you also deal with memory archiving in your project? Have you thought of archiving your perceptions on one day, any day? That is, by archiving them all, do you offer each day, no matter its intensity, the chance to be remembered?

IN: Mmm... Interesting question.

SA: Thank you.

IN: I never thought of that. At least not of archiving, even though at a certain point I will have gathered an impressive number of days. Or maybe not. I dislike something in the idea of memory that must be kept. Why do so many things have to be kept? I like throwing things away. I think the process of destruction is a very healthy one. We must not give up destruction entirely.

SA: Why mustn’t we?

IN: Because only after some destruction can giant leaps be made in the evolution of something. Destruction is a very positive thing, it creates new paradigms.

In the background we heard balls bouncing, someone was dribbling around some orange poles, and a girl kept throwing herself to the ground in a weird way, in sort of plunges. We were so absorbed by the discussion that we didn’t realize the hall got full with the juniors from CSS5, a local handball club.
Before leaving, I asked her what I was supposed to do with the coloured cubes in the magazine and she answered I could do anything I want, but at least I should cut them up and assemble them.


This time I was 15 minutes late. Ioana was waiting for me walking up and down on the dam alley. It was not easy for me to trace her for the dam – an artificial lake accumulating the waters of Dîmbovita; it is a megalomaniac construction, typical of the Ceausescu era. In the park in front of the dam you feel like a lost Lilliputian in a garden built by and for aliens. Its pattern can be seen only from the air. Neither the park nor the dam were built for ordinary people from the street, but for gods. Ironically, ordinary people have come to populate it, or rather to lose themselves in it.
Panting from climbing several hundred format small grey marble stairs, I reached the elevated platform of the dam. The huge lake shines dazzlingly. A strong wind is blowing and the sun feels frosty.
Wearing a sort of oversized, light mauve silky nylon vest, gird tightly on the waist with a black plaited leather belt, and a skirt made of two layers, velvety nylon and pale pink satin, quite shiny, which didn’t fit the body because of the strange cut, Ioana seems a luminous stripe or a meteorological balloon, giving a general impression of calculated disorder. When I reached her, still panting, I saw that under the short vest she was wearing a pullover with a pattern of deer, squirrels and cones in beige, cappuccino and brown shades. Under the stretched pullover, a bit of a beige wrinkled shirt. General look: fresh and natural, perhaps because of the hair with golden reflexes in the sunlight.

SA: Why this place?

IN: It was here that I used to come every morning to jog. It’s a very beautiful place, exactly due to the paradoxes it holds. Can you imagine a more natural oasis among these blocks?

SA: I wouldn’t call this natural. Apart from the deserted park and the water from the dam, everything is concrete.

IN:Come on, don’t be fooled by first impressions. The dam unveils itself gradually only if you trust it. Did you know this used to be a cemetery long before? I remember, when I was young, the debates around the dam: whether it was moral to dig out the dead or to simply pour concrete over them. I think they chose a middle solution, digging out what they could and the rest of it remained under the concrete. After they built the dam, there were all kinds of stories about the dead under the concrete asking for their revenge, about pieces of skeletons floating on the water. Anyway, the desire to splash was so strong that there were quite a few people plunging in the lake. Those who drowned were inevitably put on the black revenge list of those under the lake. This was also the place where they found a suitcase full of body parts of a Chinese man. It was all over the news. But apart from that, it looks very scientific, don’t you think?

SA: Scientific?

IN: Yes, I’m talking about architecture. I like its clean lines, the minimalism of concrete combined with precious details such as marble stairs, or the amphitheatre pieces on the isle. If you like, we can go on the island, we can get there on foot in half an hour.

SA: OK, let’s go. We were supposed to discuss the Romanian context.

IN: And what do you think is this? Near the island there is a village, or rather an agglomeration of tents. The gipsies leave every morning with their carts to gather and sell scrap iron. They are really skillful, for they can go up and down the steep hill of the dam with their horse and cart. It’ s a miracle they can do it without turning over, isn’t it?
Halfway to the isle I often meet an old and shabby-looking shepherd who grazes his sheep and goats. Can you imagine? He also has a big dog. I find it fascinating to see the grass trying so hard to spring in the middle of the road, to break through the concrete. Just when you take the turn toward the island, a pack of hungry, enraged dogs throw themselves at you, barking. They consume so much energy, climbing this hill, only to bark at you. Don’t you think everything around is so Romanian? And we are in a communist neighbourhood only 20 minutes away from the centre.

SA: Yes, it’s beautiful. I was speaking about the artistic context.

IN: Yeah, the artistic one.

On our way we indeed met the urban shepherd who told us he lived in a house scraped up from dung bricks and some cardboard. It’s incredible how you can still see something like this nowadays, andI find it all very picturesque and quite romantic. At the turn, the dogs left us alone because fortunately someone had thrown them something to eat. The gipsies already left with their carts. At “home” only children were playing football with a deflated ball, and some old women were carrying out their daily chores in the tents covered with colourful, greasy blankets blackened by so much smoke from the fire made with newspapers and plastic bags.
The small island was nothing but a floating concrete saucer, in the middle of which some wild rose bushes grew. On the edge, the small island was flanked by a fence of willows. We entered it through a concrete arcade adorned with marble ornaments, probably a copy of a Greek one. The amphitheatre, a sort of terrace with miniature arcades and columns, had some pon¬toons on one side, from where boats were supposed to sail off.

IN: Doesn’t it all look like a failed scientific project?

[The second row is made up by the following images: a gold chandelier pho¬tographed in a warm light, a bullterrier with angels painted on horse leather by G. Fickle that costs 1,500 Euros, two Montblanc fountain pens, limited edi¬tion, an “exploded” lamp from the ’60s, with cosmic bulbs, a very small photograph with a red curtain in a theatre in ruins, ex Sofia, in Vienna, a portrait of Carolina Herrera with her daughters in a calm August afternoon. In the background you can hear “Statues” from the Moloko’s homonym album.]

SA: Why failed?

IN:Because it didn’t turn out as it was initially planned. Do you see boats or people sitting in the amphitheatre’s shade?

SA:I don’t think it’s failed since those fishermen on the docks use this space very well. It’s true they have rubber tubes from trucks’ tires instead of boats, but still the place is not completely deserted. The saddest place is a deserted one, where not even birds or animals live.

IN: Once I wanted to make a fictive scientific documentary about this place. It would have been hosted by an Englishman, in white coat, with glasses and a stick, the one that Geography teachers have. Tom is a DJ and he writes quite well in various lifestyle magazines. I would have presented the paradoxes defining this place: the decayed minimalist architecture, with opulent accessories, the ambitious dream of the “architect” dictator on one hand, the miserable condition of polluted water due to carpet washing during weekends, and people inevitably populating it on the other hand. A place with a huge potential, nevertheless in ruins.

SA: Why didn’t you make it?

IN: The documentary? Maybe because I didn’t believe in it as strongly as I should.

SA: You could have started with some pictures.

IN: I took some pictures one winter, with a basketball and a writing machine in the snow. Anyway, I hadn’t thought of a documentary then, I hadn’t yet discovered the sensitive parts of the dam.

SA: What about now?

IN: Now, as you know, I have other priorities. Maybe I won’t forget it, and one day I’ll come back ready to do this documentary. It’s sad, isn’t it, that every thing has its own gestation time, that you can’t do it whenever you want, that there is a time and context for everything.

SA: Waiting doesn’t necessarily mean something dreadful. Sometimes waiting has positive effects.

SA: What’s your view on contemporary Romanian art?

IN: What’s yours?

SA: I can’t really differentiate it from the one in Eastern Europe. In this region amazing changes happened in the last 15 years. I think it’s only natural that after the fall of communism the artists be the first to freely express themselves concerning the political situation, something that was forbidden for so many years. Now only the names of Marina Abramovic’, Warhol, who came from Poland and the IRWIN group cross my mind, but they were not Romanians.

IN: Well, we have Ion Grigorescu, Dan Perjovschi, subReal.

SA: I remember, in your emails, you opposed very categorically this East-European trend, of an art debating local or European political problems. Why?

IN: In general it’s good to be preoccupied with the local context in which you live. I don’t think it’s OK to have only this kind of art, interested only in the political issues, especially those that superficially deal with European issues. I find annoying a lot of young artists who didn’t have anything to do with politics and suddenly taking over this subject only because it’s trendy. You know how it is, everybody is an expert in football and politics. With a slightly critical approach, a little bit of mockery, a little bit of local colour, some blood, some honey, a few gipsies, not too many, some new media to show we are not that primitive, a bit of design as in advertising, some clubbing and VJing for we already taste the benefits of globalisation, and here you are, a work of pure Romanian contemporary art. In Romania there are very few artists that really have something to say in this niche of political art, a niche which is paradoxically here represented by the majority. The best example is the recent exhibition held at the opening of MNAC, with artists that loved or didn’t love Ceausescu’s palace. How many of the young artists who exhibited then were really interested in Casa Poporului before Ruxandra Balaci, the curator, announced to them the subject of the exhibition? How many of them were interested in the subject and how many thought they could not miss such an opportunity to be part of a big international exhibition? Anyway I totally dislike the idea of a commissioned work of art, after a theme given by the curator, it reminds me of the compulsory essays in gymnasium. Have you seen the exhibition?

SA: I haven’t seen even the building yet.

IN: Well, if you’re here, maybe you’ll make some time and go to see it. So you’ll see the MNAC too.


We went together to the last meeting place. And since I haven’t seen The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, we decided to go see it together at the Lira movie theatre. We entered a dark passage way through the doors of something that seemed rather to be a local shop and only the unmistakable smell of fresh pop-corn made me realize I was inside a movie theatre. We asked for two movie tickets and the ticket seller who was also the popcorn vendor and the woman tearing up the tickets when entering the cinema hall, looked at us up and down, especially at Ioana. This time she had a bizarre outfit. A black leather skirt, rounded up like a ball, short up to the knee, with a black leather jacket, a doll-like collar and bulging cut, with very big seams that made the entire costume look like a black baseball. We were told we had to wait for some more customers because she wouldn’t let the picture begin for only two persons, she would lose money this way.
Since we had time to lose and ignoring the fact that maybe no customer would show up and therefore we wouldn’t see any movie, we sat down in the dark hallway, on a tiny red leather sofa, with big buttons covered in red leather. Only when seated did I notice that on her head, Ioana had a sort of cover, like those you put on your eyes when you sleep and don’t want any light to bother you, made of white satin on which it was written with silvery rhinestones in capital letters, DREAM. All round, the cover was hemstitched with a thin black strap and was fixed on the head with a pale pink lace band. She was wearing it nonchalantly, as if she had just got out of bed. Other strange accessories were the white suede gloves, like those protection gloves worn by motorcycle drivers. I won’t even mention the shoes, but they were matching the whole outfit perfectly.

IN: Can you believe a movie theatre is bankrupt?

SA: This one?

IN: Yes. It’s deserted most of the times, but I like it very much because it is the smallest multiplex cinema I’ve ever seen. There are a few rooms, I’ve only been inside four until now, in which movies are projected simultaneously to maximum 20 people. The smallest room, somewhere in the basement, only has ten seats. Nobody knows how many projection rooms there are in total, but there are a lot of rumours about that, such as if you know the right person you can see prohibited movies.

SA: You mean porn?

IN: Not necessarily, you can rent those, isn’t it? Homemade movies made by all kinds of individuals crazy about domestic masochism. If there are “directors” like that, why shouldn’t there be public for it?

SA: Have you seen any of these movies?

IN: No, I only heard there are such movies. Once, late in the night, I was passing by, I saw light and entered. In the hallway, some dubious individuals hurried down the winding stairways, leading to the basement room. The seller was quite disconcerted and told me it was a private audition, that I didn’t have an invitation and could not enter. Then I asked for a pop-corn bag and she told me she wouldn’t sell it to me, because she wanted to bring home the leftovers. That kind of made me feel at home, imagine that this movie theatre could be my home. Let me show you something.

We entered a dark room, not very big but very high. Someone had crammed on several levels some very bulky corner sofas, made of an awful material, grey with blue geometrical patterns. In a discreetly lighted corner, a sort of booth, were some other big armchairs covered in the same horrible cloth. I couldn’t help getting closer to observe the pictures on the wall. Framed in glass, there were some of the biggest stars of the cinema, in scenes that became icons in time, such as a dark-haired Uma Thurman in front of a milkshake. The photo was signed with something that seemed the actress’s autograph. All the portraits were meticulously and flamboyantly signed in the right down corner.
Tens of red and green tiny lights were flickering through the transparent floor of the dancing ring. The walls covered in mirrors took your breath away adding a hallucinatory effect to the whole atmosphere. Right on the dancing ring, near the mirrors, two bulky wooden desks typical of the Ceausescu era were abandoned. The massive desks reflected in the disco mirrors had a slight pervert air, communist and pervert at the same time.

IN: It used to be a kind of bar, night club and morning cafe here, but as you can see it didn’t hold out and went bankrupt. It’s interesting that nobody bothered to replace the decoration, and it stayed on just as it was initially built. You have the feeling you enter a museum hall, mortuary room and worship space all in one, don’t you think?

SA: It looks so deserted. As if something suddenly happened and people ran desperately away. I feel like a detective-archaeologist.

IN: It’s scary indeed. Let’s go.

SA: I wonder why it went bankrupt?

[On the last row came the following images: a Victorian curtain, made of blue velvet with thin black stripes, a photo with a stranded jelly fish on the shore, clipped from a magazine promoting a British photography contest, an eye cover for sleeping in white satin, and beside it is written, “here is the access ticket to the realm of latent desires”, a silvery chain with a silvery coin, silvery key and a golden hen claw hanging from it, from V. Westwood, a mauve and medicinal pink and black shoe, genre Romanian ’80s, very sexy, with Apaca-like reminiscences, from Venera Arapu, published in Elle, Sept. 2004, the word “interview” on a very small cardboard, written in black permanent marker, and a photocopied sheet of paper with drawings featuring a magpie, an owl and a rose branch.
Up on the ceiling, the black shadow of a chandelier is crossed diagonally by two parallel neon lights.]

IN: I don’t know. Maybe it’s the location, which is a little isolated, even if close to the centre. It seems that the movieplex is in a sort of clinical death and survives only due to the oxygen pumped by the state. Since they don’t have money to buy new films, they make up their program with leftovers from other movie theatres, which are economically healthy. What is not needed anymore is sent to Lira trash bin.

SA: A sort of movie cemetery.

IN: It’s kind of sad when a movie gets here. After several weeks it is out of use and it gets here to take a breath, and then moves forward.

SA: Forward where? I thought it goes straight to the garbage.

IN: I don’t think they throw it away. It would be strange to throw away the film roll, isn’t it? Probably it is being recycled and turned to plastic.

SA: I don’t think so, it’s toxic.

IN: Maybe they burn it in the back of the theatre. It’s polluting either way.

SA: It would be interesting to follow the trajectory of a movie, from the writing of the screen play to the footage, editing and distribution, from its glorious era to the total decadence, inside of a garbage bin in the back of Lira movie theatre.

IN: All roads lead to Lira!

When finally some lost customers showed up in the doorstep, more exactly two couples, we sprang towards them to ask what movie they were going to. They said something about Angelina Jolie and Alexander and, realizing we were outnumbered and the movie would have been chosen by them, we tried to convince them to go see The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If in the beginning Ioana begged them to change their option, now she almost commanded them to see this movie which was better than Alexander, that Alexander’s story could be found in any history book and so on and so forth. Unless the ticket seller didn’t decide in the last minute, not out of compassion for two patient customers like us who had waited half an hour for the arrival of other customers, but because she had already seen Alexander at home, on a DVD and thought it was stupid, that the six of us would see The Eternal..., probably it would have ended with swearing from both sides.
And because the projector from room no. 4 had broken, we had to wait for another half hour until they moved the film role to the basement, in another room. I’ll never forget that big and terrifying aluminium wheel, through which you could see the barren denuded film, oil black with green-bluish reflexes. The man from the technical department was simply rolling it in the hallway before our eyes and I felt like I was in a Chinese restaurant where the cook brings before you the snake alive, for you to know what you are going to eat. Before exiting, I reminded Ioana about the initial reason of our meeting, the discussion about reality & fiction.

IN: What do you think this was?


1. Jeanette Winterson, in Art Objects – essays on ecstasy and effrontery, London, Johnathan Cape Random House, 1995, p. 71.
2. Where everything is sold, from food to socks and electric home appliances. The local shops, located on the building’s ground floors are here before the supermarkets. The new malls represent for these small family businesses a real threat in the next future.
3. Apaca was in communist times a clothing factory that held in Bucharest a monopoly on women clothes industry, providing a unique style, quite dull and uniform. It still exists but produces clothes in lohn system.


– Stuart Aarsman is not real. He is a fictional character made of several fictive biographies sent to the artist by Falke Pisano, the curator of Monthly Evaluations exhibition from Ellen de Bruijne Gallery, Amsterdam. She is currently an MA student at Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht. Therefore the interview never took place.
– The translation of the interview was made by Maria Farcas from Romanian to English and not the other way around.
– The three locations actually exist and are situated in Bucharest. Their description is mostly accurate, with the following exceptions: the sports hall does not have two entrances, for the public and for the sportsmen, but only one long corridor; on the little island there is no marble amphitheatre, no wild roses bushes and no concrete Greek-like arcade at the entrance; as for Lira cinema theatre, there are no stories with forbidden movies and the cinema halls do have more than fifty seats.
– The dam meetings with the old shepherd, the maddened dogs and gipsy children are all real. In Lira movie theatre, the waiting for more clients, the negotiations to see the preferred movie and the transport of the film role through the cinema hall by the technical man are actually true.
– During the interview the artist was dressed with clothes inspired by the following fashion collections: As Four, Fall 2005 in the sports hall, Stella McCartney, Winter 2004 on the Crîngaøi dam and Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons, Spring 2005 in Lira cinema theatre.
– The two questions that Stuart addressed to the artist, if she ever thought of evaluating dreams and if perception doesn’t change in time, where actually addressed by Julia van Mourik, ex-executive editor at RE- magazine, and one of the organizers of Lost & Found evenings in Amsterdam. These events try to present the artists and their works in a more casual & friendlier atmosphere, without the formality of a contemporary art gallery.
– The wall and the pictures glued on it that appear inserted in the interview are real and located in the artist’s studio.
– The black shadow of the chandelier diagonally crossed by the parallel neon lights is not located in the artist’s studio but in add office – a non-profit organisation specialized in cultural marketing, and the shadow is an intervention of the artist in this space, located in Bucharest.
– The copyright of all photos in the interview belong entirely to their authors.
– The structure and form of the interview were inspired from RE- a magazine about one person, especially no. 9 about John and no. 10 about Claudia.
– The interview was written by Ioana Nemes.

Stuart Aarsman is a writer and independent curator. He studies art and philosophy at Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam. Currently MA at Central Saint Martin College of Art and Design, London. Writing for Metropolis M, Baby, RE-, Blvd, Afterall, Frieze etc.
All the facets of the same B. – philosophical essay about art & consumerism published in 2002 by Artimo/Gijs Stork.