Anniversaries are pinpoints in our constant becomings, vaguely fixed buoys in the passing of time that mark new challenges, new responsibilities, gains and losses. This is also the case of The Paintbrush Factory’s 10th anniversary, which coincides with the end of an era for the independent art collective. The space on Henri Barbusse, an industrial site away from the city center, is only open to artists and the public until this December: the gentrification mechanism has taken its toll once again. The owner of the building has decided to rent the space for IT companies, and has been doing that bit by bit, so that there already are offices on some of the floors. All within the context where Cluj is advertised as the Romanian Silicon Valley, while lacking the complex infrastructure to support this claim.
Răzvan Anton, co-curator of the FDP10 visual arts programme along with Cristina Curcan and Mihai Iepure-Gorski, pointed out that “the factory returns to its initial purpose, it is a factory once again” in an interview given at Tranzit Napok Days 2019.
A factory planting our ways through
The Paintbrush Factory is in the midst of an imposed deterritorialization, a satellite form of existence according to Miki Braniște, curator of this season’s performative arts, who admits that “having everything at hand in the building, everyone was quite self sufficient and did not make enough effort to partner up with other organisations in the city”, in this interview. And deterritorialization is fuelled by desire, as a main engine to move projects forward in lack of a definite space. Informed by Deleuze’s and Guattari’s notion of desire as a plant that produces ceaselessly, one can rethink Anton’s afore-mentioned thought. Thus, the Paintbrush Factory is in a double rebecoming: a material one, that went up in the smoke of the IT industry, and an abstract one, the collective potentialities of a focused desire that already manifests and reengages the public space. Or, to keep it simple, it’s a case of “every end is a new beginning”.
This factory of desire of the FDP collective is the one shaping novel arrangements (“agencements”) such as the video exhibition at “The Collective Gaze: Samples of something that concerns us all” season opening or “The Museum Affair” art interventions exhibition. As the Paintbrush Factory is left without the brick-and-mortar factory, it reinvents itself as “body without organs” (Deleuze), which is indeterminate (but not uncertain!), it is image-less (or building-less, to be more precise), it is an experiment and a programme. “From a host space, the Paintbrush Factory has become a platform programme”, noted Răzvan Anton.
Timelessness and deterritorialization in contemporary art versus the systemic, institutional challenges in the independent sector is what overarched the 3 events of the opening night. At Lateral Artspace we went on a Blind Date, one component of this season’s curatorial concept that subtly approaches the theme of the unknown within the cultural sector. We discovered it was a date with Geta Brătescu and her Aesop, organised in partnership with Ivan Gallery (Bucharest). Her video work “The Studio”, 1978, filmed by Ion Grigorescu, was also exhibited.
The collective gaze: samples of something that concerns us all
At Pilot space, Răzvan Anton and Mihai Iepure-Gorski proposed a review of what an independent art space really means, by interviewing those who run such spaces: Raluca Voinea – tranzit, Bucharest; Agnes Kispal & Attila Kispal – Magma Contemporary Art Space, Sfântu Gheorghe; Cristina Bogdan – ODD, Bucharest; Alina Șerban & Ștefania Ferchedau – The Institute of the Present, Bucharest; Timotei Nădășan – IDEA Arts + Society, Cluj; Konczei Csilla – Tranzit House, Cluj; Monotremu – B5 Studio, Târgu Mureș.
What concerns us all is that we plant our cultural projects seeds each year but they don’t yield fruit the next year as well and we need to start all over again. As if our seeds are Monsanto ones that don’t function within the natural logic but within a capitalist one. What concerns us all is that spaces, partnerships, collaborations are rarely completely safe. The eviction by capitalist interests happened for Ambasada, an independent space in Timișoara, while evictions by the non-transparent state apparatus happened to Bucharest’s Macaz and Glendale Cinema.
Raluca Voinea (tranzit Bucharest) noticed our tendency to forget about this lack of continuity: “Everything is well. Everything is beyond time. Thus you tend to forget. You forget you have to start from scratch every year”. Memory is an apparition, an epiphany (Geta Brătescu), a gift from within ourselves. Or is this forgetfulness from one year to another also caused by the way in which the AFCN funding system is structured? Meaning that if one applies with the same project each year it will automatically need to make slight tweaks, like change the title. Otherwise, it will have to compete with mammoth events (such as Electric Castle, for example) under the category of “Projects with repetitive character/ festival type”.
For some, this can become a lucky win, or it can be a cultural worker’s survival game.
Raluca Voinea, tranzit Bucharest: “Everything that takes place here is a fiction. It’s not sustainable, it’s not real, and actually, maybe we do more harm than good. It makes the illusion that something like this might be possible. Now it has become clear that we are a minority and that we number less and less people and that we have absolutely no effect in the real world.”
Yet, framing funding as a privilege is a dangerous ideological path to walk on, as it emphasises hazardous practices. Our collective gaze ought to also look in particular to the degrees of independence exerted and understand discourses contextually, as issues can differ when one is privately funded compared to state funded or artist-collective funded. Even when we understand, hopelessness and lacks alike creep in through the cracks: sometimes because funding is cut off, other times because the public is not engaged. Passion and drive keep things running while at the same time they can work as euphemisms for (auto) exploitation: „We organise between 6 and 9 exhibitions a year as well as various workshops, conversations and other events – it is truly a huge task. We used to say that from concept to cleaning we do it all. All of the possible tasks, from corresponding with the artists, photographic documentation, to video documentation to editing and production of catalogues we do it all” (Magma Contemporary Art Space).
Education needs to be our common playground.
It already is. But we ALL ought to go out there and play (read: play and learn) more. A full house debate was organised on the same opening weekend and, after going through the hardships and sharing a genuine tiredness after so many years in the game, someone in the audience noticed: “We should be working on a manual for real life practices and pass on our knowledge to younger generations”. One of the speakers admitted that such an endeavour would, in fact, bring her one step closer to burn-out by pressure. Maybe a manual would not necessarily be the best medium, I thought to myself, but it’s vital that practical know-how is passed on so that new poignant and brave cultural workers reinforce the field with their fresh energies. The Paintbrush Factory is dedicated to that, especially this season.
Fresh energies can emerge from folks outside the institutionalized art spaces and platforms, mind you. It’s the hybridisation practice, “the idea of working against specialization” as Cristina Bogdan (ODD) puts it: “I don’t want to work with people who work exclusively in the field of art, who seek to create relations of power within the field that disengage from the context and simply lose their relevance”. Hybridisation here should be read as a bio and geopolitical statement that brings in the forefront the co-existence and co-becoming of factories and humans, of fortunate people sharing their privilege with the marginalised, instead of indulging in power. Or, as Geta Brătescu used to put it, hybridization as Aesopia, a world which “refuses the limits, the barriers between genres; it is a complete world, totally free, confused with nature, nature itself”.
The Museum Affair: Grafting Exercises in the Cluj museum space
A first reterritorialization through a collaborative practice, The Museum Affair proposes contemporary art interventions in 4 museums of Cluj: The National History Museum of Transylvania, The Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania, The Zoology Museum of University Babeș Bolyai, and the Botanic Museum of UBB. The opening tour took us on a city walk to discover the works and the specificities of each place together with artists and curators. Touring various spaces from the city is, in fact, a commendable regular grassroots commendable initiative of The Paintbrush Factory that sheds light on invisible contexts of the city.
The critical interventions interweave hot current topics such as the Anthropocene, the fast and furious decline of technologies or reinterpretations of nation founding mythologies, under the claim that “what we call art stubbornly affirms that it knows something about something else, and that is almost hilarious, ridiculous seen from elsewhere”. Integrating plastic wrappings, deflated balls, old beer cans and the like within the classic museum showcases, among the plants and animals (such as Lucian Indrei’s intervention at The UBB Zoology Museum), the interventions bitterly yet realistically reclaim traditional representations of nature which is, obviously, far from pristine. Other interventions that problematize elusive relationships with natural elements include the three festive bouquets kept throughout the years by one mother or Weronika Iepure-Gorska and Mihai Iepure-Gorski video work in which Weronika embodies animal gestures. Flaviu Rogojan brings in interventions that interrogate technology, in its aim to replicate nature (an egg-shaped Tamagochi, constantly fed by an electronic device, placed among other real eggs) or to read it (a photography of a large tortoise which is read by the Google AI as a missile).
Are these skewed remainders all future generations will be left with? Maybe not – but the mere idea ought to be triggering enough to make us take action as guardians of the Earth. Why is it so often that humanizations / re-imaginations / re-creations / abstractions of the natural realm attract us more than the thing itself? When will attachment to the artefact be replaced by empathy and care for the living? Why conserve plants that have dried up and not those still rooted in the Earth? These were some of the unanswerable questions that ruminated my mind as my feet carried me through such classic, university-type museum spaces, that I came to appreciate once again, but differently, in light of the diminishing natural diversity.
The deterritorialization of the Paintbrush Factory sounds like a sound choice for a mobile future of constant adaptive migration in all fields that lack the privilege of (immediate) capital accumulation. Likewise, Ivo Dimchev’s hilariously engaging “Selfie Concert” is proof that space is no longer a prerequisite. It took place in the Studio Hall at The Paintbrush Factory but it could have happened in any other space, the only condition was the public’s willingness to engage: at least two people were supposed to photo or video selfie with Ivo, otherwise they would literally not perform.
It is indeed exciting to see how being evicted from your art hub can be transgressed and trigger a reinvention through new collaborations that walk the talk of authenticity, of togetherness and of passing on practices. Allowing such a forced deterritorialization to shape a future network is optimistic and applaudable news for The Paintbrush Factory. Until December, there are still some performances to see on Henri Barbusse street and some guided tours to attend. Check them out here.