Past is present: Daniel Djamo

Earlier this year, I was awarded a scholarship from the Romanian Cultural Institute to spend a month in Romania undertaking a research project. I travelled between the three largest cities, Bucharest, Cluj and Timisoara, interviewing artists, curators, writers, journalists, gallerists and others about issues facing the Romanian arts scene. It was an incredible opportunity, made all the more special by the amazing access I was granted by people working within the scene who were willing to be so incredibly generous with their time and their insights. While in Romania, I also visited several events in conjunction with project, including the first edition of Art Encounters in Timisoara. (artencounters.ro)

This event is intended to become a regular Biennale that alternates each year with an Architectural Biennale launching next year. It raised some interesting responses within the community, with many of the people I spoke to offering a variety of criticisms and caveats about the possibilities and opportunities that Art Encounters offers those working within the arts in Romania. My own impressions were mixed, and one artist’s comment that the first edition isn’t nearly as important as the third sums up my hesitant reaction towards the project.

Daniel Djamo Sculpture

We want you / 2014: More info djamo.weebly.com/we-want-you.html

Nonetheless, in the central exhibition, curated by Rainald Schumacher & Nathalie Hoyos, I saw several impressive works which stood out. Two of these were created by a young Romanian artist named Daniel Djamo (djamo.weebly.com), currently undertaking his third year of research as a PhD candidate at Bucharest National University of Arts. Djamo’s work was interesting to me because in a setting where history and the past are such loaded and contentious subjects, he was exploring a more personal approach that openly acknowledged the difficulties inherent in discussing Romanian history (and indeed, its art history).

Below is an exchange I had with Daniel, conducted via email. He addresses some of the workings of his practice, as well as some of the wider issues facing artists and others working in Romania and abroad.

At Art Encounters, two of your works ‘Items’ and ‘The Notebook’ were exhibited in the central exhibition. Both of these works address history and memory in different ways, and both have strong ties to the personal realm and the family. What do these works represent to you as an artist, and how do they reflect some of the wider interests of your practice? 

Until 2013 most of my works talked about journals, documentations and personal histories. I could not say exactly what pointed me towards this direction, but my passion grew from a sort of voyeuristic curiosity into the desire of finding the indivisible, getting to know it by reverting the hourglass, in an attempt to touch finality.

Most of the works that I made between 2009 (when I started my activity as an artist, without having had any sort of previous contact with art) and 2013 had strong ties with my personal development and my family, where I acted as an observer of myself, by taking a step back, and of others, by taking many steps forward, getting as close as a magnifying lens would. Thus, many of these works are probably not only art, but case studies, close documentations of people that fascinated me.

I had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Schumacher in 2014 in Turin, through my gallerist, Anca Poterasu, at the Artissima Art Fair. Afterwards, I was told about the event and about Mr. Schumacher’s interest in presenting two of my works.

Daniel Djamo Sculpture

Superromanianman / 2015: More info djamo.weebly.com/superromanianman.html

How has the process of being involved in the first edition of a new Biennale been like Art Encounters been for you as a young Romanian artist, and how do you view the event in a wider context? 

I do not know exactly how I got to be chosen for Timisoara Art Encounters. Also, I do not know much about the process of being involved in the event, because I was not physically present.

At the moment, I am consumed by the ideas that I have to bring to life. I focus mostly on developing my work, and unfortunately I am not very talented in finding solutions to their presentation. I suppose that you must have the chance of being spotted by the right people and of earning their trust.

The examination of history and the past, and documentation of previous works and actions seems to be a common and frequently contentious issue in Romanian art discourse. When I was travelling through the country, I frequently came across debates about the way this has been done, and the danger in some cases that revisiting previous work and periods of artistic production can sometimes risk undermining current practices. How do you feel about the way Romanian art is being reexamined, particularly in light of the way certain elements have received increased exposure on the art market? 

I would not be able to give an intelligent and accurate answer to this question, since I think that the answer is to be found in the pocket of an art historian from an older generation, that got to know up-close the actions of Sigma (as a contemporary of the group from Timisoara) or got to know closely Mr. Ion Grigorescu. Also, the repacking of the communist era is indeed a common practice of many young artists. I pursued this topic in two of my projects. Right now, looking back I question my decision, I consider that I am unworthy of talking about things that I did not experience by myself. Still, I was very curious about that time, since I was only a child when the regime fell.

I consider that talking about a theme such as communism can be rather risky. If you are a young artist and if you plan to develop a project connected to that period your attempt can be interpreted as abusive gesture on an already exploited period. You can easily be kitsch and this is why I also judge myself harshly. I am interested in history, but I think a lot before embarking myself onto such a journey. Communism and the lost 50 years became an important theme in the art done by most artists coming from the Eastern bloc. But their works are relevant to lived experiences. As is it problematic to talk about any catastrophe that you did not fully got into contact with.

Anyone’s history is not a thing to ignore. This is why I think that the artist’s past is present in most of his artworks (in various interpretations of it).

Daniel Djamo sculpture

Storm is coming / 2014: More info djamo.weebly.com/storm-is-coming.html

How would you characterise the current Romanian art scene? What is the experience of working within this scene like for an emerging artist in 2015? Does being based overseas change your perspective of the regional and national scenes in Romania? 

I can only talk about the art scene of Bucharest. I do not like the way in which it is constructed. It is very small and terribly divided. Most artists have their own group that they are part of. There are lists of friends and blacklists (as it was presented in the case of Bucharest Biennale’s last edition – I am referring to the list of Romanian artists that were not supposed to be chosen for their event). Some of the artists that are active in exhibiting in the various spaces from Bucharest have a neutral stance and try to profit from several sides, in order to reach a certain level of exposure. Of course, artists that stay out of this environment do exist. There is vanity, there are betrayals. I have passed through a rather weird and tragi-comical situation myself: someone attempted to silence me indirectly, because of a remark that I had regarding the way in which curators are appointed by his organization. Bucharest’s art scene can be seen sometimes as a soap opera, and sometimes as a tabloid show (such as Jerry Springer show). Conflicts can become even physical, as it was proven during the opening of an exhibition this spring, in the vicinity of Bucharest’s National University of Arts. – to be read in Romanian here.

One of the main vectors in Romanian art (as seen by many) attacked a gallerist, a gesture that found its closure under police sirens. I find myself unable to talk more regarding the art system of Romania, since until now I have had more contact with the art scene from abroad than I did with the one from my country. I had the chance of being strongly supported from a very early start by my University professors and by very few people from the Romanian artistic environment, people to whom I owe a lot. To make it in Romania as an artist should not be a purpose. What should be important is to remain honest with yourself in the process of your development. I would guess that in Romania you have to be liked by the right people much more than abroad, where the artworks do the talking. For me it would be very hard to have to focus on relationships with “important people”.

Abroad I did not know anyone and I got into contact with amazing curators and cultural managers, being valued for my work alone. Also, I find the level of envy between young artists to be much bigger in Bucharest than it is in cities such as Paris, London, Berlin, Hamburg or Vienna – spaces with which I had contact with. Some of my colleagues considered the support that I had received from my professors as unjust, and have managed to develop a certain animosity towards me. This is understandable, since there is a big desire of progressing, of being seen and there are very few opportunities. After I have managed to make it in a sort of way as an emerging artist (back in 2013), I started discovering stories about myself that made me at first very angry. I got angry because I had discovered the identity of some of those who had spread them – and I knew personally many of them, people that had smiled and had shaken my hand. Anger turned into sadness and disappointment. Now I manage to find humor in the way in which this very divided environment functions, although I find many practices that occur in the art scene of Bucharest utterly unprofessional.

Daniel Djamo Sculpture

Saint Vincent has lovely winters / 2014: More info djamo.weebly.com/saint-vincent-has-lovely-winters.html

What do sculpture and installation present to you as mediums when you are making work? How do you approach working with an object based practice? 

This is a difficult question to answer because I do not have a representation of what sculpture should be, or what installation should be. I do not believe in the segmentation of art, nor do I believe in the periodization of it. I believe in ideas. I try to not anticipate the shape of a project and I do not plan clearly any steps when I am making something.

I find the idea to be important. I put it into shape. I might think that it best fits performance, but then it ends up as a painting. Or a performance to become video art and object. I was put into this situation too many times. Maybe I am not a real artist and I like too much to experiment. I could not be precise in the answer.

What projects have you got on the horizon for next year? Are there any fairs or other events in particular that you are going to be taking part in? 

Since 2012 I am working on a large-scale project regarding the possibility of adapting foreign organisms within healthy-looking bodies without causing a flu.  Its name is “nomadaptation” and it focuses on the migratory paths of Romanians in the Western-European countries.

In parallel to developing my research, I created a series of works and I finished one feature documentary film (right now I am in the process of ending the second one).

In the near future I plan to make a fiction feature film, which is inspired by a theatre play that I wrote in 2010, entitled “The mattress”.  The play is inspired by an event that occurred in the hallway of my apartment block in 2009. I hope to be able to obtain funding for it and to start shooting around 2018.

Regarding art fairs: I will be in Artissima again, with my gallerist, Anca Poterasu, in November. Regarding other events: I only plan to make my work, because recently I got to observe how valuable time is. If exhibition opportunities will appear, I will be happy to join in.

Daniel Djamo (b.1987, Bucharest) is a Romanian artist and film director, interested in personal and group histories and stories, and in themes such as the national identity. He combines film with video art and installation with photography in order to evoke the past and to underline “the now.” He has exhibited extensively internationally and received numerous awards for his work. He is represented by Anca Poterasu Gallery in Bucharest. (http://ancapoterasu.com/)

 Currently, Daniel Djamo is a PhD candidate in the third year of research at Bucharest National University of Arts (Romania). 

This article was made possible with support from the Romanian Cultural Institute.  

By Will Gresson

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