Born in 1955, Marilena Preda Sanc is one of a generation of Romanian artists whose career has spanned across two worlds. She was raised and educated in Bucharest during Communist times, a setting which put severe restrictions on artists’ ability to make work and exhibit. During those years at the beginning of her career, part of her time was spent painting Churches, an occupation that utilised her formal training in mural painting. It also enabled her to operate within the confines of her studio, exploring her own chosen influences and creating work that was exhibited in alternative and underground spaces in spite of the limitations. After the revolution in 1989, Preda Sanc’s work was suddenly freed from the complex and often unpredictable state regulations that had previously restrained it. The topics close to her work – the dichotomy of private and public space, the body, feminism and ecology among others – were all open in a way in which they previously hadn’t been, and since then she has demonstrably embraced her ability to explore without restriction.
Over a coffee in her Bucharest studio Marilena Preda Sanc drew an arc through the status of Romanian Art history from the last 40 or so years, taking into account recent exhibitions like Mapping Bucharest. Art, Memory and Revolution, an event that took place during the first edition of the Vienna Biennale between 11 June – 4 October 2015 and the first edition of Art Encounters, a new Biennale held in Timisoara between 3-31 October 2015. These events, she says, are significant for several reasons. They place primacy on works created during the 1970s and 80s, when the country was still under communism. While work in the 1990s has had some degree of exposure in the years since, the earlier works and artistic communities received less attention. They also ostensibly seek to situate a significant moment in Romania’s cultural history into a wider national and international dialogue.
I say ostensibly here because another major consideration when discussing these events is the way they fit into a wider debate which feels ever present within the Romanian Art World currently. Both exhibitions, alongside other initiatives such as Bucharest Art Week (bucharestartweek.eu) (the second edition of which was held between 9-16 October this year) are seen by many as an attempt to capitalise on the recent increase in exposure Romanian art has had in the global Art Market. In a large part helped by the success of the Cluj School painters like Adrian Ghenie (who represented Romania at Venice this year and the notoriety of the Paintbrush Factory, Romanian art has found itself in the midst of a kind of art market ‘moment.’This has led to a string of debates about the influence of a Western gaze, notions of ‘performing the East’ and the predominance of the market and galleries within Romanian art.
Marilena Preda Sanc herself acknowledges this difficult situation, both for artists of her generation but also particularly for younger artists. “Artists develop their careers differently,” she tells me. “Younger artists are more preoccupied to be exhibited in a gallery, to be represented by a gallery. For the art market, it’s normal, also if you want to survive as an artist, to have a gallery, to represent you. Not to do everything alone, as my generation did.” At the base of this acknowledgement is a discussion about globalisation which ties into Preda Sanc’s practice and fuelled a series of works entitled Remapping the World.
Provoked in 1999 by the war in the former Yugoslavia, she started to consider the idea that new solutions needed to be found and new policies explored regarding regional politics and the administration of culture and funding. The internet and the increased pace and changing realities of globalisation sparked an investigation into the long held traditions of the conventionally defined nation state, something which has come under increased pressure in the age of free movement and increasing migration.
With Remapping the World, the artist explores ideas like opening up geographic borders and replacing them with semi-autonomous regions. “The world started to enter into another epoch, we can’t stop. Migration….people go to try and find another way of life. People need to move, to find other places, to find other relations.” The word solutions and the desperate need to find new ways of handling things like the refugee crisis, as well as the break down in relations between different regions on a scale previously unheard of, underlie these works. They are an expression of her search for new models; “you can’t stop globalisation. You have to try to understand in very anthropological, humanistic ways how the society wants to transform,” she says determinedly, emphasising a need for the political class to engage with those working in the humanities to better understand the situation and craft meaningful responses.
At the same time, the pieces reflect the relationship between private and public space that has been a feature of Preda Sanc’s work for much of her career. The old chopping boards upon which these constructions are built are part of a collection the artist has amassed over the years, and symbolise the private, domestic sphere that must itself undergo a reimagining and reconfiguration in the face of such rapid and all-encompassing change. In the age of social media, the tensions between the domestic and private spaces of the traditional family kitchen at one end of the scale, and the increasing visibility of carefully manufactured and manicured public presentation through things like Facebook on the other, offer up another dynamic which further confuses the issue. These works draw a line between the intimate security (whether real or imagined) of personal space and the inescapably interconnected world which exists outside of (but increasingly intrude upon) these private spaces.
These issues have a particular resonance to me as someone based in the UK, where debates around the UK’s future position in the EU frequently turn to more intrinsic debates about nationality and a perceived societal effect from migration. These divisive arguments often ignore the economic benefits of immigration and fall back on tired, worn prejudices that have at their route a perceived loss of the familiar and domestic communities which people remember from an earlier time. They also reflect the difficult political and economic situations faced by many, particularly during the recent economic downturn, and the way these different tensions coalesce into a variety of more extreme movements on both sides of the political spectrum. This situation undeniably demands attention, even while we must remain critical of those who opportunistically try to capitalise on the situation for their own political gain, something which Preda Sanc is also quick to acknowledge.
Ultimately, the solution to these tensions still feels a long way off, something which is bought home each time another image or story of migrants crossing the Mediterranean comes up on a screen or in a sound bite. These works are a reflection of this distance still to be crossed, but also the everyday reality of what has already changed. Currently Marilena Preda Sanc is developing new work after an incredibly busy year, bolstered in part by a successful show represented by Eastwards Prospectus Gallery from Bucharest at Vienna Contemporary. She is also a professor at the National University of Arts in Bucharest, and at the time of our interview, was coordinating 17 Ph. D candidates.
Marilena Preda Sanc (b. 1955) is a Romanian artist, whose work includes drawing, painting object, collage, artist book, visual experimental poetry, media installation, video, performing arts, and mural art. Since 1980 she has exhibited nationally and internationally through solo and group exhibitions, and her work has been featured at several Biennales and Art Fairs. Her art writings are focused on electronic art and art in public space. Her current positions include: Reader, National University of Arts, Bucharest, Member of the Romanian Fine Arts Union, Bucharest, Member AICA (Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art), Member ARFA (Romanian Women Art Association), Bucharest, Editor-in-chief Contrapunct magazine for literature and visual arts, Bucharest.
This article was made possible with support from the Romanian Cultural Institute.
By Will Gresson