The current exhibition of the Future Museum in Bucharest could be called the one woman show of Alexandra Croitoru, one of the well-known contemporary artists in Romania, who is also a professor at UNArte (The University of Arts in Bucharest) and has been interested in the many shapes in which history is presented.
Official celebrations and festivities have recently gained a lot of momentum – the official narrative is one of national pride, unity and celebration. If 2018 has been marked by the Centenary commemoration, 2019 will certainly be the year remembrance of the ’89 Revolution. In this short respite between festivities, the exhibition explores artisanal methods of writing and recomposing history that lay outside of the main, official narratives. This comes as a direct reaction to the trend, because the national narrative often ignores the historical experience of its actual people, and becomes a distraction from issues they want to hear about. At the same time, you’re more likely to receive official support if you integrate this national narrative within your cultural projects, and that’s how we arrive at the present – one festivity after the other, not really addressing anything new, not really speaking to the people.
But can different stories about our past coexist? In particular, can they coexist without silencing the other? In reality, most of the time these stories – the official one, and those of everyday life – might never even cross paths, because of the fragmented nature of our society. We can distinguish different public spheres in which different subjective narratives form, based on individual and communal experiences. Here, Alexandra Croitoru explores how people record their own perception of history.
At the centre of the exhibition lies A Fresco for Romania, a ten year old project that came alive as she worked with Ștefan Tiron, in collaboration with Vasile Pop-Negreșteanu, trying to understand how collective memory shapes recent history. The collage represents an unofficial narrative of the first 20 years after the Revolution of 1989 and was created by asking the public of 2009, via the internet, to suggest events and public figures that they find relevant to this epoch, then making a collage of these suggested elements. After 10 more years, Alexandra Croitoru asks the public to contribute again, this time offline, and so continue this form of collective, non-hierarchical recording of history.
By contrast, the second part of the exhibition is a set of two posters from the Mihai Oroveanu Image Collection, showcasing socialist propaganda: the subjects are not historical events, nor are they important figures. They are simple working people, and that is why the posters are propaganda – inside the posters, people have become human-instruments working for the homeland.
The final segment of the exhibition focuses on two strongly subjective reconstructions of history: a set of reproductions taken from the scrapbook of an anonymous author at the turn of the 19th century, and a set of video recordings of TV broadcasts from the 2000s.
The scrapbook is a collection of depictions of public figures of the age, photos of family and friends, cut-outs from local and international press, caricatures, personal notes and the like – a personal rendition of the historical setting and of everyday life, spanning from around the 1880s, and well into the 1920s. We have reproductions on display, because the scrapbook itself is incredibly fragile – at it is also part of the Mihai Oroveanu collection.
The final installation is constructed around a rich personal archive of television news broadcasts, recorded on video tapes and DVDs by doctor Florin Gâldău. The piece shows how the attempt to select relevant episodes from the daily flux of information results in a twice mediated reality – a politicized history written by mass-media, and then edited by the author of the archive. The overlap between three different broadcasts at any time reflects the way in which political news broadcasts tend to break down into noise when you try to place each narrative side by side.
The purpose of the exhibition is to spark a conversation about how we write history – and why it’s important to have multiple narratives that may or may not interfere with each other. In a radio interview with Mihaela Dedeoglu of RFI Romania, the artist points out that in a world where we have access to more than one narrative, even though they are subjective and often politicized, if not outright false, we are privileged in comparison to our communist past, and we’re forced ”to become little journalists”, to check multiple sources and think critically about the stories we hear and the stories we tell ourselves.
All of these deviations from the official canon of national history have the potential to undermine the monopoly of the official voices, which select and use historical events only to preserve and modulate their power. In the context of present nationalism, when our rights and possibilities to interfere into public discussion are still limited, the exhibition can become a space for reflection and productive distrust that is so necessary in a time of official celebrations and festivities run amok.
Photo: Didi Elena