Bogdan Achimescu: I exist in no country
article by Dana Fabini, written in 2005, published in the catalogue of the exhibition Bogdan Achimescu: Uglyplaces, Second Street Gallery and Les Yeux du Monde, Charlottesville, Virginia
original in Romanian, English translation by Carrie Galbraith
In an interview recorded in December 2004 in Cologne, as he was recounting the path of his life and art, Achimescu uttered the revelatory affirmation that he exists in no country. For the past 15 years, Achimescu’s artistic perambulations over three continents have given him no anchor in any clearly delineated social or national territory, therefore, not allowing him to be identified with a stable set of coordinates. All of this movement constitutes the de-facto etymological basis for the baffling affirmation that, although formally a Polish citizen, since he never positions himself anywhere for a significant period of time, Achimescu does not exist in any country.
(...) Wherever he moves on his trajectory (Achimescu calls it, proudly, serendipitous) he steadfastly follows themes with social implications and keeps returning to a number of printmaking-specific techniques. (...) Inspired by television reports of the first Gulf War, he conceived the series Cities (1991-2001) as a long-term grouping of well over 4000 heads of different sizes that could be configured as large-scale installations intended to fit a variety of exhibition spaces. Rapidly drawn, summarily featured, the heads are perceived more as objects than as living beings equipped with a brain. In a ranting, personal text, their maker complains about the platitude of these creatures but is satisfied with their lack of voice, as this prevents them uttering boring complaints. (...)
The same Stasi-style system is the theme of RCF – Registrul Centralizat de Fizionomii (The Centralized Physiognomy Registry), a five-channel video projection that includes drawings, kinetic photography and fictional texts and was presented for the first time as part of the Context Network project in Romania’s National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2001. Starting from two or three photographs, software can easily extract the image of a person seen from different angles and with different facial expressions. The idea was to create a centralized physiognomic-traits database of “potential suspects” and then share this database among Secret Services across the former Eastern Block. Starting from an Orwellian scenario that is daily bread for dictatorial regimes, Achimescu envisages a relational database that pathologically stores information about imaginary suspects. Blurring the borders between truth and fiction, he claims to use photographs of family, friends, and unknown people, picked at random from his photo archive and manipulated without the models’ approval. In a parody of manic dictatorial behaviors, he presents himself as an anonymous archivist whose civic duty greases the wheels of the system, a character that frantically thanks the state institutions that supported him in supervising and archiving his fellow citizens. (...)
The recent works shown in Charlottesville at Second Street Gallery and at Les Yeux du Monde Gallery (2005) mark an unexpected divergence from Achimescu’s usual imagery as they do not represent people and crowds but clusters of artifacts. Although he uses his favorite and adroitly mastered toolkit and keeps his narrative-illustrative concentration on archiving a topos and a multitude, Uglyplaces is an environment without inhabitants. It is a huge theater of urban spaces with the actors and spectators missing. All that is left is the set, reminiscent of past richness and glory long gone; there are fields of abundance, residential villas with square, Roman layouts, gardens mounted in masonry or cast iron enclosures, greenhouses, buildings of a temporary character or a presumed religious purpose, groups of mechanisms and memorials, mutant vegetations, spare parts for fossilized machinery and fortifications decayed from their initial, apparently military functions and sometimes human limbs spread on the fields. One might assume that globalization has finally been accomplished, historical eras have amalgamated and their artifacts have been superbly cloned into scores of small images, aligned pedantically on large axonometric plains. A dizzying and artificial macroambience deserted by human identity. These Uglyplaces are visually seductive, the imagery is gorgeous down to its last punctilious minutiae and the overall makeup is conducted with expertise. It’s a dictionary of artifacts that assembles terms, processes, archaeological traces of apparently unrelated civilizations, all bound in a useless and megalomaniac classification. It reminds me of two things that a fleeting look might see as unrelated: a catwalk and Ernesto Sabato’s novel, Sobre Héroes y Tumbas (On Heroes and Tombs). Both elaborate on human identity through its absence.
The Ideal and the Idyll
This is something that has always struck me as extraordinary both with Achimescu’s persona and with his artistic productions: this amalgamation of ideal and idyll. Hero and victim of globalization, Achimescu fights an ideological war for art in search of absolute truth and for artist-ascertaining meanings, while at the same time practicing a self-made culture grounded in ordinary everyday habits (or methods). His works are like TV: concurrently multivalent, univalent, and bivalent. Being polyvalent generates progress, being univalent generates popular success, and being bivalent almost always generates problems.
Today, in the art of the western hemisphere where cultural forward-thinking is born and certified, the heroic-elitist tradition and its creative ideals are permanently metamorphosed into a paradigm of individualism and self-made culture. Personal artistic production as reflected in all means of expression seeks private truths. The old artistic ideals, whether myth-grounding, aprioric or non-historic have mutated into a well-delineated concept that hinges on the creative documenting of processes rather than on finished products. Today’s artists research and project in conjunction with personal and social reality. While Achimescu also researches and projects in conjunction with personal and social reality, he has the nostalgia of the heroic artist.
Topographically detached and multiculturally blended as he is, it would not surprise me to see Achimescu become like Cat Stevens one of these days: he could earnestly convert to Islamism, change his name to Ivan Turbincă, put on a pair of flamenco underwear over a Hindu sari, travel with a suitcase on wheels full of laptops and digital cameras or wear a huge sign that says “Television Lies.” In his lack of respect for the consensual directives of society, he would not even be surprised when security singles him out as a suspicious person.
I already know what I would tell him in such circumstances: “It’s a wild world.”