The Vienna based artist Ovidiu Anton spent a month in frame of KIOSK art residency program of Young Artists Association Oberliht in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. We asked him about his experiences in discovering the public space of the city, about his collaboration with local inhabitants of the green area called Zaikin park for realizing the Monument for Nobody and about the recently opened exhibition The Taste of the City which presents the result of his collaborative project with art students from Chisinau.
Kinga Lendeczki: Your works are strongly based on materials collected from different urban places. Through these works you reflect on and deal with the different cultural, economic and social contexts and problems of these spaces. What are you usually looking for and what inspires you when you start to discover a new location?
Ovidiu Anton: As you said – I move a lot in the public space and I try to encompass the urban space where I am and find out its economies. Sometimes it is difficult, because when I get invited for a project, I usually have only a short period to walk around or to put myself into different situations.
There are many inspiring moments I can have, but I think the most inspiring one is, when I recognize that something I read about is completely different than I imagined it would be. I think this is the key- (or starting-) point of many artists.
I am always greatly interested in public communication like publicity or street signs and as I was educated as a sculptor I am also very much into different objects that lie around in the street; then how the city imposes us to use it – what kind of objects like barriers, benches, curbstones, fences, chains etc. are there to tell us how to behave….
KL: Starting with 6th of October you spent one month with the KIOSK art residency program of Young Artists Association Oberliht in Chisinau, Moldova. What were your expectations?
OA: I have never been in Moldova before. I was born in Romania and grew up in Austria. I can speak Romanian and I thought that it would make the communication easier. Actually it was not really like that, because there are quite some people who do not understand you, when you speak Romanian.
I knew that the country is in such an interesting geopolitical situation between Russia (more or less) and the EU and it is struggling with this antagony. I was interested in that, but as an artist I was rather interested in the visual language of the public space. And I can say that I could feel very well that I was not in the EU.
KL: What is your impression of the Moldovan contemporary art scene?
OA: It is very small – unfortunately there are just a few actors. It has to do with the system of financing the arts and culture in that country: the Ministry of Culture is de facto not spending any money on that sector. There is no contemporary art gallery and I have not heard of any collector in Moldova. When I think about myself – living as an artist in Austria, where we have governmental support for artists, there are lot of art galleries, collectors and contemporary art museums and I still have financial struggles – then I guess it is impossible to think about making a living from contemporary art in Moldova. Either you constantly apply for EU grants to make projects in your country or you exhibit and earn money just outside of it.
For me it was a very tough decision to follow that path as a young artist (in Austria) and I have huge respect for all these actors who run a space or make art in Moldova.
KL: In frame of the residency program Oberliht association invited you to take part in their long term project connecting to the planned construction of Cantemir Boulevard and Zaikin park, a green area situated on the imaginary axis of the boulevard. Your response to this invitation was a sculpture made from recycled materials, the Monument for Nobody. Could you tell us more about the concept of this work?
OA: Oberliht invited me to develop something in the public space.
Then during my first days in Chisinau I visited the park and I saw the situation which I found very bizarre: this green strip between all those charming old houses with their lovely locals who use it as a park, but it is not an official park like all the others in Chisinau. A real park is equipped differently. There is no car going through and there is park maintenance in a real park…. but that “park” is different and the kids share it with cars and play next to the garbage place. The locals really want to change the situation and they write many letters to the city hall, but it does not change anything. I decided that it is something I want to work on.
So I asked the locals for material contribution for a monument, which I placed in the park. The plan was to get in contact with many of them and to talk about the situation of the park and bring them together by giving me a piece of leftover material from their house construction or just a piece of something they do not need anymore. I got many things like wooden panels, metal bars, metal sheeting, broken parts of furniture and even a box for an outdoor gas meter and a broken pink tricycle.
So I assembled all these parts and in the end I had a sculpture that I put on a concrete base with an engraved aluminum label saying it is the monument of nobody.
KL: Who is this Nobody for who the monument is standing?
OA: “Nobody” is referring to all that individuals in that city who are trying to improve the quality of their life in urban environment (for example the people living around Zaikin Park), who are writing petitions aiming to change the situation in and around the park, but who are not recognized and whose voices are not really taken into account by the representatives of power.
KL: As you said the monument was realized in collaboration with the inhabitants of the area of Zaikin park. How did you try to involve them in this project and what kind of difficulties did you have to face with?
OA: One day I asked them to contribute with material and many of them did it with pleasure. Then another day one of the locals helped me to pour the concrete for the pedestal.
I also met some of them to have a talk with them in between in order to tell them in more details what the project is about and to find out more about the situation in the park.
I think there were no difficulties. Except, that I wanted to spend more time with some of them, because I really like them a lot… all their life stories and their sense of humor. But who knows – maybe I will come back one day and work on another project. But hopefully the problem with the park will be resolved and I can work on something else.
KL: How was your work received? What kind of feedback did you get?
OA: The few who had time to come to the opening told me that they really like the object. They were curious to find their own little piece of contribution. I had built it somewhere else and brought it in park to install it on the concrete base just the day of the opening, so they have seen it for the first time just on the day of the inauguration.
A fanfare was playing and there was a red ribbon that had been cut by one of the locals. We spent a very nice sunny afternoon together in the park.
For me the biggest appreciation came the day after, when one of the locals came to paint some parts of the sculpture to protect them from water. It was something completely unarranged with me. It means that there is a kind of appropriation made by them since they care about weather influences and protect the object from them.
KL: Recently was the opening of the exhibition The Taste of the City which presents the result of two weeks long project based seminar that you led at the Faculty of Fine Arts (AMTAP) in Chisinau. What was your working method during the seminar and how did the exhibition complete the process?
OA: In that seminar, the students were asked to develop a collaborative fanzine about the public space in Chisinau.
I tried to sensitize and point their presence and their gaze at the public space as a consuming subject and translate different experiences into the language of art, which means – to find a way of bringing those performative moments on paper.
KL: Why did you choose this medium?
OA: The choice of that medium was taken in order to talk about the idea of that kind of independent and non-professional publication which represented and represents the spirit of DIY movement. Nowadays this format is conceptualized by the art scene.
It was a playful way of talking visually about power structures in the public space and anywhere else.
The fanzine can also be seen as something experimental – as a result of sketches and unfinished thoughts. This is also a very common practice in contemporary art.
KL: I think we can say that the art education still follows a more traditional path in Moldova and there is still not so much space for contemporary art practices. What was your impression? How did it influence your work with the students?
OA: The term “collaborative” was quite important, because I did not want to impose the students what to do. I tried to do it very democratically and make together decisions about how the results will look like. I think it does not happen often in that academy. The students are told what to do exactly and how their works should look like. Let’s say it is an old-school way of teaching art… with very limited frames.
I think that they are trained to find a profession after they finish their studies. And with that I mean being employed somewhere and doing visual work for somebody.
I tried to spend with the students very little time in the building of the Academy and we went instead in the public space to talk about different views.
I think there are no official seminars or lectures like this. Oberliht and Ksa:k initiated an exceptional cycle of lectures with artists and theoreticians from outside in the past and they plan to continue it in the future. I hope it will run well and more and more students will show interest in contemporary art practices.
KL: What will be your next project?
OA: I am working on a film, where stray dogs speak about their dog’s lives. It deals with a larger socio-cultural dynamic of the city.
The article was originally published on 12 November, 2015 on ArtGuideEast.