Romanian history inspires art

Mircae Nicolae’s installation “Romanian Kiosk Company,” consists of a 55-minute film and four reconstructed kiosks on display at the 32 Edgewood Ave. gallery.
Mircae Nicolae’s installation “Romanian Kiosk Company,” consists of a 55-minute film and four reconstructed kiosks on display at the 32 Edgewood Ave. gallery. Photo by Selen Uman.

To Romanian artist Mircae Nicolae, the urban relics of his country’s socialist past are no eyesores. Instead, they are cultural and historical artifacts ripe for artistic analysis.

On Monday night, an interdisciplinary panel of professors and curators joined Nicolae at the School of Art to discuss his “Romanian Kiosk Company” installation, a work consisting of a 55-minute film and four reconstructed Romanian kiosks that is on display at the School of Art’s 32 Edgewood Ave. gallery. The panel included School of Art Dean Robert Storr, Film Studies chair John MacKay, Museum of Modern Art curator Barbara London and New York University associate professor of comparative literature and Russian & Slavic studies Christina Vatulescu.

Nicolae, who is based in Bucharest, said that his idea for the installation developed out of a fear that the markers of communism — so prominent in his childhood and the recent history of his native country — would disappear entirely. New governments, he said, have taken steps to remove the kiosks and other relics of communist urban development, which represent “enormous amounts of history.”

MacKay, a Film Studies professor and the department’s chair, said the removal of the kiosks reflects the failure of a Romanian socialist utopia.

“Romanians have an inferiority complex,” Nicolae said, adding that the preservation of the physical reminders of the country’s past is critical in building up Romanian confidence today.

While Nicolae’s decision to build scale models of the kiosks arose from research on temporary communist architecture, the accompanying film component came from a more personal source, he said. The 55-minute video focuses on his own family photos and writing as a means of examining the development of socialism in Romania.

Nicolae said that he saw one family’s point of view as the best way to handle the topic, since historical documentaries can be dry without a personal touch. More important than historical research, he said, was basing the work on his own experience of watching Romania change politically and aesthetically.

“I unconsciously prepared my whole life for this [piece],” Nicolae said.

Vatulescu, the NYU professor, said that Nicolae’s work shows how people are artistically drawn to their own history. Projects such as this provide a justification to tell these stories, she said.

Still, Nicolae said he plans to take a break from film in order to gather enough personal content for another film. This process, he said, could take 10 years or more — during this time, he plans to look into photography and complete his Ph.D.

“Romanian Kiosk Company” has been on view at the School of Art’s gallery space at 32 Edgewood Ave. since April. The exhibition will come down on Friday.

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