Dream of Bucharest at Solitude
As in many other big cities, the situation of the cars in Bucharest is catastrophic. Not dissimilar to the cases of Moscow or Belgrade, the infrastructure of Bucharest has not greatly altered from the socialist times. From the end of Ceausescu’s regime, 17 years ago, the number of cars has grown continuously each year, so that today there are 1 million cars for 2 million inhabitants! Like in many other cities, the urban landscape of Bucharest itself is affected by the sheer multitude of cars that can or cannot run and can or cannot park in a certain place. Vlad Nanca identifies with an obsession his birth place to the national Romanian car, Dacia 1300, built after the long forgotten Renault 12 at the beginning of the 70’s. Moreover, Vlad Nanca sees in Dacia the absolute metaphor of a society in stand by mode as it was in the time of Ceausescu: for 30 years Dacia 1300 was produced and sold without the slightest technical modification. In the post-socialist Bucharest, the new turbo capitalism with its huge adverts, its global brands of consumption and arrogant cars of the nouveau riche, this neoliberalism is thus confronted with the numerous traces left by the 30 years of political and economic idleness that Dacia so obviously embodies.

The works of Vlad Nanca are displayed predominantly in the public space, so they can seldom if at all be seen in art galleries. Both in Bucharest and outside he is known to be the promoter of a number of graffiti actions. Among other examples of this everywhere in Bucharest one can see car silhouettes that the artist has drawn in marker on walls, some of which can be seen in this exhibition.

In the installation »Dream of Bucharest«, the car becomes a ghostly factor of inconvenience (white on white) on the narrow corridor of Akademie Schloss Solitude: the 12 silhouettes of a white Dacia block the way obliging the viewer to walk around them as they do in Bucharest, where pedestrians have to make their way aside from the traffic and the parked cars. The guests and residents of Solitude can now share this dream, or rather nightmare of Bucharest. Behind each of the silhouettes Vlad Nanca displays photos, video material and sketches from his own notebooks. They are all recurrent motifs of his urban obsessions: the simplified profile of Dacia, the black balloon stamped with a terrorist figure on it, cars with their windscreen wipers up, like cut off wings of some mechanical birds and Maggi’s logo. All of these images and signs are remains of and references to previous projects that the artist drew or posted on pavements or walls. At the end of the corridor the artist can be seen drawing lots of Dacia silhouettes on a bridge behind Solitude castle. All of these are reiterated, obsessive gestures which replicate the automated production. Through his work Vlad Nanca denounces the aesthetic deficiency of the Romanian society generating this way some little and quiet inconveniences in the beautiful and well protected landscape of Akademie Schloss Solitude. The next stage of this creation and of other creations of Vlad Nanca will be at Galeria Noua in Bucharest, a gallery that Solitude has collaborated with for the past two years.

text from Dream of Bucharest catalogue, merz&solitude ed, 2007

Working in a subREAListic vein (in the sense defined on one occasion by Calin Dan, as revealing and playing with the supreme state secrets – poverty and the ridicule), the artist Vlad Nanca is the initiator of the already mentioned 2020 Home Gallery and of the ‘Începem’ (‘We’re getting started’) internet discussion group and fanzine – processes which gelled a collective of artists of diverse backgrounds around the ironic credo that Romania will be the epicenter of the art world in the year 2020. This collective practices a D.I.Y, low-budget post-institutional attitude, through projects like the intended creation of a network of home galleries, with art works traveling by post. As an artist, Vlad Nanca reacts to the misuse of national symbols, the backdrop of false heroics on which the nation seeks to project its daily life and the political channeling or appropriation of such practices. One victim of an excessive yet perfectly ignorant adulation is the poet Mihai Eminescu, mounted on a pedestal of paper and vociferousness from which he seems to command the nation’s self-reflection and to guide its natural propensity towards the absolute, the latter being probably the most stable preoccupation in Romanian culture. The idiotic and fundamentally destructive stardom thus achieved by the poet, completely isolated from the life of culture since rendered “ultimate” and “unique”, is counteracted by Vlad in a piece called ‘The Eminemscu Show’, which works either as a stencil graffiti in the streets or equipped with a heavy gilt frame in a gallery context. Joining hands we have the poet of longing and the lyricist of unhappy childhood or sworn revenge, a figment of pop marketing and the restless gesticulation of a culture which secretly perceives itself as second-rate. The Slim Shady of late Romanticism does stand up, with a chorus of academics, journalists and cultural workers ready to acclaim genius and to demand reverence in its name. The same strategy of “fuse and confuse” is deployed in a work which inverts the “logos” on Communist Party and European Union banners – the misplaced hammer, sickle and 12 stars accurately describe the ideological confusion that makes political life in Romania such a dispiriting spectacle and such an exercise in futility. ‘30 Years of Social History’ departs from the iconic significance of Dacia, an imported model of Renault from the ‘70s which was transformed into the national car and mass-produced until recently with almost no improvement involved. Vlad’s fast-paced slideshow has the car, with its seemingly inevitable design, parade in various cityscapes more or less affected by communist urbanism. Attention gradually shifts from the pitiful design of the car to the cityscape itself, oddly unitary in its desolation. All images become equalized in a sort of social numbness, into which the car punches always the same hole, metaphorically readable as rupture of the social tissue. The final slide has the Dacia positioned symmetrically in front of the House of the People, the crown jewel of communist architecture in Bucharest, in all its dumb grandeur. The House of the People must rank high in some top 10 of difficult buildings to look at, come to historical terms with and digest culturally. It is a flaccid expression of communist absolute power, an empty interdiction directed towards the city, isolated from the life outside and folded upon itself in a megalomaniac entanglement of decoration, abuse and meaningless glorification. It, and the adjoining Civic Centre, gridlocked a sizeable portion of the city. I must confess I haven’t checked whether it still is the second largest building in the world, yet it certainly belongs to a universal architectural freak show as one of the twisted wonders of late modernism. Another work by Vlad resorts to the edifice from a different perspective. When the news spread that the Romanian Orthodox intends to erect a monumental ‘Cathedral of National Redemption’, the artist proposed a morphing, a quick solution to both problems: the House itself can become a cathedral, by simply adding the generally recognizable signs of piety in the public sphere, dome and cross. No other adjustments would have been necessary to accommodate the new breed of megalomania, in the context of a perverse alliance between the ideology behind the House and the one evinced by the plans of the Orthodox Church, in a country trapped somewhere between the 19th and 21st century, still boasting its role in the Middle Ages as “defenders of faith” and where populist initiatives can display a remarkable opacity to the present and its imperative questions. Made last year, Vlad’s proposal brought together theoretically disparate realities; yet recent developments have confirmed what appeared at first to be no more than a quirk. Those disparate realities have come to articulate a closed, inescapable network, proving the artist’s derision prescient. After a few possible locations for the Cathedral were rejected, the site under consideration now is precisely the lawn in the back of the House, the only impediment being that the foundation of the Cathedral might affect the underground defense tunnels which spread from the House towards other locations vital for national security. This enfolding of military secret, conspiracy theory, late and falsified religiousness, megalomania and populism qualifies the House as a strange attractor for misplaced ambitions and unspoken political desires, as well as the perfect backdrop for acting out the post-communist syndrome. If the plan of church-plus-government is to enlist the support of that segment of population that needs this cathedral, and meanwhile safeguard the imperial isolation of the House, then the project of the Cathedral can work. If the plan is to cover the whole idea – and necessity – of urbanizing the House with a thick layer of ridicule, then the project is truly advisable. If the grandiosely confused plan is to build a sacred counterpart to the obscene violence of the House of the People, then the project is ill-advised. So is any thought that this might infuse life to an entire area ravaged by communist urbanism, or trigger the post-traumatic process.

Excerpt from COMMUNITY WORK – A Report, catalogue of the exhibition
Paradoxes: The Embodied City, Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, 2005

The works presented here in the apartment-show Vlad Nanca lives and works in Romania display a shift in approach in Nanca's production. As its title explains, the group of studies brought together in the artist's flat sets out to underscore his position within the social texture of Bucharest and Romania. Although one of his previous works, his installation entitled Swing Me [2001] had a pronounced reference to the effects of the drastic shift in the recent history of Romania on its citizens' daily life, his other works, mainly photographs have studied the various trivial occurrences of the urban experience that remain irreducible to a geo-cultural specificity -such as urban furniture, dull surfaces of public transportation, construction equipment left on the street, graffiti, etc. This time, in Lives and works in Romania Nanca studies directly a series of objects, icons and tropes that have constituted the Romanian national identity (or its crises), ruses and slang of the Romanian language that mark the social impasses of the country.

Nanca's photographs of Dacia cars loop on a computer screen. The circularity in their presentation parallels to the production of the car in Romania for a thirty year period without a major change in its design. The very minute alteration on the original Renault 12 design produced a quality of locality and to veil the fact that the know-how was in fact imported this car was baptised with a name that refers to the soil of Romanian essence, an ancient root imaginatively employed for claiming the continuity of national spirit. Not being courageous enough to vision a future to come, but mistakenly fall back to the prisons of a past, this car started to illustrate allegorically the mental and economic stasis of a whole country (and ideology). Far from small but gradual subversions of a peripheral culture that takes the discourse of the central culture and displaces it playfully -as affirmed in Homi Bhabha's theoretical work-, the Dacia came to symbolise ossification and establishment of poverty. Nanca's use of them is perhaps an elegiac farewell to one of the objects that defined his urbanscape from his birth on, but also a progressive attempt to seal off the past.

The small stencil detournement that plays on the phonetic similarity between the names of Romania's national poet Eminescu and contemporary hip-hop star Eminem illustrates the current confusion in the country which is squeezed between the introversion of a societal collectivity typical to periods of crises and the showering of globally rotating signifiers of spectacle, in which the icons of the different ideological constellations bleed into each other. The documentary-based piece of the exhibition that brings together Nanca's collection of objects that bear the image of the famous modern sculptor of Brancusi and his artworks gives a wider scope of how the status of an artist was employed differently for changing ideological purposes. First ignored by the state-communism as the symbol of decadence of bourgeois aestheticism, he became after his death one of the tools of promoting the country's image to other cultures. These days the iconography around him is being recklessly plundered by the image- and icon-thirsty circulation of Capital for the most unrelated and absurd purposes.

The dizzying shift between the two, once warring ideological semi-continents, the state-communism of Eastern Europe and liberal social democracy of Western Europe is taken up by two flags referring them. One of them bares the sickle & hammer combination used by USSR and some of its satellite states, the other bares the circular twelve stars of the EU. Will the latter truly replace the former? Is the EU really the only alternative that is available for Romania still trying to heal the traumas of its nightmarish past? Nanca's sardonic swap between the colours of the two flags points at that confusion but perhaps he is also construing an utopian alternative to prescription marketed as the single solution: a collective rethinking of commun-ism from scratch. The same tension between the two ideologies are used in two further pieces. The first one is concerning the difficulty in finding and buying meat in the Ceausescu-era. The complementary parts of the animals that are bought instead were named by the general population after luxurious goods to be found in the West. Thus, the flimsy claws of chicken were called ‘cutlery’, the pork head ‘computer’ and the meatless feet of the pork ‘adidas’. The latter ironic metaphor is literalised by Nanca through the three stripes of the famous brand placed onto a pork feet. Another piece, ‘the winning lottery’ tells the more recent past: an actual lottery ticket sold in the streets of Bucharest that guarantees the winning of a prize -yet with a trick, the fixed prize remains always much lower than the money you pay for that ticket. A brief summary, you would say, on the mechanism of capitalism: a constant promise of profit but the seizure of a higher input in an abstracted route.

The other two projects included in the Lives and works in Romania do not contemplate inductively on the unique, in-dividual, homogenous idea of a nation, but they mark its splintering into singular pieces –just as in Nanca’s previous photographs with their emphasis on the everyday life. The post-it’s stuck onto the wall near Nanca’s telephone give numbers of people with funny sounding names found in directories. The Romanian language is, for sure, the source of the communicability of these joke-like names, but also the contingencies that produced these amalgamations of names and surnames, are the leading factors behind their grotesque character. Similarly, the photographs taken from streets of Bucharest diverge from the representative mode and overdetermined cultural specificity. The peculiar occurrences on the streets to be found in these pictures are offered by Nanca as proposals for installations and sculptures, underlining the aesthetic ready-made richness of the urban texture.

text for the exhibition VLAD NANCA lives and works in Romania, 2020 Home Gallery - 7 November 2003