...and the winner is...
Text by Mihaela Varzari
Text by Mihaela Varzari
published with Revista ARTA, issue 4-5, May 2012
For the past decade, the artist Liliana Basarab has launched a continuous investigation into such universal concepts like truth or beauty by creating participatory events within certain communities she has been working with. It is certain that every age systematically reconstructs its own value system and the beauty of the past, consisting in perfect symmetry or colour coding for example, it is not applicable today. Through her subtlety, often-light humorous sculptures, performances or videos, Liliana Basarab forces us into looking at how we operate with such notions on a daily basis and creates thus a moment of essential disturbance based on self-enquiry.
In her latest new work called Truth/s, produced as a result of a two-month residency at the Dayton Visual Art Centre, the collaborative nature of the project becomes paramount as the artist invited different participants to ‘help’ her realize the project. The final show comprised of a 4 min video piece and showed three dancers, simply dressed in simple blue jeans and either black or white t-shirts performing, in a rehearsal studio, accompanied by some kind of heavy metal soundtrack, in a rehearsal studio.
Liliana Basarb’s works are performances which engage often fellow artists, lay audience, school children or dancers and choreographers, like in her latest project, who collude with her and become 'co-authors' of the final result. There is as much emphasis on the journey as on the destination, and the risks and chances inherent in Basarab’s collaborations ultimately give surprising shape to the final works, whether these are videos, costumes, sculptures or post cards.
The idea behind this project is the popular game Charades, whereby one has to guess as soon as possible the word mimed by somebody else. On this occasion, for the first stage of the project, three separate videos of three young female dancers miming the word truth were produced. They could then be accessed on a website, specially designed for the project, where members of the community could vote for the dancer who they thought represented the word truth best. Once the voting was finished and a winner was announced, a choreographer was asked to take the project further according to his vision. He chose to work with all three dancers instead of just one, the winner, and he then re-interpreted their contributions into one dance piece. His version of the audio was the song Truth by Alexander but for the final video the artist added a different soundtrack by local bands from Dayton.
Truth/s is evolving therefore like a work in progress, through a gradual collection of subjective accounts of the members of the public, the dancers and the choreographer, all of them contributing with their own interpretation of the word truth. It is a way a redistributing creativity and opening the work to a certain whatever-ness in order to re-think what an art work can be and how it can be made. By constantly recycling symbols, Basarab’s practice has been revolving around deconstructing certain social morals and also questioning the current social structure based on such grand notions like truth.
Truth/s is evolving therefore like a work in progress, through a gradual collection of subjective accounts of the members of the public, the dancers and the choreographer, all of them contributing with their own interpretation of the word truth. By constantly recycling symbols, Basarab’s practice has been revolving around deconstructing certain social morals and also questioning with her characteristic humor and grace the current social structure based on such grand notions like truth.
Originally influenced by the artistic group from Iasi, Romania, galvanized around Vector Association at the beginning of 2000, she gradually detached herself from it, taking on an increasingly personalized view on unfolding the innumerable layers of the individual as a social construct. 1989 represented for many of the European ex-communist countries a quick change of value system. The lessons learnt were no longer valid and an abrupt modification in ways of perceiving reality started to take shape. The constant condition of schizophrenia present amongst the population, as a result of living under a highly totalitarian regime was gone and individuals found themselves free and eager to embrace the standards of a more economically advanced society whose values centered around individual goals and aspirations based on individualism as opposed to collective performance.
Liliana Basarb’s works are performances which often engage fellow artists, lay audience, school children or dancers and choreographers, like in her latest project, who collude with her and become ‘co-authors’ of the final result. There is as much emphasis on the journey as on the destination, and the risks and chances inherent in Basarab’s collaborations ultimately give surprising shape to the final works, whether these are videos, costumes, sculptures or post cards. She positions herself as the alienated outsider trying to peek through the values constructing our guiding principles.
In her previous projects, at the end of each of her staying in three different countries (Romania, Germany and U.S.) Basarab realized a series of public sculptures, titled monuments for concepts. The participants were asked to pose for an online gallery and the general public was then invited to vote for the person who represented the concept of normality, individualism or acceptability. By involving the participants to actively vote, which enables them to tick a certain box next to a certain person, Basarab exposes our fragile value codes playing with our projections and operational systems of beliefs.
In the process, her seemingly harmless yet inevitably subversive gestures touch at the very core of how our perceptions are informed by notions we operate with on a daily basis.
The artist’s interest seems to lies in her in ability to scrutinize different societies from a single position by way of a sort of using the same detection system, a system whose method she appropriates, no less, from the discourse of democracy (i.e. voting); a discourse meant to offer the illusion of power and of having a choice. By doing so, she manages to successfully inquire into cultural differences… but what differences since our current desires across geography tend to be satisfied in shockingly similar ways. What are then, the incentives left for a personalized value system within the current increasingly uniformed society?
The uncertainties surrounding the realization of an exhibition were not hidden, as Basarab explains. On the last occasion in 2010, such a sculpture was supposed to be erected but the ceramic based object once out the kiln broke into several pieces and at the opening a broken sculpture was showed. Trained in an antiquated, academic manner at the Arts University from Iasi, Romania, the teachings of perfecting yourself as an artist by realizing a perfect copy is no foreign to her. Like the artist Stefan Constantinescu’s newly exhibited paintings realized after communist propaganda photographs, Liliana Basarab is making use of her apprentice years as an artist, in a conceptual way.
In one respect, these sculptures therefore appear to bring forth, figures of the community equals to themselves, susceptible to being assigned to one common criteria simultaneously carries with it, the syndrome of democracy and the illusion of power. A line from the American film To Die For by Gus Van Sant (1995, U.S.) springs to my mind. A minor character, (Lydia Mertz played by Alison Foand) after being used and abandoned by Miss Stone, a local very ambitious TV presenter, played by Nicole Kidman, who tricked her into helping her organizing her husband’s death, said: Miss Stone used to say that : ’You are not really anybody in America unless you are on TV. Cos’ what the point of doing anything worthwhile if there is nobody is watching? So when people are watching it makes you a better person. So, if everybody was on TV all the time, everybody will be better people. But it everybody was on TV all the time, there wouldn’t be anyone left to watch. This is where I get confused.”
It is certain that every age systematically reconstructs its own value system. And indeed is the era, which differentiates the possible changes and not geographical location anymore. In a society promoting individualism but not an individual belief system, no wonder our aspirations and dreams will turn out to be the same.
Basarab’s sculptures trigger the collective perspective as well as the individual account on values we operate with on a daily basis. Monuments taken into the public are always political in their essence. In their artistic practice they analyze the relation to the tradition of artistic production, in which traditional sculpture and monument play a central role. Working with time and many times against time, Basarab’s projects are the outcome of a very intricate process based on a constant negotiation to the point where the art works are some clusters of multiple meanings. Arm yourself with wit, grace and humor and engage in the multifarious works of Liliana Basarab.
design by Costel Chirila
Dancers: Alexandra White, Jesseca Smalt, Madalyn White. Choreographer: Rodney Veal
Soundtrack: Filthy American Swine, Strawberry Thundercunt, The Score (Dayton, Ohio, USA)