– Spring/Summer 2016

Ion Grigorescu: A Political Reinvention of the Socialist Man

Ovidiu Ţichindeleanu

Ion Grigorescu, Oglinzi (Mirrors), 1975, photograph. All images courtesy the artist and Galerija Gregor Podnar, Berlin

Ion Grigorescu has offered what is perhaps the most iconic image of Romanian conceptual art: a black-and-white photograph of the artist perching midway up a long wooden pole, as if attempting to propel himself towards the future. He staged the performance in the rural town of Trăisteni on 2 May 1976, without a live audience, yet it has remained remarkably vivid thanks to the afterlife granted by the photograph. What leap of the imagination did Grigorescu enact back in 1976, and where could it take us today? My reading does not attempt to situate Grigorescu’s work within either Western or Eastern European art historical narratives; neither does it seek to add local colour to these Eurocentric histories. Instead, this essay is my attempt to perceive and respond to the artist’s epistemic gesture in the context of changes in political subjectivity in late-1970s socialist Romania.

Grigorescu’s ‘pole jumping’ occurred on the Sunday after Worker’s Day, an important festivity in a country officially invested in revolutionary transformations in the name of the workers and the oppressed. Besides attempting to vault over history, that day he also photographed himself splashing water from a spring, sitting on a log, contemplating the horizon from a hill and posing as a serf. Given my philosophical

  1. ‘A world-historical individual [...] commits himself unreservedly to one purpose alone [...] so great a figure must necessarily trample on many an innocent flower, crushing much that gets in his way. [...] It is the particular that is involved in the struggle with others, and of which one part is doomed to perish. It is not the universal Idea which involves itself in antithesis and struggle, exposing itself to danger; it remains in the background, and is preserved against attack or injury. This may be called the Cunning of Reason.’ G.W.F. Hegel, Introduction to the Philosophy of History (trans. Leo Rauch), Cambridge: Hackett Publishers, 1988, section 3, ‘Freedom, the Individual, and the State’, p.35ff. See also Karl Marx, ‘Private Property and Labor’, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (trans. Martin Milligan), Blacksburg, VA: Wilder Publications, 2011.

  2. See James Hutchison Stirling, The Secret of Hegel: Being the Hegelian System in Origin, Principle, Form and Matter, Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1865.

  3. See Jacques Derrida, Marges de la philosophie, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1972; and G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (trans. A.V. Miller), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

  4. Rolando Vázquez, lecture at the Decolonial Summer School Middelburg, 20 June 2015.

  5. See Aurel Codoban, ‘The Media Conditions of a Revolution’, in Konrad Petrovszky and Ovidiu Ţichindeleanu (ed.), Romanian Revolution Televised. Contributions to the Cultural History of Media, Cluj: IDEA, 2011, p.74ff.

  6. For example, one reviewer was concerned that ‘for someone born recently and who knows no history, in these images Ceauşescu seems a patriotic man, of good faith, likeable, a precursor of the new Europe, even a cultivated man’. Vlad Mixich,‘Un film periculos:“Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceauşescu”’, contributors.ro, 27 October 2010, available at http://www.contributors.ro/cultura/filmul-periculos-de-joi-seara-autobiografia-lui-nicolae-ceausescu/ (last accessed on 13 January 2016). Translation the author’s. See also O. Ţichindeleanu, ‘The Author of the Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu’, IDEA. Arts + Society, no.38, 2011.

  7. Ion Ianoşi, Eu şi el. Insemnări subiective despre Ceauşescu, Bucharest: Ideea Europeană, 2006.

  8. Ibid., p.128.

  9. Grigorescu has noted: ‘I even tried to get on better terms with the censorship, I even made some portraits of Ceauşescu.... I made a triple portrait of Ceauşescu and they didn’t want it, they only wanted one of him. But even that one wasn’t right. I represented him making that famous gesture waving his hand that destroyed neighbourhoods for his grand constructions. And I was criticised about the way I’ve painted the hand! According to them, it was “too real”, swollen, flabby... They told me I haven’t represented him with truth!... But I’ve never seen him in the flesh! I was doing it after the TV and I imagined him. I had to represent him from small images wherein the details were invisible. So I painted him from my imagination: with apparent veins on the face and blotches.... And they told me it was too “realistic”.’ Ion Grigorescu in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Suzanne Pagé and Mircea Cantor, IDEA. Arts + Society, no.23, 2006, p.60.

  10. See Georg Schöllhammer and Andreiana Mihail (ed.), Ion Grigorescu: Diaries 1970–1975, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014.

  11. I. Grigorescu in conversation with Anders Kreuger, 29 August 2009, available at http://ludlow38.org/files/wyoming-transcript-ion-grigorescu-anders-kreuger.pdf (last accessed on 13 January 2016).

  12. Ibid.

  13. See Ioana Macrea-Toma, Privilighenţia. Instituţii literare în comunismul românesc, Cluj: Casa Cărţii de Ştiinţă, 2009, p.315ff.

  14. Excerpt from Dana Chetrinescu Percec’s English translation of Grigorescu’s Dialogue with President Ceaşescu (1978), available at http://subversive.c3.hu/en/Ion%20Grigorescu.php (last accessed on 13 January 2016).

  15. ‘When I tried looking at myself with sincerity, from the outside, in search of my contribution to image-making, the impression was that my works (in the late 1970s) did not bring a major novel contribution, or even no contribution whatsoever.’ I. Grigorescu in conversation with Irina Cios, ‘Critical Resistance from Within’, IDEA. Arts + Society, no.38, 2011, p.70.

  16. Ibid., p.62.

  17. I. Grigorescu, Dialogue with President Ceauşescu, op. cit.

  18. Nicolae Tue (ed.), Cartea băieţlor, Bucharest: Editura politică, 1975, p.5.

  19. Morlende’s testimony is quoted at length in ibid., pp.103–05.

  20. As per the words of the Soviet Academy member Anatoli Blagonravov, in ibid., pp.102–03.

  21. Maria Lugones, Pilgrimages / Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions, Oxford: Rowman & Little Field, 2003, p.159.

  22. Ibid., p.158.

  23. Georg Schöllhammer, ‘The Double Body of the Artist: Ion Grigorescu’s Reflections on the Public Sphere and Life in Nicolae Ceaşescu’s Romania’, in Marta Dziewanska (ed.), Ion Grigorescu: In the Body of the Victim, Warsaw: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, 2011, p.50.

  24. M. Lugones, Pilgrimages / Peregrinajes, op. cit., p.156.

  25. See O. Ţichindeleanu, ‘Non-Capitalist Economies and the Postcommunist Transition’, in Eszter Lázár and Zsolt Petrányi (ed.), Over the Counter: The Phenomena of Post-socialist Economy in Contemporary Art, Budapest: Mücsarnok Kunsthalle, 2010; and O. Ţichindeleanu, ‘Building Modernity’, in Georg Schöllhammer, Roger M. Buergel and Ruth Noack (ed.), Documenta 12 Magazine, no.2, ‘Life!’, Berlin: Taschen, 2007.

  26. On the idea of a decolonial delinking from modernity, see M. Lugones, Pilgrimages / Peregrinajes, op. cit.; and Walter Mignolo, Desobediencia epistémica: retórica de la modernidad, lógica de la colonialidad y gramática de la descolonialidad, Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Signo, 2010.

  27. Marina Gržinić, ‘Analysis of the exhibition “Gender Check – Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe”’, 2009, available at http://eipcp.net/policies/grzinic/en (last accessed on 13 January 2016).

  28. Vilém Flusser, Gestures (trans. Nancy Ann Roth), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.