Spring is around the corner, it’s time for cleaning. Remove the dust, soft wash, hand scrub and polish well. Make it shine! Like new!
Out in the night migrant workers prepare the shine of the next day, doing the cleaning work for minimum wages. The tasks are clear and the timing should be efficient. There are plenty of spots in the low light that need to have their shine restored.
Klinken putzen is a series of interventions where the door knobs of art institutions are getting their well-deserved attention. No need to be pulled or pushed for the doors to open. They can still rest while continuing to gatekeep the precious white walls and receive the spring cleaning that was not being asked for.
By going from door to door and cleaning the handlebars of art institutions, the caring gesture questions the status of “dark matter” artists that don’t get the chance to be “inside” those walls and the invisible yet vital jobs of so many cultural workers to maintain the running of these institutions.
The exhibition is accompanied by a poster and a conversation with Nicoleta Moise, artist and journalist, and Vlad Brăteanu, starting from the works of Romanian artist Ionuț Cioană / Mircea Nicolae (1980-2020)
“You need a certain kind of presence, otherwise you cannot infuse these useless objects with significance.”
A conversation between Vlad Brăteanu and Nicoleta Moise 12.03.2023.
“And somehow, beyond the idea of art, a fundamental thing exists, an even greater stake in this discussion, and a very difficult one, that is to just live your life.” Ionuț Cioană / Mircea Nicolae (1980-2020) – Romanian artist, curator and art critic who tragically passed away.
In December 2022 I received a very nice and encouraging message from Nicoleta Moise on Instagram. It was a message regarding a photograph I took in 2017. we had all candies, a snapshot taken with my phone, with the flash of an empty package of Toffifee candies.
I am grateful for her input, having reminded me of work no. 5, part of Mircea Nicolae’s Gunoaie, resturi și ruine / Garbage, leftovers and ruins series (2012). I had forgotten about this beautiful work, a delicate collection of candy wrappers. Our message exchange made me look closer into his work.
At that time, there was a running thread in the back of my mind about a work I had wanted to make for a long time, but I couldn’t find the right moment and the right kind of attention to make it happen. It was about the percentage of public funding given to the arts and cake statistics.
Mircea Nicolae’s work, Nicoleta’s kind words and the invitation from Kleiner Raum für aktuelles Nichts led me to finally finish the work. Cake, homage to Mircea Nicolae, 2023
Vlad Brăteanu: I wrote down some ideas in preparation for our talk, referencing the works of Ionuț Cioană / Mircea Nicolae, thinking about his approach, through very subtle artistic gestures.
Nicoleta Moise: Why is Mircea Nicolae important to us as an artist and how did we meet him?
VB: I had been familiar with his works for a long time, but when I met him was during my MA classes at UNArte in 2016, when he joined Veda Popovici and Ovidiu Pop’s course. There was a vast discussion about the position of the Eastern European artist in relation to the West. After class I enthusiastically joined Veda and Ionuț for a falafel somewhere on Magheru Boulevard. I vividly remember the place, a lot of white and green painted on the walls. That was the moment I met him. We talked for a bit and he suggested we meet again sometime for a beer, to which I agreed with a shy “yes”. Then in 2017, artists Delia Popa and Giles Eldridge organised studio visits to several artists’ homes, to get to know each other better. I remember Mircea Nicolae being very enthusiastic about the project and coming to Giles’ place, where we talked for a bit more. I think the last time I saw him was at Modern club, on Eminescu Street, in the former Viitorul cinema. That’s when we talked about music. Then I left the country and didn’t keep in touch.
NM: Had you stayed in Romania, do you think you would have eventually contacted him? You told me, at one point, that you would have liked to have a conversation with him about interventions in public space.
VB: I started working in public space during my fellowship at WHW Akademija in Zagreb, and I believe it was something latent, but I hadn’t seen it until then. I think if he were still alive, I would have definitely contacted him after I moved to Berlin. It would have surely happened because I’d started doing more works in public space, I was more open and interested in the subject, and I would’ve had the courage to talk to him about it.
NM: I heard about him through Simona Dumitriu, during a photography course she was teaching at UNArte. I remember she showed us his blog and from that moment his name stayed with me, as well as the story about how he chose his pseudonym: Mircea Nicolae. I believe the existence of this kind of dialogue is important, as well as the fact that the exhibition Lucruri mărunte, lucruri prețioase / Small Things, Precious Things, organised by the curatorial collective of Salonul de proiecte, is happening right now in Timișoara, which will be followed by a second exhibition in Bucharest, and a publication of his works and texts at the end of this year. To keep saying his name is just as important, or to talk about him every time an opportunity arises. Because this is what remains after somebody disappears, right?
I was thinking about how important and emblematic that first moment becomes, the first time we met a person that is no longer among us. I feel that we are fiercely hanging on to that moment and try our best to remember every small detail, a thing we do not normally do, but our memory kicks into full gear and we try to remember even the most insignificant details.
VB: This makes me think about the very fragmented and small kind of memories, scattered between the others. Small glimpses of interaction that suddenly resurface and become more colourful, so to speak, among other memories.
NB: I’m thinking about the Proteze / Prostheses (2010-2014) series, and about the six colourful lollipop sticks collection that he found on the street, to which he added dried plants and flowers. This sort of attention seems, to me, very similar to the gesture you are talking about.
VB: Collecting ephemeral items to which he gave a form. Such as Un altar pentru fiecare zi / An altar for each day (2014) series, for which he collected or gathered certain objects that he would transform into small monuments. Maybe this is what memory does – attempts to create small monuments from its register, offering them a place to occupy.
VB: The o sută de intervenții / one hundred interventions series (2007-2010) comes to mind – interventions he made in public space and then documented through photos. Artist Jiří Kovanda worked in a similar way, with performative interventions and simple gestures that would only survive as documentation, without leaving any object behind.
NM: Why is Mircea Nicolae’s practice important to you, and how do you feel it has influenced you?
VB: His sensitivity to everyday life is what I admire in his practice. His works would not catch your attention at first sight, but rather invite you to be curious and come closer to him.
NM: The fragility I keep coming back to when I talk about his work is the most monumental sensation one could have while looking at the Prostheses series. That is what I felt. A sort of calmness. I think there are too few interventions or ideas that are able to bring up this sensation in me; it’s a sensation that I only experience maybe somewhere in nature.
VB: I was thinking about the found objects that we often overlook, because there is always something more important or urgent to do. I remember, throughout the few conversations that we had, that I perceived him as a very calm person. Our conversations were calm and contained a certain precision of language.
NM: I perceive many of his works as a meditation process. There was something ritualic about them, if you think about An altar for each day. I think you need a certain kind of presence, otherwise you cannot infuse these useless objects with significance. You probably also need some sort of discipline, a sort of consistency with yourself, rather than something rigorous; a sort of ritual that would allow you to think about things in his manner of thinking and sequencing. The prosthesis series is somewhere on the fine line between loss and the healing process.
VB: I think of meticulousness and of his video work how bread is made (2014), documenting the process of making bread out of advertising leaflets that invade mailboxes, while explaining every step.
NM: After he passed away, I read in an article written by Andra Matzal that he would write and treat his art criticism texts for Scena9 as artworks, questioning whether to publish them under his real name, Ionuț Cioană or under his pseudonym, Mircea Nicolae.
Now that I also write for the same publication, I can confirm that you look at the text as if it were an artwork. But many times that isn’t exactly right. And I say this because it is essentially not an artwork, but a text. Of course you can call it an artwork because the working process has a lot in common with the methodology of what could become a work of art.
VB: Maybe it’s related to the idea that the immaterial has a certain impact, but it is more subtle than a wall that you hit. A sort of navigation through thoughts, references and ideas.
NM: If you asked me to formulate an answer regarding immateriality or nothingness, I would answer with intervention number 47 – “For number 47 I decided to do nothing”, from Mircea Nicolae’s one hundred series (2007-2010).
VB: I would’ve liked his works to be exhibited here at Kleiner Raum für aktuelles Nichts. I think he would have enjoyed the place and the curatorial program.
NB: But I think this is already happening, right? By having this conversation.
VB: I was looking for a channel to get in touch with him and I was moved by the letter you wrote to artist Alina Popa (1982-2019) in the article The Real Line – A project with multiple lives, by the attempt to communicate with somebody who isn’t here anymore. Our Instagram message exchange, in December last year, created this link to Mircea Nicolae.
NM: I see this timeline as three moments that led us to have this conversation today, March 6, 2023.