From the opening day of the exhibition ‘News from the Island’ at Hafnarhús, the Reykjavík Art Museum, I knew the indoor graffiti work of the Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi (b. 1961) must be honored with an art review because his stick figures are far more than a mere mockery of society—they are, in his words, an archive of the global “homogenization of culture,” as a result of the rapid development of mobile technology and the Internet.
Review by Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine. Photos courtesy of the museum.Dan Perjovschi, Algiers Mama Museum 2012 (photo Rafik Lagoune).
In all honesty, I didn’t know who Dan Perjovschi (b.1961) was– despite his international career of 20-plus years and holding exhibitions at many major art venues. Perjovschi was Romania’s representative at the Venice Biennale in 1999 and had a large installation at MoMA in New York in 2008.
As the down-to-earth artist disarmingly admits in a video interview called ‘Chalk Reality (Digital Flair)’ (IFA 2012, Berlin, Germany) which you can find on his website www.perjovschi.ro: “I am known and not known which is a perfect situation. It gives me enough space.”
I highly recommend watching the entire length of ‘The Artist’s Talk’ (60min) recorded in Hafnarhús on September 6, 2012, and available at the museum’s website. Perjovschi does an excellent job explaining the motivation behind his art, and how his career organically grew to the current state of mastership—in the simplicity, but diversity of his visual language.
The essence of his art is described in ‘The Artist’s Talk,’ such: “I try to do—in very simple lines— some very complicated images to describe the world we live in now... I am not dealing with my own country, I am dealing with yours.”
Personally, I watched the recording twice (and later replayed certain parts several times in order to take elaborate notes) as the information he provides is quite intense: after the first 30 minutes, I started fidgeting and had to do something else while listening.
As a matter of fact, packing Christmas gifts and simultaneously listening to the clip turned out to be a bad idea—it is easy to misinterpret half-heard facts. For example, the moment he started talking about the dictator Ceausescu, I instantly cringed.
Personally, I hate having to clarify to people that I am Bulgarian. I am ignorantly and repeatedly corrected by foreigners that insistently ask whether I am instead Hungarian, Romanian, Polish—as if we all belong to the same big village called Eastern Europe. I am even more allergic to the export of Eastern European art from the 90s with old-fashioned perestroyka symbols. For a moment, I wrongly assumed that the Romanian artist was part of that too.
On the contrary, Dan Perjovschi cracks a self-deprecating joke: “I was exotic in Eastern Europe. Now I am in the EU, I am boring.”
If he talks about his past, it is in the light of how purely economic post-crisis reasons affected his cheapest choice of self-expression: his own body and prehistoric chalk (marker) on walls. In the light of politics, the newspaper boom (after the freedom of speech was established in Romania 20 years ago) led to his preoccupation with political illustration, inexpensive newspaper quality and easy photocopying techniques.
My first superficial impression was that his black marker cartoons drawn directly onto the walls of the Reykjavík Art Museum reminded me of the socio-political sarcasm of the stick figures art of the Icelandic artist Hugleikur Dagsson (b. 1977).
But the latter loves to test the limits of the average man’s comfort zone by implying repulsively slap-in-the-face sexual anecdotes, which is not exactly the case in Perjovschi’s art. The uneasy effect of Dagsson’s cringe humor is similar to the Ricky Gervais’s U.K. mockumentary The Office: it pushes the buttons of the viewer to painfully remember the times when each one of us has made an idiot of themselves at some point in their lives with social awkwardness and inaptitude.
If I am to compare Dagsson’s and Perjovschi’s method of stick figures as a way of expression: Dagsson’s work is still at comics level (with inclination towards theater) while Perjovschi’s graffiti art has ambitions of raising social awareness.
I would rather compare Perjovschi to a Romanian version of the Chinese artist and activist Ai Wei Wei (b.1957) in his native country, even though Perjovschi has not been imprisoned so far and does not hire factory workers to hand-make his art.
With his wife Lia Perjovschi, the couple strives to make a difference in their country from the inside by informing the general public about contemporary art outside of Romania via public lectures, debates, TV shows, and printed booklets.
The more I listened to Perjovschi’s words, the more I started relating my own past to his, as citizens of neighboring countries in the Balkans. In fact, he is still a citizen of Romania, while I am a dual citizen of Bulgaria and Iceland, and I admire his courage to stay and make a difference on the spot. I left because I still dream of making a difference from the outside.
But the important message from ‘News from the Island’ is that no matter where we reside—Iceland, Bulgaria, Romania, Australia or Rwanda, we are all citizens of this planet interconnected and interdependent with the same issues, dreams and sentiments. Perjovschi is a citizen of the world.
The exhibition ‘News from the Island’ runs until January 6, 2013.
The Hafnarhús building of the Reykjavík Art Museum is located at Tryggvagata 17, 101 Reykjavík
Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine – kremenan (at) gmail.com
Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine is a passionate collector of art books, dedicating every spare moment to learn more about art while dreaming about having an exhibition of her own. She studied graphic design at the School of Visual Arts in Akureyri from 1999 to 2002. In college she realized that she didn’t want to be a designer or commercial artist but rather an illustrator and writer. At the moment she’s experimenting with her first graphic novel.