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Inside Romania’s National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2022: interview with curators Cosmin Costinas and Viktor Neumann

Before the official opening of the exhibition hosted this year by the Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Propagarta conducted an interview with the curators of the project „You are another me – A cathedral of the body”, initiated by Adina Pintilie and chosen to represent Romania at the Venice Biennale. Cosmin Costinas and Viktor Neumann told us about how the collaboration with Adina Pintilie began, the work behind adapting the initial vision into the coordinates of the Biennale and explained more about the immersive audio-visual installation that we will be able to see once the 59th edition of the Biennale will open on April 23rd.

How did you start working with Adina Pintilie on the project „You are another me – A cathedral of the body”? When did you come up with the idea to participate with this project in the national competition for the Biennale?

Viktor: The selection process for the Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (both for visual art and for architecture) is organised by the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Romanian Cultural Institute. The process is conceived as an open call following which a jury designates the artist(s) together with the curator(s) and the bigger team of organisers to showcase their project in Romania’s Pavilion in Giardini della Biennale. The results of this selection are announced only in late-January, so three months before the show opens in Venice.

We have been working with Adina on putting together a vision and deciding how it might translate into the particularities of the Biennale’s form and space. We started working on this in late summer of last year. Before that, both Cosmin and I have been great admirers of Adina’s practice and Touch Me Not has been very inspiring for us. Both of us share a practice that is very much invested in contemporary body politics through the lens of expanded moving image and performative arts. So it felt very organic for all of us to come together and work on this adventure.  And while, surely, it is a challenging time scale to produce an exhibition of this size in only three months, it is a dense and fruitful experience that we all very much enjoy.

We know that „You are another me …” continues Adina Pintilie’s long research on corporeality. Still, is it a project made especially for participating in the Biennale? Or was the idea envisioned some time before signing it up in the competition?

Cosmin: I am glad we get to talk about this because it sheds light on Adina’s way of working for the past decade, when she initiated this research on intimacy and on how we approach our own body and interiority – which then determine how we interact with others in our close surrounding and, even further on, how we express soldiarity more broadly in our societies. This research was conducted together with a group of long-term collaborators, who you will get to encounter in the Pavilion. At their mutual core is the bond and the feeling of trust that has been established between Adina and her performers.

Touch Me Not has achieved international recognition a few years ago. What were the steps that led you to continue the project and to develop it as an immersive installation? Why did you choose this form?

Cosmin: From the very beginning of this journey it was clear for Adina that the research will sprout in different moments in time and in different works through a variety of artistic languages and vocabularies. What we will see in the Romanian Pavilion is the materialisation of that initial idea in the field of visual arts. Yet, of course the pavilion at the Venice Biennale is a very specific type of exhibition space/time/economy so together we re-articulated Adina’s preexisting concept to its current shape. So, it was a combination of both: a preexisting idea that Adina had from the beginning of her research, as well as an endeavour to realize Adina’s vision in the Pavilion…

Viktor: …which was particularly different from the classic cinematic experience and narration, where you have a fixed point of view towards a single screen. Here, we had to think of what it means when bodies come together, move together in a space, and possibly connect to the perfomers on view as much as to one another.

The budget for this year’s Romanian Pavilion is said to be higher than in previous years, and this can only be welcomed. Could this project have been completed on a smaller budget?

Cosmin: There is certainly not a bigger budget. We received from the Ministry of Culture and the Romanian Cultural Institute a total of 200.000 euros, which is the same amount allocated to the previous several editions. The budget is sent in the project’s account only around the opening of the Biennale. For various reasons, this is how the set-up for the Romanian participation in the Venice Biennale is done, sadly, so the time in which the selected project has to prepare is absurdly short.

Viktor: And, we are yet another project that feels urged to make public that the conditions for the Romanian Pavilion are more than precarious on all levels and we certainly hope that this might change in the very near future.

In the Romanian Pavilion in Giardini we will see an immersive audio-video installation, and in Noua Galerie – Romanian Cultural Institute’s space, we will be introduced to a VR experience. How are these two mediums linked? How should we visit them?

Viktor: We recommend to first go visit the Giardini to experience the multi-channel work. The installation at the Romanian Cultural Institute has been conceived as an extension in the realm of Virtual Reality, a new medium Adina is starting to explore, specifically considering the blurring lines between our preconceived ideas of corporeality, virtuality, presence, and agency.

Cosmin: It is indeed important to understand that the VR is still in a stage of experimenting, while the installation is more advanced.

How does your project fit into the general theme of the Biennale, „The Milk of Dreams”, launched by Cecilia Alemani? Tell us about the connections between these two themes.

Cosmin: The way the Venice Biennale has developed in the course of the past several decades is that there is an increasing autonomy between the central exhibition curated by the appointed curator and the national pavilions. So there is no real expectation that the national pavilions will respond to the theme chosen by the curator. Even so, from the little that we actually know about Alemani’s concept at this moment, many connections might be traced between what our project is interested in and what appears to be the theme of the central exhibition (maybe more than in previous years), such as the concern towards the transformations of the body.

Viktor: Of course, we are simalarly curious to see how there might be connections between the Romanian Pavilion and “The Milk of Dreams” and how deep they can go in terms of aesthetics and ethics.

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