Dan Perjovschi: “Art in a public space doesn’t mean that I, the artist, can do as I please. That public space has the right to answer – hey, I don’t like what you’ve done.”

Dan Perjovschi is, probably, one of the most known Romanian contemporary artists alive. His art, a mixture between drawing and graffiti, has been shown in the greatest galleries in the world, that each contemporary art enthusiast wishes to visit: MoMA, NY / Tate, London / Centre Pompidou, Paris.

In Romania, his messages and drawings could be seen year after year at Sibiu, on a wall close to the Radu Stanca Theater, in galleries in Cluj, Timisoara or Bucharest, or in the campaign to built the first onco-pediatric hospital in the country, in which his involvement was pro-bono.

We spoke to Dan Perjovschi about that campaign, about the authorities’ reaction, but mostly about how the artists see the pandemic and what will happen to the art created during this period.

How has this period affected you, as an artist? How has your work transformed during this period of isolation?

I have seven postponed shows and two completely cancelled. I should have been in Bogota and all around the planet and I’m not going anywhere. Which is complicated financially, because I earn by drawing, and also regarding the experience, that I’m missing. I’ve been taken out of a rhythm.

I haven’t stayed in a single place for more than two months for about 15 years or so.

Other than that, the same as everyone. It can seem absurd sometimes.

But there’s another aspect. As an artist, I observe things and compare them, filtered by experience. And people are yelling that this is a dictatorship. They have no idea what a dictatorship is about.

They sit on their sofas and write what they feel like on Facebook.

It’s a time when we’ve become divided. You get the feeling that if everyone says their opinion, it’s more diverse, when, actually, it’s more polarized.

Everyone’s nerves are stretched, not only here, but everywhere. Both you and I have more time to think about things and get more angry about them.

But creatively ,regarding inspiration, did you manifest your art differently, given that it’s something that you haven’t lived through before?

No, on the contrary. Artistically, I’ve done more work now than ever. I’ve said that my shows have been postponed. So that physical practice is gone. But, on the other hand, my type of artistic practice, drawing things responding to current events, this has accelerated because there are countless websites, projects, magazines all over the world asking for my drawings.

I’m working with 4 international galleries and they all are asking for drawings on a weekly basis, only online this time.

“First of all, as an artist, I am for freedom of expression. The idea of censorship is unacceptable in a democracy.”

Dan Perjovschi

Have any companies or advertisers reached out to you?

I don’t work with companies or advertising companies, unless it’s a charity thing, without pay. I generally work With NGO’s.

And another thing. I’m not controversial enough. My drawings are.. someone says that they are intelligent graffiti, that they are deeper and they don’t stir hatred or division, as you’ve seen, but they try to bring people together.

So it doesn’t work like that, I can’t sell hot dogs with my drawings.

Drawing by Dan Perjovschi

Regarding what happened with the images depicting doctors as saints, what do you think that was about?

There are many aspects here. First of all, as an artist, I am for freedom of expression. The idea of censorship or trying to take down those things, is unacceptable in a democracy.

Have you heard of other cases, in other countries, where the authorities step in in regards of street art?

Yes, of course. The Vienna authorities took down some posters from an art project, depicting Angela Merkel in a sexual position. So it also happens in this Europe that walks hand in hand saying “je suis Charlie”.

I thought that only in Romania this could happen.

No. But, it’s true that in Romania, the Orthodox Church gets a way to big piece of the pie.

Do you remember when there was a wall painted in Sfântul Gheorghe square? It was the same thing then. The church didn’t protest out loud back then, they made some phone calls, on the low, to the owner of the building, who got scared and asked the artists to redo their work.

Now there were public about it and maybe that’s to be appreciated.

So, first of all, this is unacceptable and every time it will happen, including regarding art that I donțt like, I will support the art and not the church.

“If the purpose was to get more people to thank doctors, to be close to them, then it’s a failed campaign. There’s more hatred than an aura around the doctors’ heads.”

Did you like it, from an artistic point?

It’s not a question of linking. To me, street art is a little different, this was a little bit to much an advertising campaign and a pot-stirrer.

In the end, what was the purpose of the campaign? To make saints out of doctors, yes? Is the world standing with the doctors now or has another rift been made in society?

If the purpose was to get more people to thank doctors, to be close to them, then it’s a failed campaign. There’s more hatred than an aura around the doctors’ heads. Who won from all of this? The artist and the agency, right? Not the subject.

I think that when you get out in the public space with a divisive message, you should face the consequences. You can’t play around.

It’s easy to say “Oh, look, they’re censoring us!”, yes, but what is your message?

I’m not saying that it’s a bad work, everyone is free to do their work as they can. All I mean is that if it’s purpose was to smoothen out the harshness of society, it was missed and the faithful world can now frown upon doctors, instead of art.

“These doctors aren’t saints, they’re people who did their jobs. They had moments of bravery, good for them. But they shouldn’t be turned into something you visit with a lit candle.”

Is there a morality limit for the artists when they are creating something?

To me there is. I’m criticizing the Orthodox Church, but I mind my language when I do it.

Art in a public space doesn’t mean that I, the artist, can do as I please. That public space has the right to answer – hey, I don’t like what you’ve done.

I think that artists need to have responsibility and especially these advertisers. On the other hand, these people should be free to express their message.

The Orthodox Church and the people have no reason to get upset, because, in the end, this campaign is less offensive than the guy making a cross sign before stealing from your pocket.

This shouldn’t be the big problem for the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church got people out of their houses, put them in danger, they couldn’t help themselves, like the other churches, to stay home. So they wanted special treatment. Well, that special treatment comes with a bill.

Let me say one more thing about those images. A lot of young artists have a Taschen catalogue culture. When you use Buddhist or Christian symbols, you should know what they’re about. They’re not simply decorative.

On the other hand, yes, it wasn’t a bad idea to say that doctors should be shown as icons, though it seems a bit far-fetched to me. These doctors aren’t saints, they’re people who did their jobs. They had moments of bravery, good for them. But they shouldn’t be turned into something you visit with a lit candle.

In my opinion, the artists needs to carry the responsibility of their discourse. That doesn’t mean censoring themselves or being censored by others.

You’re working along side a group called White Cuib. What is that all about?

White Cuib is a non-profit space in Cluj. The title is a word-play. The main container of contemporary art is a white cube, meaning the gallery, the white wall, grey floor.

I was supposed to do a show there and then the virus came. I said we’ll do it online. And I started doing an online journal and after a week I started inviting other artists and now there are 22 of us from all over, Jakarta, Bogota, etc.

These people post daily messages reflecting what is happening in the world right now, with this virus.

Work done by Alina Andrei for White Cuib

How do you think this period will remain documented artistically?

Some works will remain online and others will be transferred offline. We’ll also do a show out of what we’ve created, there are hundreds of messages posted. We’ll show it at Cluj and then all over the country and, hopefully, abroad. Because there’s an interesting diversity of reactions and messages. I find it an extraordinary creativity, not only at artists.

A lot of artists need time to react. Me, coming from a newspaper, I react immediately. Others may need a few years.

So, what’s going to happen? All the shows from now on will have to touch this subject. And the rest will reorganize. I’m in a show in Vienna. It has been closed and will reopen. You can’t show the same things now. You must nuance and change some works. It’s about readapting everything to a subject that has touched everything.

I have in the journal a Colombian artist who photographs his soap. And he’s invited people from all over the world to photograph their soap. And it’s a really nice collection.

If you’re creative, you have to fight the situation. Otherwise, we’ll all get depressed.

A final question. As a human being, how has this isolation period affected you?

I’ve had a difficult relationship with time. Some days seemed endless while others went by fast. I stayed up nights, woke up late. I need to recalibrate.

As a human being… we’ve all received an opportunity. Nobody would stop this mad run even if you’d pay them. We were given time to reflect.

I’ve done shows all over the world, for 15 years. Maybe I shouldn’t have done all of them, perhaps I shouldn’t have flown 4 times a month. Maybe I’m rethinking some things, perhaps some things are not as important and I won’t be doing them again.

I’ve had the time to look at my own archive and the projects that I would like to do.

Generally speaking, the communities have reacted great. You’ve seen, they’ve made masks, they’ve brought food for the elderly. I believe that those people deserve more attention than some agency’s icons.


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