Interview with the artist Teodor Graur

Installation view, Pile of Twigs and Statement, Nature – Culture exhibition, Nicodim Gallery Bucharest

What made you choose the topic “Art practices in yesterday’s and today’s Romania” (“Practici artistice în contextul României de ieri şi de azi”) for the CAMPart online mentorship program? In how far do you think the topic is relevant for the new generation of artists?

Having gone through multiple stages as an artist, I wanted to offer ideas and arguments to those who are just starting out, to those who, because of their young age, are disoriented by the informational bombardment, the aggressiveness of the visual medium, the uncertainty of personal options, in this time of crisis and falsity, in this world that seems to us unjust and uncertain, whose values are upside-down, in this dramatic life in which art plays a part. So why art practices? Because anyone (especially art students) would like to know how contemporary art is made. …in yesterday’s and today’s Romania? Because I know the cultural context here well, after forty years of activity on this scene, with all the transformations that took place, in institutions and in current practice, during the decades our country has gone through. The process was more difficult and slow than we would have expected, from communism and dictatorship to a normality of life, to a European state where people are free. Young (and future) artists need role models, I know this from my own experience. They will turn towards one mentor or another, someone they see potential in and in whom they can trust. It was a personal choice in the case of the CAMPart project.

Is there a connection between studio practice and teaching practice?

Within art teaching there is always a connection/relationship between learning and studio, even in the academic system (theory and practice, applying specific working techniques: painting, molding, etc.). In the case that interests us here, contemporary art, if we consider the role model as a determining factor, the author/professor’s practices (I considered myself a coach at the time of STUDIO498) become objects of study and shared experience. In our mentorship, which just ended, we looked at known works from different time periods, always analyzing the practices and approaches in connection to the expected and obtained outcome. I stated from the outset that relevant questions and comments were welcome, as they could lead to necessary explanations for the benefit of the whole group.

Were you inspired by your contact with the young artists? What would you say to artists who are just starting out and looking for a direction?

Having contact with interested young people can be inspiring for the instructor as well. It is an interactive process useful to everybody, precisely because they (students, young people) ask themselves questions. In our field, the teaching process is not a rigid one. On the contrary, it is subject to debate, an exchange of ideas and experiences, even brainstorming… What I would say to young people just starting out? (Not that they listen to what their parents and teachers say, usually quite the opposite, but they are however interested in practical advice.) It is not easy to live from art, and I think young people need a solid basis to start down this path. The opportunities to travel and experience new things are much more numerous nowadays, and I advise them to make efforts to take full advantage of them, to always enthusiastically engage with the things they’re drawn to, and to keep their curiosity alive. They will encounter disappointment, that’s inevitable, but they need to be patient and never stop. As artists, it is important for them to create their own path and be consistent, to try out as many languages and styles as possible. The art that young people produce is the essence of contemporary art, a dynamic and surprising art. 

How do you see the reinvention of art practice, of art making and exhibiting systems, in the context of the current changes, which will impact the art world? What do you think will change in the long run?

I am among those who think that the general crisis we are going through right now will bring important changes to all fields of activity, starting with the economy. Just as we will find economic solutions to overcome the crisis, so will all other fields be reinvented with reliability and efficiency in mind. Of course, everything will be reinvented in the field of art as well (in terms of practice, production, and exhibition) – those who are inventive will be successful. Economists know a few ways to adapt, and we will witness how they return to a state of balance and economic growth, with the help of the European Union, which will, of course, inject funds into the economy. But the medical part of the crisis is still a problem, as the relationships between people are threatened on all levels: individual, community, international… It is here that we will need to reinvent, as art also means communication. For now, we have restricted travel and use the internet to contact others. Information travels comfortably online and we have high hopes for new technologies (think the 5G system). Artists are often inventive and, if they find themselves in the front line, in the avant-garde of society, like in the past, they will benefit from this opening.

We can’t know now what will change in the long run, especially because that depends on many factors – for instance, we need to take into account the global geostrategic balance, which is currently changing, the future of the EU, or climate change… We here in Romania are facing a drop in population, a dwindling workforce and an imbalance between the working and non-working population, reckless deforestation and desertification, and an agricultural sector that needs investments and strategies, among other things. These are threats that do not concern artists directly, but they can pose some questions with their own means. Because contemporary art is tied to life and its role is to comment on issues of general interest. As for the changes that await us, I believe new art  products will appear/be invented, as well as new dissemination/exhibition formats, but that is the job of the institutions (museums and galleries), as these will have to be invented as well.