Exodus Stations #6

Introductory Note and main research questions

Marta Jecu November 2019 National Museum of the Romanian Peasant Bucharest (Muzeul Național al Ţăranului Român) - Romania
Topic: Artistic research of Nicu Ilfoveanu at the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant Bucharest Screening of multiple slideshow installation of Nicu Ilfoveanu at Centre Pompidou Galerie 3, in the framework of COSMOPOLIS #2 Rethinking The Human (curator Kathryn Weir).

For many years Nicu Ilfoveanu has travelled extensively in Romanian rural areas and documented specific characters from the countryside: communities in villages and their social life, as well as the landscape. All these aspects bear the imprints of Romania’s communist past, with its forced history of collectivisation and forced migration into the cities. In his images we see a desolate landscape, scattered communities, and abandoned and meaningless public monuments that were meant to commemorate socialism. We are met by a rural area destroyed by the long decades of communism, detached from its past and historic continuity, hesitating between imposed identities, currently deprived of resources and cultural foundations, and facing no sustainable perspectives.

In the context of this complex work, his series with Preafericitul Valerica and Gigi, two randomly roaming characters in a placeless setting, seem to revoke the stereotype of what we know as being the ‘rural Romanian character’. Two figures freed of any predetermined connotations, and devoid of the attributes with which Romanian rurality has been associated, are immersed in an abundant, untamed nature, in a sort of post- or pre-civilisational setting. The absurdity of their de-contextualised presence brings a note of humour – so much needed in the context of the recent efforts of reconnecting to a presumed rural Romanian essence, and of ‘recuperating’ what might have been left behind by the communist ravages, associated also with a pre-communist religious orthodox ‘tradition’. After decades of intoxication with the figure of a peasant as a fabricated symbol of the socialist individual mirroring the urban proletariat, Nicu Ilfoveanu’s images, in which these over-connoted themes have totally disappeared, seem refreshing.

Exodus Stations #6 presents Nicu Ilfoveanu’s work Overimpressions which is the result of his artistic residence in the archive of the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant (Muzeul Național al Ţăranului Român – MȚR) in Bucharest during 2019. As the history of the MȚR closely reflects the political history of Romania from the beginning of the 20th century until the present day, its own changing identity reflected in its photographic archive, it reveals important questions about how the cultural self was perceived in different epochs.

His multi-projection slide-installation juxtaposes historic images from the museum’s archive. Specifically, he chose early archive images from the pre-communist period (1906-1953) and from the communist period (1953-1990). These are combined with his own images from his series Gigi and Preafericitul Valerica (Bienheureux Valerica) – ongoing series that he has pursued for a few years. His research in the abundant archive of the museum has been dedicated to the successive ways in which rurality has been represented in the museum’s display in the decades preceding 1990. He has selected from the archive images that showed not so much rural objects themselves, but how they have been exhibited in pre-communist and communist times, denoting various politically determined cultural agendas.