by Ovidiu Ţichindeleanu
The city of Kishinev is a massive construction site.
In the Eastern European public spaces, one of the asymmetrical struggles of the transition period was fought between the concrete of the common housing blocks and the digitally processed images of the commercial billboards. So long as most of the inhabitants had trained their gaze on black-and-white TV sets, the blocks had been “silver” and “new.” Long overcoats, pullovers and one-piece dresses were in fashion. Blue jeans, which fit the dry concrete aesthetics, were a smash hit particularly in Eastern Europe (a dancer from Alvin Ailey’s company, on tour in Romania in the mid-1980s, had asked my brother why jeans were so popular in the Socialist block).
With the arrival of the color TV, the video camera and the personal computer (manufactured in every one of the Socialist local industries), the blocks immediately became “grey”, and after 1989, they became downright “ugly.” T-shirts displaying colorful logos in English (like “Sexy”) started cropping up everywhere and men started wearing the tracksuit with mother-of-pearl (-ish) lining.
It was an uneven battle. Concrete obviously lost. The digital visual order clearly defeated the planned order of concrete. After two decades, the blocks themselves began to dress in computer-generated “pastel” colors. Behind their walls, in the apartments – the site of the popular history of the transition – the great “evro-remont” had already taken place. Today, in Bucharest, Budapest and other Eastern European cities, the tragic end of this transition is marked by the eviction of the people living in the apartments.[…]
In the paradise of commercial billboards, strong colors, direct messages and perfect contours talk incessantly about a totality beyond any imagination. The relation between word and image has changed. The image has become a name. Not only have commodity fetishism and capital turned image made the image the main social elevator (replacing school), the main instrument of planning reality and the essence of the social world, but human language itself names through images – and this is happening the world of words, no less. […]
Which are the possible ways of progress, liberation or reproduction of the “alternative” spaces, the positive potential of the “service sector” or of “independent” culture and politics before they are swallowed by the world of consumption and the current establishment? The independent sector, with all its infinite margin of internal difference and nuances, is based on the embodiment of a critical dimension. As a result, its language usually tries to be transparent, to tell the truth, even when it projects itself on “the outside” and aims to be subversive. This is why independent institutions tend to wither away precisely at the height of their success, when they finally become aware that they are saying the truth, that they are doing something important, when they gain a certain amount of legitimacy or when the critical diagnosis appears to be confirmed not just by reality, but also by an audience. Maybe the obstacle in the path of the generalization of the message is precisely the lack of a symbolic / hermetic / fetishist / magic half in their language.
A social justice reading of the current social, political and/or cultural context of Moldova, of its recent history, one which does not ignore the hermetic dimension or the duality of communication, would be necessary in order to capture the context of the relations between externalities, to whom we should be grateful for allowing us to observe paradigmatic shifts, unlike inherences. But multiple external and internal influences, be they implicit or explicit, are never translated in a linear fashion or in a single environment. This is part of the reason why the social history of the transition period is written at Teatrul Spălătorie / Theatre Washroom (the mass migration of the labor force, both eastward and westward; the succession of nationalist and Western ideologies; the oral history of the Holocaust or of LGBT daily life etc.), the history of the public space at Chioşcul din Apartamentul Deschis / The Boutique in the Open Apartment and the Central Market is the most important institution of free time. All these, however, are parallel worlds. […]
The current moment, in the context of the Ukrainian crisis – understood here as the end of the post-Communist transition – marks the beginning of a new transition for Moldova, one which internalizes all the current outside pressures: from the molecular influence of the hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers to the explicit way in which geopolitical intrusions define first of all the choices of the oligarchs, then the electoral choices. If Ukraine has become a frontier line, Moldova has become a living frontier, wherein all the power relations and flows are combined. A side-effect of this turning point is that the top powers and historical forces, the oligarchs and the “complex systems”, are becoming more visible. As a result, the abstract totality, beyond any imagination or power of influence from the part of the ordinary citizen, is finally materialized. For the time being, the aesthetics of liberation in Moldova has toyed with public activism (often in the context of an international circuit of a different nature) and with the revisiting and rewriting of history from the point of view of marginalized/hidden histories and of those who suffered. Could the critical spirit paradoxically be too much of a monologue? […]