OSA | Visions after the Fall: Program

Visions after the Fall: Museums, Archives and Cinema in Reshaping Popular Perceptions of the Socialist Past

Gabriela Cristea and Simina Radu-Bucurenci: Exhibiting Communism in Romania: Getting Closer by Creating Distance

Exhibiting and exposing Communism in Romania is now at a crucial moment. It is the first time since 1989 that Communism has become a state-business. At the beginning of 2006, the Prime-Minister founded an Institute for Investigating Communist Crimes in Romania and in April, the Romanian President established his own Presidential Commission for the Analysis of Communist Dictatorship in Romania. Not a widely covered event, yet a premiere, was the set-up of a Romanian exhibition on Communism in Vienna. The exhibition was commissioned by the Romanian Cultural Institute, the first public, state-financed institution to request an exhibition on Romanian Communism.
The purpose of the Presidential Commission is to elaborate an "accurate and coherent" report that would allow the Romanian President to officially condemn the 50 years of Romanian Communism. The question on everybody's lips is: why so late? Until now, the discourse on Communism (historical, visual, museographical) has mainly been an underground business. It is more or less this underground discourse that is now becoming official. This presentation will try to trace these unofficial discourses, restricting itself to museographical discourses, and the ways in which their underground condition has shaped their content.
Our hypothesis is that one of the main characteristics of the discourse on the Communist past has been so far the attempt to distance, to alienate this past and not to integrate it in a coherent history of the country. The fact that Communism was up to now a strongly marginalized topic only helped the initial drive towards distancing this past. We will try to explore the methods by which this "distancing"/"alienating" purpose was accomplished in exhibitions about Communism.
The first "distancing" device becomes obvious when one lists the places where these exhibitions were organized. In 1997 two first attempts to expose communism in Romania emerged. One room was opened in the basement of a central building in Bucharest while the other, the Sighet Memorial, a building with more than 90 rooms, was 700 kilometers away, only 2 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. The first was located in the basement of the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, in an ex-wardrobe, near some unusable and evil-smelling toilets cubicles. The room that used to be the wardrobe of the Communist Party Museum, now became The Plague, political installation. One later example is the exhibition on socialist realism organized by the National Museum of Contemporary Art. The paintings and wood and wool portraits of the Ceausescu couple were exhibited in the very narrow corridors created between the real wall of The House of the People (where the museum is located) and the fake wall of the exhibition.
Another example of alienating the Communist past is traceable at the level of museographical discourse at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant (MRP) in Bucharest. The MRP was re-established in 1990 and the building assigned to it used to belong to the History Museum of the Communist Party and the Revolutionary and Democratic Movement. The basic concepts in dealing with the heritage of the old museum were fakery and truth. The former communist museum was considered a fake museum, therefore its objects were fake objects. The new museum was built through a dialogue with the objects, but this very dialogue was denied to the communist objects.
One final example that escapes any classification is the Leisure Park built in a village near Craiova (Podu) and a museum in Scorniceşti. This park contains a Communist Party Hotel, a football ground and a swimming pool, a church and a monument where one can light candles for the tragic death of the Ceausescu couple. Sociologists, historians, journalists consider this Park a phantasmagoria. Some people are furious and feel offended that such a place "where a dictator who ruined the life of millions is venerated" exists. Others go and light candles.
The presentation will focus on the influence of these early attempts at uncovering and exhibiting Communism on today's emerging official discourse on the Communist past.

Gabriela Cristea has received an MA degree in Sociology and Social Anthropology from the CEU and a Diplôma in Museographical studies from The Center of Professional Development and Cultural Management (Romania.) She is currently research assistant at Romanian Peasant Museum (Bucharest), and editor and host of the Realitatea TV mini programs "Old customs of Romania" and "Euro-patches in Central and Eastern Europe." She was involved recently in the exhibition project on the representations of everyday socialism organized by the Museum of Young Art, Vienna, "Realismus versus Realität: Impact of Stalinism. Gabriela's main research and publication interests are: ethnography, urban studies, museography, social history, representations of communism.

Simina Radu-Bucurenci is a Ph.D. Candidate in history at the Central European University, Budapest, and an associate fellow at the Romanian Institute for Recent History and Editorial Assistant for East Central Europe/L'Europe de Centre-Est. Eine wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift. Her main research interests are: the status of documentary images in Communist regimes from CEE and their recycling in Post-Communism, reassessment of the Communist past in these countries. Recently, she was part of the team of the Realismus vs. Realität exhibition (on Romanian Stalinism) in MOYA, Vienna.

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Date: June 8, Thursday

Time: 6-6.30 pm



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