Practices of Care as Curatorial Processes in Bucharest

This past January 15th marked the beginning of “You Are the Context,” a series of discussions organized by the National Centre for Dance in Bucharest (CNDB). By engaging the local cultural context and its socio-political and economic dimensions, CNDB sought to forge a dialogue with the most important independent art spaces in Bucharest including, Salonul de Projecte, and ODD. A caring, yet slightly utopian question that stood out was: How could CNDB’s new space (although most likely not functional before early 2020) become a kind of surrogate space for other independent art projects that struggle with their most basic infrastructure – space itself?

In a place like Bucharest where the few independent art spaces that exist have been built on a lack of an institutional infrastructure in general (not to mention one for contemporary arts), the questions of ‘instituent practices’ and practices of care have inherently been located at the core of their existing and functioning systems. While acknowledging the importance of the Administration of the National Cultural Fund (the main public funding body for culture across Romania since 2005), there is not yet a long-term and consistent financial plan for the cultural sector. The institutional art context of Bucharest is in ruins mostly because of fragmentary and unstable funding conditions caused by political and legislative inconsistencies, but Serbian writer and art critic Branka Curcic gives a different view on the ruin metaphor: “There is no reason to be afraid of the ruins because they could represent the end of capitalist relations and the dissolution of its opaque administrative bodies.” It is true that for most independent (precarious) art spaces (not just in Bucharest) transparency tends to be at the centre, alongside institutional critique and different methods of communality. in Bucharest ended their 2017 programing with the event “When Magical Thinking Is Not Enough, But It’s All You’ve Got for the Moment,” a series of meetings and discussions reflecting back to a few moments in 2017 that “were situated against the logic of obedience – towards fate, towards bad news, towards the complicated agendas of those who apparently ensure your survival.” As the organisers Raluca Voinea and Iuliana Dumitru further write: “Through all these projects we refused a precarious present, dominated by uncertainty, frustration, individualism and lack of horizon, taking refuge in an optimist, collective and public imaginary – which has actually already been partially realized in the recent past, and in more functional contexts, it is part of reality.” What can we learn from this type of event? How important is it to openly talk about these issues and challenge the precarious conditions that the independent art context situates itself in? Who cares? Or rather, who, what and how to care for?

As earlier discussed by Lucy Lopez in “On Care and Parrhesia” on Temporary, Austrian art theorist Gerald Raunig describes the realisation of ‘instituent practices’ as a process of continuous instituting, rather than a process of slowly “becoming institution in the sense of constituted power”. He draws from the metaphor of flight, “a positive form of dropping out,” a flight that is intertwined and connected to exercises of reorganisation and re-invention. The advent of “instituent practices” addresses the permanent self-questioning as vital and (self)-sustained living mechanism. Further, Raunig recalls Foucault’s writing on parrhesia as a method of truth-telling. To practice parrhesia is to speak honestly (generally from below) from a visible vulnerability and thus bringing forth a sort of radical and meaningful care of the self.1

Applied to the independent spaces in Bucharest, the practice of parrhesia may be considered a direct (or indirect) curatorial strategy. It is not just through projects, such as Dear Money (an exhibition as part of Viennafair that tackled the complex relationship between money and the {commercial} art world) and Who Cares? (a relational project between Bucharest and Yogyakarta that tests bottom-up curatorial processes – curating understood as a gesture of taking care of) that the above-mentioned independent art spaces speak the truth to their audiences, but also practice parrhesia through their modes of instituting. Moreover, new modes are being tested and discussed in projects such as Collection Collective. Template for a Future Model of Representation, a cooperative model for a collection of artworks where the artists and other cultural and administrative workers become stakeholders and caretakers of the collection, rather than solely employees in an overly hierarchical infrastructure. This project also raises valuable questions concerning the current discrepancies (and discontents) between public and private collecting practices.

In fact, many of the independent art spaces in Bucharest were founded in part as a reaction to the “lack of logistical and financial perspective that impacts on all of us that finished a degree in the arts”, not to mention the lack of (self)-care. For example,’s network of four art spaces in Romania is aimed at creating a new ecology of care for supporting the contemporary art context at large. In a recent profile,’s director Raluca Voinea stated of the organization: Following organic processes, learning from doing, recycling and adapting from one project to the next, developing long-term relationships, learning to be patient and to appreciate long durations, seeing a space grow in time, together with a community, enlarging this community by expanding the fields of knowledge rather than forcing everyone to embrace the same models – these are things that are working.” Indeed, all of these recently founded independent spaces in Bucharest have become caregivers for the local art context – for the artists’ and other practitioners’ needs. As among the many victims of “political trepanation,” in which “politicians have behaved like neurosurgeons, on an earthly scale, creating cavities in the political Earth and epidemical denial of access,”2 the curators (directors and others) of these independent art spaces have become plastic surgeons. They act beyond a detached critical approach when constructing their programmes and organizations. They are flexible and ready to cut, adjust, stretch and repair all of the scars that the political systems constantly provoke, thus transforming their duties and responsibilities to focus on practices of care.

In Jan Verwoert’s text “Exhaustion and Exuberance: Ways to defy the Pressure to Perform,” he sketches out the wavy meaning that the phrase ‘I Care’ unfolds: from ‘I Care’ implying a potential connection with the unconditional ‘I Can,’ moving to ‘I Care’ radically denying the ‘I Can,’ and then from ‘I Care’ as a matter of welfare and therefore (politically speaking) a question of organized solidarity, to ‘I Care’ as an always radically particular matter.3 Put differently: “It seems the potential of such a politics of welfare may only be truly realized when it retains the moment of disorganization that the particularity of care inevitably produces – at the very moment it becomes collective.” Considering this manifold understanding of ‘I Care’ and the challenges to adopt ‘instituent practices’ (alongside parrhesia and practices of care); how might we address practices of care collectively with long term common impacts rather than fragmentary and fragile ones?

Returning to the CNDB discussion, ODD curator Cristina Bogdan open-heartedly proposed the organization of an arts alliance in Bucharest so the independent art spaces (at least) could potentially create a common stronger voice. This reminded me of what Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi said in his book Futurability. The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility: “movement as full deployment of the potentialities contained in a collective body, the implementation of the technical and productive potency of a collective body – a potency that can deploy only when that body becomes a movement.” Yet, do we move the same? Do we care at similar intensities about similar subjects and matters in order to become a movement? Perhaps we cannot answer these questions, but as long as parrhesia is practiced, the nuances of ‘I Care’ (in relation to ‘I Can’) become of secondary importance.



Special thanks to Carla Albert for feedback.

  1.  Foucault, M. (1983-84), collected lectures from the College de France, in The Courage of Truth (The Government of Self and Others II), Ed. Gros, F. (2011) Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  2.  Kik, A. “Politically Trepanned,” Syrup Magazine, Borders Issue (2017)
  3.  Verwoert, J. ‘Exhaustion and Exuberance: Ways to defy the Pressure to Perform’ in e-flux journal What’s Love (or Care, Intimacy, Warmth, Affection) Got to Do with It? (2017), 2017. Berlin: Sternberg Press

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