Some time has passed since the “Still Life” work of the Visual Kontakt Association, also entitled “Chicken Putsch”, and dubbed simply Penelope, came into being. Taking into consideration the generated impact, as well as the spontaneous context of its creation, we can say without any doubt that Chicken Putsch is – at least to this day – the magnum opus of the association.
The readymade which gives new meaning to the expression “chicken cube” made its way through several important cities of Romania, passing through Cluj-Napoca, Turda, Blaj, Alba Iulia, Lancrăm, Sibiu, Brașov and Bucharest, all of them being of a certain significance to the itinerary which was thought out as a Transylvanian coupe d’état. It wandered through varied art galleries, public squares and cultural institutions, provoking small waves of enthusiasm at each of its stops. At the moment, it may be found in the motherland of the association, Oradea (for images and details, click here).
However, for more than a month, Penelope has been going through a new change. Thanks to the ideas of designer Astrid Țîrlea and the continuous conceptualization and reconceptualization of Dana Ștefănoiu, the resin cube got finalized as an exhibition piece after six weeks of work. Having received a plinth of pure silver, pearl insertions, green sapphires and – as befits any cocky work – feathers, Penelope and its 20 kg have reached a new milestone of their artistic status, becoming a “presidential medallion”. The motivation for this change is to be found in detail on the homonymous website, so reproducing it here makes no sense. In a nutshell, the object is attributed a character of homage which is specific to the objects belonging to the treasury, marking the “expression of trust in the hope of change” or the presidential victory of Klaus Iohannis. Its interpretation as a jewel is – if we are to confer the same source – analogous to the denominative function of the royal crown. Thus, we are dealing with a complex symbolist mechanism which sums up the concepts of victory, shift in consciousness, transgression toward the imagined condition of human decency, be it connected to the aura of the president or not.
Leaving the political implications behind, I must say that what amazed me most when seeing this specific work was the scarcity of its representation in the media and in the civic consciousness. Of course, the VK artists’ caravan created an uproar wherever it took the handmade object – it is not difficult to imagine the popularity of a trolley carrying a mineralized chicken in the middle of the presidential campaign. The waves, however, diminished as fast as they had swollen up, and it appears that from amongst the entire press, it was only me and the La Rezistans show to have intercepted the phenomenon. The situation seemed the more bizarre to me, as the news of the chickens in Iohannis’ yard – which was the foundation for the work’s creation – was universally picked up by the mainstream media. Maybe the Chicken Putsch project, as a pertinent reflection of social discrepancy and an unusually juicy reaction to the day-to-day absurdity of Romania, remained quietly placed on its shelf of contemporary art, although the most “common” of people understood the intention behind it and can identify with the movement it entails. For the contemporary scene, the involved art – sensitive to day-to-day happenings – truly has its intersection points with the public, much like in the political theatre projects in Cluj or in Dan Perjovschi’s drawings, which have accompanied most university uprisings from 2012 onward. Otherwise, besides a Genie or Hitter occasionally surfacing, Romanian plastic arts rarely seem to bring to the attention of the public such a civically involved project as was Chicken Putsch. If the work will remain in the collective consciousness or not, reborn out of the numbness of history, we shall only find out after some time will have passed.
Reprising the general context, we must discuss the ideological positioning of the work, which was concomitantly modified as its physical form was upgraded. In its incipient form, “Still Life” acted much like a swindling hit to the local consciousness, being – if you will – like the stone in the hand of a small Romanian Huckleberry Finn breaking in the windows of a city hall belonging to all Romanians. Only three days after the chicken incident, the public woke up to a delicious plasticization of the farce with a taste of tabloid in it, a relic meant to capture the event at the magnitude it deserved; the irony captured in the fibres of Penelope was nothing else than a material transposition into comedy (or tragicomedy). The present stage of the work – which was transformed into a piece of jewellery – keeps a touch of sarcasm, especially if we are to consider the feathers on top of the cube, surrounded by another layer of silver feathers. We can go as far as affirming that the chicken feathers belong to the “chickish” poorness targeted by the electoral sentiment of thoughtlessly jumping-in, whilst the silver ones represent the high distinction of the German that came to power to cover up the chicken shit with western luxury. Ever since the added preciousness of the plinth, Huckleberry bought himself a set of nice clothes, moved out, got his own rented place and a job as copywriter at a local political satire magazine.
Of course, the new understanding brings with it a false sobriety of the work, whether it is one that is an assumed or one that is deliberately and flexibly used in a significant to and thro. The sensitive moulding of the complementary texts towards the distinction between the two Romanias – one of the Social-Democratic Party (PSD), chickish and retrograde, and one of Iohannis, irradiated by the future full of light of the West – naturally raises the question regarding the extent to which the project has become politically engaged or not, irrespective of its initial stance. In the end, the destination of the object purposes to be if not its emigration, then the donation to the chief of state – a situation which, again, offers a double interpretation. Thus, the extent to which the ceremonial character that the presidential medallion has reached makes use of irony and resistance by means of art, and the extent to which the work is considered a rightful presidential homage, can only be truly known by its rightful authors. For now, I will leave you with the video of promotion (or – if you will – inauguration) of the medallion, which is absolutely fabulous.