Various Venues

Entering the Unibank Pavilion at the Bucharest Bienniale I am greeted not by the smooth interior of a commercial gallery space but by a series of gutted rooms. Walls are stripped to bare brick work and electricity cords hang down from the ceiling. The space has just been given to the biennale organisation group, a signal that Bucharest is beginning to emerge as a commercial location for art. Speaking to Ravzan Ion, Biennale director, I comment that I like the sense that this gallery is an in-between space. He responds. ‘It’s an in-between city.’

It is suitable then that the subject of the Biennale should be mapping and cartography. A theme devised by the Biennale curators Jan Erik – Ludström and Johan Sjöström. It’s a theme made very real to me as foreigner who has not visited Bucharest before. Like any tourist I am consistently gazing at walls to look non-existent street signs, trying to figure out the tangle of bus routes or looking for conference rooms that doormen and receptionists have no knowledge of. It’s impossible to create a map of an in-between space; the map will almost immediately be outdated.

Books, posters, documents, websites all find a place in the materials on exhibition across the city. This both adds variety and suggests that curation was dictated by what was available.

My impression is that the work roughly divides into artists either approaching mapping in a personal, speculative manner or in a research led 'objective' approach. For the first group there are maps in rugs, maps made from food or distortions and reshaping of maps. Lukas Einsele’s extensive One Step Beyond project would be a good example of the second approach.

In One Step Beyond Einsele has documented the experiences of civilian victims of landmines in a number of war torn countries. Photographs and testimonies of victims are placed next to personal maps that eloquently describe the arbitrary geography of their tragedies. Lukas has also created his own map of Angolan capital Luanda from his memories. He described the map as full of mistakes where he had forgotten details. The work combines to make an engaging illustration of the fallibility of mapping in a location where uncertainty is always there in the ground beneath one’s feet.

The Biennale director Razvan Ion tells me that the Unibank gallery will endeavour to be a research led space, commenting that the people of Bucharest need to be involved in the art to be exhibited in the gallery. The scene in the city is clearly at a stage where it needs to build an audience and develop debate. It will be interesting to see if the city and its artists can use the generic moment and the weight of a troubled history to produce engaging work and new propositions.