Pavel Brăila

If one were to write a brief history of art in Romania and Moldova during the 1990s, then performance art—with its various manifestations such as the happening, the action and the intervention—would represent one of the most important chapters. Performance art was a testing ground for young artists, giving them a chance to experiment beyond the traditional disciplines in which they had been educated as well as providing a place in which to interact with an older generation of artists who had practiced it, mostly in seclusion, during the years of socialism. It was stimulated by festivals dedicated specifically to it, such as Zona in Timişoara and Periferic in Iaşi, as well as by artistic summer camps such as AnnArt in Romania and Carbon Art in Moldova, where artists often had to adapt and react to a rural environment. Outside the two countries, it was framed by large-scale exhibitions that featured artists from the region such as “Body and the East” (Ljubljana) and “After the Wall” (Stockholm).

It was in this environment that Pavel Brăila began his career and to which the fresh, immediate character of his early performances is indebted. Though imbued with a strong physical presence, these performances were not focused on the body itself. Instead, through the act of performing, the artist’s body acted as a filter that was used to communicate with surrounding elements, with nature and with his present (albeit possibly invisible) audience—without, however, aspiring to turn the whole action into a transgressive experience, as many of the performance artists of the time attempted to do. Brăila was apparently staging rituals, but they were rituals of the absurd kind, revealed during their performance as having been generated by popular fantasy rather than embedded in tradition. At the same time, performances were recorded as videos using a VHS camera, thus being turned into documents as well as into video art. In his subsequent projects, Brăila maintained his allegiance to both performance art and video, but kept the two genres mostly separate: he kept performance in its realm of untranslatable experience and used the video camera at a comparatively high level of technical sophistication, closer to the practice of filmmakers than to that of experimental video artists. While quite a bit of present-day performance art is realized solely for the purpose of documentation, with technology having been democratized, the early works of Brăila are testament to a time and a geographic region in which video recording was something rare and precious, akin to the unrepeatability of the artistic action itself. As such, these works are not really confined to a specific time or geography: even if they were grounded in the very concrete reality of the place where the artist was living then, these works are formally both far more universal and less contingent than the ones from the following decade.


1971, Chișinău / MD, at that time SU

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