By Sara Schnadt
Alexandra Croitoru is a visual artist based in Bucharest, Romania. Her work explores the intersection of personal, group and national identities using photography, written texts and publications, installations, video and performance. Many of her works, including Untitled (Prime Minister), seek to expose and challenge sociological, geo-political and gender power structures in present-day Romania. Other projects such as A Preliminary Report on the Past Present use psychotronic weapons of mass destruction in Romania to examine the tenuous line between fact and fiction in the writing and documentation of history. Most recently, Croitoru has concentrated on research-based projects that investigate social mechanisms in a transnational environment. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Artistic Research at the National University of Arts, Bucharest. Her residency at 18th Street is supported by the Trust for Mutual Understanding.
How would you define your work?
I would say that my work is a critical reflection on the contemporary context, be it the political, social or even the artistic context. Once somebody asked me why all my work is critical, don't I have any heroes or situations that I am happy with? And I probably do have a few, but I don't really feel like making art in relation to them. This has to do also with the fact that I am quite a cynical person and I usually question everything around me. So my art practice mirrors this way of relating to the world - asking uncomfortable questions, and not offering answers.
You like to find places between the personal and the political, and to challenge power structures. How did you start working this way and why?
During the 90s, when I was studying graphic art and printmaking at the Art Academy in Bucharest, the education was very conservative, in terms of practice but also in terms of subjects what "deserved" to be focused on. So, at that time, dealing with my personal experiences -- and using new media -- was a way of resisting the educational system (although, now, looking at my students, I realize that there is also a specific age when you are more self-centered). My challenging of power structures also started when I was a student in relation to gender since the Academy was at the time an extremely patriarchal environment.
What has been a surprising response to one of your projects?
In 2007, I was asked to take part in a billboard-project in the historical part of Sibiu - Romania, which at the time was the Cultural Capital of Europe. There were two billboards that I could use to display a printed artwork, but I decided not to contribute to the cityscape with another image. Instead I covered the billboards with a theater-like red curtain to invite the passer-by to imagine a whole new world behind it. What I considered a surprising response was the fact that the curtain was stolen after a couple of days. I like to imagine that now it is used to cover the windows of a nice family house in Sibiu. I like this idea of a reversed recycling, because in the art-making process we always recycle different materials, stories and meanings. It seems only right that an art piece is recycled into something else.
You are also completing a practice-based PhD, and are a university teacher. How does academia and art-making mix in your opinion?
Well, for me it works very well, although I see the PhD and the teaching as two different things. I see the PhD more as an opportunity to have an expansive and exploratory approach to art-making, while the teaching makes me feel that I am giving something back to the community.
What has been most interesting to you about Los Angeles?
Of course, the structure and size of the city is quite unique but I had a very special connection to the nature and the light here. And it feels always strange when people tell me that all this 'nature' is artificial here.
What is your next art project?
I am currently working on a documentary film showcasing a technical assistant at the mural painting department of The National University of Arts in Bucharest. He witnessed both the conservative stability before '89 in the Romanian education system, the changes after '89, and is now facing retirement. During all these years, he has prepared sauerkraut in the technical studio of the mural painting department. The film follows the process of pickling the cabbage and focuses on the relationships within the mural painting department between himself, the teachers and the students, paralleling the making of art and the making of sauerkraut.
Top image: Alexandra Croitoru, Untitled ( Bodybuilder), 2003.
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