– What is the difference between a fairytale in the West and a fairytale in the East?
– A fairytale in the West starts with the words “Once upon a time there was…” A fairytale in the East starts with the words “Once upon a time there will be…”*
Once upon a time there will be a Bucharest that positions itself as a model city for privatization processes worldwide…
In order to grasp this fairytale-proposition, we first need to go back in time.
In 1999, ten years after state socialism’s collapse had caused a series of relentless societal and economic transformations, an ambitious business transaction was unfolding in Bucharest. It was akin to a fairytale. The America’s Partners investment group launched the radical plan to drastically transform the People’s House, Romania’s most famous, gargantuan public edifice whose construction was started under the Ceaușescu regime, and which accommodates since the mid-90s the seats of the country’s political and administrative powers. In this fairytale business transaction, the investors proposed to build a theme park alongside the House, which was to be funded by Michael Jackson, as well as casinos financed by American indigenous tribes and commercial galleries for which Persian Gulf investors would provide financial support. Although this plan appears unsettl ing in both scope and content, there is also a certain beauty emanating from this outlandish business proposition. It is a beauty that keeps the symbolic function of the People’s House intact, while expanding its public appeal through privately managed entertainment facilities.
Is there a more symptomatic merging of political and corporate imaginaries conceivable?
…in the meanwhile, Michael Jackson has died, and this fairytale has been abandoned…
Still, a wide variety of other, more humble yet equally eager corporate and private investors continue to build and shape post-socialist Bucharest’s architecture of privatized pragmatism. It is an architecture that celebrates industrial real estate, a rich variety of corporate spaces, big-box retail, shopping malls of different sizes, warehouses, and gated communities. It nestles itself in-between, on top of, and adjacent to the already existing, historically layered city infrastructure. In this way, it creates ever more hybrid approaches to what is considered public and what is not, while reversing the power relationship from formerly government-controlled to a predominantly corporate and privately maintained urban environment.
Yet this fairytale doesn’t merely consist of construction builders and corporate entrepreneurs.
There are also entrepreneurs of a different kind, concerned with a different mode of construction, one that engages with the social configuration of the city. They lay out hidden actions for those who currently inhabit contemporary Bucharest. They accommodate modes of non-oppositional dissent, which in turn can nestle themselves in-between, on top of, and adjacent to the new architecture, and do so from critical, poetic, and contagious points of view. They propose strategies of movement, translation, trickery, and distraction. Scripted across three main settings – Public Space, Office Space, Domestic Space – they forge unfamiliar relationships between humans and non-humans, corporations and organizations, objects and ideas, returning a sense of publicness to the otherwi se privatized and corporatized urban realm.
And so a fairytale becomes something that once upon a time will be…
(Niels Van Tomme)
7th Bucharest Biennale
What are we building down there?
May 26 – June 17, 2016
Curator: Niels Van Tomme
Assistant Curator: Charlotte Van Buylaere
Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy
* C. Banc and Alan Dundes, eds. You Call This Living? A Collection of East European Political Jokes, Athens: The University of Georgia Press (1990), 81.