miercuri, 7 mai 2014

A One-day Imprisoned Artist

    (A fragment from an Art-Book, presently on display in Galeria Dzialan, Warsaw, April-May, 2014)

On April 8, 2009, the Moldovan artist Anatol Mătăsaru was imprisoned and brutally beaten in a Chişinău prison. He took an active part in a few days' street demonstrations, that begun on April 7, in protest against the falsification of parliamentary elections in Moldova. Soon after that, the Polish magazine "Obieg" published a solidarity call(1) addressed to the Polish cultural institutions proposing a concrete form of support for the repressed artist, who at the moment was hospitalized in the penal hospital because of a concussion – as the police officials claimed. Police informed Mătăsaru's wife, Julieta Saviţchi, that Anatol's swollen face was the result of a fight during the street protests. However, his wife claimed that this could not be true because on April 7, 2009 Anatol returned home after the demonstration without any signs of beatings. The next day he took their child to the kindergarten and later during that day he was arrested. His face swelled up while he was imprisoned.(2) He did not enjoy the right to a fair trial and, therefore, he was mentioned in the Amnesty International memorandum of the infringements of the human rights by the police during the events that took place immediately after April 7, 2009.
    Some of the items, which the artist used during his happenings, were confiscated by the police as incriminating evidence and "propaganda documents". Moldovan public television (TRM) insinuated that he was a co-organizer of those riots and led an attempted coup d'état. Victor Panţâru, Mătăsaru's lawyer, announced that the police officers have violated the fundamental rights of his client, and that he will bring the case to court. Meanwhile, the artist himself, said in an interview that he had been threatened that if did not cooperate with the police, he would be sitting in the same cell with notoriuos criminals, who could beat and even kill him. One form of this "collaboration" would be signing a statement that the opposition leaders paid Mătăsaru to organize the April protests.
    In the solidarity call published in "Obieg" the editors proposed that a possible form of solidarity with Anatol Mătăsaru would be to send him invitations to perform or lecture on his art in an art gallery or an educational institution in Poland. Though it was almost certain that Mătăsaru would not get a passport that would allow him to travel to Poland, the same invitation to lecture, however, would be a visible sign to the authorities that his activities and situation is known to the people outside of Moldova. Gallery Dzialan endorsed this call, sending a letter to Anatol, in which he was invited to hold in this gallery a lecture about his art actions. This letter is also to be found on the “Obieg” website.
    A similar call was distributed through other channels outside Poland. Anatol received a lot of interesting items and words of support signed by artists from over a dozens of countries . One of these items was quite exceptional. It was an unusual postcard (it has on it, among other things, a deconstructed Moldovan landscape), sent by the French artist Jean-Noel Potte, who was working on a mail-art project entitled "Silence". What happened to Anatol Mătăsaru on April 7, 2009, was in my opinion a clear example of silencing the artist. So I have sent a postcard to Potte in which I was informing him of Mătăsaru's imprisonment and his hunger strike. It was my contribution to Potte's “Silence” project. However, Jean -Noel Potte responded with the postcard presented below. He thanked me for my work, in which I had told him about Mătăsaru's case, but he also informed me that he could not accept my contribution to his project, because it had text on both sides, which was contrary to the rules of his project. He wanted me to send him another card, done properly: the image on one side , and the (short ) text, stamp and address on the other.
He promised that if I did so, he would post my card on his blog and publish the text I was to send under that image. That I did not do, because I was concerned more about the infringement of the freedom of speech, with the solidarity with the imprisoned artist, with spreading his art, and less in the participation in an exhibition. I thought that Potte by his rigid “adherence to the participation conditions" acted - albeit in a more subtle way - almost as the repressive forces that tried to silence the Moldovan artist. Moreover, out of the dozens of postcards, which Potte accepted for his show, there were some that had printed on them signs of the American Sign Language or fairly known warning signs. It seemed to me that Potte completely did not understand my contribution to his project. Or, perhaps, the silence, that I suggested, was for him overactive.
One could claim that the April 7, 2009 protest in Moldova was, nevertheless a success, because it triggered new elections, which resulted in a change of power. The arrested persons were released. Mătăsaru continues to provoke the media and the politicians with his radical happenings. Obviously, not everything has changed - the Moldovan civil society is only beginning to practice the freedom of speech and its use in the agora; to cite Polish art critic and historian, Piotr Piotrowski: the society learns to accept the importance of the participation of artists in the debate about the public space, of artists who are often able to provoke conflicts with their projects, without which democracy withers. The dispute - rivalry views presented in the agora - not the consensus, which by definition excludes from the public space the radical voices - is a necessary condition for the development of democracy. "
    On January 29, 2014, the Profession Day of the Prosecutors in Moldova, Anatol Mătăsaru planned a new happening in front of the Moldovan General Prosecutor's Building. However, on the morning of that day, the artist was arrested at his home and taken to the Chişinău's Râşcani district Prosecutor's Office, at the request of the prosecutor Şendrei. The news was broadcast by a civic TV station Curaj.tv. Starting with 2007, Anatol Mătăsaru twice a year, conducted artistic actions with a strong political content, on the Professional Day of the Prosecutors and on the Professional Day of the Policeman. This time the journalists who gathered in front of the General Prosecutor's Building and who were waiting for the artist to perform, were informed by urban activists that the happening would not take place on that day.

    Apparently the artist was summoned to the prosecutor's office, because of an online video in which Mătăsaru said, that one of the city's prosecutors behaved like a boor. Later that day Mătăsaru was driven from the prosecutor's office by ambulance to a nearby hospital. He said, in a statement, that he just was not feeling well, probably because of some viral infection. At the end of the day Mătăsaru was discharged from the hospital and returned home. The following day, belated by one day, he did organize his action in front of the Moldova's Prosecutor General's Building.
    It is believed by many, that this year's Mătăsaru's preventive detention was the result of his acclaimed action from exactly a year ago, when he had placed two sculptures on the steps of the General Prosecutor's Building. The first one, a phallus-shaped monumental object entitled "Lupulu", which Mătăsaru compared to Constantin Brâncuşi's "Princess X", and the second, "Untitled", to the disputed painting by Courbet "L'Origine du Monde". "Lupulu" is a Romanian language pun: the surname of the head of the Democratic Party of Moldova (DP), Marian Lupu, and the word "penis". The DP appointed the Prosecutor General, Valeriu Zubco, who shortly before Mătăsaru’s happening has been involved along with other high officials in a scandalous accident during a hunting trip, which resulted in the death of one of the participants. Incidentally, soon after Mătăsaru’s happening, the Attorney General Zubco resigned from office.
    Both objects were confiscated by the police and nobody knows what has happened to them. As a side note, the process of confiscation of these objects in itself was very spectacular. Several policemen tried to push together "Lupulu" into a police minivan. The sculpture was too big to fit in it. Only after several attempts they realized it was unattainable.

Warsaw, March, 2014

1. „Anatol Mătăsaru na froncie mołdawskiej sztuki”,     20.04.2009, http://www.obieg.pl/prezentacje/10350
2.  www.matasaruart.blogspot.com

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