How to Say Farewell to Ionuţ

“Being able to acknowledge clumsy but sincere works, no matter how outdated or naïve they may seem in the current context. It is again needed to risk becoming ridiculous by exposing my own issues in front of strangers, so I can return to myself.”

Mircea Nicolae, 2019


In June this year, Ionuţ Cioană, by his artist name Mircea Nicolae, passed away. The loss is huge and I found the power and the words to say farewell with great difficulty. It is always hard to write about the ones that are no longer among us, and it is even harder to write about someone who had been constantly preoccupied with the way he would be remembered, about how his ideas will keep being in this world. What follows is an attempt to honor Ionuţ in an homage which, by saying farewell, endlessly recreates his artistic and intellectual world. Based on our friendship and closeness and also on his work, I propose fifteen acts of remembrance that anyone can do, no matter their artistic training. These are interventions which evoke and recreate the works of Mircea Nicolae and through which we can keep him close to our everyday life.

  1. Think of her. Any her, the important thing is for her to be close to you, for you to love her. Magazin (42/100).
  2. Take a walk and find some random object, an artifact, a fragment, something that nobody needs anymore. Turn it into art. Cioburi (Shards, 2010-2020) and Ce am găsit pe stradă (What I found on the street, April 2017), both part of the series Lucruri Mărunte (Petty Things).
  3. Write “You cannot” and “Me too.” These can be written in any way: on a piece of paper, in your diary, as a stencil, tattooed on your arm. Spitalul din Govora (The Govora Hospital, 53/100) and N-ai cum (You cannot, 23/100).
  4. Before going to a protest, watch Ce Zice Lumea (What People are Saying, 2013, second work of The Facebook Show).
  5. Next time you go to a protest, when you make your placard, write this on a small piece of paper: “There is a difference between fighting for an ideal and killing someone you don’t like” and “Weak people who need slaves to feel good in their own skin.” Put them both in one of your pockets. When you return from the protest, pull them out and read them (July 25, 2019, March 10, 2017, both part of the series Lucruri Mărunte).
  6. Make a stencil that says “The minimum wage is (current amount).” Minimum Wage series (October 2014, August 2011).
  7. Visit the monument of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1907. Read what Mircea Nicolae wrote about its relocation in the series Parcuri (Parks, 2013, from the project The Facebook Show).
  8. Light a candle in an abandoned movie theater. Cinematograful Părăsit (The Abandoned Movie Theater, 27 1-2/100).
  9. Visit an abandoned, derelict building. Pick up a few fragments of debris and arrange them in any geometrical shape (a circle, a square etc.) on the floor. Sticlărie (Glasswork, 53 1-3/100), Gunoaie (Garbage, 52 1-4/100).
  10. Do the same with natural objects in a park: leaves, pebbles, twigs.
  11. Take a piece of the wall that surrounds Casa Poporului (the Palace of the Parliament). Mulajul din gips (The plaster mold, 66/100).
  12. Invite someone dear to you to your house and cook polenta for them. Chat about surveillance, technologies and the disproportion of resources between the military and surveillance apparatuses and the general population. Mămăligi pentru România (Polentas for Romania, third work of The Facebook Show, 2014).
  13. Write “love” on a note and let it fall from your hand at the train station. You are recreating Un cuvânt (A Word, 88/100).
  14. Take a flower and the stick from a lollipop and bind them together. Proteze (Prostheses, the eleventh work of The Facebook Show, 2014).
  15. Walk around your town and think of an intervention that is similar to those above. Don’t do it. Instead, evoke the series of failed interventions. O intervenţie ratată (Failed Intervention, 57/2).

Ionuţ talked to me very often about the end, about what he would leave behind as an artist, about what would happen to his work. In a world organized around profit and self-interest, a world which we used to criticize together, Ionuţ’s artistic and philosophical perspective was an uncommon, sometimes strange, sometimes dissident universe. When we talked about endings, about those that were and those that will be, I was usually the optimistic one, dreaming of the end of the world of profit and self-interest. Ionuţ only smiled sadly, but empathetically. He used to say I infected him with hope. And there, in this togetherness in which we dream endings, even if I, for one, optimistically and himself pessimistically, in that place I tried to find the fifteen acts, simple gestures that can (re)connect you to him. Every time one of us performs one of these acts, Ionuţ’s worldview does not end, but is reproduced over and over again.

The empathy and curiosity towards the other’s world was usually his prime motivation to write or do art. From that place of empathy and curiosity the first act of remembrance is born. Think of a person that is close to you and identifies as female, think of her with empathy, then love and, finally, missing her. Inspired by a work on love (Magazin, 2007, 42 / O Sută (One Hundred) series), Remembrance Act 1 is a humble gesture, without action, in which the attention focused on a person is a simple non-intrusive thought, far from any dramatic statements. This is the simplest of all the remembrance acts and prepares you for an affective state of melancholia and longing, of reflexivity and simple joy that is typical of Ionuţ’s aesthetics, which can be found throughout the series.

For me, Ionuţ’s artistic world begins with a simple but strong action: pick up an object from the street and see something valuable in it, see it as a metaphor of the world and transform it into art. Thus begins Remembrance Act 2, recreating Cioburi (2010-2020) and Ce-am găsit pe stradă (April 2017), both part of the series Lucruri Mărunte. The object which you will find cannot be random, it must be an artifact, a fragment, a piece of something bigger, something that nobody needs. Select it in such a way so as to evoke an entire world for you, maybe a memory from your childhood, maybe a journey, maybe someone dear to you. Remembrance Act 2 transposes us into a state of melancholia and, at the same time, it speaks of the brute force of creativity: to see value in something that is thrown away in the street, to turn something useless into a story.

In Remembrance Act 3 write “You cannot” and “Me too.” It can be written in any way: on a piece of paper, in your diary, as a stencil, tattooed on your arm. Evoking the writings on walls of Spitalul din Govora (no. 53 / O sută series) and “You cannot” (no. 23 / O sută series), this act joins together two phrases that illustrate fundamental human interactions: loneliness and togetherness. “You cannot,” you cannot know, feel, see, understand. The sadness of loneliness behind this phrase is a sadness that stems from abandonment, marginalization, from the experience of being cast aside because of difference. Next to  “You cannot” there is the expression of togetherness and even solidarity: “Me too.” I too am here, I too understand, I too feel it, I too experienced something similar, I am by your side. In the dance of these two phrases the meaning of the work is constructed, a topic that was dear to Ionuţ: to reflect on the relationships between people and on how much loneliness and togetherness we can experience.


The relationships between people lead towards the political, an approach that had become more and more important for Mircea Nicolae. Remembrance Acts 4 and 5 are about this: political involvement, participation and the ability of everyone to become part of something bigger. That is why they are about going to protests. Remembrance Act 4 asks that you, before going to a protest, watch the video Ce zice lumea (2013, second work of the project The Facebook Show). After making a collection of mini-placards inspired by the messages from the protests for Roşia Montană, in 2013, the artist placed them in his neighbors’ post boxes. As a reflection on participation and how to take part in change, the video also points out the political limits of art and, in some way, the greater possibilities of the political gesture. At the same time, it shows how art fits well with social uprising.

The instructions of Remembrance Act 5 tell you that next time you go to a protest, when designing your placard, you should write the following two messages on a piece of paper: “There is a difference between fighting for an ideal and killing someone you don’t like” (July 25, 2019) and “Weak people who need slaves to feel good in their own skin” (March 10, 2017) – both part of the series Lucruri Mărunte. Think about what each message means to you, fold the papers and put them in your pockets. When you return from the protest, pull them out and read them again. Reflect on how their meaning has changed for you as a result of the experience of going out into the street.

I often talked with Ionuţ about political matters: how we can get organized, what is to be done, what is happening socially and economically, where society is heading. In the passion with which he debated all these topics there was something very concrete, a feeling that his feet are placed firmly on the ground. It is precisely this realism that can be seen in the works of the series Salariul Minim, 2011 and 2014. Containing simple and powerful works which display the value of the minimum wage set by the government, this series does not reflect the usual melancholy of Nicolae’s aesthetics; rather, it seems to lack affect, it has something cold and tough. Remembrance Act 6 recreates these works by instructing you to make a stencil of the minimum wage. It is a way to get a grip on the world you live in, inviting you to think about the class dynamics in society.

Another topic of great interest for us was history. We used to amuse ourselves while saying self-ironically: behold, the art historians are discussing. Even if we were art historians, we both suffered from an impostor syndrome and maybe that is why we were attracted by iconoclastic topics, for which we had a special kind of respect. Such a work of art, situated at the intersection between political worlds, a work that has become unsettling, is the monument of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1907, by Naum Corcescu. Remembrance Act 7, evoking the photo Parcul Florilor (Flower Park, 2013, from The Facebook Show), convinces you to visit the monument which is in the Flower Park in Bucharest and to read the story told by the artist.

Remembrance Act 8 recreates 27/2 Cinematograf părăsit and it is about representation and embodied life. Go to a movie theater and, before the movie starts, light a candle and keep it lit long enough so that you reflect on the following: you are in a space that is exclusively dedicated to representation, in which you are in contact with images about the world and people. Lighting a candle draws attention to the darkness in the room, the small but real flame is more concrete and more powerful than anything that might be rolling on the screen in front of you. Keep the candle lit so as to remind yourself to connect to the concrete, to the real, and to not let the representation affect your imagination too much.

If there were a cinematic image that could represent, for me, the artistic and intellectual universe of Ionuţ, it would be the following: I imagine him as a child near a mountain of stuff, a huge, violent and unpredictable chaos. In front of this mountain which is, in fact, the world, he sits and picks up pieces of various objects, arranging them in simple shapes and words – modest, well-behaved and careful, creating meaning in a world that hardly seems to have one. This image is evoked by Remembrance Acts 9 and 10 and refers to Sticlărie (53 1-3), Gunoaie (52 1-4) and a great part of the works in the series O sută.

While Remembrance Act 9 refers to the violence with which the entire proletarian universe, the industrial facilities of the 20th century have been thrown into the dustbin of history, Remembrance Act 11 refers to the violence of the Ceauşescu regime and its follow-up in the world of capitalism, after 1989. By taking a piece of the wall that surrounds Casa Poporului, you evoke the work Mulaj în gips (66/100). The intervention is an attack against the power regime, a humorous gesture that, by itself, accomplishes very little. But the same gesture multiplied a hundred or a thousand times can be devastating. Ionuţ would happily laugh at this thought: how the action of one person is only symbolic, but reproduced on a larger scale it has concrete effects.

Another very political work of Ionuţ is evoked in Remembrance Act 12 (the video Mămăligi pentru România, the third work of The Facebook Show, 2014). The point is to invite a person that is dear to you to your home and cook a polenta for them. Then, chat about surveillance, technologies and the disproportion of resources between the military and surveillance apparatuses of the state and the general population – topics which the artist discusses in the video.

The ease with which Ionuţ navigated from a hard social topic such as surveillance technology to a conversation about emotions and memories fascinated me. Remembrance Act 13 recreates the work Un cuvânt (no. 88 / O sută series) and invites you to make a discreet gesture: write the word “love” on a piece of paper, fold it and let it fall in a train station. The gesture is actually a ritual to heal a spiritual wound, to let go of the pain associated with love. Think of your experience when you write the note and, when you let it fall, you can also let go of the pain you associate with that experience. The burden remains in the note and the note is lost at the train station, this space of transit, change, separation and reuniting.

Remembrance Act 14 is also about pain and healing: take a flower and a stick from a lollipop and unite them. By recreating one of the objects of the Proteze series (the eleventh work of The Facebook Show), this gesture asks us to reflect on the impossibility of perfect reunification – a lollipop stick is not a piece of a plant – but also the simple and available possibility of moving on. We can make spiritual prostheses for those things which can seem broken and unfulfilled, and thus we can move on.

The final intervention, Remembrance Act 15, is similar to the first: it is a work based on a thought. However, if Remembrance Act 1 was focused on a creative thought about love, here the thought is about the lack of creation, about failure. By evoking the series of interventions O intervenţie ratată (57/2), the gesture holds the same modesty as the many that preceded it, but it is the saddest of all. Imagine the poetic thoughts which we all have but never get to become art and ask yourself if the world is poorer or more honest without The abundance and intensity of Mircea Nicolae’s works are doubled by his work as a curator, gallery owner and, recently, art critic. Mircea and Ionuţ knew the art world from various angles, always eluding professionalization and with constant curiosity and empathy. I experienced the same curiosity and empathy when we created the project Istoria (Nu) Se Repetă (History does (not) Repeat Itself), in 2017-2018. I had the honor of creating worlds together, to dream the endings of painful worlds and the beginnings of hopeful ones.

I will not forget them, and I will not forget you.

I think of you, Ionuţ.


Translated by Daniel Clinci


Veda Popovici

Veda Popovici (b. 1986, Timisoara, Romania) works as a political artist, engaged theorist and local activist. Her interests include identity representations in art, intelectual genealogies of power, c...

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