Making Conversation Pieces. The Autumn School of Curating #1

The Cluj Cultural Center, through the ECCA (European Center for Contemporary Art) project and in partnership with the Timișoara Art Encounters Foundation recently started an ambitious international project, namely the Autumn School of Curating, an initiative with a relevant stake for the development of a cultural sector that is still in its early stages in Romania – education on curatorial practices. The purpose of this first edition was the development and consolidation of a professional network to become active in the sphere of contemporary culture in Cluj and Timișoara.

The Cluj Cultural Center is a non-governmental organization for culture and urban development whose purpose is to promote culture as a catalyst in social transformation and local and regional development. One of its main projects is to establish the European Center for Contemporary Art (ECCA) in Cluj, which is a new model for art institutions that aims to expose, research and document the Romanian and international art productions (especially the Eastern European ones), exploring the connections between art and society.

The Art Encounters Foundation is an independent cultural initiative, established in 2015 with the aim of supporting the contemporary art scene in Romania. The Art Encounters Biennale comes as a meeting point for artists, communities, institutions and ideas, encouraging new curatorial research programs that problematizes the dialogue with the local historical heritage and the socio-cultural context of the city of Timisoara.

The Autumn School of Curating was held between 20th and the 27th of October 2019, the first part of the activities taking place in Cluj-Napoca, then in Timișoara, in the context of the last week of the Art Encounters Biennial. The call for participation was international, the group of students was made up of young professionals who are active or wish to be active in the ​​curatorial and cultural management areas, which was thus familiar with both the Romanian artistic scene and contemporary curatorial practices of international reach, mediated by guests Joanna Warsza and Fiona Geuβ in Cluj and, throughout the meetings, with Diana Marincu, Anca Rujoiu and Maria Lind in Timișoara, the curators of the Art Encounters 2019 Biennale. The course leader was Joanna Warsza, and the guests and conversation partners during the entire program of activities were: Apparatus 22, Răzvan Anton, Horea Avram, Georgiana Buț, Boris Buden, Fiona Geuß, Mihai Iepure-Gòrski, Maria Lind, Diana Marincu, Alex Mirutziu, Andrea Phillips, Alexandru Polgár, Mara Rațiu, Anca Rujoiu and many others.

The theme of this first edition of the School of Curating was exploring the notion of conversation in art by provoking dialogue and exchange of knowledge, thus turning it into a learning tool. Conversation pieces came to be as conventional historical paintings, illustrating people having a dialogue. In contemporary times, the term “conversation piece” has begun to revolve around objects that stimulate conversation and performative actions that appeal to speech as an aesthetic medium.

Among other activities in Cluj, the Cultural Center of Cluj elaborated a program in partnership with the University of Art and Design, the Paintbrush Factory and the Center of Interest, through which the 25 participants got in touch with central institutions and their representatives to develop an overview of the local art scene. The curatorial school was thus developed in the form of a dynamic course, in certain interactive situations, through which an attempt was made to gain knowledge at interpersonal and professional level and facilitated a context of initiation into contemporary, experimental curatorial practices.

The participants met for the first time within a performative/conversation piece – Magpies to the echoes exchange – hosted by the Apparatus 22 group (Erika Olea, Maria Farcaș, Dragoș Olea), an action aimed at dissolving social and communication barriers in a friendly, informal context, causing people to interact in a relaxed and engaged way – starting from a series of questions prepared by the artists for each participant. Apparatus 22 hosted a special evening with various activities: they cooked for the group, they developed a Q&A session (questions and answers) that facilitated a constructive, knowledge-based and problematic dialogue on specific visual-arts topics and prepared dance and karaoke moments where people started to relate to each other and having a good time, without the pressure of a first meeting in which they have to describe/present themselves in a predictable and dull way.

The first day started with a meeting with Mara Rațiu, prorector of partnerships and image promotion at the University of Art and Design Cluj, through which the participants learned more about the role of this institution on the Cluj and national artistic scenes (training artists and other cultural workers – art historians and curators, info about the Expo Marathon competition for students and events organized in partnership with the Cluj Art Museum). Mara Rațiu offered an insight into the specificity of the higher education system in Romania, as well as its institutional role and its activity within it, a topic that provoked conversations about pragmatic aspects such as projects, research, budget, etc.

This was followed by a seminar with art historian Fiona Geuß, entitled Conversational formats in the art after 1968, in which she initiated a discussion about conversational formats in collective artistic practices, performances and artistic interventions from 1968 to the 1990s. The starting point of the discussion was her doctoral research.

The next stop for the participants of the The Autumn School of Curating was the Pilot art space within the Paintbrush Factory, where they could see the “Collective Look: Samples from something that concerns us all” exhibition. This was in the form of a series of interviews presented as projections, in which artists, curators, cultural managers, editors and so on from the Romanian independent sector tell a very bold, transparent and honest story about the limits and openings of the cultural routes they have undertaken over the course of their activity: Raluca Voinea (, Bucharest), Ágnes-Evelin Kispál & Attila Kispál (Magma Contemporary Art Space, Sfântu Gheorghe), Cristina Bogdan (ODD, Bucharest), Alina Șerban & Ștefania Ferchedău (Institute of the Present, Bucharest), Timotei Nădășan (IDEA art + society, Cluj), Csilla Könczei (Tranzit House, Cluj), Monotremu (B5 Studio, Tîrgu Mureș), Matei Bejenaru (Contemporary Photography Center Iași). A common denominator in most interviews was resignation in the face of the lack of infrastructure, the financial precariousness within the local context and, at the same time, the programmatic initiation of cultural actions – despite the setbacks – perceived as peripheral and handled accordingly. And so, the Curatorial School participants could look at the anatomy of the artistic approach in Romania as if it were on a dissection table, via the vision of these representations and the non-composite coordinates where it takes place.

The first day ended with a discussion between Joanna Warsza and Fiona Geuß – which took place at Tranzit House, a public event in which the two guests analyzed the concept of conversation piece, following its temporal and formal evolution. The presentation and conversation that developed developed revolved around their artistic research and actions, also offering concrete insights into the process of carrying out curatorial projects, such as “Black Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge” by artist: Hannah Hurtzig. Another idea that Joanna Warsza pointed out in terms of the specificity of a conversation piece is that it represents art that is temporarily performed – in minutes, not space, in square meters, with the “line” between art and society being volatile. Thus, whether exposed to a conversation or a performative situation to which the receiving audience takes part, this form of expression in contemporary art offers an equally organic and reflective experience. The participants of the School of Curating had the opportunity to listen and enter the work process of a curator and an international art historian, being able to actively participate in an exchange of ideas.

The second day began with a workshop coordinated by the actress Raluca Lupan, in which the participants performed physical and vocal experimental exercises in order to highlight the relationship between mind and body. The workshop took place around the perceptual relationship between the self and the physical, the body becoming a recipient for the mental processes. This was followed by a meeting with Alexandru Polgár (he was active as editor at Balkon Magazine, 1999-2003 and IDEA art + society magazine), in which he discussed the process of conducting an interview, using the one taken by artist Mi Kafchin as an example. The students had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the stages of designing an artist interview, prompting polemics about the work process and the finished product.

The second day of the The Autumn School of Curating was also marked by the meeting with the artist Alex Mirutziu, the central idea of ​​his presentation and discussion being one of the main concerns of his artistic endeavors, namely Language as form. The conversation was moderated by Diana Marincu, the event being set up as an artist talk. Alex Mirutziu gave a very detailed presentation on his recent projects, but also on the work process and how he gets to explore certain concepts and then materialize them. The artist’s concerns revolve around the relationships that hint at text/image/performance, while exploring the physicality of the text and its symbolic potential in various visual environments: drawing, animation, video, ready-made, installation, sculpture, performance. The meeting with Alex Mirutziu sustained the theme that helped build The Autumn School of Curating in a conceptually relevant way, the participants getting in touch with a Romanian artist present and active both locally and internationally.

The last day in Cluj-Napoca ended with a visit to the Center of Interest to see the current exhibitions (Sabot Gallery, The Ceramist – Răzvan Botiș; Intact Space, NOW – Jane McAdam Freud; Bazis Contemporary, Moving Wall-Erik Mátrai, Camera, Never, Nowhere – Dries Segers; Baril, Fozakakozfea – Cristi Puiu; A+ project space, Anamorphic Souvenirs – Isa Balog; Nano Gallery, Cluster – Cristina Coza-Damian; Bazis project space, Unity of Opposites – Valentin Marian Ionescu, etc.), where the students could get acquainted with the most recent center of contemporary art in Cluj, before they headed off to Art Encounters Timișoara.

The Autumn School of Curating was proposed as a project of international importance, debuting with a theme that questions the idea of communication/conversation on several levels: curatorial, artistic, historical, social, etc. The program was coherent and substantial, with the mediation of meetings with representative professionals from local and external cultural spheres whose concerns are relevantly connected around the concept of communication. Making Conversation Pieces has thus emerged as a provocative step for the first edition of the School of Curating, initiating a cultural exchange that wishes in the long term to strengthen an international professional network.


* Making Conversation Pieces –  The Autumn School of Curating will be an editorial piece made of two component texts, which distinctly analyzes the students’ experiences in Cluj-Napoca, and Timișoara respectively.


Ada Muntean

Ada is a Graduate of University of Art and Design in Cluj-Napoca and has a PhD in Visual Arts (2019), conceiving a research thesis entitled "The Human Body as Image and Instrument in Contemporary Art....

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