Alexandra Pirici trained as a dancer, and her work straddles both contemporary dance and performance and body art, as well as sculpture. In 2013, together with dancer Manuel Pelmuş, the two represented Romania at the Venice Biennale with their piece, An Immaterial Retrospective of the Venice Biennale, an ongoing live performance, which consists of five performers enacting works from past biennales – not only paintings and sculptures, but also installations and performances – in the otherwise empty white room of the Romanian Pavilion. According to the artists, the performers were not re-enacting history, but enacting or embodying it. Thus the piece was not only a living monument and testament to the Biennale, but also a critique of it, and the manner in which it designs, and ultimately owns, history. In Retrospective, the performers create masterworks on a human and accessible scale, one that only exists in human memory (after the performance has finished). In this sense, the artists had aims similar to the performance artists working in the 1960s and 1970s, in wanting to move away from the art object in favor of the process or moment. As the artists described it, their piece represented a move “from the ‘monumental’ to the accessible, the lower-key aesthetics of imperfect and moving human bodies instead of the fetishized object.”
Very recently, Alexandra presented her work at another biennale – Manifesta 10, the itinerant Biennale of European contemporary art, which took place this year in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Biennale itself was controversial, for reasons not dissimilar to those objecting to Russia’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. However, Alexandra told me that rather than resign from going, she would rather attend and make a statement that way. She was interested in creating a thought-provoking piece that would not necessarily be controversial or overtly critical. She was thinking of how to produce a critical work “that wouldn’t spark more criticism.” What she came up with was Soft Power – Sculptural Additions to St. Petersburg Monuments – interventions on and around the monuments of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and the Lenin Statue at Finland Station. Once again, Alexandra brings the monuments to a more human scale, interacting with them and in some cases reinventing them. For example, it took several individuals and three levels of humans to create a mirror of the Lenin Statue, with the added twist of a gender change at the top (Lenin was represented by a female performer). This type of “domestication” of a monument is one that she has done before, in Leipzig, at the Monument to the Battle of Nations (Persistent Feebleness, 2013), and also in Romania, in If You Don’t Want Us, We Want You (2011), in which the artist together with other performers enacted various monuments around Bucharest, such as the Equestrian Statue of Carol I or the Monument to the 1989 Revolution. In each context, the effect of similar action had a different significance. In Russia, for example, where public protest or demonstration is now illegal, the simple presence of still bodies at these monuments has a powerful presence. This became clear on the second day of the performance at the Peter the Great Monument, when the artists were approached by police and asked for their permits, and threatened those that were sitting on the grass near the performance site with 15-days of jail time – at which point they moved into the “free zone” of the performance to sunbathe (according to the report by the artist on her Facebook page). In Leipzig, the Monument to the Battle of Nations is associated with national pride, and tourists wanting pictures with the statues in the background were disrupted from having a beautiful souvenir of their visit to the site, by the performers who were sitting on it. In Romania, the artist recalls that she and the performers received varying comments from passersby; some were critical of the fact that they were, for example, laying in the shadow of the Monument to the 1989 Revolution – as if they had nothing better to do all day. A child walking by asked his father why the performers were laying down like that, and the father told the son that people died in the streets during the revolution. This reminded me of what Dan Perjovschi had said about the significance of the body in post-communist Romania, and in fact Alexandra had worked with Dan, enacting the role of a student in his History / Hysteria 2, in commemoration of the Mineriade.
Alexandra is interested in these monuments for their display and visualization of power. Her aim is to frame these mechanisms, highlight their constructed nature, and bring them to the viewer’s attention. While these confrontations may be critical at their root, her aim is not to be aggressive; rather, she says that she approaches her subjects with “playfulness and humor,” which she finds more effective in communicating with the viewer.