It all began in 1995 with one cigarette and one used subway ticket. Nowadays, through his art, Daniel paints society and its people in their frantic run for a better life.
Daniel Bălănescu had his first exhibition over 20 years ago. For this, he used the fence in front of the block of flats where he lived. It is during those days that he began to create art on subway tickets. “The story began in 1995, when I was sitting in a restaurant, just across the Academy for Theatre and Film. A lit cigarette fell on the floor. By chance, it fell on a subway ticket. I could notice that it was thermosensitive, so I used the cigarette to sketch those around me on the ticket. I have been making portraits of those with a pyrography instrument, such as a lit cigarette or a lighter ever since”, says Daniel, now aged 46.
For two years he has been living in Great Britain, at Oxford, where his wife is doing an MA in Human Rights.
He recently had an exhibition in Bucharest whose main character was the „the running man”. This is a character born on a zebra crossing. “Metaphorically speaking, the running man was born a few years ago, in Austria, where I was participating as a guest at a symposium. I was standing at a zebra crossing waiting for the traffic light to turn green. Once I could cross safely I saw this symbolic character, this tiny man. I thought it interesting that this character was pointing to me that I can move on safely. I then made a template of him and started to use it”, explains the artist.
The exhibition in Bucharest was called “Crossing. I am the system”. It was meant to address themes which are less confortable, such as the relationship of the individual with society, the freedom to choose, and power. “Romania is extremely politicized, people down to the lowest administrative level have to be in one party or another . That’s why when you talk about concepts like power or the freedom to choose most people are tempted to think of politics, because they feel it is above them. I wanted to draw them out of the political sphere, to help them place themelves above it”, points out Daniel.
Daniel then went on to tell us more about his decision to go out in the street at the 1989 Revolution, about civil society and art’s power to do good for Romania.
ATS.ro: Please tell me more about the reasons behind your decision to go out in the street during the Revolution of 1989.
D.B.: I wanted to be free, to travel to other countries, to meet new people, see new places and experience other cultures. I wanted to live in a normal country. For somebody who loves colours, communism was in all senses horribly grey. The artist was by default a suspicious being. Naturally, you can’t feel good in a world where you almost don’t belong. Before going out in the street, all people are alone, while the street empowers them, of course. That is why street protests are, for instance, the most fearsome enemy of governments. While you’re out in the street protesting, you have the feeling that you can actually win, even if it’s not always so, even if, to a certain extent, you know that your gesture can harm you. I believe that the street is the right area for those who place the public interest above their own.
ATS.ro: You took part in protests yourself. What do you make of the social movements happening in the Romanian society in the past 2-3 years?
D.B.: For 22 years I lived under communism. The moments when I yearned for a change are still vivid in my mind. The people who have recently participated in street protests are all out for a change too, albeit in a different context. I appreciate their determination.
ATS.ro: What does the Romanian civil society look like from abroad?
D.B.: I would answer concisely by a rhetorical question: “what civil society are you talking about?”. However, this does not mean that I can’t see or appreciate the pains so many well-meaning people are taking. The street movements in 2013 have shown that apart from NGOs and other organisations, there are so many people who care, people willing to step in and put a stop to some projects that can produce irreversible damage. They are the living proof that solidarity can be built around some causes.
ATS.ro: You’re saying that the recent street protests from Romania proved to you that there is solidarity around certain causes. Do you think that these causes are as strong as the reasons which have determined you to participate in street protests?
D.B.: The fact that so many people participated proves that many believed it is just as important not to cut off the top of four mountains as it is to be free.
ATS.ro: Have you ever been a member of an NGO? Why/why not?
D.B.: No, I didn’t resonate with any. Art is in itself nongovernmental.
ATS.ro: To what extent do you think your art changes the Romanian society for the better?
D.B.: It does to the extent people see they can change something in the world around them and that they can dream for free. If dreams become a reality and those dreams are beautiful, the whole world will enjoy them.
ATS.ro: Do you think that Romanian artists have the power to change something in Romania?
D.B.: Yes, they do. Artists can help change the world around them for the better, by bringing people close to art. Bob Dylan might say „The Times They are a-Changin’ ”. Art is inspiring, it helps them to get out of the normal paradigms of thought, it changes mental boundaries. The artist does his job in a studio, and then brings it into the public space. If art can inspire people, can make them reflect on their purpose in life, so much the better. As for the rest, whether you choose to go out in the street or not, that’s entirely up to you as an individual and has little to do with being an artist.
ATS.ro: What do you think are the greatest current challenges facing the Romanian civil society at the moment?
D.B.: As we are discussing important issues, I think you can get a better answer from people who had the courage to go out in the street to protest. I am not well fit to answer this question. Even if I have a personal opinion on that, it sounds more like a conviction or a given opinion when I venture to express them publicly. I don’t consider I know more on this subject than your readers. Even if that were the case, I still would not share my knowledge. But I will give you an example of a cause that was a success for civil society: I consider Roşia Montană was a solidarity movement that did not breed leaders, parties or NGOs. And this could be the essence of civil society.
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Translated in English by Alexandra Calu