stephen kovats on Mon, 12 Jan 1998 09:02:50 -0500

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Syndicate: Addendum to Kathy R Huffmann's report on Cluj

In Kathy's recent report on her visit to Cluj I was surprised that there
was no mention of the project initiated by Cluj artists Csilla KÅ¡ncsei and
Tibor Schneider to convert an abandoned synagogue on the river shore in the
centre of town into an electronic and multi-media project centre. The
project, currently entitled simply "synagogue building on Nameless Street"
apparently had it's first public opening in October with a series of
performances, film and videos screenings and exhibition entitled "We and

We visited the project last spring, a stop on the return leg of the
fearless Ostranenie road trip to Moldova. We were impressed by the will to
establish a media-culture centre in a significant (historically and
geographically speaking) edifice, that is nonetheless so dilapitated that
it does actually sit on a street with no name. (This being due to the fact
that the building had simply been used as a theatre storage room since the
war, and and has sat basically empty for some years and that the "street"
in question (formerly Barioiu Str.) was a vegetable patch that had been
occupied by the neighbours since the synagogue itself had not been in use.
As a result the city had refused to grant the artists/project initaitors a
rental agreement or lease on the building at the time of our visit since it
had no street address, and the occupiers of the "street/vegetable garten"
were to have been "evicted" in order to reaffirm the presence of the former
paved access lane, without which an address was impossible!). And this in a
city, indeed a country, not exactly experiencing many of the economic and
political perks of some of its neighbours.

In any case, there seemed to be plausible parallels between the use of the
building and the aim of the project initiators to establish something along
the line of Cinema Rex (similarly an authentic
artistic/alternative/cultural reuse of an abandoned synagogue in Belgrade).
The Cluj project, however, seemed not to seek or be initiated by Soros
funding (as far as I understood) but rather by an attempt at acquiring some
form of direct EU funding. Presently the centre (according to the
announcement of the opening) has had the support of various Romanian
government ministries and of some private local sponsors. These alone,
however could most likely not provide the necessary infusion of cash
required to at least restore the building structurally let alone fund a
broad based media culture programme (as had been the similar experience of
the KIEZ building in Dessau, the hosts of Ostranenie 97's NETLounge and
Parahouse projects). 

On the other hand, back when we were in Cluj we weren't aware of either
Dynamic Network Technologies (which sounds utterly un-Romanian) or much of
a thriving gastronomic or bar/club scene (in fact it was virtually
impossible to eat out at all, and when we did, the stack of bills we had to
leave behind almost resembled in size a few weeks worth of discarded
newspapers - but maybe some things have changed a bit in the past year).

The synagogue project, as a non commercial artistic and cultural venture
deserves  equal recognition and support (based at least on what we saw last
year and have heard of since). The following are a few excerpts from the
centre's conceptual proposal:

>From the centre's "Basic Concept":

"*      The ways of creation, performance and interpretation proposed by
our project are not based on the classic academic isolation of the
disciplines.  They follow a more open perspective, offering large
possibilities of combination and cooperation between the existing fields,
as well as giving ground for new types of artistic/intellectual work. New
modalities of artistic expression using electronic media, as videoart or
video installation are in the center of the project but we do not exclude
traditional or alternative fields. 

*       The project wants to build a multifunctional space for various,
alternating cultural activities. The House can be a meeting point for
artists/creators/performers coming from different geographical places as
well as from different fields of culture, but also is to be an agora where
the public may interactively confront person and his/her work.

*       The transformation of a cult space which cannot be used anymore for
the initial purpose for objective reasons to a cultural center is a
practice in the country as well as abroad. We believe that the
implementation of our project would be a proper solution to relink the
building of the synagogue to the civic and architectonic circuit of the

>From its "Aims":

*       Promotion of new fields of art or innovative cultural activities
linked first of all to the new technologies of the electronic media.

*       Presenting cultural-artistic products less known in our region as
videoart, computer art, anthropological films, documentaries, experimental
films, video installations etc.

*       Supporting cultural research with special focus on the culture of
contemporary society: multicultural local traditions, unofficial parallel
histories, contemporary communication with special focus on mass media.
*       Involving people from other regions and from abroad the center
creates a symbolic open space which helps personal innovation and
creativity as well as interactive and vivid communication at a local level
as well as at an international level.

*       Foundation of a collection of documents about the history of Jews
from the city and the region, organizing periodic exhibitions based on the
collected material.

and excerpts of its "Programme"

1. Visual Communication Program

*       A video- and film studio is to be founded for the creation of
non-commercial motion pictures, like fiction, experimental, documentary,
and other genres. 

*       The House does not want to satisfy the technical needs of all
special fields of art, but it offers space for creation and exhibition of
any kind of piece of art, without limitation to genre and technology.

*       It is a prior aim to provide the House with up-to-date media
equipment in order to give artists the possibility to use new technologies
as well. Inviting artists and professionals dealing with new media
technologies from all over the world, the Guest Program may help to obtain
a deeper knowledge of the technical possibilities. 

*       The videoarchive of the House will collect proper works, as well as
artistic, experimental, documentary or other types of motion pictures. An
oral history collection will be founded as a special section of the archive
in collaboration with the Jewish Museum Program and the Cultural Studies

*       The House will organize and give space for practical and
theoretical education in visual communication.

*       Public talk(s) about visual communication in contemporary society
will be initiated and supported by the program through organizing studies
and symposia.    

2. Cyber Program

*       The House wishes to be a part of a broader network. Access to the
cyber-space will help not only to collect information needed by different
programs or individuals but a better collaboration at an international
level as well. According to this the House will run an internet cafŽ for
public use.

*       Computer can be used for artistic and scientific purposes, from
computer-art to music recording etc.

*       Educational programs in the field of computer and internet use will
be organized."


Although I don't know of the present state of the centre's development, or
how far they have managed in implementing these aims (only some of which
are listed above) I would certainly encourage anyone travelling to or
through Cluj to contact either Csilla KÅ¡nczei or Tibor Schneider and visit
the place, or to perhaps help in providing contacts or information on
relevant funding or support stuctures which may help them add to the
establishment of an artistic media culture in Romania. 

Contact address:

Csilla KÅ¡nczei
Decebal 43.
3400 Cluj Romania
Tel. **40 64 136859
Fax. **40 64 153039 or 62 413458 

Stephen Kovats