Interview conducted by Evantia Barca
Ana Maria Micu (b. 1979) is a visual artist from Botoșani. She primarily paints but sometimes crosses into other mediums, like drawing and animation. She uses ideas and images that she observes as a source about changes in her living space, where she works, or the negotiation of resources required by an ambition to garden in inappropriate conditions. Her last personal exhibition is “Left Hand Towards a Distant View” at the Bucharest National Museum of Contemporary Art, preceded by “Objects Must Be Comfortable” at the Mind Set Art Center gallery in Taipei.
Significant participation are two collective museum exhibitions, “After Twelve Years. Artistic production from Romania in 180 works” at MNAC in Bucharest and “The Poetic Realm” at Yu-Hsiu Museum of Art. In 2004, Micu graduated with an MA in Visual Arts at the University of Art and Design in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
You are a globally active artist. Can you tell us how the relationship between art and nature evolves in the countries where you may have had contact with this subject?
In Taipei, I visited the biennial “Post-Nature: A Museum as an Ecosystem”, an exhibition I should have lingered on longer than I had time for, a didactic collection, grim and urgent, of messages of awareness of the devastating effects that modern man with current economic practices have on the environment and an effort to generate solutions by creating symbiotic relationships between several areas of research and practice.
During the same period, living in Hongshulin District, I walked along the mangrove reserve on the Tamsui River many times. It is an urban distance of more than 5 kilometers laid out as a sidewalk or wooden suspension bridge, which you can travel without feeling like you are actually near a highway, with no interposition between you and the landscape, long enough to give you significant time for contemplation, thought, and physical exercise. These are its only goals, and all kinds of commercial noises or people with other businesses do not annihilate it. The solution to building suspended pedestrian paths allows access to nature without stressing plant and animal life.
In Da’an Park, there is a pond considered an ecological reserve, which has an isolated island from the shore in the middle, large enough to maintain an ecosystem. A very popular activity is bird watching.
I connect the curatorial concept of a significant cultural institution, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, with an existing public interest and urban planning practices, focused on achieving a harmony between development needs and natural areas to be preserved wild. From all directions, this common goal is constantly declared and supported. Implementations adjust and update consistently and efficiently.
What is the story of plants and flowers, as you perceived it when it became an essential source of inspiration for you, and as it now emerges from your art? Their specificity, their testimonies, their mysticism or symbolism…
As an adult, I reached a moment of disorientation, of loss of meaning, and I came out of that state by becoming attentive to how edible plants can grow in pots.
My gardening activities are chaotic, but I have a plan that I will not give up: to learn how to grow a plant in the conditions I have, to care for it to fulfill all its life stages, to grow it and to consume the edible parts, to save seeds so I can continue next season, to compost the vegetable scraps. With some plants, like kale, it takes two years to collect seeds, and the amount I get is enormous. I give them as gifts sometimes, but I still end up with a surplus, which I throw in the compost. Details like this always come up about systems, resources, needs, and power. If you take a moment to consider them, you will find many ideas and poetry in them.
Flowers in art, flowers in urbanism. What is the relationship between the three? Of course, new urbanism is about protecting nature, not just concerning overall net zero goals but also ensuring community cohesion, mental health, and longevity. What is the positioning of art according to these benchmarks?
Art has always been aligned with these goals, even before they were a requirement imposed by scientists, and has found ways to open non-invasive ways for the public to experience the miracle of nature, precisely to encourage and support personal development. Perhaps it has gone wrong in this area, too. However, I could not say what it should have been otherwise because what has been obtained in many places is the idea that art means any representation of a vase of flowers, and if there is that hanging somewhere, more than that is not necessary.
There is widespread oppression of mature trees, which bring enormous benefits to the city for minimal maintenance; where I live, as they struggle to live encased in cement, are also denied rainwater from the roofs of the blocks, which is, instead, domestically, directed to wastewater collection channels. However, they take care of some flowers that struggle among pedestrians, always relatively dry because of how they are planted.
It could be the human condition that everything we do is partially wrong. As far as I can see, the ecological plans in Romania continue to fail to find a genuine spirit of conservation and raising the quality of life. Art takes on the role of highlighting the corrections that are required. I feel uncomfortable criticizing, because I add to an already unbearable violence, but we are not witnessing urban spaces that support the citizen in any way, nor a citizen profile that is distinguished by the awareness of higher needs than those that are satisfied. Concerning society and the urban environment, I was not well from the first day of school. I have taught myself to be functional, and how I make art also speaks to the fact that there is a difference between the pots maintained by the municipality and my pot of volunteer plants on the windowsill.
As social or natural challenges become more significant, art is called to be not only a translator or a disseminator of the scientific and civic message to the people but also a participant in the process by which solutions are found for all these current problems. Melting glaciers, endangered plants, and pollution are recurring themes in art. What do you see as the contribution of artists to this overall effort to imagine a better world?
It is a task beyond the powers of the artists, which almost forces them to abandon the workshop practice for moral reasons, internalized to acute stages. Some works of art appear from the ability to select according to artistic criteria only specific details from databases that have accumulated enormously, with scientific information impossible to present briefly. Artists remain an optimal choice regarding the interdisciplinary connection of seemingly unrelated areas, and this kind of processing and research is needed. The artists who are still art producers continue to discover that creating an object from nothing requires acquiring wisdom, with which the humanist current has constantly fed.
And I can think of a category of artists who have a human capacity to travel emotionally between worlds so far from each other that they remain untraveled. Renzo Martens remains in my memory with the film “The White Cube” (2020), which I saw online at the Pelicam festival and won the edition’s trophy. There is a point where he has a nervous breakdown, and I think it is correct that they kept shooting and kept the footage after editing. Artists don’t do what they do because they can, and it is easy for them, but because it is necessary, and no one else is doing it for them.
A complex event is coming up in Bucharest, with many voices involved. How does each unique piece of speech fit into an overall plea? What are you bringing? What message does the whole want to support?
I only contribute with my personal story, to which I cannot give a value in the project higher than the curatorial motivation that made me be invited. But I can explain the logic of my story and its narrative unfolding.
A very complex philosophical dilemma that is often associated with the ecological theme, and which I am not equipped to develop, is that there is a paralyzing relationship between the individual contribution of possible solutions and a collectively caused problem, which by its nature would not have predictable answers than those that a collective effort should trigger.
As long as everything does not become good, the individual has no other role than that of a victim. I don’t accept this role for myself, but I have moments when I think it is just an illusion of mine to practice these isolation and resilience exercises, which are imperfect anyway.. The only message my art can have is that I exist.
Why should people see these exhibitions in general and your work in particular?
People must come out of conviction and love. I have thought about whether artists have a professional requirement to initiate conversion messages, and now I am inclined to say that is not what art is all about. Art is not addressed to a passive audience. What art has to offer you is accessible, free, and universal, but you need to choose to receive it with an intellectual and emotional curiosity. And to have the patience and perseverance to go to another exhibition if the one you are in does not speak to you.
Ana Maria Micu is one of the 30 artists brought together in the “Ecologiile grijii și îngrijirii” project, a large-scale botanical-themed event based on interdisciplinary research in contemporary art, architecture, landscape, and horticulture that opens on Saturday, September 2, at the Strata Gallery in Bucharest.
Opening: „Ecologiile grijii și îngrijirii”, 2 September, starting at 6 p.m.
Artists: Horia Bernea, Nicolae Comănescu, Hortensia Mi Kafchin, Andreea Medar and Mălina Ionescu, Gabriela Mateescu, Diana Miron, Liliana Mercioiu, Ana Maria Micu, Roman Tolici, Iulia Toma, Miki Velciov, with architectural proposals by Beros Abdul Architects, Stardust architects*, Nicolas Triboi, Eliza Yokina. Botanical research by Adrian Mureș – Master’s student at the Faculty of Horticulture in Bucharest, Biodiversity Conservation Management Master’s Program.
Address: Strata Gallery (76 Parângului Street, Bucharest)