I was asked on different occasions about the existence of Romanian e-poetry, but I didn’t have much information on the subject at the time. One of the very few articles that addressed this issue directly ended with the conclusion that ‘Electronic poetry in Romanian is still to be invented’ (Ioana Bot, Romanian Electronic Poetry, in Dilemateca, no. 22, March 2008). However, a brief paragraph in a volume dedicated to The Romanian Post-war Literary Experiment put me on the track of a pioneering group, among whose relatively recent productions there are some which can definitely claim this title. The group is called kinema-ikon and it has celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. Of course, such an extensive artistic life span suggests that there have been several turning points in the history of the group’s activity. In 2005, on the occasion of the celebration of its 35th year of existence, the group launched a catalogue designed as a retrospect of its activity. The main theoretician of the group and one of its founding members wrote an extensive introductory article for this catalogue, recapitulating the history of the group and indicating the main stages of its development. Since the entire article is available on the site of kinema-ikon (http://kinema-ikon.projects.v2.nl/pages/ki.htm), I’m not going to insist too much on details. What I want to underline is a selection of facts from this self-entitled ‘contextual history’ that may answer the question mentioned in the beginning concerning the state of Romanian digital literature.
According to George Sabau, the activities of the group can be divided into three main stages, which actually correspond to the types of media progressively involved in their experiments: film (1970-1989), mixed-media (1990-1993) and hypermedia (from 1994 up to the present). It is the first stage, which is also the most context-conditioned, that explains and illustrates one side of the peculiar evolution of media experiments in Romanian literature and art. The expression ‘contextual history’ points to the continuous interference and pressure of external, mostly ideological, factors on the activity of the group. So it was ‘in AD 1970, in the town of Arad, in western Transylvania, a province belonging to a country called Romania, somewhere in central Europe’ that kinema-ikon – ‘a group of young people preoccupied with the idea of experimental creation’ was formed (Catalogue 2005, p. 006).
The group felt the pressure of the context from the very moment of its foundation: ‘The historical-social-political context was called communism, which excluded from the very beginning the possibility of founding a research center, while the legal framework admitted by the regime was that of a cinema circle, in the beginning within the Arts School/ Arts High-school, and, later on, integrated into the structure of the Art Museum of Arad’ (Catalogue 2005, p. 006). This highly limited the group’s scope of possibilities of expression, especially since it implied a relatively poor material base to start from. It also affected its official status. As the historian informs his readers, the experimental productions were never publicly projected in the group’s hometown. As for other manifestations, they seem to have had only a semi-official character, even if they profited from the presence of a well-informed audience.
However, despite the difficulties, the members did manage to organize 3 important symposiums of national proportions: in 1980, in 1884 (Intermedia 1) and in 1988 (Intermedia 2). It was in the 80s that the group retreated from the cinematographic system and enlarged its program by joining the alternative art and literature movement known as the Generation of the 80s. In fact, one third of the members of kinema-ikon had literary preoccupations so what resulted was a real inter-media and inter-art trend.
The main outcome of this stage is represented by a collection of 62 experimental films; 22 of them were presented in Paris at Centre Pompidou in 1995. It was on that occasion that the members of the group became aware ‘of having missed all the trains of experimental movie, because the trend, the interest were already focused on video art, while the multimedia technology had had a powerful start too’ (Catalogue 2005, p. 016). This was largely due to the fact that the regime had forbidden any participation to international events on account of the repeated and more or less successful attempts of different group members to leave the country. This isolation also accounts for the poor state of the video and computer art before 1989: ‘The communist regime limited the access to the video medium and exerted a total interdiction upon copying machines, considering them as a danger to national security… This type of control and repression, practised until the fall of the Wall of Berlin, is an explanation of the poverty in video-art works, as well as of the genre’s explosion after 1989, especially under the form of video-installation’ (Catalogue 2005, p. 024).
As for the computer experiments proper, the situation was pretty much the same. Despite the fact that the attempts involving the use of the computer for artistic purposes were actually synchronous with the experiments that were taking off
on the international stage, they were also very scarce. Nevertheless, they culminated in 1985 with an exhibition of computer assisted graphical works produced by the group Sigma from Timisoara, an exhibition entitled Art and Computer. This was perceived by kinema-ikon as an important event since the group counted a few computer specialists among his members, even if they did not activate as such. But the preoccupation of kinema-ikon with computer art remained quite abstract at this stage because they did not have access to the instrument proper (Catalogue 2005, p. 026).
On the other hand, the interest in the artistic possibilities opened up by the computer was accompanied by an equal interest in developing a theoretical frame for them. As early as 1972 V. Masek edited an anthology – Aesthetics. Information. Programming – including both foreign and Romanian contributions to this topic. Other significant contributions were signed by Solomon Marcus and Radu Bagdasar.
What is also interesting to note is the way in which the 62 experimental films were realized. They are in fact the complements of 62 documentaries (the documentary being the ‘officially-acknowledged’ genre) whose rolls of film were carefully used so as to leave enough empty tape for short experimental films. What defines the poetics of these films is that the ‘Figurative character of images is neither entirely destroyed, like in abstract movies, nor completely invented, like in structural movies. The audience is proposed neither a “wild meaningless perception”, nor an “over-determination of meaning”, something like de-visualized ideas. (…) Narrative modes, especially the aspects of conventional story, were either completely eluded (the non-narrative), or deviated towards different forms of expressing the content, such as the pseudo-narrative or the dys-narrative. In this respect, the succession of the frames prefigures, by their non-linear structure, the specific marks to be later on promoted by hyper-textual reading…’ (Catalogue 2005, p. 012). This can be easily checked because all the films belonging to the set presented at Centre Pompidou are available on youtube:
George Sabau: Cuttings up (1980-1985)
George Sabau, Fragmentarium (1985-90)
Ioan Ples: Spring-Coming Effects (1978)
Ioan Ples : Panta Rhei (1979)
Ioan Ples: Emergence (1982)
Romulus Budiu: Alone with Snow (1975)
Emanuel Tet: Dynamic Poem (1978)
Ioan T. Morar: Autopsy of Oblivion (1977)
Florin Hornoiu: Commuters (1976)
Alexandru Pecican: Subliminal Exercise (1979)
Valentin Constantin: Beginning of a Coherence (1981)
Valentin Constantin: Day Close-In (1985)
Iosif Stroia: Self-Portrait (1984)
Viorel Simulov: Manuscript (1984)
Viorel Simulov: Ocular (1985) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTuMppFu_a4&feature=related
Viorel Simulov: Liquid Landscape (1988) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=has_nSkywko&feature=related
Ioan Galea: Study 1 – Details (1986)
Ioan Galea: Study 2 – Fibonacci (1987)
Gelu Muresan: The Concert (1980)
Marcela Muntean: Pulsions (1989)
Liliana Trandabur: Mise-en-ecran (1989)
Calin Man: What’s Happening, movie/ video (1992)
These are the main aspects I wanted to pinpoint as relevant for one side of the prehistory of digital poetry in the Romanian experimental area. Concerning the other two stages in the artistic development of kinema-ikon, which mark the shift to the digital art proper, I shall refer to them in a coming-soon article in which I intend to realize a close-reading of some of these works.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.