Irina Botea Bucan

What makes a House of Culture?
Installation, embroidery, furniture, film
Location: Corneliu Miklosi Public Transport Museum

Still present in almost every city and village in Romania, the cultural houses and cultural hearths are places of entanglements. Cultural policies, political agendas, architecture, material culture, personal and collective accounts, act in concert both inside and around these centres, reminding us of their previous desires: developing the multidimensional individual within a community, surveying the leisure time of individuals, centralising cultural and informal educational activities within a socio-geographic area, whilst also enabling a certain degree of negotiation in the collective production of culture.

Having two major components, the performance hall and the club, they encompass multiple rooms, many of them with multiple purposes. In 1978, architects writing in Romania’s “Arhitectura” magazine, state that a cultural house should always be open and should accommodate future known and unknown activities and actions.

These rooms transform the participants, the viewers, into temporary room-mates.

Situated in the tram depot where the trams were repaired, the installation-room presents a place that can be used for gatherings, discussions and various activities by both individuals as well as collectives/groups. It not only provides archival materials from an extended history of cultural houses and hearths in their original format, but also from within the components of the installation itself (embroidery and wooden furniture). A monitor situated in the space will make available films created in various cultural houses and hearths (made by Irina in collaboration with filmmaker Jon Dean*).

Two main historical threads are presented: the early socialist workers clubs/circles and the cultural hearths developed in the 1930s through the monographic work of the sociologist Dimitrie Gusti. Made in collaboration with Pavel Iacob**, each piece of furniture embodies an archive of forms and architectural designs from Alexander Rodchencko to Maria and Nicolae Porumbescu.

The electronic embroideries on canvas generate soft foldable walls, softly demarcating a room as well as indicating proportions that already exist in a cultural house. Embroidery is already embedded in the material culture of cultural houses and hearths as decoration. In the installation there is also structure and architecture.

The presence of the embroidery within the space conflates multiple meanings. It is influenced by the concept of the best room in the peasant household, where the women’s work is decoratively exhibited and designates the most important room of the house where births, deaths and marriages are celebrated and guests are welcomed. Embroidery and writing are tightly connected for women. Often young women would learn how to write and embroider at the same time, and embroidering the alphabet was one of their first exercises. Multiple publications bring forth evidence of the ways in which embroidery has been seen more as a product that secures transmission of geometric motifs and meanings rather than as a creative act in itself - or a room of their own - a personal time for women to reflect. The installation seeks to revert these restricted views, combining embroidery with the digital (from which women have also been historically omitted). An electronic embroidery machine is placed within the installation on the former tram tracks,and will be used to translate the results of workshops and gatherings, producing embroideries that will complete, in time, the walls of the installation.

A result of more than six years of artistic research, the installation deconstructs the model of cultural houses and invites the public to re-imagine and re-consider what makes a place a cultural house.

*Jon Dean is a community and visual artist, educationalist whose praxis reflects his background, living in Romania and UK.
**Pavel Iacob is a carpenter, poet and artisan, living and working in Câmpulung (Argeș), Romania.

Irina Botea Bucan has developed a symbiotic artist-educator-researcher methodological framework that consistently questions dominant socio-political ideas and centralises human and non-human agency as a vehicle for meaning. Choosing to act in diverse contexts, such as: academic institutions, alternative galleries, museums, art biennials, film festivals and generic community centres, she is currently focusing on the decentralisation of cultural discourses and the possibility of sustaining creative differentiation that arguably exists outside of a dominant hegemonic system of values and critique.

Performance, reenactment, simulated auditions, elements of direct cinema and cinéma vérité are combined in her artistic approach. The works are developed through a process of collaboration in which the performers are participants in the process, while her filmmaker role is shifting from an observational to a reflective, participatory and performative mode. Currently she is faculty at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (since 2006) and pursuing a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London.