Art Guide East, 26 August 2015
The Chișinău and Berlin based artist and filmmaker Pavel Brăila created this year the Moldovan pavilion for the Expo Milano 2015 in collaboration with the architect studio ”Gorgona”. Reflecting on the topic of the expo Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, the installations of the pavilion are concerned with the theme "Shine the Light - Energy of Sun, Energy of Earth, Food for People". We asked the artist about his participation in designing the pavilion and about the project itself.
Kinga Lendeczki Before we start to talk about the concept of the pavilion and about your contribution to the project, let us start with the beginnings. How did you get into the contemporary art field and start to work as an artist?
Pavel Brăila When I finished school I wanted to become a chef. However, there was a big competition for the speciality called “technology of public alimentation” even among medalists. For this reason I was advised to apply to another course from the same faculty and then change it later, so I went to “Machinery and Apparatus of Alimentary Industry”. I realized in the meantime that my studies were more about engineering than food technology, but I did not want to quit. Thus I am a mechanic engineer based on my degree.
When I finished university I started photography and also became interested in directing films. A friend of mine taught me how to take photos and we worked together as photographers in municipal kindergartens. At that time it was a way of having a regular income. We were going to Bucharest to develop the pictures. They had a better technology there, the C-41, and with those beautiful colorful pictures we were somehow above any competition.
At the same time I started to learn English in the centre of Soros Foundation. One day somebody from the centre saw my pictures and asked me to do the annual photo report for the foundation, so I became their first photographer. After the Center for Contemporary Art was established, the former director Octavian Eșanu invited me to take photos and document the activities of their first art camp. He also offered me to actively take part in it and realize my own ideas. In the camp I met many artists and attended a few lectures and workshops about performance and contemporary art. I really liked it and I was curious enough to do my own performance there. After this camp I was immediately invited to take part in an exhibition in Amsterdam. That was the beginning.
K.L. One of the important turning points of your artistic practice was 2002, when you were invited to participate in Documenta 11 with the film Shoes for Europe. How did it influence your career?
P.B. After Documenta I became known in Europe as well as in the US and I started to travel a lot. For five years I was living only in airports. At one point I thought I would somehow lose the connection with reality because I was always on my way. At that time I did not realize that I could just send the film and that is it. I thought that I really had to be present everywhere I was invited and sometimes I even held lectures and presentations too. The film was really successful and it still is. It is worth mentioning that one of the cameramen of Shoes for Europe was Vadim Hâncu who taught me photography, as well as Radu Zara, director of photography of the film JOC which is presented in the pavilion at the expo.
K.L. You participated in several international art exhibitions, such as Documenta and Manifesta, among many others. Compared to these experiences, in what ways was the Expo Milano 2015 a challenge for you and what motivated you to participate in the project?
P.B. First of all, it was the first time that I was approached to do something for my country and the fact that the state supported it financially was also very important. And even if I just consider the history of the World Expo knowing of many notable previous participants who had the opportunity to present something to the world, I felt that I got a chance to make my own manifesto.
I was not involved in the project from the very beginning though. I was traveling and therefore I did not know that there was an open call for the architectural plans of the pavilion. But the competition emphasized only the architectural side of the project without paying particular attention to the contents relating to the idea of the expo. After a while the organizers realized that something was missing. That was the moment when someone advised to contact me since I am making different kinds of installations and I could help to fill the pavilion with relevant and valuable contents. The challenge of presenting this pavilion in the context of the Expo was fascinating for me, as well as the concept of the Expo Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. I already had the idea of installing a solar flower to the top, which I also wanted to propose to the Technisches Museum Wien for an exhibition entitled Energie. I also had the idea of making a film about the dance ensemble of JOC for several years already, and these two were good starting points to further develop the concept.
K.L. There are three central elements of the pavilion: the solar flower on the top of the building, the neon installations of the planetary constellations and the video of the dance performance of JOC. Could you tell us more about the roles of these elements in the concept of the pavilion?
P.B. The main building of the pavilion is a glass cube which symbolizes a house, a stable place for people. At the same time, with the transparent surfaces of the glass walls it welcomes and encourages everyone to step inside the pavilion. The “solar flower” itself is a mirror prism and its surface consists of thousands of facets. It is installed on the top of a sloped metal stalk and hangs above the center of the glass cube. A mirror system is installed on each corner of the roof that follows the movement of the sun all day long and reflects the sunbeams on a rotating mirror prism creating an effect of myriad spots of light spinning around all over the space. The installation is a metaphor of solar energy, the main energy source for the future and it also refers to the energy of people who are warmed by the sunlight. With mirroring the sunlight inside and outside of the pavilion the solar flower invokes the myth of Prometheus who stole the fire from the gods to share it with humans.
The second element comprises twelve neon installations of the invented star constellations, which can be seen just from Moldova in a sense that all of them relates somehow to the country and represent core elements of the culture. This element I hope helps visitors to discover the country. After the sun and the sky, the video of JOC symbolizes the people, the main source of energy for all countries. JOC was a good example of this since Moldovan dance is one of the fastest dances in the world. Connecting to the concept of the Expo, the Moldovan pavilion aims to feed the brain.
K.L. Why was it important for you to present the video of JOC at the Expo?
P.B. This is the very first participation of Moldova at such an event and I thought of bringing something very authentic from here. In my opinion JOC is something quite unique. During the era of the USSR, JOC was kind of a visit card for Moldova. I know JOC from my childhood, and I was sure that I wanted to present it. The idea of making this film came a few years ago. Once I saw a documentary film of the Swan Lake from 1967 by Dudko and Sergeev, where the camera was on the stage and it gave the feeling that you are inside the ballet. I thought that it would be nice to try this with JOC. When you sit in the audience you see the performance just from one point, but with this technique you could see the whole ornament of the dance. When I worked on the decoupage of the film I was fascinated by their movements. They dance in lines, circles, semicircles and squares, and sometimes it was very hard to catch the moments of transformation because you are so much swallowed by the dance. I felt like I was hypnotized. Now I am very glad to see how people enjoy the video in Milan and they stay for 20-30 minutes watching two or sometimes even more dances. I also hope that this video will raise interest in the group and after so many years of being in the shadow they will return.
K.L. What were your expectations and what kind of feedback did you get so far?
P.B. I was thinking that this would be one of the nicest pavilions and for me it is. The Ministry of Economy is the commissioner of the pavilion. At the beginning we had one commissioner who regarded this project as his own which was a great help for us in developing it. But then he resigned, two other commissioners followed him and the last one joined the project only one month before the opening. Things were changing fast during this time and the pavilion became a kind of abandoned kid. There were problems with the budget but in the last moment expenses were covered somehow, though it was still not enough.
We received the main critiques by visitors from Moldova. They were missing traditional food and wine in the pavilion, which are much more important for them than the actual design and the artistic projects presented in it. In fact almost all of the pavilions were transformed into restaurants, which distracted the public from the main theme “Feed the planet”. Now it is not so much about the planet, but about feeding visitors and making profit from it. I was sure that I would see some initiatives to help starving people from poor regions in Africa etc., but there was nothing like this… And that was really sad.
K.L. What is going to happen to the pavilion after the end of the Expo?
P.B. The plan is to bring it back to Moldova and I hope it will be transformed into a contemporary art centre. There is a huge gap between art and the public in Moldova. Many people here have no idea about what art means, what kind of questions it has, what contemporary art is and why it exists, what kind of tasks it should have etc. I am aware that nowadays the majority of people is busy mostly with existential problems and that they need bread and entertainment. TV offers quite a wide range of entertainment possibilities, but still we are in the 21st century and we are saying that we are Europeans, so I think we would need at least one place where contemporary art should be presented and discussed. And this pavilion, as it is planned to be brought back to Moldova, can be a perfect opportunity in which to found a Centre for Contemporary Art.
*Featured image: scene from the film "JOC", 2015