As one waits for the bus in the station next to the “Radu Stanca” National Theatre, taking a look at the Wall is inevitable. White-chalk drawings and words on a black background; nothing written at random, everything makes sense in a certain context. You smile when you immediately understand the reference. The next drawing also catches your attention. It’s so simple! As you read, you realise you could have thought about it yourself. Well, as Perjo says, “this is the cool thing” about his wall: everybody can understand it. Sometimes, you see groups of tourists taking pictures at one end of the wall or retired people getting very close to read the smaller words. Other times, you see Dan Perjovschi – with his backpack, a ladder, and a few markers hanging on the top pocket of his hoodie – adding another drawing.
It’s been eight years since the Vertical Newspaper, written by the artist Dan Perjovschi, has been a part of the city. If you are a resident of Sibiu, you feel it belongs to you too. We all take our friends to see it when they ask about the city’s contemporary art and galleries. There’s actually a saying in Sibiu: “See you at Perjovschi’s Wall”.
The artist Dan Perjovschi says that he draws to understand the world and to share what he has understood. Although what he does seems easy and funny, beyond all this, we find serious statements about democracy, tolerance, violence, politics, war, freedom, community, protest, involvement, economy, citizens, culture, etc. Every time he gets back to Sibiu, he adds something on the wall. He believes it is a work-in-progress project, as, by now, he has added and erased a few thousand drawings on the 25-metre long and 3-metre high wall. Each year, before the Sibiu International Theatre Festival, the Wall gets prepared for a new project. The first Festival day sees the first drawings on the wall. That’s how it all started. In 2010, “Mr. Constantin Chiriac saw one of my works in a theatre festival somewhere in the world and said: ‘Well, Dan, you keep doing projects here and there, how would you like to do one in Sibiu as well?’ So, I was invited to Sibiu, where he showed me all kinds of possible spaces, from which I chose the wall next to the theatre, and said I’d give it a try to see how it works. Up to that point, I had only worked inside museums or on their windows, not on walls, in open spaces. So, I chose this wall, but the side towards the inner yard of the theatre. It turned out quite cool, a beautiful atmosphere, but it was rather exclusive: only those who were allowed to get in the yard could see it. So, I moved on the other side. People may not remember this, but there used to be some stands selling newspapers and shoes, and I was drawing between them. In time, the city hall planted grass, freed up the space, installed lights. It just happened. I did not insist on this, as I can adapt to any space. I take what I do here as a very serious task. I’m not playing around with this wall, it’s not child’s play. This is why I stuck to black and white. I only added colours when the Roșia Montană protests were going on or when I invited others to write on the wall. But otherwise, it’s black and white, because this is what press and revolutionary drawings look like. For the Romanian – and not only – collective memory, the drawings look like drafts. People expect me to colour them, to add something more. But I don’t add anything.”
“Sometimes, I can’t believe I can do this. Just think about the fact that, in Bucharest, people are fined for projecting the word rezist on a wall, and I have written it here so many times. Eight years later, I could say people are starting to copy me by working with words. Whether on walls, at protests, it’s become quite clear. So, I could say I’ve started a trend… for those who have eyes to see, it’s visible. The same about public statements, since my newspaper is not meant to embellish, but to question things. And I don’t know, in Sibiu, it has somehow earned its place, but it all happened naturally. Of course, it is associated with the theatre, and it meant something for President Iohannis to mention it in his book. It’s true though that it’s not included in the city guide. There’s no publication inviting people to eat something at the Sibiul Vechi wine cellar and then go and visit Perjovschi’s wall. But this is somehow all right, as the wall has kept a peripheral aura. Many people miss it, some know about it, while others don’t, and others have gotten used to it. Now, people say to me ‘Don’t erase it, don’t erase
it!’, though all I do is submerge the drawings, I don't fully erase them. To conclude, I think, after all these years, the wall has somehow earned its place. I want to show some people, both the administration and artists, that you can find a different kind of gallery in the city. Sure, I was in the comfortable situation in which somebody proposed a project to me, but I still had to find solutions on my own.”
The Magnet Sky
Public art is very important, Dan Perjovschi adds. He has taken full responsibility for the drawings and messages send to the community. He is, at the same time, his horizontal newspaper’s correspondent, editor, graphic designer, and manager. And the readers are all passers- by who stop for a few moments to read the latest “news” brought by the artist from the world’s museums and so on. This year, people are invited to get involved in another project: the “Magnet Sky”. In the box in front of the theatre, we can all bring one of our fridge magnets or send one from anywhere around the world. It is an idea connected to the Romanian Centenary. “I’ve also added the Centenary and came up with the magnet idea, so I don’t have to draw a certain kind of things on the wall. Romania is a multicultural country and should celebrate its place in the world, not isolated within the borders with its past. So, I said all Romanian families have an extension somewhere in this world: some work abroad, people travel around in other countries, and many of them come to Sibiu. That’s how I thought all peoplen can come together into a magnet collection. I’ve done this before in Bucharest, but with magnets from museums, like a world puzzle. And I thought it would be cool to bring this idea to Sibiu as well, so the ceiling of the platform in front of the theatre will become the “Magnet Sky”. This year, we are gathering magnets from everyone, but the project won’t stop here. We will then move it from the Theatre to Fabrica de cultură, where it can stay forever. It’ll look great, it’s a thing that brings people together, it can even be surprising.”
For most of the year, contemporary art almost doesn’t exist in Sibiu; however, slowly but surely, the Theatre Festival seems to cover this segment too. Starting last year, following Constantin Chiriac’s invitation, Dan Perjovschi has been bringing a guest representing the world of contemporary art. The first such guest was Charles Esche, the director of the Van Abbe Museum of contemporary and modern art (The Netherlands), and this year we will see Zdenka Badovinac, director of the Ljubljana Contemporary Art Museum (Slovenia), who will hold a public conference. Dan Perjovschi believes it is important for people, especially youngsters who have an interest in scontemporary art, to take advantage of the opportunities brought to them by the Festival: “Presently, there are some interesting groups of artists, perhaps quite small, but it’s a start and we can bring more people. As, together with the Theatre, I found the occasion to bring together important contemporary art directors, I think there’s room for more. It isn’t easy, but we can do something for Sibiu’s contemporary art, perhaps the Theatre can further contribute to its future development. Visual art projects can be associated to the Festival through its theme, for example. I think that, at some point, the Festival will need a visual art curator to make things more coherent. For now, I can only bring coherence to what I do.”
“It is still the biggest festival in our country”
The Sibiu International Theatre Festival is a big networking platform. You can find something for everyone in this fan-festival: for those who have a taste for the experimental, for the rather populist of us, as well as for aesthetics and classics. It is still the biggest festival in our country. It’s also the only one including an Arts Market. Another advantage comes from its connection to other big festivals around the world. It’s phenomenal to be living in the province and get to – as an actor – play on the biggest stages in the world. When I worked in Gianina Cărbunariu’s project I saw the importance of these connections. So, you can go ahead and complain about Sibiu, but this city has seen the crème de la crème.”
“Overall, I like this Festival because it created a wonderful platform for freedom of expression, besides bringing things we would never be able to see otherwise right under our noses. It’s true that some of the city’s inhabitants are aware of this, and others aren’t. Some benefit from all this without realising it, it has become part of their normality, while others understand all the work behind it. The Festival should not only be seen through theatre, because it also has to do with school, with tourism and with everything else. It creates a net all around. It is an economic, a cultural, social and political phenomenon which somehow influences the future of the city.
To me, it is important to stand on its critical side, both physically, through my wall, and in discourse, through the contemporary art representatives we bring here.”, Dan Perjovschi adds.