|Tranzit House, Cluj, Romania|
|by Nina Czegledy|
|Over this summer, I have been deeply impressed by new, alternative cultural initiatives in the Middle of Europe. While the profile and focus of these cultural ventures vary from place to place, all of them were self or grass roots initiated and became quickly successful indicating a need for diverse, often spontaneous and in many cases informal interaction.|
The following four interviews (posted in sections) are part of a study in progress and concern Tranzit House, Cluj, Romania; Buryzone, Bratislava, Slovakia; Kuda org. Novi Sad, Serbia and Two Artists Two Curators, Budapest, Hungary.
In 1997, Tranzit House, began operations in a former Synagogue in Cluj, Romania. The dilapidated building has served as a storage place for several years and could be accessed only through a back alley Back in the late nineties, it would have been difficult to foresee the current extent of activities in the renovated building. The Foundation itself has been established in 1998. Events began sporadically as early as 1997, however due to the condition of the building regular programming was not possible until 2001. The events ranged from folk dancing for children to experimental film projections. Within this time frame - said Csilla Konczei, founding member- the programming allowed the assessment of the cultural atmosphere of the city, which in turn was reflected in the order of the events. Over the last year in collaboration with individuals, especially Joanne Richardson and organizations such as the IDEA Foundation new trends emerged in programming.
Between September 26-29, 2002, Tranzindex Media Theory Symposium, the latest collaborative project of the Foundation was held in the Tranzit House.
This interview with Csilla Konczei and Tincuta Parv coordinator of the Tranzindex Media Theory Symposium was conducted by e-mail over the summer and on September 29,2002 in Cluj.
Csilla Konczei, anthropologist, artist and curator worked most of her life in Cluj. Csilla is teaching in the Department of Ethnography and Anthropology at the University of Cluj and she is also involved in non-verbal communication research. In the former political regime she couldn't get a job and has been working as a freelance ethnographer. In 1990 she began to work at Romanian National Television.Around this time she started to produce independent video art, which has been shown at many international festivals and has received prestigious festival awards.
Tincuta Parv has graduated from the Art Academy of Cluj in 1998. She has completed one year of post graduate studies at Nantes, France. Following this she has obtained another degree in cultural anthropology in Cluj. Tincuta has been working full-time at Tranzit House for the last two years.
Nina Czegledy: You have initiated the Tranzit project a few years ago. Can you tell me about the background in Cluj in general and your project in particular? How and why did this initiative become a reality?
Csilla Konczei: When I started the Tranzit project, Cluj was a sort of a depressing place. This was the second depressing period in my life -the first being of course during the Ceausescu regime. Many interesting people left the country; the intellectual/artistic life has being vegetating in a very closed and static institutional system. I did not find a satisfying context for my activities at home. The empty building of a former synagogue on the bank of Somes River presented a very inspiring apropos for initiating an artistic and community building project. So we rented the building from the Jewish community together with my husband and I started to look for people with whom to develop the project of establishing a contemporary art center.
By now, Cluj is a much more lively place - maybe in a certain way Tranzit contributes to this as well .Our project means a permanent activity facilitated by a small staff and many visiting local and international artists in the partly restored building of Tranzit House, as we call it. During the five years of our existence we succeeded to attract artists and increasing grant support by organizing artistic manifestations, which expressed our ideas and revealed the possibilities of the project. We could say that the Tranzit project is a specific low budget project, which gradually succeeded to transform non-monetary values into monetary ones.
NC: I have been very impressed by the events you organize. Can you describe your activities and aims?
CK: Maybe a clue for our progress can be found in the freedom integrated into the concept of Tranzit, which is based on transgression of boundaries. More concretely: Tranzit Foundation in the first years organized a few major artistic events to show this direction (We and They, 11-13 October 1997, The Passer-bye, 1998, New Meeting Places, 1999). This was accomplished parallel to establishing the infrastructure for basic utilities (water, electricity, gas), and restoration of the building. So when the space of Tranzit House became functional in 2001 February, complete with a heating system, plenty of offers were received from groups and individuals. Beside our own projects, now Tranzit House functions as a host for very different artistic activities. We came to a period in which there is a need of a stricter planning, so we have to decide our priorities, on which major Tranzit projects to focus and how to use the space of the house for others' activities. In the future, we will probably keep a few major events, like Tranzit Days festival in the period of May-June, or an annual conference on media criticism in September, and some other projects concerning informal education, intercultural activities, the representation of Jewish culture, and so on. Turning to a more strict planning is also an economic necessity, as we are totally self-sustained, a fact that hopefully will not seriously affect the freedom of the house and of the activities.
NC: The wide range of audiences coming to your events are also impressive. Can you tell more about your audience?
CK: Talking about our audiences, we should really speak about our audiences in plural, as there is a real diversity concerning the public of different events. Although the majority of our public is composed by young people, especially students - which is a local and regional phenomena -, we can mobilize different ethnic, age and social groups due to the diversity of our program. We have projects working with Romani people (artistic education for children, experimental theatre), we organize programs concerning Jewish culture inviting the local Jewish community (these are basically elderly people). The inhabitants of the city got used to the idea that different social and ethnic groups use the same space, but still the number of occasions when events of different profiles are mixed are not very numerous.
NC: What are your plans for the future?
CK: Concerning the future, five years of existence have passed which means that we could build on the image of a permanent place and organization. The economic difficulties make it extremely difficult to sustain this image in reality. We are expanding in many ways: we continue to restore the building, we have more permanent collaborators, more success with applications and projects -and a consequence we have an increasing budget and increasingly important art projects. We are trying to seek solutions for self-raised resources, for example running a caf? and offering cultural services in order to maintain our independence.
The Tranzindex Media Theory Symposium, organized by the Tranzit Foundation and Joanne Richardson in collaboration with Next 5 Minutes (Amsterdam), Idea Foundation and ANO Foundation, was held in Cluj. "The project aimed at strengthening a critical and active approach towards new visual media both at a professional level and in the public opinion by launching a debate on the content of media representation....The stated purpose of the conference was to find alternatives to existing models of media content, to evaluate already implemented alternative strategies elsewhere, to adapt these strategies to local social contexts and to consider visual media as a channel for communication and community building. More than twenty participants came from 13 countries - in addition the Kultiplex and Tilos Radio from Budapest brought 30 members to Cluj.
I have asked Tincuta Parv, project coordinator to tell me more about the symposium.
NC: Can you tell me about the Tranzindex Symposium?
Tincuta Parv: This is the second edition of Tranzindex - up till now, the largest media theory event in Cluj. Censorship was the subject of the first conference last year and it focused on censorship in the arts and cultural systems. Some media representatives and journalists were also involved. We tried to focus on independent media, radio, tv and new media tools such as the internet. We tried to establish the background in Romania. In the course of our work, it became obvious that there is still a lack of connection between the various elements of what could create a real mediascape. Part of the difficulty is that the commercial sector is very strong and there is a shortage of independent initiatives. For example regarding the internet while there have been computers and online connections as far back as twelve years ago, independent possibilities became available only lately. There are very big discrepancies between those who have access and those who don't. This represents partly a generation gap - young people have a better understanding of computer related issues. I should add that today there are many internet cafes in Cluj, however this does no mean that the users have a critical approach. The customers use these places mostly for entertainment. We intended to provoke the locals into looking into and to push them into openly discussing these issues. This was the most important reason to initiate the conference. At the same time we see ourselves as a cultural center and we tried to make connections in a wider European context. We developed different subjects for the conference, such as education in new media, alternative media issues and questions pertaining as to what is the public domain, what is a private domain? What is the frontier between documentary and fiction? How can this be manipulated? We worked on developing the conference with Joanna Richardson, who is involved in a large global network of media activists. We combine dour own connections with hers in order to create a much wide media scene.
NC. I was missing a larger local audience at Tranzindex. Can you talk about this?
TP: We organize an eclectic range of events here in Tranzit - people are used to come to those events which are well advertised in the Romanian press. For example when we organized the Tranzit Days festival, there were some important theatre groups coming from Bucharest as well as an important group of Slovenian artists. Although we made the same publicity for the events, most of the people came only for the Romanian events, because they knew of these people through an informal information network. In the future we have to consider this informal network when we wish to spread information on upcoming events.