Artist Alina Ion, guest of podcast Accelerator Today

July 25, 2023

Listen to the podcast here and all the episodes here

Accelerator Today is a podcast about contemporary art, about the art market, about artists and about art in the public space. The podcast aims to reflect the Accelerator project as it unfolds, and to bring artists, curators and relevant people to the microphone sharing relevant opinions about contemporary art to the public.

As part of Back to Where It All Began exhibition, artist Alina Ion had a mysterious installation in the U-shaped space in the basement of the Gaep Gallery. Alina Ion and Andrei Breahnă, Accelerator project manager, discuss abut this artwork and many other topics in this edition of Accelerator Today.

Tell us about your artwork, I suggest we take a visual tour, because the artwork makes us imagine many things.

Thank you for the invitation and I am glad to have the opportunity to talk about the context that generated the artwork, because there are some micro elements that have been gathering during the course of it, since I started the Accelerator programme. Last year, at this time, I was making an artwork called occam’s leftovers which involved extracting the subject matter from some drawings. That meant that there were fragments left, there were just the edges of the drawings left and I was thinking about the idea of the lack of subject, of nothingness as a lack of subject and what the nothingness can actually create – that you imagine what you hear, what is behind the lack of subject area. Discussing this work in the very first stage of the Accelerator in May with Roberta (Roberta Curcă, an artist part of the Accelerator programme), she recommended a book in which I found an extract that I quite liked, namely about how Charlotte Brontë edited a manuscript in this zone of uncertainty.

When the novel got too personal, she would cut, rather than strike though the words of  the manuscript. The part where she cut, rather than drawing lines over words that might at some point be deciphered – it seemed to me resonated with the work I’d done before. I had some notes, by the way, that I’d started during the pandemic, which were called just that, days, and which I had no intention of turning into an artwork.

I was writing them simply because, in the period of the last two years, time for me was no longer necessarily perceived as linear and that’s why I find it ironic that they are called days, because they are in fact (timeless days) personal notes, notes even about artworks. That remains to be discovered.

I liked the basement area of the gallery, especially when I discovered that it was a corridor, because it was originally covered. At that time, I had also started reading “Notes from the Underground” and it seemed like a coincidence. And this is how I selected the place of the artwork. They’re laid out right along this aisle and I hope they invite you in or at least intrigue you a little bit and make you spend time with them, I mean don’t just read them right off the bat and fast forward through. You should stay if you want to, if you’re patient, if you want to decipher them.

For those who don’t know or remember the gallery space, in the basement, there is a space, a U-shape, which is actually the stairwell of the building, which is blocked for now and it’s a space that you go through quite winding. It’s not very narrow, but it’s not very wide either. Alina’s installation is a series composed of a series of strips of text that is cut out and seemingly illegible. However, if you walk through it with your body, that is to say if you walk through this space in an assumed way and come into direct contact with the text, you will see a very intimate text, full of fragility, of hidden elements.

And I can say that the person reading actually becomes the writer.

How did you come to make art? What does it mean to be an artist today and how did you come to do it?

For me, art has always been like a refuge, because I went to math-informatics high school, then I did the Academy for Economic Studies (ASE) and then I realized that I clearly didn’t want to go in that direction. In between, at least since second grade, I’ve been taking painting classes. I am from Oltenița and in that quite small town, there is a local arts centre that had, at that time, a lot of courses. My mother signed me in as many as she could for me to find something I liked and the thing that stayed the closest to me was painting. I was in that class until the 12th grade. Later, and when I was at ASE, I also took the People’s School of Arts. I was in a zone of refuge or I felt the need that after a certain time of not doing something in that sense, even if it was drawing, painting or whatever, any other area, I didn’t feel good, I didn’t feel comfortable. So I stopped and went to University of Fine Arts (UNARTE) and there I basically opened up or understood more parameters related to the area of contemporary art, with which I was not at all familiar. It was super new to me, but also very exciting.

What was your experience in the context of this group exhibition and what are the main messages that the public should remember, because in the exhibition, the public is confronted with ten juxtaposed artistic practices positioned in different areas of the gallery.

Difficult to say, because an audience is composed of a mix of people who can bring many and diverse points of view. I think that’s the most important thing – to be open and to come, if not with questions, at least with an approach like that: This is what I like, this is what I resonate with, or this is what I really don’t like and don’t understand and don’t want. That seems different to me. I see the intention of the work or what I wanted to say, but the audience comes with its own background and then I wouldn’t necessarily want to impose things.

Of course I have an idea. For example, in my artwork, I wrote in the descriptive text that if there was a line that becomes a band, let’s say, between one’s public space and one’s private space, about how wide it would be, i.e. what are the parameters in which you play when you interfere in your personal and intimate thoughts and when you are in a more public sphere or when you are in a conversation between two people, for example, as we are in this dialogue.

How do you see the exhibition in the context of the Accelerator programme? Speaking of what I was saying earlier and the, shall we say, deluge of information you were bombarded with during your time at university? What was your need after graduation and how do you see the Accelerator programme as a response to some of your needs or issues?

My response was through action, or in fact inaction. After graduating, I only had my graduate degree, I didn’t go on to do my master’s degree, precisely because it seemed to me, even after those three years, that it didn’t offer support towards a contemporary practice. And it seems to me that Accelerator program, that’s what it brings in addition as an experience, which is how you discuss or how you relate in the context of an exhibition, how to discuss with a curator, how to discuss with a gallerist, what you should know.

Beyond your practice, obviously, there is this system, we don’t know how else to call it, of contemporary art, which we have no idea about when we finish university. It seems to me that there’s a kind of idealization perpetuated from that, the artist sitting in the studio and I don’t know, not giving any emails. When, in fact, you have to give quite a lot of emails or discuss quite a lot of stuff.

Why do you think that happens? What’s the reason why during the years of study there are no such opportunities?

It’s on a more macro level. We, at least in Romania, there are issues with several systems, from medical to education etc. And clearly, culture somehow comes last, because it is not a priority. In other words, the things that most affect society are not yet resolved. And then we always come last. And that’s where the funding is probably cut most aggressively in general. There are no long-term things to rely on and that comes out somehow in the university as well. In some universities there are quite hierarchical structures. I’m not saying that there are not super okay and very open professors, but there are certain things that are perpetuated that are not anchored in what you were saying, there’s not a clear dialogue with what’s going on right now.

The result, unfortunately, is that very few artists remain in the field. They are arts graduates, but end up doing, in some cases, something else entirely. Quite a few even end up staying in the cultural field.

I think, on a super personal level, there is disappointment. You, maybe, project and have some illusions and when you get out to college, you wonder: What am I doing now? I have to support myself, I want to work too. I want to have more money and materials, I also have to eat, I have to pay rent. I mean, these super basic things come into play, which are not really discussed.

That’s why we’re here to talk about it. What’s it like to be an artist in Romania these days? The issue of precariousness is still central. Is this the main obstacle facing artists today – not having enough resources to establish a lifestyle that allows them to produce work and make a living from it?

Yes, I think this is a major point. I’m not saying it’s exclusive to Romania, I think it’s a general phenomenon, but here, as I said, things are a bit harder, without sounding like we’re complaining, precisely because no, there’s no such structure at a larger level to give examples or models of good practice. I, from Oltenița, from Mate-Info, the first thing I would do would be to go to the Art Museum or these are the first structures you come into contact with and if they are not prepared to give me information to understand well enough what is happening or how to look at certain works, then yes, it is difficult for me, maybe it frustrates me and maybe I don’t even go there.

Yes, indeed the cultural mediation component, also for the art market, is in fact one of the biggest bottlenecks, because, I can say from my position as a gallerist, the collecting public, the middle class that produces value, that works in companies wants cultural activities. Yet we are at a cultural disadvantage in terms of the number of qualitative opportunities that can exist. On the other hand, at least in Bucharest, the independent scene is quite dynamic. Artist-run spaces are constantly appearing, even galleries that have continuous activity. This is a good sign.

Let’s also think about 2023. I’d love to hear about your projects this year.

It’s all pretty mixed. For example, I have a piece I’ve been thinking about for a year now that I hope to do. I’m doing a couple of other installations in the house and I’m still struggling a bit with that part and how to make it happen.

That also kind of came as my way of responding, because there was a period where I wasn’t presenting, but there’s a need to make art and just see it in a space. Then I thought, anyway, home is basically my studio – and why not do that and document it too? Obviously, from what I do at home, I learn things or maybe some of it, some parts of it turns into another work, I mean it’s a kind of domino.

I’m also going on a residency in August and I can’t wait to see what it’s like, by the way, in Regensburg. There will be the other part that I’ve worked with before, like interventions in public space. I’ll do some research there on the city and something related to heritage. I don’t know much yet either, because I’m just starting to make a list and more will happen there locally. Otherwise, I mentioned earlier that I help coordinate Sounds like a book, a very cool project initiated by Andreea Vlăduți, supported by and organized by Galeria Posibilă and the Stefan Câlția Foundation.


One last question, about the future and the future of art – how do you see yourself in five years in ten years, as an artist, as a cultural actor, do you believe in yourself that you will last that long?

If I’ve lasted this long, I can last a while. I can say, in a way, honestly, I’m glad I’m in a field that I can say I don’t know where it’s going. I’m hoping, obviously, for some super good things, because, there are a lot of initiatives, I mean, fresh people are coming in, opening spaces or doing new projects that help people in this area.