1942

Ion Râmnic is born in Reghin, Mures County, into a Romanian family that had just moved from the countryside to work in a nearby factory. His childhood is spent within his disintegrating family, with an alcoholic father who abuses his wife. In order to run away from the problems at home, Râmnic spends most of his spare time with his Hungarian neighbors of his age. Over the years, he learns to speak their language.

The same year, Istvan Mihály is born in Miercurea Ciuc, Harghita County, into a Hungarian family of music teachers. He spends his childhood in the calm and stable environment of his family. Together with them, he takes frequent walks in the natural landscape surrounding the city. Protected by his parents and grandparents, Istvan develops his musical talent, but as he grows, he becomes more and more passionate about drawing.





1960

Râmnic and Mihály meet in Cluj at the university of art. Râmnic is enrolled in the painting section, while Mihály studies decorative arts. Very much alike, physically, but also in their respective interests and pursuits, the two quickly become close friends. They start to collaborate on many of their school projects. In their spare time, they work together on mural painting projects.

With Râmnic’s help, Mihály improves his knowledge of Romanian language, thus making it easier for him to participate in those classes where he had Romanian speaking teachers.





1965

Their first important project in the Socialist Realist style, a proposal for a mosaic for the façade of a factory in Târgu-Mures. The two work together on all the stages of the project.

The project is rejected by the regional committee because Râmnic and Mihály used the image of money in their composition. The official motivation was - “the fetishization of the material gains of the labor force”.

The picture attempted to explore the iconography of the strong woman, by showing a woman worker’s upper body, with a hammer in one hand and a fistful of money in the other, which represented a double salary. The woman had two children with her, and the gate of a house is seen in the background.

The work was an hommage by Râmnic to his mother, a hard-working woman who had left her alcoholic husband and brought up two children on her own.





1968

While away on a summer vacation in the mountains, Râmnic and Mihály hold hands on a steep mountainside during a violent storm. Later on, this episode leads to a long series of actions, in which the two of them secretly repeat the touching of hands, using the unmarked mountain paths from the tourist maps as itinerary.






1975

Râmnic and Mihály move to Târgu Mures. Through their colleagues from university who are already living here, they become aware of the exhibitions of the Apollo group, which becomes, in 1978, the MAMU group.

A long period follows, during which they anonymously participate in the group’s activities, either actively or as part of the public. They also start to theoretically problematize the implications of going beyond painting and sculpture as the dominant artistic media. In time, they give up the heritage of modernism, which was to some extent camouflaged, aesthetically, within Socialist Realism. At the same time, they also renounce investing themselves artistically in their own professions of mural and decorative art, respectively.

From this point onwards they develop their professions as a means of making a living, which they carry out, nevertheless, to the best of their ability.

Their focus moves towards action and the act of thinking, which become the media in which the two start to conceive works of art. The first of these, “Do the Mountains Know?” is an apparently simple format through which Râmnic and Mihály start questioning the theoretical, practical and aesthetic limits of the idea of action, or performance. This is the year when their walks in the landscape start to take the form of an artistic process. These actions continue for the rest of their lives. The apparently naive question, “Do the Mountains Know?” is just a fragment from a series of successive questions with very diverse implications, detailing their artistic project. Questions referring to the necessity of the public’s presence at the end of the artwork’s production process; the fact that the “new art” is imperceptible and can go by unnoticed without previous education; questions concerning the possible transparency of their discretion, on an intimate level, are the focus of their interest in this project.

While headed for the Piatra Craiului Mountains, they find three discarded objects lying on a dusty county road. A blue circle coming from the plastic cover of a large truck, a broken tail light from a Oltcit car, and a glass fragment from a Champagne glass. Mihály takes these home and archives them, as an unexpected, even if naive, encounter with the color code of the French Revolution.

As time goes by, the two become more skilled at getting state commissions for mural and decorative art projects. Together, they work on factory facades and on the interiors of public institutions in Târgu-Mures, which they usually treat in a geometric and abstract manner, like non-figurative compositions meant as a response to the proportions of the architectural object. In their work, they develop a personal variation of Corbusier’s purism.






1978

As they become closer to each other, the laws that criminalize same sex relationships force them to great discretion in their public, artistic and professional lives. They are intimate with their families, with their friends and associates in the MAMU group, as well as with a few people from the local judo club where they are both active members. In time, Râmnic attains proficiency, which is, possibly, a compensation for his adolescence when, being a weakling, he was sometimes bullied by older students at school. During this year he wins two silver medals, one at the county championship, and the other at the national competition.

Day by day, they both observe, with some bitterness, the radical conservatism of both the Hungarian and Romanian communities of Târgu-Mures.

This is why they start to look for intellectual or political ideas that would allow them to live their lives with dignity, by transcending the boundaries of Hungarian or Romanian nationalism, which, at the same time, frown upon their friendship, and outright ban their relationship.

In their first attempts, they start out researching the history of Romanian-Hungarian solidarity in Transylvania. The two see the Unio Trium Nationum of 1438 as the institutionalization of the repression of Hungarian and Romanian serfs. They notice the same thing in the case of Gheorghe Doja, in 1514. During the 1970s, Gheorghe Doja, as a historical figure, is widely used by Communist propaganda, which makes Râmnic and Mihály weary of using Transylvanian history as artistic material, in general.

However, the death by public torture of Gheorghe Doja, who was a small Szekler nobleman by the name of Dózsa György, as well as the tormented life of Avram Iancu, a militant Romanian attorney, permanently placed under surveillance and humiliated after 1848, convinces them that ethnicity offers no guarantee in Transylvania and that it cannot be part of a global solution.

Râmnic and Mihaly view 1848 as a failure to realize the historical stakes of the moment, which in their opinion was the building of a Central Europe based on the idea of citizenship, according to the French principle of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, from 1789. For them, Avram Iancu’s destiny, the Austro-Hungarian victory, but also the vengeful 1920 historic Trianon arbitration, all underline the painful consequences of that failure, which, in time, leads to frustration for some and to tensions for others. In fact, within the strict, and exclusively ethnic equation, no one is satisfied.

Living within an environment seeped in Marxist ideology, the two observe, again with some bitterness, that the division of labor in the Austro-Hungarian empire was also based on racial criteria.

In the end, Râmnic and Mihály opt for an egalitarian internationalism. From this moment onwards, they proceed to privately archiving their entire artistic work in English, exclusively, while still continuing to read and write in Romanian and Hungarian.





1979

Râmnic and Mihály get acquainted with the artistic work of Horia Bernea and Paul Neagu. They are fascinated by the artistic methodology of these artists, because it is so different from that of American conceptualism. The interest in spirituality, as well as the choice of specific shapes and materials as personal symbols, preoccupy the two. They see Bernea’s banners / prapori, or Neagu’s hyphen / cratim?, as extremely fertile formal and conceptual choices.

They choose as their personal symbol the double-handle rolling pin used in pastry-making. Râmnic and Mihály perceive this object to be close enough to peasant life (polenta), as well as to the urban bourgeoisie (pastry). At the same time, it is a doubly phallic object, equally used by men and women. In their daily life, the object achieves an additional utility, as a traction bar for exercising one’s muscles.

Once chosen and made, the symbolic object is never shown as ‘art’, but it is used daily in their household.

They are decisively influenced by the writings of Beuys which they first read in Hungarian. Later on, in the 1980s, while working on one of the many architectural projects they are hired for, they conceive a decorative project containing text fragments from Beuys’ theoretical works.

The plans are now lost. Also, Râmnic and Mihály never attempted to approach the authorities with their idea. Only a few 1/1 project scale models remain. In their original intention, these were designed as decorative glass panels for a municipal library in Mures County.

A large part of the art of Râmnic and Mihály has this unaccomplished project character, a fact clearly defined and acknowledged from the planning stage.






1990

After the inter-ethnic conflict in Târgu-Mures, Râmnic and Mihály follow their political reasoning to its logical conclusion, when they legally change their names, in a court of law. As a result, Ion Râmnic becomes Istvan Mihály and Istvan Mihály becomes Ion Râmnic.

At the same time, they observe around them the manner in which both Hungarian and Romanian nationalism gradually seem to offer the same authoritarian, patriarchal, racist and xenophobic societal project. The complicity between the leaders of the two communities, who both incite to acts of violence, as well as the symbolic capital these leaders amass during the conflict, come as a confirmation to Râmnic and Mihály’s hypothesis.

Both communities make use of fear and of the idea of a common enemy to consolidate their political power. Moerover, the “marriage” starting to form in those years between the Romanian Social Democratic Party, on the one hand, and the Democratic Union of Hungarians from Romania, on the other, is another confirmation of the complicity among these social actors who, on the surface, or on a symbolic level, seem to be in total conflict.

Râmnic and Mihály closely observe the ethnic divisions that are generated by the leaders, but also the way these are used to cover up administrative deficiencies.

Often, during times of social crisis, the leaders of the two communities make a political appeal to national pride, only to hide the present moment’s more pressing problems. Statues, public spaces, and national holidays all seem to be essential tools in this context. Gradually, the Romanian and Hungarian parts of the city of Târgu-Mures are segregated through architectural operations, or urban planning, which does not necessarily serve the best interest of its citizens.

Râmnic takes over as head coach of the local judo club.

Mihály starts working at an arts and crafts school in Târgu Mures, where he teaches interior decoration. Because of the nature of the school, he progressively ends up teaching utilitarian house painting.

Râmnic joins him at the school in 1995, where he starts to teach monumental architectural decoration techniques. Many students make good use of the craft learned, when they travel to work on construction sites in Italy or Spain. Some of them end up making a living there and never return. Râmnic and Mihály receive postcards from their students. Generally speaking, the two teachers remain close to the families of their students, who provide small services to the couple, as they get older. Both of them teach here until sometime after the year 2000, when the school closes.





2000

The two conceive of a project entitled “No Problem”. Had it ever been shown, it would have been made up of a description label containing its name, as well as a large scale inscription on a gallery wall that would read: “Keeping silent can only maintain tension as both constant and present”. This is one of the few proposals of a project for an exhibition space the two ever produce. Because of the banality of both the problem and the statement, they give up realizing the work in an urban space.

As a matter of fact, up to this moment Râmnic and Mihály have never shown any work, and as a result are quasi unknown. They were never present on the local art scene of Târgu Mures, not even with a debut.

Nevertheless, starting with the 1980s, Râmnic and Mihály see their locally more famous friends from the MAMU group either emigrating or even dying. Moreover, after 1990, the in absence of the “common enemy”, represented by Communist society, some former members of the alternative art scene lose their enthusiasm for artistic work. The invasion of publications, the multiple opportunities to travel and exhibit, as well as the emergence of the cultural and commercial market, in other words – “freedom” – completely perplexes many of them, some to the point of giving up work.

Unlike their peers, Râmnic and Mihaly continue to be active, privately archiving their actions and their intellectual evolution. They maintain their interest in the “Do the Mountains Know?” project, which they develop in multiple directions, and only communicate some fragments of it to some acquaintances or friends. Thus, most of their work remains even nowadays archived in their private space, and the two artists only accepted to present a small part of their activity in this exhibition.

Part of this reaction can be ascribed to the way historical artists are recovered in Romania today, either by the market or by art historians.

Râmnic and Mihály believe that the current trend in this area contains some false professional goals, a lot of pressure, and a large amount of deformations of all kinds. Among these one can number the constant ‘hunger’ for novelty, for locally “culturally valid” artists who could become proof of Romanian or Hungarian exceptionalism on the international contemporary art scene, or the ‘hunt’ for local artists who could be quickly presented at conferences, biennials and then sold at art fairs.

The reason they accepted this retrospective is to give their own lives as an example for the possible impact of the initiatives threatening to restrain the public sphere in Romania and the world today, a threat they had to live with one way or another for a long part of their lives.





2010

Râmnic and Mihály make a digital photo-montage of the sculpture “Eternal Youth” by Kulcsár Bela, from the Aleea Carpati street. They keep the date and hour of the original pictures in the final image, because this could indicate that this is analog photography, underlining its authenticity as a document. However, Râmnic and Mihály replace the female character with a male one.

With this montage, they seek to open the iconography of Socialist Realism to queer discourse, beyond the puritanical conformism which is characteristic of this historical style. Râmnic and Mihály do not wish to materialize the modified statue in real space. Their work is only the digitally modified image, printed in black and white on photographic paper.

In the present exhibition, the montage is presented within an installation called – “Hommage to Plants”. The two have projected an image on the wall of the gallery. The image portrayed some plants from the banks of the river Mures. Râmnic and Mihály then traced the contour of these plants, with a pencil, on the wall. With the help of two nails, they hung the wooden rolling pin over the drawing. At the end, they glued the photo-montage called “Eternal Youth” over the drawing, at eye level, above the rolling pin, thus finalizing the installation.







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