Drawn to freedoms
His illustrations may be in black and white but what political cartoonist Dan Perjovschi draws isn't as simple or clear-cut. For his latest solo exhibition, which opened on Friday at Para/Site Art Space, the Romanian artist, 50, came up with an image that says: 'Communism is bad. Capitalism is bad. China is good.'
'My projects, in general, are critical of capitalism, in particular the excesses of capitalism,' says Perjovschi. 'But I also lived under the dictatorship [of Nicolae Ceausescu], I know what it means to not have the freedom of speech, not have the possibility to travel at all and not have books, so I'm critical of both.' He adds that any political system is complex, and that other than communism and capitalism there may be a third option in the future, as suggested by his 'China is good' remark. 'Maybe what China is doing now is the solution, let's see, we don't know. It's a mixed situation with the good and the bad.'
But according to the artist - whose works are widely shown internationally including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Modern in London - the notion of democracy remains 'interesting'. 'The plurality of vision is good,' he says. 'If a system can be not so money obsessed, if it can have not so big a difference between the very rich and very poor, if you can build up a very strong middle class, then that's the winning ticket. My kind of art can only flourish in democracy, not in other kinds of society.'
Para/Site's executive director, Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya, also curator of the show, says this exhibition is not about pleasing the establishment.
'This project is about shaking our core beliefs,' he says. 'The critical discourse that Dan Perjovschi is building is extremely relevant to Hong Kong. His reflection on contemporary society, and on communism and capitalism are connected to his personal experience - he comes from Romania - and to Hong Kong.
'But after all there is a sense of humour and irony that will shock self-conscious types.'
Perjovschi's work follows the tradition of political cartoonists' drawings in combining humorous observations of everyday life with ironic commentary. At the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, when he represented Romania, the artist covered the floor of the pavilion with drawings and political graffiti about life in the post-communist era. Sketched using black marker pens, Perjovschi's cartoons literally vanished beneath the feet of visitors - an allusion to the erosion of Eastern European identity.
There is certainly an ephemeral quality to his works - they are erased after each show - which the artist points out is part of his overall statement. He says what he regards as 'the truth' today may not be the truth later: 'Things change. When you have a chance to rethink, and come back with a new statement, you can update yourself and be up-to-date. If you do a painting and if it has a historical [context], in 10 years it'll be old.'
It's his ideas - be they about consumerism or globalisation - and not the shows that stay, he says.
Perjovschi studied painting at the George Enescu University of Arts in Iasi, Romania, and for the past 20 years has been working at the weekly magazine Revista 22, which is edited by an intellectual collective known as the GDS Group of Social Dialogue. Named in memory of December 22, 1989, the day the communist regime in Romania was overthrown, the publication covers political, economic and cultural issues.
Today the artist spends most of his time on the road, taking part in exhibitions in Europe, the US and Asia (while he'd already shown on the mainland this is his first time in Hong Kong). His choice of medium serves his nomadic lifestyle well.
'It's very simple. I just stand here, I don't need a director, technician or assistant, I can manage everything by myself, giving me very big freedom in terms of condition of [art] making,' says Perjovschi.
'I can draw on the floor, on the [window], on the ceiling, so it's the freedom of space. The work can be very small or very, very big. And I can make mistakes. If I did something and I am not very happy with it, I will erase it. I am not under pressure.'
While, artistically, the advancement of technology has passed him by - 'with technology you try to be perfect, you cannot incorporate a mistake, but I can' - Perjovschi, who boasts of 2,000 friends on Facebook, believes it will continue to improve the way we live: 'I completely forgot how I arranged exhibitions before e-mails ... by fax? By letters? I can't remember how I did it.'
The artist says he has an optimistic view of the world but we should all learn from other people's knowledge, experiences and mistakes; technology - and art - enables us to share that information.
'If in this very moment humanity has a problem, it will solve it but it can also make a very big mess. It's very complex,' says Perjovschi. 'My drawings are very simple but they are simple about very complex issues.'
Dan Perjovschi: Hong Kong First, Para/Site Art Space, G/F, 4 Po Yan Street, Sheung Wan, Wed-Sun, 12pm-7pm (closed on public holidays). Inquiries: 2517 4620. Ends Apr 17