Every time Ion Bitzan’s name came into conversation, the interlocutor’s continuation was invariable: “[…] and his books”.
Expressed in the artist’s posterity – I did not know him – the label sounded like a demonstration of the stereotype through which the recurrent theme devours its author. Many times, the recurrence dilutes the theme, postum, through an Alzheimer of the collective memory which only remembers the superficial and forgets the essential. But Bitzan’s books were not exhibited anywhere to get to know him through an [in]direct randez-vous.
And yet they appeared, in Ion Bitzan’s book-as-object `79-`97 exhibition, opened between September 15th and October 15th, in the Boema Wing of “Carol I” Central University Library in Bucharest. In the central entresol one can see the unique “library” of the Romanian visual arts, in a project organized by the “Carol I” Central University Library, together with Bitzan Foundation and “Carol I” University Foundation, the exhibition’s curator being Mihai Zgondoiu.
The event is not a commemorative one, although it was exhibited exactly two decades after the artist’s disappearance, but rather a focus on Bitzan’s topicality in 2017. Let me explain. The difference since 1997 is made by the IT bulldozer for which the information is the only one that matters, and the support becomes pariah, because, after all, it does nothing but cutting trees. This is the argument which justifies absolutely anything, including one’s convenience to read on the tablet the newest book, and the materiality of the book becomes the first collateral victim, through a politically correct disappearance. But, those 45 books of Bitzan’s are the that many lawyers for the books from the atrium’s sides. The plea is valid for their future too, for not one pixel will ever be able to recreate the objecthood which lays encoded in the message.
Beyond the counterweight to the digital genocide, books-as-objects are deconstructions and reconstructions simultaneous or consecutive, in a voluntary or involuntary flow, explicit or kabalistic, which open the invitation for a paraphrase after Blaise Pascal – thinking reeds. The image is circumstantially accentuated by the filtered zenith light, dominated by the green inside of the Boema Wing of the library, where the silence is mandatory out of respect for the patrons.
Physically, the exhibits are framed between the imposing, but spacious volumetry of the Biblion from 1993 exhibited at the Biannual of Venice in 1997 and the concentrated weight of the bronze from the trophy-work made for the UNITER prize in 1992. The space is shared through a formally centered sequence, the installation Nicolaus Olahus (The Reading Table/The Silent Books), where the written memory cells are serially recomposed – partially and wholly – on the anchor of the open tom. The only concession granted on the LCD screen are two epoch films featuring the creator, the man Ion Bitzan.
Semantically, each books-as-object is a special world in which the deconstruction of the concept itself frees the interpretation to multiple keys which open the intertwined compartments. The dichotomy “book-as-object” disappears at the intersections of arts and senses. There the author seems to have wished to be read with patience, and the residual ambiguity protects his privacy. This way could be interpreted the “shell” of one of the last works of the artist, Margarita Preziosa Novella from 1997.
How did I discover Bitzan through his books? I have found the coexistence of Pascal’s thinking reed with the ludic conscious of the affinity or even of the filiation with the generation Dada, maybe closer to Gherasim Luca than to Tristan Tzara, the artist for whom he creates in 1996 the notebook with the same name exhibited now and exhibited for the first time at the Centenary Tristan Tzara, at Maison de l’UNESCO in Paris. The difference from Dada is one of volume, because Bitzan manifests deepness where the Dadaists stop. This is the third dimension, the exposure of an atemporal terra incognita, in which the mystical body of the first enlightened manuscripts is in harmony with the contemporary rigorous graphic experiment. The collage is a complementary ingredient of his own paper, made by his own recipe, just as the mark migrates between different worlds and ideological categories, in order to populate entirely this new territory with his complete works. There can be distinguished even a halving, which appeals to the resource of the enigma as a refuge in an era in which even the unspoken thoughts were forbidden. I hope this to be in accord with the remembering of Bitzan from the memories of those who knew him.
The experiment constantly changes its scale and typology, from the collage from No Title 39, from 1979, to the seal dedicated to the letter from Emperor Trajan’s Declaration (1988). This might explain another probable revelation Bitzan had, the moment of the separation from the graphics, which catalyzed a new discipline, Ion Bitzan being one of the founders of the design department of the National University of Arts in Bucharest, together with Vladimir Setran and Paul Bortnovski.
The visual artist Mihai Zgondoiu, curator of this project, is a choice which respects Bitzan’s contemporaneity whose interest in the book, as an integrator of fibers and souls, dates back to quite some time, an example being the project from 2010, 4×4 Installation of Book, at The “Brancovan Palaces” Cultural Center of Mogosoaia.
An interesting coincidence, by chance or not, is the apparition these days, for the first time in a long time, from what I can remember, of a book-as-object of Bitzan at an auction in Bucharest. The work, entitled The Book with Pebbles appears for a few seconds too on the two-sided screen “planted” in the central setting of the exhibition. The Book with Pebbles is presented in the “Sculpture” category, an inaccuracy that proves the poverty of the auction houses in the face of the complexity of the contemporary visual arts.
In a happy sequence, The National Museum of Contemporary Arts too is preparing for a Bitzan retrospection. After his last personal exhibition at NMAR (National Museum of Arts of Romania) , in 1996, the artist disappeared from the scene, only sporadically appearing in thematic exhibitions, such as the Four Faces of Modernity Exhibition at ICR London in 2011. After 21 years, Bitzan comes back in the present, thanks to the collaboration of the Bitzan Foundation (through Irina Bitzan) and “Carol I” Central University Library (through Mireille Radoi). It’s a merited contact with a new public, as careful about complex messages but uncontaminated by stereotypes. If the scope of the meeting with Ion Bitzan at National Museum of Contemporary Arts will allow an overview of its syncretic route, the exhibition from the Atrium of the Central University Library can be considered as its essential ex-libris.