Friday, 26 April 2013

A Little Place To Call My Own

On Bucharest's Bulevardui Libertăţii is Romania's National Institute of Statistics. That must have been the best place to work during Nicolae Ceaușescu's dictatorial reign. As you might know, I love maths but there isn't much room for creative thinking. But in a communist statistics department you could invent any old shite. Productivity is up by how much this month, you say? Oh, I dunno. How about a million percent? That'll do. Brilliant.

Right across the road from the National Institute of Statistics is a building that has provided a few amazing statistics of its own. Although in the late 80s Ceaușescu - the man who put the first syllable in 'dictator' - was failing to balance the books, he decided to build himself a little palace. This palace turned out to be, then as it is now, the largest civilian building in the world, as well as the heaviest and the most expensive. Well, we're all in it together. Even though Cameron trots out that line, equality was never supposed to be the backbone of capitalism, but it's the very heart of communism. Given the squalor of a lot of Bucharest's apartments even today - judging by their crumbling exteriors at least - it's hard to see how building such a monument to himself back in the 80s could have helped Ceaușescu's popularity. Luckily it didn't and he was shot before it was finished.

The palace. Though in real life it's bigger than that.

The building itself - now called The Palace of the Parliament - is fuppin' huge. It has 1,100 rooms on 20 stories (8 of which are underground). To do a lap of the building's exterior is a two mile walk. The total floorspace is 340,000 square metres. Can't visualise that? It's approximately 50 football pitches. And then there's the opulence of its building materials. They used a million cubic metres of marble and 3,500 tonnes of crystal. The building has nearly 500 chandeliers for gawd's sake.

And it wasn't a green field site, oh no! In his wisdom, Ceaușescu - remember, to build his one home - demolished a vast area of Bucharest's historic district and with it nineteen Orthodox Christian churches, six Jewish synagogues, three Protestant churches and another eight that were relocated. Oh yes, and 30,000 homes.

The palace cost Romania three billion euros. When you see it for yourself, this monstrous white elephant with its huge Corinthian columns, you can imagine the effort, the labour, the time, the resources that went into. It's slightly worrying that the UK's deficit (the amount the UK's debt increases each year, not the debt itself) is about 40 of these palaces. That's two thousand football pitches of palace with twenty thousand chandeliers, each year. Just think how that money could have been spent instead. They could almost have built two palaces for each of the ConDem cabinet. Oh, go on, they deserve it.

Bucharest's Museum of Contemporary Art - usually a good-for-a-laugh pit stop in any city - is in the corner of the palace. Unfortunately it's the far corner and so it's a bit of a walk. The car park near the museum is falling to pieces. Its surface is in bits. Perhaps the budget isn't there to maintain such a palace. But the museum is free, or at least it was today. It didn't contain the usual collection of bonkers things that you'd normally expect in such a gallery although it had its moments. There was a film of a wolf and a very nervous looking deer trapped in a room together. The wolf stalks around, the deer wobbles a bit, the wolf lies down, the film repeats. You never get the death scene you are obviously anticipating. Is that what it means? Is it saying how we crave that blood lust moment. How should I bloody know? I just thought the wolf looked nice and fluffy.

That's the problem, and perhaps the beauty, of contemporary art. You can interpret it any way you like. It means nothing and everything. There was another film of a circle of about thirty people, all different ages and ethnicities, laid face down with an outstretched, bandaged palm towards the centre of the ring. A woman - the artist I'm guessing - lays a fuse in a large circle over each hand and then, when she's finished, she sets fire to it. A closeup of each hand shows the person's reaction as the flame passes over their particular bandage and lightly frazzles their naked fingers. What does that mean? Maybe it means we're all in it together. Or maybe it means one single person can cause pain to a large group and there's bugger all you can do about it. Maybe it's a metaphor for the palace itself.

Or maybe it's just a load of cock. After all, most contemporary art is cock. And I've got the statistics to prove it. I know 'cos I just invented them.

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