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Museutopia
A Photographic Research Project by Ilya Rabinovich

Photography project of museums in Chisinau, Moldova. By putting a lens on museums in Chisinau, now and then, Ilya Rabinovich shows how a country in crisis is trying to grant itself a new history. The museums prove to be the places of prominence where this new national identity is contested.

184 pages | 17 x 24 cm | Hardcover
ISBN: 9789081531405 | Eng

Editors: Huub van Baar, Ingrid Commandeur
Design: Esther Krop

With contributions from:
Viktor Misiano, curator and art critic
Huub van Baar, philosopher and cultural scholar
Stefan Rusu, artist-curator
Bogdan Ghiu, literary scholar, poet and journalist

This publication is made possible thanks to the generous contribution
of Mondriaan Fund, SMBA, Materiaalfonds and the Gijselaar-Hintzen Fund

€ 29.95

Category: ID: 1650

The austere, enigmatic photographs of the Dutch-Moldavian artist Ilya Rabinovich show places in terms of their fleetingness, remoteness, as if they were bereft of memories. The Russian critic Viktor Misiano called it “the detached gaze of the diasporic artist”. The trauma of leaving the motherland enables the artist to consider from a distant but pervasive manner the social and cultural structures of his country of origin.

Rabinovich traveled in 2008 to Chisinau to his hometown to photograph museum exhibits and representations in the national museums. In the process, he encountered an intriguing development taking shape. Moldova was incorporated in 1940 by ex-USSR and remained under Russian Communist rule until 1991. This period is either omitted in the museum exhibitions or distorted in its representation: in their own ways, museums developed their strategy for re-contextualizing the continual existence of the Moldovan state. In Rabinovich’s photographs, the exhibited historical artifacts are seen in the midst of curious paintings on the walls of museums, models and display cases, as if they were not an objective representation of history, but a new mythological world. But how can a solid national identity take shape, when every historical museum presents its own narrative? What does it imply when museums actively contribute to the formation of a new cultural identity, rather than assume the role of being repositories of historical artifacts and information?

The political map of Europe has changed dramatically over the last two decades. There is a new dynamic of cultural exchanges, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the transformation of national borders of Europe is painfully accentuated. ‘New’ nation-states such as Lithuania and Moldova are struggling with their national and cultural consciousness.

In the project Museutopia, Ilya Rabinovich attempts to foreground these ambivalences. By focusing on the museums of the past and the present in Moldova and by creating photographic collages based on archival materials and current exhibitions, Rabinovich demonstrates how a country in crisis is tailoring its own new history. The museums thus become some of the key sites where the battle over Moldova’s new national identity is waged.

About the Author

Ilya Rabinovich (1965) was born in Chişinău, Moldova (former USSR) and emigrated with his family to Israel in 1973. From 1998 to 2000 he attended the State Academy For Visual Arts in Amsterdam, and since then he lives and works in Amsterdam.

  1. Peter Koopman

    Says:

    “Museutopia is typisch een boek waar je wat langer bij stil moet staan dan je aanvankelijk geneigd bent te doen. Je moet vertrouwen op de fotograaf en de essayisten in het boek om je blik te laten leiden. Kijken is niet alleen een visuele aangelegenheid. Onze kennis en ervaring leidt onze blik. We anticiperen op hetgeen we denken te zullen gaan zien. Zonder deze kennis, geen verwachtingen en geen waarneming.”
    (in Dutch)
    Read more on: CADOC.NL

  2. Hellen Kooijman

    Says:

    “Naast foto’s staan er in het boek ook diverse gesprekken met kunstkenners. Ze dienen geen gemakkelijke kost op. Wat ze vertellen is evenwel noodzakelijk Moldavië enigszins te kunnen begrijpen.”
    Hellen Kooijman in Donau 2012, no. 3 (in Dutch)

  3. Serguei Alex

    Says:

    “Taken together, the photos and the texts produce in Museutopia a refreshingly hybrid result: the visual documentation of documents, dispassionately performed by Rabinovich, is emotionally recharged in interviews and essays. Published by Alauda Publications, a new publishing house based in Amsterdam, Museutopia is a successful
    example of the productive cooperation of a thoughtful artist, innovative scholars, and adventurous editors. It would be great to see this type of intervention in the studies of post-Communist identity and history politics continue.”
    Read complete review

  4. Ludmila D. Cojocaru

    Says:

    “I completely agree with the editors proposal to approach this ‘journey to Moldova‘ as an opportunity to see ‘the ways in which the “black holes” that have been hit in the past have ambiguously but powerfully created the ground for new forms of
    cultural nationalism’ (p. 10).”
    […]
    “I consider ‘Museutopia represents both an ironic and a critical response to the current situation in Moldova‘ (p. 38). The well crafted design of the book and the sensitive approach of this art-project can serve, in my opinion, both as source for new knowledge accretion as well as a resource for building new studies’.”
    Ludmila D. Cojocaru in Brukenthalia, Romanian Cultural History Review, no. 3. (2013)
    Read complete review

  5. Antonina Sarbu

    Says:

    “Pe scurt, prin suprapunerea atâtor realități/fenomene/stări/drame ale cetățeanului acestui secol, proiectul este o reuşită. Motiv pentru care vă îndemn la lectură.”
    Antonina Sarbu on citesteacum.ro (in Romanian)

  6. Jennifer Cash

    Says:

    “Rabinovich’s descriptions very subtly raise questions about the effects of repeated occupations and accompanying violence (prehistory); agency, collaboration, victimization, and the relativization of evil (world wars); idealization, utopian thinking, and moral responsibility (murals).”
    Jennifer Cash in Slavic Review vol. 72, no. 2 (Summer 2013)
    Read complete review

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