Ion Grigorescu (b. 1945), who was trained as a painter but is best known today for his work in film, photography, and installation, has been one of the most influential figures in Romanian unofficial art since the 1970s. He has received this retroactive recognition even though the work he created before the collapse of Nicolae Ceauşescu’s dictatorial regime in 1989 was made in private for the consumption of a small circle of friends. Working in this way, Grigorescu enacted in his apartment a series of solo performances as part of “a process of self discovery” that he photographed and filmed. Boxing belongs to this group of works and exemplifies both Grigorescu’s tendency to perform fully nude and his ability to use the camera’s technical capacities to create allegorical meanings for his stripped-down acts. In Boxing, he double exposed footage of himself throwing punches in two opposite directions to produce the appearance of the artist having a boxing match with a ghostly version of himself.
Writing in the catalog of a Grigorescu retrospective titled In the Body of the Victim, Joanna Mytkowska and Marta Dziewanska note the artist’s “radical consolidation of artistic activities with quotidian life” and contend that “Grigorescu’s oeuvre can be seen as a classic example of Central European experimental art, which the artist deploys in his search for a place within the extremely oppressive political system.” They continue, “The singularity of Grigorescu’s contribution rests in his introduction of religious and spiritual motifs into conceptual art, as well as his conviction that political crises are rooted in a crisis of the spirit.” The desire to examine his own psychological and spiritual condition accounts for Grigorescu’s confessional nakedness in his performances, as well as his recurring exploration of the theme of a split personality or self. The latter can be clearly seen not only in Boxing but also in other films and photographic series, such as Masculine-Feminine (1976), a film in which Grigorescu takes on the attributes of both sexes, or Dialogue with Ceausescu (1978), in which the artist has an imaginary conversation with the dictator, whom he conjures on camera by wearing a mask of Ceauşescu’s face. As if commenting on these films, in one interview, Grigorescu has compared the experience of living in postwar Romania “to the silent struggle of two equal opponents. May be one is stronger, but does not try to make noise or criticize others, and instead criticizes himself.” In the same interview, he notes, “I tried to live in harmony with my ethics.” Though Grigorescu does not elaborate on the difficulties he encountered in this deceptively simple quest, his works and particularly his films eloquently show the internal struggles that resulted for a person who tried “living within the truth” (as Václav Havel put it) under one of socialist Eastern Europe’s harshest dictatorial regimes. — Ksenya Gurshtein