Chișinau, the capital of Moldova, has a lot of secrets to share. Bucharest’s sister also contains numerous historical houses that have been uninhabited or abandoned. In 2011, an artistic NGO called ‘Art Labyrinth’ settled in ‘Muzeul Zemstvei’, a 200 years old building.
At first glance, the building looks like a dusty and mysterious museum with no visitors. It has only one floor but is still quite huge. The name of the place is written above the entrance: ‘Muzeul Zemstvei’. A zemstvo was a local assembly during the Russian Empire. If you make a research about the building, you will find various uses of it: an orphanage, a university and of course, a zemstvo, but…not a museum.
Inside, this is another story. In 2010, the government decided to restore the place to turn it into a museum. It was set under the administration of the Museum of Ethnography which named it ‘Muzeul Zemstvei’. However, they decided to let a part of the space to artists and NGOs. One of them is Art Labyrinth, which organizes cultural events and workshops, including one summer festival in the countryside. The other one is called Oberliht and aims to defend old buildings and use them as artistic spaces. Oberlith initiated Zpatiu, a project that promotes the independent art scene.
Now, the building is under the administration of the Romanian Cultural Institute. Although they have no idea about how long they can to stay, the NGOs are still free to use the place. They rent it at a low price and decorate the rooms as they like. The walls are colorfully painted and various antique objects from the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union are disseminated all over the place. It became somehow a ‘museum’- their museum.
My heart, my soul
Filip, 23, is a Ukrainian citizen who came to Chișinau 5 years ago. He became one of the administrators of Art Labyrinth and is fully involved in the project: “All volunteers have a job besides to be able to live and get involved in the project. For some of them, it’s a hobby, for others, it gives a meaning to their lives. For me, I can’t live without this space. It’s my heart, my soul.”
According to him, it is a pity that a lot of old buildings are being destroyed to build something new instead. “It is our patrimony, our history” he says. “They were also built with good materials that we don’t use anymore today. The ventilation and the isolation are great and were thought in a way that it doesn’t cost anything.”
He is afraid that one day, they have to leave this place because they are not ‘valuable’: “Politicians and real-estate agencies want to make money from these places but we are artists and we are not living for profit. Why not let these places for free? People and especially artists can renovate them and use them.”
A place of freedom
As a matter of fact, they managed to renovate the place with their own resources and the help of people. They are not funded by any organization nor institution. Their income comes from the events, a tea place and the summer festival. Concerning the furniture, some of them were given by people such as books, instruments or old objects: “For instance, this Russian samovar is from the 15th century” Filip says while showing the metal container traditionally used to prepare tea. “It was a family relic and someone gave it to us. One day, one person came to buy it. We refused because it was a gift.”
The main idea behind Art Labyrinth is to create a free space for artists. Andrei is one of them. He painted an entire room with psychedelic shapes. For him, it is important to have such a place “to express my art. I don’t see any other spaces like this in Moldova.”
More than being an artistic hub, it is also a place open to everyone. Concerts and various workshops are organized. The idea is to gather people from different ages and backgrounds. The old Muzeul Zemvstei became another kind of zemstvo, an eclectic assembly made by people for the people.
Text and pictures: Marine Leduc
Many thanks to Eugenia Pasat for being our Russian/English translator.