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Identity Signs

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The social environment of the Republic of Moldova (RM) has always been over saturated/polluted by numerous local symbols that have gradually become banal elements, atavisms emptied of their initial semantic load. They make one think of the archaic essence of the Moldovan man's eternal rusticity. These symbols have now become escutcheons or logos of the consumer society. In fact, this semantic transfer from the sacred into the profane can be easily noticed almost everywhere in the contemporary world. In Romania, for instance, the image of Braincase's Column of Infinity has migrated onto the cigarette packs Coloana (The Column), while the effigy from a famous photograph of Eminescu can be found on the "biggest" banknote minted in the first post-communist year. Such examples can be easily multiplied. Following the year 1992, RM launched its own currency that featured only the image of Stefan cel Mare regardless of the banknote value-this was the most used and demonatized symbol of the new Moldovan statehood. Stefan cel Mare is now the equivalent of the erstwhile Lenin; a significant literary magazine gave up in 1991 its title, Nistru, to become Basarabia: two images reflected in a slightly foggy mirror. The cheapest cigarettes in ex-Moldovan SSR were also called Nistru; they are still being produced and are famous for their stinking, heavily smoking and bitter tobacco. The circle is completed by the Nistru cognac brand, which is not exactly a choice beverage but which is sought after by both occasional and professional drinkers. This agglomeration under the umbrella of a single word is not at all accidental, it is not a mechanical repetition but rather an indication of things much more profound. It is perhaps linked to certain customs of the land, to the proverbial conservatism of the mythical Moldovan man. His world rejects all forms of embourgeoisement, as well as any ephemeral excess; it is restricted to the essentials, even to the minimal essentials. The current reality, which is characterized by an abundance of supply and an extremely weak purchasing power, only confirms the statements made above. One other typological serialized structure can be built on the word Doina. Before 1989 Eminescu's "Doina" had been forbidden in MSSR; however, there existed and still exists a street by this name, which ends in the biggest cemetery (also called Doina) in Chisinau. The Doina cigarettes have their counterpart in the cognac of the same brand-name. Many years ago there was a quite popular incantation, which went something like this:

Doina drinking / Doina smoking
At Doina too / You will be resting.

Quite recently, the Chisinau tobacco factory relaunched this cigarette brand by introducing a wide variety of flavors and pack designs. This is one more piece of proof that some symbols overlap even with the identity of those who create them. In the early 70s Raymond Aron stated that "the state practice is essentially the manipulation of series, which in vulgar language is the equivalent of using propaganda, advertising, the dissemination of more or less false information, slogans, etc." The entire range of identity issues (national, commercial, cultural, psychological, etc.) has been the basis of a recent exhibition of contemporary art, called "The Moldovan Sign", which took place in Chisinau. The exhibition was organized by the Center for Contemporary Art and the Chisinau City; it discussed the thorny and much-debated Moldovan peculiarity. It also tried to analyze, from a cultural perspective, the legitimate/legitimating foundation of this "peculiarity." As this country was situated in the shadow of a Slav colossus, this geographical placement was speculated for years by both writers and visual artists, for purely ideological reasons. The paracultural surrogate generated by them needs, to be sure, a separate discussion. We are now concerned though only with the impact that the serial nature of national symbols has had on the current visual arts, as it could be seen in the mentioned exhibition-essay.



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