How many years have passed since the beginning of 2020? This year full of earthquakes and fires, violence and broken dreams, unfinished poems and gravesites, hospital rooms and dried hopes – is coming to an end, leaving its heavy tire tracks on my soul.
I am thinking of the teenager who killed himself a few days ago during a classroom Zoom meeting, but you want me to talk about photography? Winter is here and everything gets amplified under its deceiving magnifying glass of blinking holiday lights. Music, Touch, Dance and Smiles are all in hiding, afraid and unsure, like underground partisans fighting the invisible yet oh so real threat robbing us of our future. Rituals are interrupted by rust and tears. History with its iron fists is bringing down our hopes and dreams along with the statues of American Confederate generals. People are tired of history. History is tired of us. Could photography stop the clowns butchering the world’s democracies? All wars, even the “good” ones are lost. I dream of harbor lights and distant ships, but the streets are empty and the lights are off. My watch stopped several months ago, but I am still wearing it. We are out of time, so everything we experience becomes important, therefore irrelevant. The only numbers I encounter are symbols of suffering and minor abstract exchanges – a parade of overdue bills and cruel Dow Jones Emotional Average Indexes. The other day I witnessed a woman screaming in the middle of a local store flooded with Christmas music. Emotional time bombs are everywhere. Could the click of a shutter release button stop them?
The end of the year is here and the blood of old battlefields wakes up and starts climbing up the wrinkled feet of red oaks, waiting for a new beginning. A sad neo-surrealism has emerged. How do you know if you are dreaming if you are inside a dream? I levitate in this air full of cancelled desires. While my body hangs upside-down, my blood is turning into a blindfold. The rain over the City feels more like honey than water – uncomfortable and messy. Birds fly suicide missions against my windows and clowns start revolutions. This is the time of the year when I collect my unrealistic to do lists and bury them in the garden; when I usually try bribing the concierge with a jar full of fresh tears so she could give me the key to a room called Future. No one has the courage to tell you that the floors and the rooms in the hotel have lost their numbers and that all the pillows are made of marble. The Hope advisors tell us that is the best time to sort out and name your shadows, and learn to forget the darkness the way you learn a dead, useless language. Who knows what’s ahead of us? Besides being a pale witness to this collective suffering, does photography have anything to say?
You want me to talk about photography when the morgues are full and the 21th century medieval-minded deniers claim that wearing a mask against a deadly pandemic is a form of socialist control? 7837 people died of the Plague today. I wonder if images feel this cold too. You should bring them indoors the way you bring in your potted plants for the winter and start building your private imaginary museum before it’s too late. The real museums are empty. Where are all the paintings? Did we burn them in the middle of our living rooms, thinking that they would keep us warm? In our paper-thin shelters the past mixes with the present, the real with the surreal. Your body has become the foundation of your home. You try to survive in a city under siege. There are frozen corpses in the basement of the museum, waiting for a proper burial in the spring – mummified hopes, clocks without hands, old love letters.
The next year will be born out of mountains of ashes, but it will be born. The cycle will continue. Save your candles and your crystals – there’s still hope. I am dreaming of the churches of my childhood – dark and empty, their walls covered in faded old saints warming up their hands in front of their halos, holding them like wide plates full of liquid gold. There is nothing to gain, nothing to conquer now, just the same silences and the same wind cutting through it with its cold selfish voice. Reliquaries full of precious memories are waiting for the faithful, not knowing that the soldiers are planning to use the confessionals as horse stables. Everyone is waiting for something. Popes with strange names are waiting to be photographed in their ornate glass coffins, like rare specimens refusing to rot. Children are waiting to grow up and be sad like their parents. Lovers are waiting for passion to turn into something common, like plastic chairs or cheap coffee in paper cups. I watch trees falling under my eyes like soldiers in a battlefield. There is pain and grace in their collapse. One day I started reassembling them into something vaguely feeling like art. You still want me to talk about photography? These days I am better at using a chainsaw than a camera.
Among the white noise, there is a tiring, understandable, yet often sad need for reaffirmation. The public mirrors of social media are crowded with sad salesmen and innocent narcissists. In a world fighting a war against forgetting, there is no better way to remind yourself and the universe that you exist than a quick TikTok clip proving that your ass deserves the attention of the entire planet. We are doll and makeup peddlers pretending to have some sort of insight; until the world returns, we are turning into false prophets so we could pay our rent. A selfie with lots of likes; a song concocted in your bedroom; a fashion show staged in your kitchen: messages in desperate bottles wanting to be found.
I am relearning how to think with my camera again. I am constantly building and destroying my dream cages. I hold a mirror in front of the world, the way many years ago I held one in front of my mother’s lips before she passed away. The breath of the world is still out there, I know.
Florin Ion Firimita has been building his Dream Cages since the end of June 2020, with the help of a wonderful team of creative people, making as much photographic lemonade as possible out of this pandemic’s bitter lemons. A documentary film directed by Jeff Teitler is in the works. This is the first essay documenting this unique creative experience. Works from the series in progress are available by contacting the studio: www.florinfirimita.com or through Instagram @fifstudio1.
Florin Ion Firimita is a visual artist, writer and educator. He took his first photograph at the age of three using a Soviet made Zenith camera. His interest in image making could be traced back to his father’s modest amateur photo lab in Bucharest, Romania, where he was entrusted with mixing chemicals, developing film, and printing black-and-white images at the age of six. After his parents' death, he continued to study painting and drawing and kept taking photographs while holding jobs such as welder, grave digger, janitor, window decorator and security guard. After relocating to the United States in 1990, Florin’s photography, mixed media work and writing have been featured in galleries and art magazines in Argentina, France, England, and the U.S. The Art of Leaving, a film about his art, was released in 2003. Based on almost 3,000 pages of journal entries, the film took three years to make and was the official selection of seven international film festival such as Santa Fe, Durango, New York, Chicago, and also Montreal’s 23rd Festival International du Film Sur L’Art. A second documentary, Dream Cages, filmed by Jeff Teitler during the 2020 pandemic, is currently in the works. His artwork could be found in many private and public collections in Europe, Australia, and the United States. Between 1990 and 2020 he participated in over 400 solo and group exhibits. Most recently, Florin’s photography was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art/ Grand Palais in Paris. In 2010, 2012 and 2013, at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Scholastic awarded him three national gold medals for art pedagogy. In 2020, 10 of his photographs became part of the permanent collection of the Rodin Museum in Paris. His photography is represented by the GADCOLLECTION Gallery in Paris, France.