Niels Henriksen (Karriere Art Bulletin) caught Ioana Nemes on a mobile phone in a lively Bucharest bar, 2008

Ioana Nemes was on track for a career as a professional handball player on the Romanian junior national team, when a serious knee injury put a stop to her playing. She enrolled at the art academy of Bucharest, and decided to become an artist instead. In order to keep track of this transition she used the dining room wall of her small family flat to structure her life and work, she called this the Wall-project.

Niels Henriksen: Tell me how the wall in the Wall-project worked?

Ioana Nemes: The Wall-project was never intended as an art-project. I was living with my mother and my brother in a tiny two room apartment, and the project came out of a craving for space. For me physical space, such as the space where you live, has always been closely connected to mental space, like the space in which you organize your thoughts and ideas. So it was very hard to live in this tiny space, and I had to be organized in order to live with the mess.

NH: You put your dreams and projects up on it, but what kind of dreams were they?

IN: The dreams that I put up were, for instance, a typical East-European dream of having a Macintosh computer. I would put that on the wall with a deadline, and when I got the Macintosh, I would move the note to the other part of the wall. The wall was divided into two parts: the things I wanted and those I had achieved. But it was not only things. It could be books I wanted to read, or other dreams and desires. Ideas that I had, that I needed to push into reality. The wall was a way of taking responsibility for my ideas, so that I really had to carry them out, even if I would fail. This was my way of translating art into a more practical way of thinking. I did sports for many years, from I was 11 till I was 21, the most formative years of ones life. It was like being in the army. I was on the national team, which meant that I was trained almost like a soldier, and also to think in a particular way.

NH: How do you think that has worked out for you as an artist? Some artists talk about applying the discipline of doing sports to making art?

IN: I think sports is easier, you just have to train yourself, you get better and then you win or lose. When I started making art, I approached it in the way that I would approach sport. I knew I had to read certain books, in order to understand certain things. I knew that there were a number of things I needed to do...

NH: Maybe art is like sports, then art-fairs and biennials would be like the Olympics.

IN: But where is the winning. Even if you sell, it is not certain that the critics will be positive, and if the critics are positive that does not mean that you’ll sell.

NH: How did the Wall-project change from being a wall in your flat, to being an art-project in a gallery space?

IN: Every time I wrote an article, made an exhibition or in other ways turned my dreams into reality, I would shift the relevant note across the wall. Then I would take a photograph, because to me this was a victory and I wanted to document it. I had a pile of these photographs, a curator saw them and wanted to make an exhibition. But I didn’t want to exhibit the individual photographs as art, because the project is really a process. I love interviews, so instead I made an interview, where I interviewed myself. It was recorded on a CD, that people were given for free in the exhibition to take home. That way it would only be played at home and never in the exhibition space, and it would be a private experience.

NH: But that is really the question here, isn’t it: how your small victories and personal experiences actually translate to address bigger issues.

IN: My approach came out of a frustration with how young creative people, will often have a lot of ideas, in a very idealistic way and never translate them into reality. In Romania the artists would complain about not having white cube spaces, but no one would start a small gallery. You don’t need a big white cube to do something, and even if your small space is ignored, it will still be like a secret, a secret desire.

NH: And how about the Wall-project?

IN: The wall-project slowly transformed into the Monthly Evaluations. I was curious about the physical presence of time and I wanted to develop a method of analyzing my life from different points of view. Then I realized that a way of grasping time was to see how time passes through me. Because you cannot see time, but you can see the changes that it makes. So I started making these scales of physical, emotional, financial, luck and colour...

NH: How do you split things up like that?

IN: The physical scale runs from + 10, the most positive physical thing that could happen to you, 0 is neutral, and - 10 is like dying dramatically. Colour is different, I will chose a colour that corresponds to the general mood of the day on a intuitive level. A bit like a Lüscher test[i], where colour is connected to your psychological state. At the end of each day, I’ll evaluate the day in these different ways. I have been doing it for three or four years now, and at the end of each year, I look at the graphics - because you can also make the archive into a graphic presentation - and there is a pattern of how the year progresses. Some parts of the year you are up, and other parts of the year you are down. It gives you an experience of what you can and cannot control in your life. It shocked me to find out that I function according to already prescribed patterns.

NH: Because your project very much developed out of a wish to control the situation?

IN: Yes, because you know how, when you think of yourself, you are indefinite. And then, suddenly, something is bigger than you.

[i] The Lüscher color test is a psychological test invented by Dr. Max Lüscher that measures a person's psychophysical state, his or her ability to withstand stress, to perform, and to communicate.