The Maddening Beauty of Romanian Living Rooms


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The Maddening Beauty of Romanian Living Rooms

Nothing says Eastern Bloc chic like kitsch porcelain figurines, acrylic wall carpets, religious icons, and communist paraphernalia.

Oppressive regimes have a tendency to force certain fashions on their people. From al Shabaab's ban of bras to Kim Jong-un's latest haircut mandate, one could say that, from an aesthetic point of view, a bit of fascism is not always the worst thing in the world. Sadly, the same thing can't be said about the Ceaușescu regime and its effect on Romanian living rooms. Kitsch porcelain figurines, acrylic wall carpets, religious icons, and communist paraphernalia decorate every respectful formerly Eastern Bloc household with impressive, often maddening visual ramifications.


Romanian artist Claudiu Cobilanschi spent the last year putting together a collection of photographs of such tasteful Romanian living rooms, which he is now exhibiting at the online Museum of Living Rooms. I grew up surrounded by plastic Buddha statues and wooden faux African sculptures, so I got in touch with Claudiu for a chat.

VICE: How did the idea behind this project come about?
Claudiu Cobilanschi: Living rooms fascinate me. Upon entering friends' houses, I would spend hours staring at the decorations, admiring the hand-sewn table mats and all the strange memorabilia. At home, we had a case under the TV set where my mother would ritually place her best set of glasses and a set of ceramic figurines: a rabbit, some dogs, an empty basket. I've been working on this idea for over a year, but it's taken the shape of an online museum in the past ten days.

I understand that you also wanted to set up guided tours of these living rooms. How would you have done that?
It would have been the most awesome tour in Bucharest. But people got edgy—the obsession over private property kept gnawing at them and their fear of people coming into their houses turned into paranoia. They would have been quaint tours. You would have been shown through the rooms, then you'd eat an olive and drink a cup of coffee with the host. Feasting your eyes on the forbidden universe of Romanians.

Why do you think this project is needed?
I suspect my compatriots lack a sense of humor, even though we all like to say that we are jokers. I think it's useful to try to get back lost memories, to reposition ourselves toward our urban upbringing.


So how many photos have you gathered and what are your selection criteria?
There are approximately 70 photographs in the Museum of Living Rooms. But my collection keeps growing, and I'm also receiving contributions from fans, which is amazing. Besides that I can't really give you any information about these spaces, because the idea for the project came to me long after I'd taken the photos. For now, I'm rethinking my selection criteria, which means I am open to different points of view.

Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu checking out a living room. Photo sent to Claudiu from a fan

Was there a living room that impressed you the most?
At the age when children read Jules Verne, a good friend of mine from Bucharest invited me to his house. He had a giant collection of cactuses in his living room and on the neighboring balcony. He would always take care of them and make all sorts of sandy dioramas for them. He even put together a special lighting installation. Florin’s living room fascinated me endlessly because, compared to the living room I grew up in, it was another universe.

Have you met any strange people when taking your photographs?
Everybody is strange in one way or another. A retired neighbor had turned his living room into an electronics workshop—he had lamps and spark plugs everywhere. But few people living in apartment buildings own garages, so it's out of necessity that they use their largest room as a repair shop.


I hear that you want to publish a book on Romanian living rooms.
It wouldn't be my first book as an artist so I could very well publish it tomorrow. I hope to better develop the way we look at this time capsule we call our living room.