JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by Kehrer (here). Hardcover (16,5 x 22,7 cm), 160 pages, with 10 color and 60 black and white illustrations. Includes essays by Lotte Laub and Sonia Voss. Design by Kehrer Design (Laura Pecoroni). (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: Of all of the insurgencies that swept across East and Central Europe in 1989, Romania’s was the most violent and muddled. It resulted in overthrowing Nicolae Ceaușescu, the long-term Romanian dictator. Ceaușescu and his wife Elena were sentenced to death and executed on Christmas Day in 1989, but many senior Communist officials who had served the country’s deposed dictator not only stayed in power but also enjoyed expansive opportunities. Over a thousand protesters died in December of 1989 alone, and several thousand more were wounded. Ion Iliescu, once a member of Ceausescu’s inner circle, took over. In the decades since, no one has been held responsible for a single specific case of murder, and as a result, many deep unresolved traumas remain even today. The legacy of Ceaușescu’s dictatorship, the unspoken trauma of physical violence, and the power of collective memory are the focus of the work of Anton Roland Laub, a Berlin-based Romanian artist.
Laub’s most recent photobook is titled Mineriada, and refers to the violent interventions of miners to crush anti-government protest movements in Bucharest in the 1990s under Iliescu’s regime; the most violent clash occurred on June 13-15, 1990. The confrontations became known as “mineriads”, but Laub is using it as a sarcastic term that combines the Romanian word miner with the suffix -iada, as in olympiada (Olympics). This book is the third in a trilogy. The first book Mobile Churches (from 2017) focused on the displacement of seven churches from Bucharest under Ceaușescu’s “systematization” program and the immurement of a synagogue; the second, Last Christmas (of Ceaușescu) (from 2020), used black humor to depict the final days of the Ceaușescu couple. And this final book addresses “the division of a society that led Romania into a decade of isolation.”
In terms of design and construction, Mineriada is of a medium size, and has a rather simple black cover, with the title and the artist’s name placed in a white font at the top. It has a straightforward layout, with the photographs either appearing full bleed (when they are the artist’s own images) or having a generous amount of white space around them (when they are archival). The essays are placed at the very end, closing the book.
To build his narrative, in a manner similar to his first two books, Laub uses archival imagery to provide context for his own photographs. Ten Polaroids that the artist’s father Frederick Laub took on June 13, 1990 while walking home from his office capture the chaos in Bucharest on that day, and serve as a starting point for the book’s narrative. These images, blurry and slightly faded with time, document the scale of the violence and destruction, capturing burning cars and buses, crowds of people, plumes of black smoke, and the disorienting atmosphere of the moment.
After this historical and personal prelude, the book’s visual narrative moves to Laub’s black and white photographs. His bold photographs, full of sharp contrasts and stripped of human presence, evoke a brooding sense of helplessness and emptiness. His visual language is rather abstract, almost cryptic in some cases, especially for those not familiar with the details and complexities of recent Romanian history. The essay by Lotte Laub titled “Saturn Devours its Children” fills in some of these gaps, providing the necessary historical references.
The flow begins with an image of a tram stop in Strasbourg, France, reading “Strasbourg / human rights” at the top, while the sign on the ticket machine reads in various languages “how does it work?”, making an ironic reference. One of the following images captures an empty conference room, symmetrical and unambiguous, but perhaps an allusion to nothing getting done. Another picture shows us the street sign “Rue de Bucarest”, also indicating which way to walk, and so from the European Parliament, the visual narrative then moves to the Romanian capital. One close up shot captures an alarm clock/phone with InterContinental Hotel branding, the location that served as the base for the foreign press during the Romanian revolution. In another, Laub takes a portrait in a full length hotel mirror, yet all we can see is a star-shaped flash and a room service tray with dinner on the floor. Again and again, darkness moves through the narrative.
Soon we find ourselves at the train station, and the interior of the station with a clock, followed by a full spread shot of a packed timetable, suggesting that the next destination is Petrosani. Rocky landscapes covered in fog lead to a circular emblem depicting a miner that reads “bun venit valea jiului” (meaning “welcome to the Valley of Jiu”). The train then arrives in the Jiu Valley; in the 1990s, the regime-loyal miners from this area were brought to the capital by train to brutally suppress peaceful political protests. They helped to secure the power position of the old elite during pro-democratic protests, pushing the country deeper into international isolation. The sequence that follows this shows train rails, and the network of electrical poles, crossing bridges, and metal mesh that surrounds the tracks, enveloped in dense, dark fog. As seen in these bleak infrastructure images, the unspoken violence and unhealed wounds that came by rail remain ever present.
As Laub links collective memory to the locations where events took place, the photobook powerfully reflects on an important historical period in Romanian society. In his view, Romanians have a phobia of their memories and have not yet learned enough from their history. He believes that photographs have the capacity to rehabilitate collective memory, and in his photobooks, he forcefully acts as both artist and citizen.
Collector’s POV: Anton Roland Laub does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website or Instagram page (linked in the sidebar).